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European Security

Volume 264: debated on Tuesday 24 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to have discussions with his colleagues on the Council of Ministers of the Western European Union about the future of European security. [36563]

The members of the Ministerial Council of the Western European Union will meet in Madrid on 13 and 14 November.

When he meets his colleagues on the Council of Ministers, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to seek the support particularly of those in the associate partners organisations, to persuade our French colleague on the council to abandon all nuclear testing in the Pacific?

No, I will not do that. It is extremely important that the House should understand that, if a nuclear deterrent is to be credible, people must know that it works: the country that owns the deterrent needs to know that and others need to know it too. In the United Kingdom, we are able to have that confidence about our weapon system without undertaking tests, but it is not for us to lecture the French on whether they can have that confidence without testing.

I remind Opposition Members—I remind those many unilateralists among the Opposition—that we have secured a long period of peace thanks to the operation of the nuclear deterrent, which has been paid for by the taxpayers of the United States, of France and of the United Kingdom, and that those countries have borne responsibilities on behalf of the rest of the world.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the European Union's ambition to absorb the Western European Union defence organisation is deeply resented by those connected with the WEU and by many people outside, particularly in view of next year's intergovernmental conference? Is he also aware that the efforts made by his diplomats and officials in that sphere to achieve a sensible, middle-of-the-road approach are much to be welcomed and are much supported by many people connected with WEU? In those circumstances, will he give every encouragement that he can achieve a worthwhile bridge between WEU and the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. I understand why there should be resentment among members of WEU at the idea that it would be absorbed into the European Union. The two are not susceptible to being merged. After all, the European Union includes a number of countries that are neutrals and it would be absurd to erect a new barrier to entrance to the European Union—a defence qualification that those countries would have to cross. My hon. Friend is right to say, therefore, that we want to build a bridge between the European Union and the WEU and to ensure that, as European nations take on more responsibilities for their defence, the arrangements they make are compatible with NATO and not in competition with it.

Does the Secretary of State accept that Labour Members disagree both with the concept of the single European army and with majority voting by the Council of Ministers on defence policy? Will he therefore assure the House that his discussions with his European counterparts are both sensible and constructive and are not coloured by an obvious and damaging anti-European bias? Talking about trust, how on earth can we trust a party and a Secretary of State for Defence who, over the past two weeks, have played party politics of a most blatant sort with our nation's defences?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position; after hearing his question, that welcome is really heartfelt and sincere.

The hon. Gentleman rises to denounce his own party, because Pauline Green, leader of the socialists in Europe and a Labour Member of the European Parliament, tabled a motion calling for the abolition of the veto in the European Union virtually everywhere, including the application of qualified majority voting to foreign and security policy, to frontiers and to tax harmonisation. If I might be entirely fair, I should also mention that the European People's party decided that qualified majority voting and participation and monitoring by the European Parliament must be worked out and that intergovernmental co-operation in foreign and security policy must be replaced by qualified majority voting.

It is perfectly clear that there is a battle to be fought to make sure that the national veto is maintained. There is nothing anti-European in what I say; it is merely anti-federalist. That is because the Conservative party will defend the United Kingdom's vital interests in the European Union.