Orders of the Day — Eastern Europe

– in the House of Commons at 8:39 pm on 27th July 1989.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate 8:39 pm, 27th July 1989

It has been an honour and a privilege for two years to have led the United Kingdom delegation to the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. It is a pleasure because the delegation is mixed politically and works remarkably well. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who leads the Labour group, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), who acts as my Whip, and whose idea it was to ask for this debate. He asked whether I would support it in writing; I did so, and the ballot produced my name first. I hope that he will not mind if I say some of the things that he might have said.

I wanted particularly to talk about the Council of Europe because of what I can only call the distorted, inaccurate and outdated attack made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on 14 July at columns 1269–71. It was his second speech in a two-day foreign affairs debate. I pause to wonder whether any other Privy Councillor has ever exercised the privilege of making speeches on two successive days, thus depriving colleagues of speaking time. I have never before attacked my right hon. Friend in public; I felt that it was not right to do so. On this occasion he will not be able to say that he has heard it all before. I cannot allow his words to remain unchallenged on the record.

My right hon. Friend said that the Council of Europe achieved useful work during its early years. He added that it was formed as a forum for discussion and nothing more, and that it had never been able to fulfil any other purpose.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

No, I shall not give way. I ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me for not doing so. He will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate, and will understand that others wish to speak. That is why I would rather not give way on this occasion.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

Very well, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He normally gives way when hon. Members wish to intervene.

I know the hon. Gentleman to be an honourable man and I inquire whether he notified his former leader and Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), that he would make these comments.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

I notified my right hon. Friend through his parliamentary private secretary. I suggest that among colleagues there is no purpose in making such a point.

In this, as in so many other ways, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup is out of touch and out of date. For example, he may not have heard of the Colombo commission, which had many distinguished members, many of them as committed Europeans as himself. The members of the commission concluded that the Council of Europe was vital in achieving closer unity among Europeans. The 40th anniversary communiqué of the Council of Ministers of the 23, which include the 12, stated: We are determined to exploit the Council of Europe's potential in full by giving a new impetus and political direction to the intergovernmental co-operation conducted within its framework. We are counting on the promotional and initiatory action of the Assembly, which as parliamentary organ of the Council of Europe composed of members of national Parliaments is in constant touch with the public's wishes and concerns and provides the essential link with national democratic institutions. To strengthen the means of action it intends to integrate the conferences of specialised Ministers more fully into the Council of Europe's institutional framework and decision-making process;c. to maintain the political dialogue within the Committee of Ministers with emphasis on the political aspects of European co-operation in general and … to ensure that public opinion is better informed of the Council of Europe's aims and achievements. That is enough to show that the views of my right hon. Friend are not shared by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Italy or the United Kingdom, who signed that unanimous declaration. Nor are his views shared by many friends in all parties of the Council of Europe who come from France, Germany and Italy.

Another current issue is the social charter. The Council of Europe has a remarkably good social charter that works. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was criticised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, but her views were endorsed unanimously at the European Council at Rhodes on 2 and 3 December 1988. The communiqué read: As regards implementation of social rights, the European Council awaits such proposals as the Commission might consider useful to submit having drawn inspiration from the social charter of the Council of Europe. Mr. Mitterrand does not share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup about the Council of Europe.

I shall leave what I call the past, but it was essential to set the record straight, or what the Ministers said in their communiqué about enlisting public opinion would not have had effect.

We have three European bodies to consider: the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. The European Parliament is directly elected and its members derive their support from direct elections. The members of the Council of Europe and the WEU are drawn from national Parliaments—from us. It is a more valuable method of approach to raise on the Floor of the House the issues that concern us at the Council of Europe or the Western European Union. That method is essential in more than one way. In the period immediately ahead we must try to work as good Europeans. That does not mean one European state. but achieving unity of purpose with a diversity of culture and nationhood. Each organisation has its own distinct task to perform.

Economic and trade matters are for the European Community and the European Parliament. Defence and security are for the Western European Union. Those powers are given to the WEU by treaty—the modified Brussels treaty of 1954—and are not weakened by the Single European Act. The WEU has been strengthened immensely by four recent events. The first was the accession of Portugal and Spain. The second was the out-of-area activities in the Gulf where, for the first time, every member of the WEU co-operated. Luxembourg, which does not have a Navy, contributed financially towards the cost of the operations, and that was much appreciated. The third was the broad measure of support and endorsement given to the WEU by the present and previous United States Administrations.

The fourth event was the distinguished chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the WEU by the British Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Defence. The hon. Member for Wentworth, who outside this place I would call my friend, will agree that, remembering the other Chairmen of the Council, ours were outstanding. My right hon. and learned Friend the former Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Defence did a first-class job and got things done, which was extremely important.

The Council of Europe is responsible for cultural, environmental, human rights and related matters that can provide the bridge between East and West. The building of that bridge is probably the most important task to which the Council has set its hand during the past few months. The time has come when there is an opening and an opportunity for the bridge to be constructed. Not only was Mr. Gorbachev's visit to Strasbourg significant for his choice of the Council of Europe to address, but the Council's parliamentary assembly—which now embraces all 23 nations of western Europe and Scandinavia, making it the largest European organisation extant—extended guest membership to the USSR, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Poland.

Those who attended the latter part of that session could not have been anything but moved by the speeches of the Poles and Hungarians in particular. It was emotionally moving to hear the Poles, a very gallant people, speaking again in a democratic institution after 40 years or more of silence. The speech of the Soviet representative was encouraging because it recognised that Soviet internal laws must be changed to bring into force some of the human rights provisions to which the Soviets have signed their name under the Helsinki agreement. It was the most interesting meeting that I have attended for many years.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

My hon. Friend's remarks totally give the lie to the allegations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Does my hon. Friend agree that the Council of Europe is so enhanced that it is paving the way and, in a pioneering spirit, is recording achievements that were unthought of even five years ago?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is significant that the Council of Ministers within the Council of Europe contains the identical Ministers who comprise the Council of Ministers in the European Community. Clearly they believe that the Council of Europe performs a function that cannot be fulfilled by the Community.

Even more, in the next few months we shall see the signing of certain Council of Europe conventions by its new guest members, which will also represent an enormous advance. Mr. Gorbachev's comment that we must all work together to achieve clean, safe nuclear power, and his offer to share ideas on how to achieve that, were among the most helpful contributions that I have heard for a long time. Much of that work can be done in the Council of Europe. The Council is not a mere talking shop, which was the criticism at the heart of the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, but a parliamentary assembly for Europe which, if progress is made as we hope, will in time offer full membership to all of Europe—east, west and central. A Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals is surely what we all want, because that would herald a real era of peace.

I am proud to be a vice-president of the WEU and the Council of Europe, because that gives me an insight into what can be achieved. The Council, the WEU and the European Parliament each has a separate job to do, but they should work in harmony to avoid duplication or triplication. I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his new post, and if he is to be our ministerial link with the Council of Europe, I shall be delighted. I ask him to put some pressure on the Council of Ministers of the European Community to intervene when it witnesses the European Parliament embarking on action in areas that are clearly not its concern. The European Parliament is attempting to become involved in defence, for example, which is totally outwith its competence. It would be helpful if the Ministers of the Twelve would say so. Although they cannot stop the European Parliament becoming involved, they could at least make it clear that that is not the European Parliament's task. It also wants to get in on the act in respect of the Council of Europe's activities on human rights. That is fine, and I am delighted that it is interested, but the European Parliament has other important work to do. If the Ministers, wearing their Twelve hats, would say so, it would be very welcome.

I have never shared the view often expressed that the work that right hon. and hon. Members do outside this Chamber is not important. Through our ability to represent, in European assemblies, different strands of opinion from this Chamber, we can offer Europe some of the ideas of democracy that have been ours for a long time. We can demonstrate that one can consider arguments made rationally in debate, rather than endure a series of set speeches. In that way the Council of Europe, which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary, can look forward to celebrating an equally successful 50th anniversary.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli 8:55 pm, 27th July 1989

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) on initiating this debate, even though one reason for it was to criticise his right hon. Friend for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman in that domestic and internal dispute, but the debate is important because it is about not only the Council of Europe but the relationship between it and what is still called eastern Europe.

Momentous changes are occurring in Europe, and it is in everyone's interest to ensure that Europe's institutions play their part in ensuring that those changes occur in a peaceful and orderly manner. Yalta, the post-war settlement, cannot survive perestroika. Eastern Europe is rapidly becoming central Europe again. When we debate these matters again in five years' time, perhaps we shall not talk about eastern Europe but about central Europe.

The Soviet Union is, sadly perhaps, in some decline, and the corollary is that Germany is in the ascendancy. The countries of what we still call eastern Europe are moving towards democratic, pluralistic societies. Poland and Hungary are in the vanguard, and, despite Czechoslovakia's problems, and given its strong democratic, industrial and manufacturing traditions, it will not be very far behind. It is in the interest of us all, both on the Left and on the Right in Europe, to ensure that changes are made quietly and peaceably.

I do not want to introduce a partisan note, but there is a danger that certain people on the radical Right in Europe, or more so in the United States, and who may number among them emigres or those who want to pay off old scores against eastern Europe and its Communist parties, may want to push change too fast and propel the countries of eastern Europe towards a kind of Hayekian, Right-wing capitalist society. I do not believe that those countries want that. I think that they want to move gradually back into the social democratic traditions of western Europe. I even believe—I have no evidence for this—that President Gorbachev would like to move the Soviet Union gradually back towards those social democratic traditions. We must be careful not to push change too quickly. We must also be careful not to push our ideology on those countries, but to let change develop gradually and peacefully.

The great unmentionable is Germany. As the Soviet Union declines, Germany will become more powerful. The German Democratic Republic cannot survive perestroika. In the end, it cannot survive the changes taking place in Hungary, in Poland and—I think and I hope—in Czechoslovakia. The GDR, like the Federal Republic of Germany, is a state, not a nation. Whereas Hungary and Poland can adapt to those changes, the GDR, being to some extent an artificial state, cannot maintain the reason for its existence, which has been the 40 years of a division of Europe.

We must face the fact—I do not say this in any fear or panic—that perestroika and the changes that we all want to see will lead, sooner rather than later, to what may be described as the reunification of Germany. I do not know whether that will be done through a federal concept. The policy of Labour and Conservative Governments has been that the wall should come down. If it does, we must think through the consequences for Germany and for Germany's position in that part of Europe.

When the reunification comes, Germany will be even stronger. The Soviet Union will have to reach an accommodation with Germany. Reaching an accommodation with Germany may well lead to the reunification of Germany because the Soviet Union will need the technological advice and the industrial assistance which only Germany can provide in that part of Europe.

Whether we like it or not, we shall gradually see German economic domination of the countries to the east of Germany which we now call eastern Europe. In Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary we shall see German economic hegemony. We shall also see that moving through the Ukraine into the Soviet Union.

Mr. Gorbachev calls for a common European house. Perhaps that will come about.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

There is some debate about that. If it is a common European home, that is all very well. But that home will be situated in what I would call a common deutschmark zone because the deutschmark and the power of Germany will dominate the common European home or house in that part of Europe. Just as the deutschmark is dominating the western part of Europe, it will also dominate the eastern part of Europe as perestroika proceeds.

The French panic about such matters. They have spotted that situation and have thought about it. Apparently M. Mitterrand and M. Jacques Delors think that the German juggernaut can be prevented from going east or west by creating some sort of common currency, whether it is called the ecu or anything else. The central bank in Brussels will apparently stop Germany's industrial and economic might. That will not work. A currency is only as strong as the industrial and economic power of the country behind it. But the French have come up with a wheeze and no doubt they will try to push it. Whatever happens to European economic and monetary union, it will not work.

We do not know what the British Government think. We welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his appointment. I do not expect him to deal with the matter tonight, but one of these days, we must debate the issue in a wider context than tonight's debate. As far as I am aware we have not yet debated it at all. It is the great unmentionable. We are told that the Prime Minister is a bit worried about German domination and does not know what to do about it. With our weak economy there is nothing that we can do about it. But at least we can start debating the matter. At least we can see that, as the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) said, the institutions of Europe can be used to ensure peaceful change. In the end, we must also debate what we think about the possible or probable reunification of Germany. Those matters are better debated. We have swept them under the carpet for too long.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test 9:03 pm, 27th July 1989

I was extremely surprised when I read the report of the foreign affairs debate on Friday 14 July in which a person whom I have respected over many years, in a tirade, almost of denigration, suddenly turned against the work so ably carried out by the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. I was appointed to the European Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1973. I was appointed the chairman of the first British committee of transport and regional planning about three months later and I served for 10 years in the Council of Europe.

As Whip of the delegation I know how hard most of our members work and how dedicated we are to bringing to a successful conclusion what seems to be a tremendous opportunity now, with Mr. Gorbachev pinpointing Strasbourg—not the Strasbourg of the Economic Community, but the Strasbourg of the Council of Europe—to make a major speech. Mr. Gorbachev has also put his seal of approval on the fact that we are now inviting as guests 18 representatives from the USSR, six from Hungary, seven from Poland and eight from Yugoslavia. He is determined to establish links with us, especially on some of our committees with scientific and technological knowledge—for example, the defence and armaments committee of the WEU, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) is chairman.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

My hon. Friend will also be well aware that the WEU has recently received a high-level visit from representatives of the Supreme Soviet, including a general and others, who came to the WEU headquarters in Paris for discussions. That was another tremendous advance in political representatives' thinking and understanding.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

Quite so, and those of us who had not worked with Russians at the committee table before were surprised by the tremendous degree of glasnost which was evident in Paris only two or three weeks ago.

I am not surprised that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has emphasised the work done on the social charter in the past. It was quite obvious to me that my right hon. Friend saw no reason to accept Mr. Delors's version of the social charter because on 18 October 1961 we signed a European social charter along with 13 other nations. That process has continued to expand through the work of the various committees of the Council of Europe, and it is now fairly obvious to most of us who know Europe that the Commission is picking up most of its ideas on the subject from work done by the Council of Europe in the past.

One of the recent books that has been produced is the report on the activities of the Council of Europe in 1987. I recommend it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup because it may help to bring him up to date with the work of the Council of Europe. It is sad that 36 Members of this House and the other place should go to Europe and work on these matters only to find ihat a well-respected right hon. Friend suddenly seems to know little about the work that is done.

My right hon. Friend obviously knows about the work of the European Court of Human Rights, and he probably knows that more than 14,500 cases have been investigated by that court since 1950, but does he know a great deal about the European social charter introduced in 1965? Does he know that we have a convention on the eradication of torture, which was opened for signature in November 1987? Does he realise that we have explored terrorism to the extent of declaring that certain acts of terrorism can no longer be regarded as political crimes for the purposes of extradition and mutual assistance? Is not the Council well ahead with the problems of terrorism, in its 1977 convention on the suppression of terrorism? What about data protection, which is almost a new subject? We were discussing it in 1981 in the Council of Europe. What about wildlife, the new "in" thing with which everyone is so concerned? We had a convention on the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats in June 1982.

The list is long and sometimes I despair that we will ever break through, not to the 400 million Europeans but to the community of 600 here in the Palace of Westminster. After the Heysel stadium tragedy in 1985 we had a convention which laid down binding agreements to deal with hooliganism. We have a convention on transfrontier co-operation. That ensures co-operation on major roads and bridges and the free transport of goods and so on. We have also dealt with local self-government. Lately we have dealt with audio-visual issues. We have a European convention on transfrontier television. The Stockholm conference was a tremendous success. Everyone assumed that it was something to do with the Community, but it was to do with the work carried out by the Council of Europe.

There is a long list of other conventions. We have a convention on insider trading which has been one of the most serious issues in this country in the past couple of years. We have also dealt with international bankruptcy. We have to work on a complete European scale to obtain any control.

The problem is that very few people know about the work done on drug abuse by the Pompidou group. Very few people know about the youth activities in the Community or the work done by the Council of Europe, covering the European youth centre and the European Youth Foundation. Does anybody here know about that? What is wrong with our public relations? Are we not getting it through to our elder statesmen that Europe has moved on?

We are hoping to co-operate with Mr. Gorbachev on his idea of a pan-European process. Will we ever be able to have a cross-fertilisation of ideas with the iron curtain countries? Are we seeing the first break in the wall to which the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) referred? Has not Hungary destroyed its own fences and the land mines that separate it from Austria? As Winston Churchill said, we should have "talk-talk, not war-war"—I am sure that someone will correct me.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

I hope that Hansard got all that.

We do jaw a lot. I must apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. However, at the end of the day we make sense. If the 23 Ministers in the Council of Ministers wish to pick up some of the wisdom that we documented it is perfectly right for them to do so. Those of us who are interested need to explain to those who do not know exactly what the work entails.

There are three sections in the title of the debate. I have already dealt with the Council of Europe. Many other hon. Members will deal with the Western European Union, which deals with defence, and the links with Europe which will pervade everything we do in Europe in the next decade. We will endeavour from time to time to bring fresh issues from Strasbourg to the House hoping that we can find further slots in which to discuss them.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth 9:14 pm, 27th July 1989

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) for providing the House with a great deal of detail about the achievement of the Council of Europe over the past decade. If I take issue with him at all, it would be over the fact that the Berne convention was slightly earlier than the date that he gave, because it responded to a report that I presented to the Assembly. I am obliged to him and he serves this debate, as he serves the delegation, extremely well.

About five years ago the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) said that he often disagreed with me, but "not today". I often disagree with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate, but not today. In introducing this debate, his speech was a model of clarity and could well be copied by educational institutions which want a brief but accurate digest of the current structures of European activity.

I will follow the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate in criticising the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). In 1975, at the height of the leadership struggle in the Conservative party, I presented a Bill which became the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975. In schedule 2, I included the "blue heath" in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would survive. If I could remove the "blue heath" from that Act after the debate on 14 July, I would. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup did a great disservice to the House by presenting a grossly inaccurate assessment of the current political position in Europe, and an unjust criticism of the Council of Europe.

On 14 July, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup suggested that the Council of Europe was merely a political forum. I believe that Europe needs a political forum, as the Community is bogged down in the morass of detail which always seems to engage it nowadays. Someone had to provide the stage on which history could be made. Those of us who were present when Mr. Gorbachev visited the Council of Europe will long remember that historic moment, just as we have cause for satisfaction, if not pride, in the fact that we took part in the decision to establish guest status.

I would like to entertain a rather selfish hope. When the environment committee of the Council of Europe, which I still chair, visits Yorkshire in October, I hope that the guest members will attend that first meeting of the Council of Europe outside Strasbourg. It would be very fitting if those members came to this country. Although the media in Britain scarcely recognises the existence of the Council of Europe and its many activities, it is fair to say that over the years British parliamentarians from both sides of the House have made a disproportionate contribution to the activities of the Assembly.

I want to follow the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). We need to ensure that a political forum exists, because the pace of change, which is dramatic in 1989, presents Europe and the world with serious challenges. In the debate on 14 July, to which reference has already been made, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) referred to some of the problems that face the world. He said that 22 countries have missile programmes and 17 countries already have missiles in place. We know from meetings of the Western European Union a few months ago that probably 26 countries now have a chemical weapon capacity, and that number may be much higher in a few months' time.

Given that kind of challenge and uncertainty, it is right that the Council of Europe should provide a platform and forum for discussion and provide Russia and the other eastern European countries with an avenue towards democracy. However, it should do that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said, with a degree of common sense which must recognise that the process must be gradual. It must have our encouragement and be assisted by material provision and the neighbourly political approach that the Strasbourg assembly can offer.

At this stage of history, the Council of Europe is in a more important position than ever. Therefore, next time he embarks on a foreign affairs debate, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup would be wiser to look more widely. It is all very well for politicians to fix their eyes on the distant uplands of supranational sanity of world peace and international accord, but, if they flounder in the morass of the bureaucracy that they cannot perceive immediately in front of them, they do themselves, their country and their continent a disservice.

As the hon. Members for Hampstead and Highgate and for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) know, the Members of my committee sought to work with members of the European Parliament environment committee last year. We actually took ourselves to Brussels to meet them. It is not an experience that we would wish to repeat. Their main interest was in trying to impress us by telling us how many hundreds upon hundreds of directives they had agreed and how many tonnes of paper they had approved, and they seemed to think that we should automatically go out of existence.

On 14 July the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to Austria. Our friends in Austria and Switzerland today resent the bureaucratic approach that the Community adopts. The bureaucratic approach in Brussels is taken nearly to the point of arrogance. It seems to assume that Austria and Switzerland, being non-member states of the Community, must recognise transport priorities and allow international transport to thunder through their mountain passes. Our Austrian and Swiss colleagues have rightly used the Council of Europe to show that they are not prepared to tolerate that approach.

There is a place for the Council of Europe. The place is historic and the role is substantial. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will sustain that role and that Europe will recognise that it is of continuing importance.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood 9:22 pm, 27th July 1989

As the shadows of this declining Session lengthen and as the busy world of Parliament is hushed, the small voice of European experience and reason is still heard in the calm reflective atmosphere. How welcome it is. I congratulate the leader of our delegation, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), on introducing the debate. How good, too, it was to hear the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) in this foreign affairs debate. We miss his intellect and incisive wit in defence debates. It was stimulating to hear him ponder on the future of Europe and on how perestroika will affect the Yalta settlement of our continent.

Other hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), have spoken mainly about the Council of Europe. Apart from a brief postscript to my remarks about the Council of Europe and its relations with eastern Europe, I shall deal with the Western European Union.

Since the Brussels treaty was modified by the Paris protocols in 1954, British interest in the WEU has been spasmodic and often lukewarm. There have, been occasions when the Western Europan Union has been politically useful for the United Kingdom—above all as a point of contact with the six original member countries of the EC following President de Gaulle's veto on Britain's first application to join the European Community, until Britain decided to join the Community in the early 1970s.

However, from the date of Britain's accession in 1973 until the reactivation of the WEU in Rome in 1984, or even until the platform of European security interests was agreed in 1987, the United Kingdom appeared to show little interest in the potential of either the WEU Ministerial Council in London as a forum for concerting west European security policy, or in the potential of the WEU Assembly in Paris—the sole parliamentary institution empowered by treaty to debate defence issues and to make recommendations on security policy to the Councils of Defence and Foreign Ministers of the member countries.

Since, after 1954, NATO was entrusted with responsibility for the military aspects of the Brussels treaty's mutual security provisions, the United Kingdom has always felt ambivalent towards the WEU, lest the attempt to create a stronger western European defence identity within the Atlantic Alliance be seen by the United States as an attempt by seven west European nations, albeit collectively, to usurp the predominant role of the Americans within the NATO alliance.

In practice, as the economic strength of western Europe has grown relative to that of the United States, our American friends, driven by a desire to see the Europeans assume a fairer share of the common burden of Alliance defence, have been more and more supportive of efforts to reinvigorate the WEU, both institutionally and by enlargement through the accession of Portugal and Spain.

Not only are the mutual defence requirements of the Brussels treaty more binding than those of the north Atlantic treaty, but they are not geographically limited as are those of NATO. As the projection of Soviet military power has become increasingly global, the relevance of the out-of-area provisions of WEU's founding treaty have grown. That was emphasised during the Iran-Iraq war, when the WEU was the political instrument for securing joint action in the Gulf by the navies of Britain, Belgium, France, Holland and Italy, with financial assistance from Luxembourg and compensatory naval deployment to the Mediterranean provided by West Germany. That out-of-area naval co-operation much impressed the United States and the WEU was publicly praised for it by President Bush.

It is important not to lose the momentum generated towards reinvigorating and enlarging the WEU. First, the aim should be clearly stated of encouraging all the Euro-group nations to join. Secondly, collocation of the Ministerial Council, agency and Assembly in a single site should be achieved at the earliest possible date. I have said before that county hall, London would have been an ideal headquarters for all the WEU as it has ample office space, committee rooms and, of course, a fine hemicycle. Furthermore, the United Kingdom lacks a major European institution and, as the most Atlantic of the WEU nations, collocation of all WEU's organs in London would have reassured the Americans.

As it is, the Government favour Brussels for the headquarters of the WEU, but that is fundamentally unacceptable to France and there is no point in antagonising further the WEU's strongest supporter.

If the British Government will still not press for London, Paris should be the chosen headquarters for the WEU. After all, Paris already houses the Assembly and agency, the proposed WEU defence institute is to be located there, France plays a key role in European defence, and other major international institutions, such as the European Space Agency and the OECD, are situated in Paris.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend about London, but I acknowledge the necessity of getting right the location of the headquarters of the WEU. I agree with my hon. Friend that the momentum must be carried on and that we must be vigilant, because I hear rumours that Mr. Delors has established an advisory team on defence. It appears that there may be a takeover in due course.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as chairman of the committee on defence questions and armaments of the WEU knows much about these matters. He gives a further reason why we must place emphasis on the reinvigoration of the WEU and on making it active.

A revived, enlarged and renewed WEU would be invaluable in concerting a joint western European position on key strategic issues, East-West relations, arms control and out-of-area security problems. I do not think that, through the WEU or any other institution, the west European nations should try to achieve an arms control position different from that of the Americans. It is important that the Americans negotiate on our behalf. The west European nations should have a single position that they can share with their American allies. The European members of NATO could more easily speak with one voice to their American allies and harmonise a single west European position on matters such as Ostpolitik, inter-German relations, which were alluded to by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), technology, credit transfer to Warsaw pact countries, terrorism, low-intensity operations and out-of-area military threats.

Furthermore, the WEU should provide the motor to impel closer European arms co-operation. It should be the political driving force behind the independent European programme group and should help to set the priorities for a European defence research agency to manage common technology projects, funded by a common military research fund.

The WEU should become the forum for the formulation of a west European military space strategy, identifying the technologies required and concerting a military space programme complementary to that of the United States. As the European Space Agency is precluded by statute from military space activity, industry Ministers of WEU member countries who sit on the ESA military council should, ex officio, be co-opted on to the WEU Ministerial Council to assist their Defence Minister colleagues to agree a European military space strategy.

The WEU should be the vehicle for European defence rationalisation by encouraging joint training, exchange postings of personnel, the use of other countries' ranges, exercise areas and test and research facilities. Its aim must be to strengthen the west European contribution within NATO and to mobilise the backing of political, parliamentary and public opinion for that purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate rightly made clear the advantage of the WEU and the Council of Europe. The members of those parliamentary assemblies are members of their national Parliaments. They can mobilise parliamentary and public opinion in their countries and vote the funds necessary to achieve the European objectives pursued through the WEU and the Council of Europe.

Ultimately, a European defence policy co-ordinated in the WEU, and agreed by the United States and Canada, should play a bigger role in guaranteeing western interests worldwide as well as the freedom of member states of the WEU. That European defence policy would draw on the specialist and traditional expertise of European nations within NATO, so that Britain's treaty commitment of 55,000 men and a tactical air force on the continent of Europe, laid down in the Paris protocols of 1954 to the Brussels treaty, could be accommodated and, if necessary, adapted by international agreement to the realities of the dynamic political reform affecting central and eastern Europe and to the changed nature of the East-West security system in Europe brought about by the arms control and disarmament process.

In short, the United Kingdom has a unique opportunity to take a major initiative in the security dimension of European construction. This is the key area of west European co-operation. It is still the responsibility of sovereign states working together for a common purpose outside the European Community framework, but in a manner in which all our peoples and electorates can take pride.

In conclusion, I must allude to the guest status which the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has granted to representatives from the legislative assemblies of Hungary, Poland, the USSR and Yugoslavia. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, whom I welcome to his new functions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that this aspect of the work of the Council of Europe is worth monitoring closely.

I urge a certain amount of caution. When I listened to President Gorbachev's speech, I felt that it was an overt political attempt to put western Europe within the Soviet sphere of influence. His idea of the common European home is that he should be the landlord and that we should be the tenants. When we grant special status to the USSR, we must remember that the Baltic states, for example, have a right to nationhood that we recognise de jure by not accepting the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union in 1940. In addition, the Ukraine and Byelorussia have a distinct status in that they are individually recognised by the United Nations. To imagine that human rights in the USSR are rosy would be to delude ourselves. The lot of the refuseniks is a hard one and the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches are still banned.

We are proceeding cautiously and, I believe, wisely. I urge the Minister and the Government to keep a watching brief on these matters and to do their best to reinvigorate Britain's role within the WEU, because that organisation has considerable potential.