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Mr. Duncan : Has not the hon. Gentleman just made the best possible argument for not endorsing the call by the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) for a written constitution, either for us or for those who wish to join the WEU or the Council of Europe ?
Mr. Hardy : I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West on the matter. If Governments are to trample on people as many of our people have been trampled on in the past few years, the call for a written constitution will gather force. The hon. Gentleman should not adopt a superior approach, which is scarcely justified by the political record. He tempts me to go down a route of partisan politics which I am trying to avoid.
The assembly must become a little tougher in its approach and a little more demanding in its attitude towards Ministers. I have been chairman of the sub-committee on the natural environment for a long time. Our work led to the Berne convention, which is a recognition of the fact that wildlife cannot survive if its habitat is not maintained. Most member states have signed, ratified and, through legislation, implemented their commitment to it. Unfortunately, some member states, particularly Greece, have behaved extremely badly. When hon. Members can start to attend the environment committee again, they may soon have to deal with that subject, because Greece has deliberately flouted its obligation in terms of endangered species in the Mediterranean. I understand that the Greek Government have sold land that is essential for the survival of the turtle.
If Governments sign conventions and Ministers bask in righteousness and receive the plaudits of the international community and conservation organisations, but then completely ignore those obligations, the international forums must challenge them if their national parliaments will not do so. Before much longer, the Council of Europe will need to become much tougher on these matters. That may be particularly relevant to the new convention on civil liability for environmental damage, which both Ministers and mandarins recognise is a major issue. It is the
Column 1277first international agreement that recognises that the environment can be damaged and must be given priority consideration. That liability has been accepted within the new convention. If Governments then decide that they have exhausted all the credit that they can get from that development and let it rust, there will be profound disappointment.
I was slightly involved in the matter because of the Braer disaster--the tanker that was abandoned and wrecked in the far north of Scotland. Britain was extremely fortunate because a storm continued to rage and the oil was a light Norwegian crude. Had that not been the case, the shipwreck's disastrous effects would have been appalling. Liability was limited to £50 million. If those thousands of tonnes of oil had wreaked the havoc that was feared, £50 million would have compensated neither the north of Scotland nor the rest of the British Isles.
That incident justifies the need for that convention, to which I referred in my report. We need to ensure that such instruments are meaningful.
Sir Donald Thompson : I heard the hon. Gentleman's good speech in the local government and environmental committee of the Council of Europe on that very matter. Is not the obverse of the coin also true ? If this country thinks either that it cannot agree with all the terms of a convention or that other countries will sign it without agreeing with all the terms, we should not sign at all.
Mr. Hardy : The hon. Member for Calder Valley takes me to my final point on the Council of Europe. I strongly supported the initiatives in the 1980s which led to the charter on local and regional government. I recall attending the annual meeting of the executives of the local government organisations in Ireland with my Council of Europe environment committee and Ministers. I was joint chairman of the meeting with the Irish Secretary of State for the Environment and we discussed what should be the first item on the agenda. With the Conservative Members of the local government associations present, we decided that it should be the charter. I asked the Irish Minister whether he would invite a representative of each Government to respond and to state their Government's position on the charter. Naturally, the United Kingdom was at the end of the list of Governments.
All the Ministers present said that they supported the charter and that most of their countries had signed it. However, the British Minister present made the point that the hon. Member for Calder Valley has just reiterated. Obviously, one has a great deal of sympathy with the Minister's view. He said that Britain only signed charters which it could implement, but it would have been inappropriate for the United Kingdom to endorse that charter because it was about regional government, and we had no form of regional government and administration in Britain at all.
I said to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is Secretary of State for the Environment, that it was a jolly good job that there were no Scots, northern Irish or Welsh parliamentarians present at that gathering, because they would have been able to point out that in Northern Ireland to some extent and, certainly, in Wales and Scotland there is some devolution of power and administration. That in itself could have justified a rather more sympathetic approach to the charter than the Government exhibited. However, we may well find that
Column 1278that especial problem will be overcome because the Opposition are rather more sensitive to the case for regional government than are Conservative Members.
Before I sit down, I shall refer to a number of aspects of significance that have been raised with regard to the WEU. The WEU was described as the Jack-in-the-box of Europe. A few years ago, it was described as a sleeping giant which was about to awake. I remember pointing out that I did not know whether it was a giant, but that it had certainly been sleeping. The WEU is enormously important and I feel some anxiety about the view that the whole of our defence and security responsibilities should be passed to the Community. I do not feel that the Community can or should be excluded from consideration of security matters, but if defence and security are to be seen solely as matters for the member states of the EC, we would be acting in an irresponsible manner. The security of Europe is, and must be, wider than that.
There has been a considerable change in the WEU. When I first took part in the debates I used to be infuriated. We had three and a half days twice a year for debate and a profusion of Ministers would arrive--I see the hon. Member for Broxbourne smiling because she has heard me raise points of order on these matters on numerous occasions--in Paris to address the assembly. In three and a half days, we sometimes heard seven or eight Ministers and it was quite impossible to have any meaningful debate that was not interrupted by some Minister making a speech that may not have been at all interesting and, often, had remarkably little relevance to the consideration of European security. A number of British Members supported the complaints that I continued to make about the absurd frequency with which Ministers inflicted their presence on us. Without being too flattering--I have criticised the Government in many things--British Ministers of all persuasions have usually made more meaningful contributions, so their journeys may well have been more valuable than those of most of their colleagues.
The fact remains that the WEU existed, and appeared to be seen to exist, merely as an accommodation for France while it was outside the alliance structures. Of course, the situation is different now. The end of the cold war has meant that the WEU has a new role--it is a new role which most politicians in Europe have not fully perceived or recognised. During the previous assembly of the WEU--one or two hon. Members were present--we were visited by a number of politicians from eastern European countries who were demanding security guarantees. I went to the standing committee of the WEU with my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson), who is away today with the President of the WEU, to whom tribute has been paid. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) was also present, obviously, as President of the organisation there.
We heard the pleas from the eastern European countries for security guarantees. However, it had to be said that the search for the peace dividend, to which the hon. Member for Dorset, West referred, has meant that Europe is not capable of affording a security guarantee to the eastern European countries at present. By all means, we should give the opportunity --the WEU provides the vehicle for it--for those countries to maintain a dialogue which, in itself, may allay some of their anxieties.
While the WEU exists, at least it means that the frontier of NATO is not taken so far to the east that it borders the boundary of Russia. Therein lies a great deal of risk and
Column 1279balance and the Russian extremists whom we may have to meet and welcome with some grace in Strasbourg may well find themselves fortified.
I remind the House that some odd individuals have come to the WEU and the Council of Europe in the past. One of Mr. Le Pen's closest friends came, did not conquer, and went at remarkable speed. I recall a German Green arriving one day at a WEU meeting dressed in a woollen smock and wearing a large bronze bauble around his neck. Unfortunately, his only contribution was to complain about the waste of paper and the world's resources as a result of everyone travelling to the committee. I pointed out that he had arrived five minutes before the end and therefore had used as much energy in arriving at the meeting as those of us who had been there from the start. We did not see that gentleman again, and I think that that will be the same experience with the gentleman from the Soviet Union when we reach Strasbourg.
The WEU has an important role to play and not simply for the purposes that both sides recognise and have already mentioned in the debate. That role seems obvious to those Labour Members who are certainly internationalists, of whom there are many, and who are not prepared to see the structure of Europe merely making us little Europeans rather than little Englanders. That means that if the WEU is to play a proper part in the future, it must be the organisation which can provide the organised support and structured co-operation that will be necessary if international authority is to continue to be exercised, and is to be more effectively exercised in response to danger, instability and conflict within near continents or, indeed, anywhere else. The United Nations itself cannot at this stage operate as effectively as it might in response to international crises. The Western European Union, without any extravagant structures and without causing long negotiations to establish new committees and chains of command, could make a continuing contribution in that regard.
The success of the Armilla patrol in the Gulf a few years ago was one demonstration of that capacity. More recently, there was the superb but unsung operation by the naval forces of western Europe in the Adriatic to ensure that the embargo on armaments entering the former Yugoslavia was effectively operated. One rather regrets that the embargo was less satisfactorily operated at other points of entry into that troubled area.
Given the experience in the Gulf and in the Mediterranean without lavish expenditure on structures and committees, the WEU has demonstrated the value of its existence. The fact that it is there and is capable of having a sensible dialogue with the emerging east means that it would be wrong for anyone to suggest that the evolution of the Community should be of such a character as would take that role away and remove the WEU's responsibilities by transferring them on a premature and over-rapid time scale towards Brussels. I repeat that the House is indebted to the hon. Member for Newark. He has done us a great service by introducing the motion. I trust that right hon. and hon. Members will read his speech and the others in the debate, which has been extremely useful.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd) : I congratulate my hon.Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander). I listened with the greatest possible interest to the debate, and I found be interesting and informative. It is most important to bring together the Council of Europe and the Western European Union and to draw them to the attention of the House. Certainly it has been too long since there was a debate on the bodies, but I can assure my hon. Friend that both receive considerable attention from Ministers. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, take a close interest in the work of the organisations. Indeed, the latter met a number of delegation members as recently as 18 January, as I am sure that my hon. Friend knows. We have been fortunate also to have had two substantial speeches--from the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who has given many years of distinguished service to the Council of Europe as leader of his group, and from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), who, likewise, has served on the Council for a number of years as leader of his group.
I will deal first with the Council of Europe, which forms the substantive part of the debate. The United Kingdom was one of the 10 founder members and has therefore been a member since 1949. Our support for the organisation has not wavered since that time. It is a unique body, dedicated to the establishment and preservation of the rule of law, democracy and human rights throughout Europe. That role has never been more important than it is today. The break-up of the Soviet Union and the democratisation of central and eastern Europe has resulted in an increase in membership of the Council of Europe from 22 members in 1988 to 32 at the end of last year. Others could join during the next 12 to 18 months, making the organisation truly pan-European. The United Kingdom delegation's information bulletin notes that 1993 was a busy year for the Council of Europe. The UK held the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers for six months until May last year, before handing over the reins to Austria. During our period as chairman, the political affairs committee visited London for the first time in many years and was addressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My right hon. Friend also addressed the parliamentary assembly on 12 May, when he presented the statutory report from the Committee of Ministers and answered questions from delegates. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chaired the Committee of Ministers meeting on 14 May which ended our chairmanship. As hon. Members emphasised, our chairmanship was recognised as successful and did much to enhance British prestige in the Council of Europe. The first-ever Council of Europe summit was held last October, in Vienna, when the United Kingdom delegation was led with distinction by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. That summit laid down the future direction of the Council's work. It noted that the end of the division of Europe offered an historic opportunity for peace and stability on the continent and that the Council was the pre-eminent European political institution capable
Column 1281of welcoming on an equal footing and in permanent structures the democracies of Europe free from communist oppression.
Emphasis was placed on the Council of Europe's role in developing and consolidating democratic and constitutional structures, human rights and the rule of law in the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. That role is one that the Government whole-heartedly endorse and it entirely reflects the views expressed in my hon. Friend's motion.
The Council of Europe has a number of programmes of assistance to eastern and central Europe. Lode is geared towards local democracy. Demosthenes, the largest programme, covers such matters as human rights, social questions, education, culture and sport, youth and legal co-operation. Activities such as workshops, study visits, training assistance, missions and seminars are organised under that programme. Another programme, Themis, concentrates on legal training. Expenditure on co-operation with the countries of eastern and central Europe in 1994 will amount to 41.4 million French francs, which is about £4.8 million.
The assembly plays an increasing part in Council of Europe affairs, and the information bulletin provides a wealth of evidence of that. Hon. Members would neither expect nor appreciate a blow-by-blow account of everything reported in the bulletin, but there is a wide range of activities and I am pleased at the contribution made by British parliamentarians. Thanks to their efforts and those of the permanent delegation, the United Kingdom's reputation in Strasbourg is higher than ever. Moreover, our former colleague in this House, my noble Friend Lord Finsberg, has played a truly remarkable and successful role at the Council of Europe.
I also acknowledge one of the assembly's lesser known roles as parliamentary interlocutor for organisations as diverse as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Free Trade Association and the European Transport Committee. That role may be little known, but it is not unappreciated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) and the hon. Members for Wentworth and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) commented on the difficulties encountered by right hon. and hon. Members in attending and performing their duties at Council of Europe committees as a result of the arrangements in the House, and I have some sympathy for them. I hope that their cross-party opinions will be made known to Opposition Members responsible for the current situation as the need for right hon. and hon. Members to attend their committees and the assembly has been clearly demonstrated. They have demonstrated the need for our members to attend the assembly and the committees whenever possible.
If I may say so, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West spoke with characteristic feeling and frankness. He demonstrated very well for my benefit, as did my hon. Friends, the value that our members contribute to the British reputation and standing in that institution.
My hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), for Worcester (Mr. Luff) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) gave interesting analyses of the challenges that are arising as a result of post-communist Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton mentioned the evolution of institutions and I want to comment on that.
Column 1282The motion invites us to note
"the role of the Council of Europe in bringing the parliamentary process to the Parliaments and people of Eastern and Central European countries".
I am glad to do that. The parliamentary assembly plays a full and important part in that, not least by extending special guest status to countries before they are full members of the Council of Europe and in its examinations of applications for Council membership. From the comments of hon. Members whom I have mentioned and of others whom I have not mentioned by name, I have been enormously struck by the fact that the Council of Europe is a remarkable example of an institution that was invented in different times for different purposes, which has suddenly acquired an enormously enhanced new role and purpose in a post-communist European world. It must be very exciting for members of the Council of Europe to play their part in bringing those countries and their representatives into the fold of the world that we occupy and which we wish to see universal and global.
As I have said, the motion specifically notes
"the role of the Council of Europe in bringing the parliamentary process to the Parliaments and peoples of Central and Eastern Europe".
It is a sine qua non of entry to the Council that a state must be a functioning, pluralist, parliamentary democracy. On that basis alone, the Council fulfils the role mentioned. However, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, there is a dilemma. When people are not completely perfect in their institutions, we must give them comfort and welcome to encourage them to do better.
That is precisely the role of guest status. It is in that first step, in which the assembly plays a leading role in the form of the granting of special guest status in the assembly, that the hon. Gentleman's dilemma is answered.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first encounter with that robust body by parliamentarians of some of the former communist states left some in a state of shock. Further evidence suggests that, once they become used to saying freely what they like and think, they quite like the idea and take it home with them. I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley has been unable to explain to them the full depth of importance of the whipping system that we enjoy in this country. As hon. Members have explained, we sometimes despair of that system when it lets down delegates who wish to attend debates in the Council.
I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about Mr. Zhirinovsky. It is important to expose him to debate and ridicule where that is possible. I sometimes think that it would be a great thing if we could get Mr. Zhirinovsky into this place. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West and my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley would reduce him to size in no time at all. The assembly provides further assistance under its co-operation programme including colloquies, the training of young
parliamentarians and parliamentary staff and legislative assistance to the Parliaments of central and eastern Europe. In addition, information offices run by the Council have been established in Bratislava, Budapest, Prague, Warsaw and Moscow which should soon be supplemented by others in Ljubljana, Sofia, Vilnius, and possibly Bucharest. All that can only strengthen the ideals of parliamentary democracy and bring them to the attention of the wider population in those countries.
Column 1283At present, there are nine countries with applications outstanding to join the organisation, including Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Latvia ; others will join the queue. As I mentioned, the assembly will examine new applications with care. It is clear that membership is seen as a prize and as a badge of honour for countries that attain the standards set by the Council. We would not wish it to be otherwise. We should also encourage continuing dialogue with the applicant states to ensure that they are always fully apprised of what they must do to qualify for membership. That is especially true of Russia.
We and our European Union partners are on record as looking forward to Russian membership of the Council of Europe at the earliest possible date. We appreciate that there are procedures to be followed and benchmarks against which applicant states must be examined. There must be no lowering of standards and the system cannot be short-circuited. However, if the Russians are to be encouraged to develop their relationship with organisations such as the Council of Europe, it is essential that they feel that they have a fair wind behind them, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, and that they have assistance and advice to meet the standards required. We therefore especially welcome the introduction of the unique Council of Europe-Russia joint programme which envisages, among other things, regular political contacts and dialogue with the assembly and its committees, with Ministers and local government, legal advice on the compatibility of Russian law with European standards, full participation in various Councils, Council programmes, institutions and bodies, expert appraisal, colloquies, seminars, conferences, training courses, study programmes and, finally, the establishment of a Council information office in Moscow.
We hope that both Russia and the Council will seize the opportunities offered by the programme to promote mutual understanding. I understand that a successful seminar on federalism was held in Moscow last month. I have no doubt that the very wise counsel of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who has been mentioned today and who is one of the assembly rapporteurs, will be a key factor in the handling of this issue.
My hon. Friends the Members for Newark and for Esher (Mr. Taylor) spoke about Russian troop withdrawals. Obviously, Russian troop withdrawals are an important issue which the Council needs to consider. We welcome the agreement this week between Russia and Latvia to withdraw Russian troops by 31 August. We hope that a similar agreement can be reached with Estonia so that troop withdrawals there can also be completed by 31 August. I believe- -of course this is a matter for debate in the Council--that it would be impossible to consider full Russian membership when Russian troops remain in other countries against the will of those countries. The flagship of the Council is the European convention on human rights. I shall give hon. Members some background on recent moves. The work load of the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, the machinery of the convention, has grown rapidly as more countries join the Council and as public awareness of the recourse that the system offers has increased. The growth in the number of cases lodged
Column 1284has been such that it can now take up to four and a half years for a case to be decided in Strasbourg, which is an unacceptable delay. Consequently, all member states of the Council have agreed that reform of the machinery is urgently needed to enable it to cope with the increasing work load and to deal with cases expeditiously. Devising an effective reform has been one of the key tasks that the Council has faced in recent years. Together with a number of member states, principally the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, the United Kingdom originally argued for reform based on retention of the existing two-tier system of Commission and Court. Other countries favoured a merger of the two bodies into a single Court.
As hon. Members on the Council will know, support for the merger option grew and at the meeting last May, we decided to accede to that view. Ministers agreed on a mandate for the drawing up of a draft protocol on reform which, based on a single Court, included some key elements that we and other member states regarded as crucial to the success of the reform.
The work on the draft protocol is now substantially complete. Some minor tidying of the text remains to be done, but we are confident that the protocol will be ready for adoption by the Committee of Ministers at its next meeting in May. As an amending protocol to the convention, it will come into effect when it has been signed by all member states.
Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newark and for Rutland and Melton and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber mentioned the right of individual petition to the European Court of Human Rights. There is a misunderstanding in some people's minds on the issue. Every citizen in the United Kingdom has the right of petition to that court. The issue under discussion is whether that right should be enshrined as a permanent right or should remain renewable at regular intervals, as has happened in this country. At present, it is optional whether member states recognise the right of their citizens to apply to the court. Like most other member states, the UK has recognised that right since 1966, but it has done so on a renewable basis. Successive Governments have renewed their recognition every five years.
At a relatively late stage in the reform negotiations, it was proposed that recognition of the right of individual petition should be made mandatory for member states. The UK has reserved its view on the issue and is considering its position. Negotiations are continuing and it would not be appropriate for me to say more on the subject today.
I should like to comment on the incorporation into UK law of the European convention on human rights. We fully accept the principles set out in the convention. Successive Governments have taken the view that the rights set out in it are generally secured by the provisions in existing common and statute law. If the European Court finds Britain to be in violation of the convention, action is taken--usually through specific legislation--to remedy the breach.
The Government believe that incorporation would undermine the sovereignty of Parliament by giving the courts a direct role in determining the compatibility of domestic law with the convention. That would propel judges into the political arena, which we have always tried
Column 1285to avoid in Britain, and thus, to an extent, to undermine their independence. Individual rights of that sort should be determined in Parliament, not in the courts.
In opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark commented on the rights of national minorities. The problem with the Russian criticism that Estonia's proposed citizenship legislation discriminates against ethnic Russians is--so I am informed--that that legislation never became law. There is no evidence that there is discrimination. Many international missions, such as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, and those from the United Nations and the Council of Europe, have visited Estonia and found no evidence that it discriminates against or abuses the human rights of its Russian minority.
One of the key decisions made at the Vienna summit was to take action on the protection of national minorities. We recognise the urgent need to deal with the tensions that have arisen as a result of the the position of national minorities in post-communist eastern Europe. The most grievious example of those problems is found, all too tragically, in the former Yugoslavia.
In the run-up to the Vienna summit, member states sought to draw up an additional protocol to the European convention on human rights, which would have set out rights for persons belonging to national minorities and would have made those rights justiciable under the convention. In the event, the efforts to draft a protocol foundered because of differing views among the member states on whether rights should be conferred on the group or on the individual ; and, if the latter, on how to identify whether the individual belonged to a national minority.
Some member states saw the term "national minority" as referring only to indigenous or long-established groups, while others wanted to cover all ethnic minority groups, including those of recent immigrant origin. Our own view was, and is, that to define national minorities as comprising certain groups but not others would be to create more discrimination, not less, and thus undermine the whole purpose. Immediately before the summit, a draft protocol was proposed under which individuals would have gained the right not to have a name or surname imposed upon them--in other words, the right to choose and use their own names--the right to have their cultural identity protected and the right to use their own language for private purposes. Modest though those proposals were, those additional rights would have represented a huge step forward for some national minorities in central and eastern Europe. We were very much in favour of that protocol, but unfortunately opposition elsewhere was sufficient to block it. Instead the summit instructed the Committee of Ministers to draft a framework convention specifying the principles to be observed by states to ensure the protection of national minorities and to prepare a draft protocol complementing the European convention on human rights in the cultural sphere by provisions guaranteeing individual rights, particularly for persons belonging to national minorities.
The Committee of Ministers has set deadlines of 30 June this year for the completion of the framework convention and 31 December for the additional protocol. Work on the two instruments is proceeding in parallel. The United Kingdom is contributing fully to that work. A progress report is to be submitted to the Committee of
Column 1286Ministers next month. We see the roles of the Council of Europe and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe to be complementary on this issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester mentioned the social development fund. We are glad of recent decisions designed to make it more open and accountable and acknowledge the role of the parliamentary assembly in bringing its deficiencies into the open. I am afraid, however, that the United Kingdom is unlikely to join the fund. Our initial investment today would be about £26 million, added to which would be running costs of about £275,000 per year. That would entail a considerable diversion of resources from bilateral and other multilateral programmes in our aid budget. Neither we nor the other countries concerned in those programmes would favour the resulting reduction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley spoke about the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities. The summit decision to create a consultative organ representing local and regional authorities has seen the changing of the standing conference of those authorities into the new bicameral congress with separate chambers for local and regional authorities. Britain played a leading role in implementing its resolution and charter. The first meeting of the new congress will take place on 31 May.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne mentioned the European Pharmacopoeia, which was also mentioned by other hon. Members. I am not sure whether I have pronounced it correctly-- [Hon. Members :-- "No"]. It seems that I have not. It plays a leading role in setting international standards in medicines and the British Government are a firm supporter of it. I understand that China has been invited to send an observer delegation, which is must be welcome as it will extend the European Pharmacopoeia's interest and remit even wider. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that he wanted the flag raised on 5 May. We are all for flags in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the hon. Member must remember that the flag is also that of the European Union, although first of the Council of Europe. I wonder whether anything could be achieved other than total confusion.
Mr. Tony Banks : This is a genuine inquiry. Could the Minister throw some light on it ? When did that happen ? I have been involved in some arguments with members of the European Parliament, insisting that this is the flag of the Council of Europe. When did the European Union decide to take it away from the Council ?
Mr. Hardy : Perhaps I can assist the Minister and my hon. Friend. The Council of Europe decided to allow the European Community to borrow the flag and to make use of it in fairly recent years. I imagine that the flag still remains the intellectual property of the assembly, and my hon. Friend's question is a correct one.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West also asked about the Council of Europe acting as regional representative for the United Nations on human rights. That is an interesting point, but it would be much better to raise it in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe and the United Nations would certainly do well to co-operate in this area. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about co-ordination by the Council of Europe of election monitors. The Council plays an acknowledged part in election monitoring. We encourage co- operation between European organisations. There may be times when the Council of Europe is best placed to act as co-ordinator and times when others, such as the CSCE, might be better. The point is certainly good and interesting. I should now like to comment on the Council of Europe's budget. As is quite clear from my speech so far, the Government fully support the work of the Council, but, for some years, it has been Government policy not to support by vote increased expenditure that would take the overall budget of an institution such as this beyond zero real growth. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who was the first to raise this matter in the debate, knew that that would be my reply. It is important to put on the record some figures on the Council's budget over the years. The budget has increased in 1994 over 1993 by 4.6 per cent. That is against an inflation rate in France of about 2 per cent., so it is significantly more in real terms. The assembly's budget has done even better. It has been increased by 7.7 per cent. Since 1989, the Council's budget has increased by some 80 per cent. in nominal terms and by about 27 per cent. in real terms. That is over five years.
United Kingdom contributions to the Council this year will be about £15 million. We continue to urge the secretariat to prioritise its expenditure plans in accordance with the policies laid down at the summit. We are beginning to see some results, but it is a hard slog. We can only encourage the assembly to do the same by deciding its priorities. On any fair analysis, the Council of Europe has had helpful increases in its budget over the years.
Before I conclude, I should like to speak about the Western European Union.
Mr. Hardy : The Minister says that expenditure has increased by 27 per cent. over five years. The membership has increased by 65 per cent. Would the Minister care to compare that and write to the delegation on the matter ?
I welcome the fact that in the debate attention has been given to the WEU. It may not always capture the attention of the media, and in the public consciousness it does not enjoy the same profile as our principal security alliance in NATO. However, I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the fact that the Maastricht treaty set out the future of the WEU as both the European pillar of NATO and the defence component of the European Union. I am also mindful of the importance of the WEU assembly and of the central role played by the United Kingdom
Column 1288delegation in ensuring that the assembly remains vibrant and relevant in the changing security environment in which we now find ourselves.
I, too, send my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) on his success thus far as President of the assembly.
A central and important issue was raised by several hon. Members--including my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who introduced the debate, and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber--concerning the future of the WEU after 1996. The WEU will not come to an end in 1996--that is absolutely clear. In that year, it will carry out a review of its functions as part of the intergovernmental conference which it is expected will occur then. No decision about its future will be made until then. It is an autonomous, intergovernmental organisation and the decision about its future will be made by WEU Ministers, in the WEU and in the European Union. The modified Brussels treaty will not come to an end in 1998, so the future is still up for grabs. If that institution plays a role which is seen to be appropriate at that time, it will continue. At the end of the cold war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation adapted itself to enable the alliance to undertake operations going beyond purely territorial defence. We are seeing the first fruits of that adaptation in the former Yugoslavia. The NATO summit in January endorsed further steps in this direction and it makes abundant sense for the WEU to follow suit.
In Petersburg in January 1992, WEU Ministers set out the sorts of operational activities that the WEU could undertake. These included humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping, and the tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. The only limitation on these tasks laid down at Petersburg was that they should be fully compatible with the military dispositions necessary to ensure the collective defence of all NATO allies. It follows that if the forces have NATO liabilities there would clearly have to be consultation with NATO before the forces were used for a WEU operational task. That is an important point.
If such a policy as I have touched on is to work, we need an effective co- ordination system and up-to-date knowledge of the effectiveness and availability of WEU forces in times of crisis. For that reason, all WEU member states have designated military units and headquarters that they are willing to make available to the WEU for such tasks. The WEU military planning cell, which was established in October 1992, has the task of keeping updated lists of units and combinations of units that might be allocated to the WEU for specific operations.
As to WEU relations with NATO and the European Union, it is stated in the Maastricht declaration that the WEU will be developed as "the defence component of the European Union and as a means to strengthen the European pillar of the alliance."
The WEU is an autonomous treaty based on defence organisation and it occupies a unique position in European security architecture. It is thus important that I should talk about the WEU's relations with both NATO and the European Union.
It is agreed by all WEU member states that a strong transatlantic partnership is fundamentally important to European security and stability. In turn, however, the development of a European security and defence identity is an essential component of a renewed and strengthened
Column 1289transatlantic partnership. The WEU is not in competition with NATO ; it is a means to strengthen the European pillar of the alliance. The implementation of the Maastricht treaty has led to greater cohesion within the European pillar and hence a more effective and visible contribution to the alliance.
Relations between NATO and the WEU are based on the fundamental principles of transparency and complementarity. NATO is kept fully informed of what is happening inside the WEU, and vice versa, and there is no duplication of effort between them. Full transparency is possible because all full members of the WEU are members of NATO. European allies that are not members of the European Union can, as agreed at Maastricht, become associated members of the WEU, sharing as fully as possible in its activities. It is open to European Union members that do not wish to become full members of the Western European Union to take observer status.
As was stated at Maastricht, the common foreign and security policy includes all aspects of security, including the eventual development of a common defence policy that might eventually develop into common defence. As stated in the treaty, it is for the WEU to elaborate on and implement decisions and actions of the union that have defence implications. Among the Twelve, defence matters remain at intergovernmental level--reserved at this stage to the WEU, which forms the bridge between NATO and the European Union and ensures that everything that the Union does in the security sector must be compatible with the views and activities in NATO. The WEU has a key co-ordinating role to play.
The WEU has made considerable efforts to help spread stability beyond the frontiers of its member states. We are extremely keen that the WEU should strengthen its links with the countries in central and eastern Europe. I know that the assembly has been active in considering the security problems of those countries. The current link between the WEU and the countries of central and eastern Europe is maintained through the WEU forum of consultation--a purely consultative mechanism that meets once a year at ministerial level and more frequently at working levels.
The WEU Council of Ministers meeting of 22 November 1993 commissioned a study of concrete steps to enhance the relationship between the WEU and the forum of consultation countries. We are now taking that proposal forward with our partners as a matter of urgency and we believe that at this stage the focus should be on strengthening the WEU's existing arrangements for political consultation.
I have mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington. I pay tribute to the hard work and high level of participation of all members of the British delegation. Some right hon. and hon. Members may not be aware of the institutional importance of the assembly, as has been mentioned today. It occupies a unique position in
Column 1290European security architecture as the only elected European parliamentary organisation with a mandate to discuss defence matters. It provides an important forum for participation by parliamentarians from all parties from all WEU member states and, increasingly, by parliamentarians from central and eastern Europe. The reports produced under the auspices of the assembly are undoubtedly a valuable addition to the European security debate. We place great value on that and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hopes to address the plenary session of the assembly in June this year.
I hope that I have been able to make some comments of benefit to hon. Members about what they have said, and to give an indication of the Government's policy on those important organisations. I do not often have the opportunity to address the House on European matters. It is not a subject of my responsibility in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and falls to my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for European matters, but I am glad to have been able to speak on the subject today.
Our relationships with other European countries are central to our security and prosperity. That is why the Government attach such importance to the effective operation of the European institutions that we have been discussing.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House supports the important roles of the Council of Europe and Western European Union ; takes note of the work of the Parliamentary Assemblies of both bodies and, in particular, of the work and efforts of the United Kingdom's delegation ; notes the role of the Council of Europe in bringing the parliamentary process to the Parliaments and people of Eastern and Central European countries which have joined it in recent years ; recognises the special role of the Council of Europe as an institution specialising in the protection of minorities and human rights in those countries ; and welcomes the fact that under the Maastricht Treaty the Western European Union is to be the future European Defence entity and the European pillar of the new-role NATO.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have received a request from the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement to the House. I say that because the forward notices for the defence study group say that Marshal of the RAF Sir Peter Harding, Chief of the Defence Staff, will address Members of both Houses on 29 March in Room 3 at 6 pm. I wondered whether that was a mistake in the forward notices or whether there had been a development about which the House should be informed. If it is the latter case, would it be in order for the defence study group to invite Lady Bienvenida Buck along so that the House can hear both sides of the story ?