HC Deb 06 April 1976 vol 909 cc218-21
22. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with current arrangements for consultations with NATO officials.

Mr. Mason

Regular and wide-ranging contacts are maintained with NATO officials on all matters of common interest, and I am satisfied with these arrangements.

Mr. Marshall

Is the Secretary of State aware of the published views of a NATO general, who says he believes that Russian capability is now so strong that it could overrun Europe by conventional means alone? Does he not now accept the wise words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition as timely and in stark contrast to his own complacency?

Mr. Mason

The answer to both parts of the supplementary question is "No, Sir". If the hon. Gentleman had attended the defence debate he would have heard that the Belgian officer concerned had based his information on material that was at least six years out of date. It has no credence in NATO circles and has nothing to do with the NATO Defence Military Planning Council.

Mr. Trotter

Has discussion with NATO extended to consideration of the situation in the Indian Ocean, particularly concerning Gan, bearing in mind that the Russians and Cubans would be the ones who would take most advantage of any tourist facilities to be promoted in Gan in future? Is he further aware that the so-called Government of the Maldive Islands are hard to find and have the unusual habit of marooning their Prime Minister on a desert island?

Mr. Mason

I do not see that the subject of the Indian Ocean has anything to do with NATO, which is the Question that appears on the Order Paper. The balance of naval forces in the Indian Ocean takes into consideration the fact that British, French and United States forces are a match for the Soviet forces. Consequently, Diego Garcia has changed from a communication facility to a support facility.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does my right hon Friend agree that one of the weaknesses in respect of arms on the NATO side is lack of standardisation? In any discussions with NATO officials on standardisation matters, will the Secretary of State ensure that some progress is made and that this country receives its share of whatever arms are produced?

Mr. Mason

Great progress is being made on standardisation within NATO. Apart from the activities of the European group of Defence Ministers, my hon. Friend will know that an independent group was recently established incorporating the French. We can now look to a wholly European procurement idea of what is required for NATO and therefore speed up the standardisation of NATO equipment.

Mr. Mates

The Secretary of State says that information on which the Belgian officer concerned acted was six years out of date. Will he say whether our strength relative to that of the Soviet bloc forces has grown greater or less in the ensuing six years?

Mr. Mason

In regard to NATO the hon. Gentleman must be aware that because of the triad of forces in conventional, tactical and nuclear strategy, there will be a deterrent against present Warsaw Pact strengths. Secondly, in the past year the hon. Gentleman will know from the White Paper on Defence that there has been a shift in conventional strengths in favour of Warsaw Pact countries.

23. Mr. Hastings

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the current strength and state of preparation of the NATO Alliance.

Mr. Mason

It would be dangerous ever to become complacent about the forces available to NATO, but I do, of course, have confidence in the triad of forces which support NATO's flexible response strategy. NATO countries, including the United Kingdom, are also alert to the need to maintain the quality and effectiveness of their forces and equipment to take account of the increasing military capability of the Warsaw Pact.

Mr. Hastings

In view of what the Secretary of State said this afternoon in response to an earlier supplementary question, does he take so little account of the risk of the Alliance in Southern Africa, in terms of the loss of immense supplies of raw materials and of our trade routes? Will he think again about this matter and say whether he will persuade his colleagues in the Alliance to be more aware of the risks in the area?

Mr. Mason

The Question relates to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and not to developments beyond the Cape.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is it not part of the NATO decision to base the British Army in Germany? If so, why does not NATO, and Germany itself, accept a greater part of the cost, which is £700 million a year, £350 million of which is in foreign exchange?

Mr. Mason

The figures that my right hon. Friend quoted are not strictly correct but, as he realises, the offset agreement with the Germans expired last week and negotiations are already under way with them on a new agreement.

Mr. Adley

As the COCOM was was originally compiled to deal with a considered threat from NATO's enemies and world events have moved on, particularly in South-East Asia, since then, will the Secretary of State consider a re-examination of COCOM to see that it is now made relevant solely to members of the Warsaw pact?

Mr. Mason

The COCOM agreement is constantly under review and is changed when necessary.

Mr. Molloy

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the essential that NATO claims that it stands for would be enhanced not only in Africa but throughout the world if it made an open declaration of utter condemnation of the behaviour of some States in Southern Africa and issued a decree that it is absolutely opposed to any form of racial discrimination?

Mr. Mason

That is more a question for my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary, but most of the members of the NATO Alliance have already condemned the practices to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Onslow

Returning to the offset agreements, is it not a fact that the German-American offset agreement expired last year and that no new agreement has yet been concluded? If that is so, how long does the Secretary of State expect the negotiations for a new agreement between ourselves and the Germans to take, and what interim arrangements is he trying to make?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. It did not expire last year. It expired last week. Concerning the American agreement, they have made progress with the Germans. Our agreement expired last week, and the first consultations on a new agreement took place between my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister and Helmut Schmidt at Chequers quite recently. I think that it will take some time before we can conclude a fresh agreement.