HC Deb 15 June 1976 vol 913 cc298-9
19. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next expects to meet the NATO Defence Ministers.

Mr. William Rodgers

My right hon. Friend attended the Eurogroup and Defence Planning Committee ministerial meetings last week, and is in Brussels today for the Nuclear Planning Group. Inevitably he regrets his absence from the House at question time.

Mr. Blaker

Will the Minister of State confirm that the NATO military programme—which I understand was agreed by the meeting of Ministers last week, to which he has just referred—foresees that up to 1982 the member countries will continue to spend about the same percentage of their gross national product on defence as now? Will he confirm that the Government accept that policy?

Mr. Rodgers

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that we ought to await the communiqué, which, following the usual convention, will be published at the end of this round of NATO meetings; but I have no immediate reason to dissent from the views that the hon. Member expresses.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Have the Opposition agreed to pair the Secretary of State to enable him to go to this very important meeting?

Mr. Rodgers

The circumstances were such that the importance of the meeting necessitated my right hon. Friend's attendance, whatever the cost might have been.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

We understand the reason for the Secretary of State's absence—of which he gave me notice—but in view of the obvious need to strengthen the southern flank of NATO, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that as Spain moves away from the Franco régime the British Government will not oppose Spain's joining NATO?

Mr. Rodgers

I cannot give that undertaking at the present time, although I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to report to the House on his return.