HC Deb 24 July 1984 vol 64 cc810-1
5. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will meet Lord Carrington to discuss the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's area of operations.

Mr. Heseltine

No, Sir. There are no plans to enlarge the NATO area of operations.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the continuing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the continuing threats to Western interests in the Gulf region require NATO to review its policy east of Suez instead of leaving it to the involvement of some member states?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he raises an important point. In the conduct of foreign affairs, the reality is that NATO will not act as a unified body in areas which are not immediately linked to its geographic base.

Mr. Douglas

In any discussions with Lord Carrington, will the Secretary of State discuss our position in relation to the British flag fleet and whether we should have to call on NATO partners to sustain and support us across the Atlantic in times of emergency? Additionally, will he say what strain support for the Falklands puts on our naval resources?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that the costs of the Falklands war were added to the defence budget. The Falklands losses are being replaced out of additional finance provided by the Exchequer.

Mr. Canavan

By taxpayers.

Mr. Heseltine

Of course, by taxpayers—taxpayers who elected this Government to govern the country and rejected Opposition policies.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) is fully aware that we are carefully considering the points that have been made in that context, particularly by the Select Committee, and will respond in proper time.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the establishment of NATO has proved to be a monument to peacekeeping, the time has come for a fundamental overhaul of the entire management structure. of NATO, which has not been studied for some time?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend touches on an important issue. I hope that the new Secretary-General, Lord Carrington, will have an opportunity to consider these matters and to put them to the appropriate political forums that control NATO on behalf of the Alliance.

Mr. McNamara

We welcome the Secretary of State's further commitment to the fact that NATO will have no out-of-area role as such. Will he comment upon statements in the press about joint planning with the United States Government on joint naval operations in the Gulf and give a commitment that they will not be carried out?

Mr. Heseltine

That would be an extraordinarily irresponsible commitment for me to give, but I should not want to draw the alternative conclusion. It is apparent that, in a world of uncertainty and danger, like-minded nations discuss potentialities and hypotheses very much in the hope that they will never arise. They would be much criticised if circumstances deteriorated to the point of an active war and we had made no plans.

Mr. Yeo

When my right hon. Friend meets Lord Carrington, will he urge him to consider the need to make NATO as cost-effective and efficiently managed as possible, particularly with regard to the large number of civilians employed by the organisation?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have heard what I said a moment ago. I take the same approach. It is critical that, with these vast sums of money that we manage in the defence budget, we should always ensure value for money and that as much as possible of the money finds its way to the front line.

Mr. Holt

I accept that NATO is not expanding, but is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to last night's overseas broadcast by Russia, Greece has now abrogated nine of its 11 NATO treaties? If a similar Socialist Government came to power in this country, is it not likely that a similar shrinkage would occur here?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will not misunderstand me when I say that I do not rely wholly for my political information on Soviet broadcasts about the policies of NATO. My hon. Friend might be best advised to pursue his inquiries with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.