HC Deb 11 June 1986 vol 99 cc309-11
2. Mr. Fallon

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Foreign Ministers.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I next expect to meet other NATO Foreign Ministers collectively at the North Atlantic Council ministerial meeting in Brussels in December.

Mr. Fallon

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the primary interests of the Soviet Union is to invent and exploit potential divisions between members of the Alliance—for example, this country and the United States? Is it not highly irresponsible of the shadow Foreign Secretary, when in Moscow, to lend himself to a conspiracy against the membership and strength of the Western Alliance?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If I had to account for all the activities of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), I should spend a great deal of time trying to defend him in vain. I hope that he took the opportunity when he was in Moscow to drive home to the Soviets the need for them to reach out for a balanced agreements on arms control.

Mr. Winnick

Is it the intention of NATO Ministers to send congratulations to the newly elected President of Austria? Can the Foreign Secretary—

Mr. Speaker

Order. What has this matter to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

Mr. Winnick

I should like to know from the Foreign Secretary whether the NATO Foreign Ministers believe that it is desirable that someone who, at best, prostituted himself for the Nazi war machine and at worst actually gave orders that led to countless deaths should have been elected as President of Austria. Why did the British Government send congratulations? Does the Foreign Secretary understand the deep concern among many people in Britain over what has happened in Austria?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I admire the hon. Gentleman's capacity to stretch the rules of order to their limit. It is not my intention, speaking on behalf of NATO Foreign Ministers, to answer his question. Each Government have responded to the outcome of the democratic election conducted in Austria on the basis of their judgment of the facts.

Sir Peter Blaker

What does my right hon. and learned Friend believe would be the reaction of his NATO colleagues if it were to be announced that this country was intending to give up unilaterally its independent strategic nuclear deterrent and to expel American nuclear bases from this country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have no doubt at all that my NATO colleagues would react with shock and astonishment at such an announcement, because it would cast away the effective foundation of the defence of this country as well as the effective foundation for our playing a realistic part in the arms control debate.

Mr. Faulds

Is not one of the most damaging influences at play in relation to the success of NATO the American President, who pursues policies that damage the organisation, such as the rejection of SALT 2, the use of British bases for action outside NATO and his general attitude of disregard for European interests?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I certainly cannot join the hon. Gentleman in taking such a view of these matters. It would be welcome if he were to take the same kind of critical attitude of the leadership of the Soviet Union on matters of this kind. In fact, the United States leadership has in the last few years been taking steps to advance the process of arms control, and we have continued to emphasise the importance that we attach to that.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will my right hon. and learned Friend firmly take on board the fact that it is not just a question of the Soviet Union exploiting divisions? When he meets the Foreign Ministers, will he firmly express the concern on both sides of this House and in the country over the Washington Administration's attitude towards the SALT 2 treaty, and will he firmly register the great concern in western Europe about that fact?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week and in the discussions in Halifax at the North Atlantic Council, the Government, together with the other Governments of western Europe, attach importance to continued compliance with SALT 2 on both sides. It was for that reason that we welcomed the announcement by the President that he was disposing of the submarines in compliance with that treaty and expressed the hope that the Soviet Union would respond as necessary to enable the treaty to continue to he observed and complied with on both sides.

Mr. Healey

Will the Foreign Secretary inform the United State Secretary of State that the units of the Alliance can be weakened only when the American Administration vetoes an agreement on human contacts which has already been reached by his own officials and by all European members at the Berne conference, and when President Reagan threatens to violate the SALT 2 restrictions on armaments after all his allies explicitly advised him not to when asked for their opinion a few weeks earlier? Does he not agree that the SALT 2 agreement and the abortive agreement on human contacts are precisely the sort of balanced agreements that the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) claims to want and which I pressed for when I was in Moscow the other day?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not doubt the importance of seeking to achieve agreement, if possible, in the course of meetings such as the Berne meeting on human contacts. It must be a matter of regret that it was not possible to reach agreement along the lines originally foreshadowed.

One must take a slightly different view of the SALT 2 agreement by saying that it is surely right to welcome the decision of the United States to stay within the SALT 2 constraints by breaking up the Poseidon submarines, before going on—as I certainly do—to express the hope that it will continue to stay within the SALT 2 constraints to which the United Kingdom attaches importance and on which our views have been made very clear to the United States.

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