HC Deb 10 May 1989 vol 152 cc854-5
10. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to meet the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and what matters will be discussed.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I met the secretary-general when he was in London on 24 April. I will see Dr. Woerner again at the end of this month at and for the NATO summit meeting.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that our NATO allies might well agree with the Daily Mirror's editorial this morning, which says that Labour's defence policy is as confusing as it is unbelievable? When the laughter finally subsides, and NATO realises that it is nothing more than a policy for flexible surrender, would not the only honourable course left to a Labour Government—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must try to relate his supplementary question to the original question.

Mr. Hayes

Would not NATO be of the opinion that the only honourable course for a Labour Government would be to withdraw from NATO before they were thrown out?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend draws attention to a sound point, although he takes his fantasy rather far. The fact on which I am sure the NATO Alliance would agree is that the Labour party's new proposals for defence will be as ineffective for the defence of the Alliance as they have been for the uniting of the Labour party.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a need for NATO to present a united front to the initiatives taken by Mr. Gorbachev? Does he agree that that would be best achieved through a sympathetic understanding of the views of all our allies and is not likely to be achieved by hectoring and browbeating the Federal Republic of Germany over its attitude towards the modernisation of short-range weapons?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Alliance has responded and will continue to respond effectively and with unity to the prospects for progress on arms control. I was able to announce those proposals when I spoke first to the Alliance at the beginning of the Vienna conference just two months ago. On the last point, the Alliance has agreed that for the foreseeable future there is no alternative to a strategy of deterrence based on an effective mix of nuclear and conventional forces which will be kept up to date where necessary. That mix includes a continuing requirement for land-based, sea-based and air-launched short-range nuclear forces in Europe. A third zero for land-based missiles is therefore not acceptable. Lance will become obsolete in 1995 and a deployment decision on a successor will be needed in 1991–92. In order to keep open the necessary options, support for United States efforts to develop a follow-on to Lance is necessary. We will seek from the NATO summit confirmation of all those points that have already been agreed by the Alliance.

Mr. Churchill

I recognise the importance to NATO doctrine of maintaining and modernising our short-range nuclear forces. None the less does the NATO Alliance not have a clear interest in reaching agreement with the Soviet Union on coming down to a common ceiling? For example, if that were to be set at 100 on either side, we could maintain and modernise our own capability and the Soviets would have to abandon 1,300 of their launchers.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is bound to be a substantial difficulty about verification of any conclusion of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers, if that were to be reached by agreement. I agree with him absolutely that there is no reason why the Soviet Union should not reduce its weapons of that kind unilaterally to NATO levels. So far it has undertaken to cut only 24 of 1,608 short-range missile systems. It can do a great deal better than that minimal reduction. It could do it unilaterally and at once.

Mr. Kaufman

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets Manfred Woerner, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, will he discuss with him and take into account the statement made by Mr. Woerner last week that he wishes a middle way to be found on the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons at the NATO summit this month? Will he take into account also the statement of the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. de Mita, this week who said: Other governments … basically agree, but not Mrs. Thatcher. The obstacle is there. Will the Government explain to the House and to NATO why the Prime Minister is the only obstacle to agreement within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why her bellicosity and obstinacy result in Britain being the only country either in NATO or in the Warsaw pact that wishes to halt the process of nuclear disarmament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

In his passion to present a totally false picture the right hon. Gentleman seems, unusually for him, to have overlooked completely the position, for example, of the United States. He will find no difference between the case that we are putting forward and that which the United States is putting forward. We shall be ready to go to the NATO summit, as we have done in the past, to secure an outcome consistent with the security of the Alliance in the long and in the short term.

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