HC Deb 02 November 1994 vol 248 cc1549-51
3. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the development of the NATO "Partnership for Peace" proposals, including practical co-operation.

Mr. Skinner

He is the only Minister with a clean pair of hands.

Mr. Hurd

I wish that the hon. Member would stop being so polite. It is extremely worrying.

"Partnership for Peace" is developing well. Partners have established offices at NATO headquarters and SHAPE.

The first military exercise under "Partnership for Peace", Co-operative Bridge, took place in Poland from 12 to 16 September, involving forces from 13 alliance and partner countries. Since then there have been two further exercises under "Partnership for Peace", Co-operative Venture, from 29 September to 7 October, and Co-operative Spirit, from 24 to 28 October. British forces took part in all three exercises.

Mrs. Lait

I thank my right hon. Friend for news of that encouraging process. I assure him that I do not treat this matter lightly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the volatile nature of many of the eastern European countries is such that they need to be drawn swiftly into the military and political ambit of NATO? Can he give me some idea of the progress made towards common standards?

Mr. Hurd

We see "Partnership for Peace" as a good idea in itself and we are delighted that it has had such good take-up from our former adversaries in the Warsaw pact, including Russia. I hope that my original answer showed the progress made on that. It may lead forward in some cases to the expansion of NATO, but the timing of that remains to be considered. I agree with my hon. Friend. We need to do everything that we can to show those who were our adversaries to the east in the Warsaw pact that for them NATO is not a hostile organisation and "Partnership for Peace" shows the practical ways in which that can be proved.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

But is not there an eloquent example of practical co-operation rather nearer to home in the proposal that the Royal Air Force and the French air force should now indulge in operational co-operation? Is not such practical co-operation essential to achieve an effective European defence, as the right hon. Gentleman clearly envisaged in his recent speech to the Franco-British Council?

Mr. Hurd

I am certainly in favour of close military co-operation between ourselves and the French. We see that in action in Bosnia at the moment and it is extremely valuable. We have not yet concluded arrangements for the combined air forces group but may do so at the Anglo-French summit soon. It will simply be a joint planning capability, which could draw together the air assets from Britain and France for use in suitable operations on which we agree.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not important that "Partnership for Peace" be not just a question of hanging around in antechambers but that it provides an opportunity for NATO applicant countries eventually to become full participants in the alliance? In that context, is it not vital that no obstacles be placed in their path, such as that for the right of collective security, and that they must make commensurate contributions, because smaller countries are the most vulnerable and needful of the alliance's collective security arrangements?

Mr. Hurd

I believe that some nations currently involved in "Partnership for Peace" will become full members of NATO, as my hon. Friend wants. That will be up to them and to us. Certainly we are not closing that door.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an orderly and verified reduction of the bloated armament industries of eastern Europe is essential to achieve the objectives of "Partnership for Peace"? Does he see NATO and also the European Union playing a role in that achievement?

Mr. Hurd

The countries of eastern Europe and certainly Russia need to convert their industries, which are overbalanced on the military side, to civilian use. They find that difficult. We can help to some extent, but it is not so much a matter for NATO as for individual effort.

Mr. Churchill

Although it is clear that any extension of NATO's nuclear guarantee can be done only with great care and circumspection, does my right hon. Friend agree that countries that were our allies during the second world war and which were cut off from their alliances only because they were occupied by the Red army—specifically Poland and the Czech and Slovak republics—should be put on a fast track for NATO membership, and that Hungary should be included among them?

Mr. Hurd

It is likely that the countries that my hon. Friend mentioned, given the history that he described and their present policies, will want to become full members of NATO and will succeed. We and they must consider the timing—no dates have been fixed. Meanwhile, it is important that they all make full use of "Partnership for Peace", which offers experience of joint exercises such as those that I described, and joint training and planning.