HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc9-10
8. Ann Clwyd

What assessment he has made of the cost to Her Majesty's Government of NATO expansion. [16801]

Mr. George Robertson

Our assessment is that the costs associated with the enlargement of NATO to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will be manageable. I and other NATO Defence Ministers will be considering tomorrow a report from NATO staffs on the military and financial implications of enlargement.

Ann Clwyd

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but I have been asking the question for some time and I would have expected the Government to have been able to give an assessment of the costs of NATO expansion by now. Can he assure us that the cost of expansion will be met from the current defence budget and that he will not be asking for an extra penny from what many of us already consider to be much too large a budget?

Mr. Robertson

Any additional cost to our NATO subscription arising from enlargement will be met from the defence budget. Currently, that subscription costs 1 per cent. of the funds allocated to the defence budget. I believe that NATO is worth every penny that we spend on it.

I have just told my hon. Friend that, tomorrow, Defence Ministers will receive the report from NATO on its assessment of the cost of enlargement. I would be most surprised if NATO expenditure were to rise significantly in real terms. There will certainly be a cost, but we believe it to be manageable and we shall pay our contribution.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there is no pressure on Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic to spend huge sums trying to integrate into NATO? Will he also confirm that there is no pressure on us and no urgent requirement beyond what might be described as command and control procedures, integrated air defence and so on?

Mr. Robertson

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the cost of NATO enlargement will be spread over a considerable period. For the new countries—the invitees to the membership of NATO—participating in collective defence is preferable to, and cheaper than, attempting to provide the same security on a national basis. Any nation—ours as well as the new countries—must be secure before it can do anything. Inevitably, the new countries would have been involved in assuring their future security by expenditure on military capability. Our country has been able to live in peace and security for almost half a century because of our membership of NATO. It is clear that the 12 nations that have applied for membership did so because they wanted the same.

Mr. Llew Smith

What savings would come to the United Kingdom if we were to link our defence expenditure to the average of other western European countries?

Mr. Robertson

I do not believe that we should link our defence expenditure to any average or any particular figure. This country should be defended strongly and it should be defended well. It is important that we establish the priorities for our country not only as a nation, but as a partner in NATO and a member of the United Nations Security Council. We make our own decisions. That was the position taken by the Labour Government in 1945 when they took Britain into NATO, and it is the position taken by the Labour Government who were elected this year.

Sir George Young

The hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) asked about the size of the budget. Does the Secretary of State agree with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in last week's pre-Budget statement: that defence is not a priority?

Mr. Robertson

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Labour party was elected on a manifesto that said that we would assure the strong defence of this country. Of course it is a priority and it will remain so. This nation's defence is safe in this Government's hands.