HC Deb 14 January 1997 vol 288 cc124-5
8. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future expansion of NATO. [8978]

Mr. Portillo

It has been agreed that a NATO summit in July should invite one or more countries to begin accession negotiations.

Mr. Evans

Does the Secretary of State agree that if countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are to be welcomed into NATO, it should, if possible, be with the agreement of Russia? Long-term peace and stability throughout Europe cannot be guaranteed without the long-term support of the Russians.

Mr. Portillo

It is not the Government's policy that Russia should have a veto over NATO membership. I very much hope that that is the Labour party's policy. NATO will take its decisions in July at the NATO summit. I hope that it may be possible at the same time for a charter to be signed between Russia and NATO. Let it be perfectly clear that the question of new NATO members is for NATO and for the sovereignty of nations making applications.

Mr. Viggers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the expansion of NATO is the most important political and military issue to be faced by European countries for many years? Does he further agree that we are able to take a full and reasonable part in discussions because of the strength and stability of our armed forces, which the Government have brought about?

The Labour party is suggesting a fundamental review of defence. How often in my right hon. Friend's experience—in his time at the Treasury as well as at the Ministry of Defence—has a fundamental review led to an expansion of expenditure, and how often has it led to cuts?

Mr. Portillo

Under Labour, a review always means cuts. Some of my hon. Friends have recalled some of the most outstanding examples of cuts made by Labour. We can play a vital role in NATO because our forces are respected and because their capabilities are well understood. I would shudder for the influence and status of the United Kingdom if a Labour Government were able to implement a defence review and cut our defences.

Mr. Gapes

Does the Secretary of State welcome NATO's recent statement that there is no question of placing short-range nuclear weapons on the territory of any central and eastern European country that may join NATO? Will he make it clear that the Government have no intention of doing that, and thereby help to reassure the Russians that the expansion of NATO is not directed against them?

Mr. Portillo

The expansion of NATO is not directed against anyone. NATO is a defensive alliance. It is made up of countries that are democracies and that have no expansionist pretensions. There is no need whatsoever for NATO to alter its nuclear posture if it takes in new members.