HL Deb 29 July 1975 vol 363 cc888-90

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they share the apprehensions regarding the grave inadequacy of the existing NATO defensive system expressed by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton in the spring number of the NATO Review.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government do not consider that NATO's defensive system is "gravely inadequate", and I must beg to differ from the noble Lord when he suggests that the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee has expressed such apprehensions in the article, which I have read, to which the Question refers. There are, as the Chairman has pointed out, serious problems to be tackled and this Government will continue to play a full part in seeking to improve NATO's military effectiveness. To this end, as your Lordships will be aware, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has recently taken initiatives both in NATO and in the Eurogroup with the important aim of achieving increased standardisation of defence equipment.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord nevertheless agree that the whole tone and emphasis of Sir Peter's excellent article was very different from the article contributed to the same periodical by no less a person than the Minister of Defence?


My Lords, I have read the article, as I said, and I thought it was a realistic assessment of the problems that NATO as an Alliance is facing. The main point that struck me was the analysis which he made of the Warsaw, Pact intentions, where the build up of the Warsaw Pact forces did not seem to be of a purely defensive nature. If I may put the Chairman's views in perspective, I will quote the concluding remarks of his article in which he said: The last thing I would wish to imply is that the military situation in NATO is one of gloom. This is not the case and I am convinced it never will be. The Alliance has survived too many transient crises and difficulties to warrant any serious doubts about its durability or an enduring sense of purpose. This does not strike me as a negative or defeatist attitude.


My Lords, in the light of the noble Lord's main Answer, may I ask him to give an assurance that no further cuts will be made in our defence forces?


My Lords, that is hardly for me to say.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to explain what he meant by the Government's giving full support to the article which is mentioned in the Question? What does he mean by "full support", if he is not quite certain as to the value of the article concerned?


My Lords, it would be lovely if we were the major economic and military power in the world. Unfortunately this is not the case, so we do the best we can with the resources we have and with our negotiating powers that arise from them.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister what he meant when he said that it was not for him to answer? I thought he was answering for Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I was hardly answering for the defence policy of Her Majesty's Government, which has been clearly laid down in a White Paper which your Lordships have debated.


My Lords, as one who has from time to time from these Benches pointed out the inadequacies arising from lack of standardisation in NATO, may I ask the Minister if he is in a position to say whether there is now less gloom about NATO defences in relation to fighter aircraft defence than there was some months ago?


My Lords, I do not know how one measures gloom.