HL Deb 21 January 1986 vol 470 cc111-2

2.49 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they approve of the NATO Secretary-General criticising the views of elected Members of Parliament of the organisation's constituent states.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the Secretary-General of NATO has every right to comment on defence issues as he sees them affecting the alliance.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that on 19th December last the Secretary-General, Lord Carrington, criticised the policies of the Danish Government, the Greek Government, the Opposition in this country and the Opposition in West Germany? Is it right that an appointed official of an international organisation should be criticising the policies of elected Members of Parliament of the states that compose that organisation?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the views of the two Governments to which the noble Lord has referred on certain aspects of alliance policy are well known. They are not shared by this Government, or the rest of the alliance.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that opinion generally is more likely to attach importance to the experienced views expressed by Lord Carrington than to the views referred to by the noble Lord opposite?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I would agree with what my noble friend says.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, since when has it been right for a civil servant, either national or international, to criticise the elected Members whom he is supposed to be serving even when they are minorities?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Secretary-General of NATO is, as I said in my original Answer, entitled to express an opinion about the views held by other Governments in the alliance. That is what he did in this particular speech.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether she approves of Members of this House of Parliament criticising fellow Members of this House of Parliament through the vehicle of a starred Question?

Baroness Young

My Lords, Members of your Lordships' House are of course perfectly entitled to put down Questions on matters which are within the general arrangements of your Lordships' House. I hope I have given noble Lords a fair answer to the Question.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, if Lord Carrington were to say and do nothing—which it is evidently the view of some Members of this House he should—would we not regard him as utterly and completely incompetent? Is it not a good thing to hear from somebody who is in a position of authority and knowledge saying what he really thinks?

Baroness Young

My Lords, yes. I am grateful to the noble Lord. I agree with what he says.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that it is only those who fear criticism who oppose it?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have given my view on this matter.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I fear that the noble Baroness has either misunderstood my Question or has avoided answering it. May I put it in another form? I am not criticising either the policy of the British Government or the views put forward by Lord Carrington. I am asking a different question. I am asking whether Her Majesty's Government believe that an international official, appointed, as Lord Carrington is, as Secretary-General of NATO, has the right to express his own personal views against, and in criticism of, the views of the Governments and the elected Members of Parliament of the organisation which he represents. Surely that is a perfectly fair and straightforward question, and one which the Government should take into consideration.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have given a straight answer to the noble Lord. Let me make it absolutely plain. Lord Carrington's statement was not a statement of party politics but a statement on alliance issues. The activities of some of the peace groups in the West and of the parties which support them will inevitably encourage the Soviet Union.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, has the Minister any knowledge as to whether the Council of NATO has objected in the slightest way to what their Secretary-General has said?

Baroness Young

My Lords, not so far as I am aware.