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President Carter (Talks)

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will discuss defence matters with President Carter on his visit to Washington.

I shall have wide-ranging talks with President Carter on international and bilateral issues of mutual concern including defence and in particular the world economic situation. The House will wish to know that I have recently issued invitations to the Heads of State and Heads of Government of France, the United States, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and Japan to attend a summit meeting at No. 10 Downing Street, on 7th and 8th May and have received acceptances from them all. I hope to discuss arrangements for this meeting with President Carter and the Prime Minister of Canada on my forthcoming visit.

In view of the £8 billion defence cuts of the past three years and the recent warnings of Vice-President Mondale that allies must play their full part in the NATO Alliance, will the Prime Minister assure President Carter that Britain will take sufficient measures to make certain that we play our full part in the defence of the West?

There is no doubt in the minds of either NATO or the United States about these matters. As some of these cuts in expenditure resulted from our economic policy, perhaps I should go on to add what is already known, which is that the economic policies that the Government are following have received the full support of our allies.

Although I welcome the Prime Minister's invitations to a summit, may I ask whether the President of the European Commission, Mr. Roy Jenkins, has been invited and whether he has accepted? Secondly, since the Middle East, Cyprus and Rhodesia are three areas which are potential flashpoints where we have some influence, does he agree that the more closely we can co-operate with and co-ordinate our policies with the American Government, the better it will be for the future?

On the first question, I understand that the Council of Foreign Ministers is discussing this matter this afternoon. Therefore, I have no statement to make at this stage. On the second question, certainly in the case of all three issues that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned it is important to coordinate our policies with those of the United States, and, of course, with those of other countries in Europe. The summit will help us to do both.

When the Prime Minister next meets Mr. Carter, will he raise the question of Concorde? Will he bring to the American President's attention the fact that Concorde is our major national interest and that it is vital that it lands in New York in order to ensure the future viability of the project?

I would regard it as a very great misfortune if the finest aircraft in the world was not allowed to land at one of the world's finest cities. I have indicated to President Carter in private communications that on the whole we do not like getting a verdict without a prior trial. I shall make this position clear to the President, but it must be recognised that he has limitations on his field of action in this case. We must have regard to that. I have no desire to whip up a frenzy when there are limitations placed on all parties.

When the Prime Minister is in Washington, will he tell President Carter that an independent Scotland will not recognise nuclear bases on her soil? Will he use the opportunity of his visit to Washington to go to the IMF and tell it that the people of Scotland will not accept a substantial reduction in their standard of living as a direct result of IMF policies?

I am not sure how far the hon. Lady is entitled to speak for an independent Scotland. But, if she wishes, I shall convey the views of the SNP to President Carter if there is a sufficient interstice in our talks. I will do so in order to let him know what the future holds. As far as the IMF is concerned, the hon. Lady will find that her view on this matter is, as on many other matters, a little jaundiced.

When the Prime Minister discusses defence matters with President Carter, will he explain to him the strong domestic pressure in this country for the purchase of the Nimrod second-generation surveillance aircraft in view of the trend in employment in design and production in the domestic aircraft industry?

It is becoming increasingly clear that the AWACS aircraft that is intended for NATO is unlikely to be financed, but it is time that a decision was reached. If other countries do not feel the same need for this kind of aircraft, it must be pointed out that Nimrod would supply a specific and particular British interest and would cover Europe and the Eastern Atlantic. We should not forgo this lead if other countries cannot agree on an aircraft with wider use that is not exclusively ours. I shall put this to President Carter and tell him that we cannot wait for a decision indefinitely.

Would the Prime Minister agree that British-American relations are the cornerstone of NATO, and that if President Carter does not positively use his good offices to facilitate the landing of Concorde at New York in accordance with the agreement between the British and United States Governments it will do inestimable harm to one of the most important relationships in the Western world?

Obviously, a decision to refuse to allow Concorde to land would have an adverse impact on the relationship. There are, however, far wider implications in the relationship than the situation on Concorde, and that is why I do not wish to be drawn into a public denouncement on such matters. These issues need careful examination, and I have invited President Carter's full co-operation. I have pointed out to him that there is a united view in the House of Commons that Concorde should be allowed to land in New York. I shall continue to represent that very strongly to him.