Skip to main content

Nato (Council Meeting)

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement following the recent NATO Council meeting in which he took part.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) on 12th May.

As it is the Government's first duty to ensure the security of the nation, will the Prime Minister tell us how the Government propose to respond to the serious warnings given by President Carter and other NATO leaders about the Warsaw Pact strength and the consequent need to increase spending on NATO defence by 3 per cent.? Will he assure us that the Government will at least reverse the defence cuts in the pipeline and commit us to the 3 per cent. increase?

I cannot promise anything of the sort. The whole burden of defence is one that is borne by this country, and we are not reducing it below the level necessary to maintain an effective Western deterrent force. Our forces are not regarded in isolation. We contribute a considerable proportion of our GNP—higher than a number of other countries who are members of NATO—to the common defence. As to the future, I repeat that the proposed increases apply from 1979 and not from now. They will have to take into account the economic factors affecting individual countries. We shall be able to review the situation in 1978–79 and see what we can do.

Does that reply mean, as I hope, that the Government will not implement last week's decision by NATO to increase arms spending by 3 per cent. in real terms in each succeeding year? Would that not worsen our economic position, heighten international tension, worsen the prospects for the talks on mutual arms reduction, and conflict with the announcement that, at long last, we were to have a reduction in our arms spending?

I thought that my last answer was perfectly clear. When we get to 1978–79 we shall review total expenditure and see what the impact is. One way in which we could avoid the increases—apart from our economic situation—would be if the Soviet Union entered meaningful discussions with us on common reductions.

In view of what President Carter said about the need for the European members of NATO to play their full part, will the Prime Minister take the lead, with his colleagues in the European Community, in emphasising to the President of the United States the extreme importance of raw materials in South Africa to any major contribution to an armed force made by Western Europe as a whole?

I am sure that the President is aware of these facts and will take them fully into account. Not only the House but South Africa and the whole world should take account of the fact that President Carter does not mean to be deflected from his policy in respect of South Africa. This is one of the most hopeful signs that I have seen for the future of relations between the black and white races.