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Nato Headquarters

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will pay an official visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

When the Minister has his next opportunity of meeting the NATO people will he make it clear to them that in future his Government will take seriously commitments that they make in communiques of the kind to which my right hon. Friend referred? How otherwise can our allies trust the things to which we put our name?

I think that I made that abundantly clear in the last meeting, and the communique reflected the discussion which took place and the view not of myself but of the other 14 Ministers involved.

Does the Minister realise that he cannot have it both ways? Is he saying that the communique does not bind the Government, or that it does?

The communique is a report on the discussion in the meeting. In the present case there was discussion about ministerial guidance, and a summary of that guidance was given as an annexe to the communique. I would say that that was on a different basis from a report of the discussion, but if one participates in such a discussion one goes along with the general consensus.

Is it not a fact that our allies have ample reason to trust us, since we spend a greater percentage of gross national product on defence than they do, no matter what the Opposition say? Is not our record in this direction as good as anybody's anywhere?

There is widespread recognition of the fact that we make a substantial contribution, and there will be no wish on the part of our allies for that contribution not to be made.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in the face of the mounting Soviet military threat to NATO, there is a need for the allies to increase defence expenditure?

I subscribe to the problem as it was stated in the communique issued last week, that it should be the aim of all countries—and some countries are making a much smaller contribution in terms of their relative incomes than we are—to increase their expenditure, but economic circumstances will obviously be a factor as to whether, and how, that can be done.