HC Deb 12 November 1991 vol 198 cc901-14 3.31 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the NATO summit in Rome on 7 and 8 November which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Last July, in London, NATO agreed to adapt its strategy to the changed situation in Europe and to build up a new partnership with the countries of central and eastern Europe. At the summit we agreed on how to carry forward both those tasks.

The strategic concept reflects the British Government's objectives. These were to ensure that NATO remains the linchpin of western security, charged with dealing with whatever security problems might threaten. The strategy reaffirms the need for a collective defence based on NATO's integrated military structure; and also on the need for both nuclear and conventional forces, kept up to date where necessary, but at significantly lower levels. Alliance forces in every NATO country will be smaller, more mobile and more flexible. At the summit we endorsed the establishment of new rapid reaction forces, in which the United Kingdom will command the land element.

The summit declaration establishes a North Atlantic Co-operation Council. This forum will enable NATO to discuss common security issues with the Soviet Union, the Baltic states and the countries of eastern Europe. At Britain's suggestion, the first such meeting will be held at Foreign Minister level in Brussels in mid-December.

We have agreed a wider role for NATO. Henceforth, NATO will not just be keeping the peace; it will be actively promoting peace. It will be prepared to help the countries of eastern Europe in planning defence forces in a democracy, with civilian-military relations, and in converting defence production to civilian purposes. The relationship may well develop still further.

The NATO summit also, for the first time, considered in depth the European defence identity and the alliance. We affirmed some important principles: first, the principle that NATO is the essential forum for consultation and agreement on policies bearing on the security and defence of alliance territory; secondly, endorsement of the British proposals to use the Western European Union as the means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance; thirdly, the need to establish clear and open relations between NATO and the Western European Union and to involve other allies on issues discussed in the Western European Union which affect their security.

Heads of Government received a report on Yugoslavia following a meeting of Community Foreign Ministers with Lord Carrington. In view of the grave situation in Yugoslavia and the repeated breaches of the ceasefire, Community Governments agreed in Rome on a series of restrictive measures. They include suspension of the trade and co-operation agreement; suspension of benefits under the general scheme of preferences; suspension of the PHARE—Poland and Hungary Assistance for Economic Restructuring—programme; and the restoration of quotas on textiles. Community Governments asked those member states that are members of the Security Council to promote measures in the Security Council to tighten the arms embargo, and to take steps towards imposing an oil embargo. We are now consulting other members of the UN Security Council about the introduction of such measures.

Community Governments also decided that positive action should be taken to benefit the parties which were being co-operative in the peace process. Taken together, these measures will increase the pressure on those responsible for appalling bloodshed and suffering in Yugoslavia. NATO Heads of Government issued a separate statement making clear the allies' strong support for the efforts of the European Community to promote peace in Yugoslavia.

We also discussed developments in the Soviet Union. We publicly supported economic reform and democratisation. We stressed the need for the authorities in the republics, as well as at the centre, to respect their obligations—on human rights, on arms control and on economic policy. In particular, we urged them to do everything necessary to implement the CFE—conventional forces in Europe—and strategic arms reduction treaties, and to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We are living through a dramatic revolution in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We have to use all the means at our disposal—the European Community, the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and NATO—to help them to build stable democracy in their countries. NATO remains the core of our defence. Were we again to face a military threat, NATO would be there to meet it; but NATO is now reaching out to the countries of eastern Europe to help to provide stability and a sense of security. All of us at last week's meeting agreed that the continuing American and Canadian presence in Europe is vital to both defending and promoting peace in Europe. Britain will have a central part in that task, both in the alliance and in the European Community.

The decisions of the NATO summit provide important guidelines for the negotiations leading to the European Council in Maastricht. I hope that the House will welcome the outcome of the summit as a significant contribution to a sound defence and to democratic stability in Europe.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. First, let me welcome the broader definition of security that was reached at the Rome summit, and the shift to a strategic concept of co-operative security through which European states can address their common security concerns—as the Prime Minister has pointed out—in partnership.

Especially welcome is the recognition that, in the words of the strategic concept, the threats of the past "have effectively been removed", and the focus for allied strategy should be on the "multi-faceted … risks" of the future. In that context, we welcome the leading role allocated to the United Kingdom in the rapid reaction force.

The proposal for cuts in both conventional and nuclear weapons confirmed by the declaration and the calls for further negotiations made in it are, naturally, commendable. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he will be supporting the non-proliferation measures referred to in the declaration by actively pursuing negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty? Will he also tell us what steps his Government are prepared to take to promote what the Rome declaration calls welcome prospects for further advances in arms control in conventional and nuclear forces"? Can the right hon. Gentleman say how Britain would participate in negotiations to achieve such advances? Will he, in any event, take account of Norwegian concerns, and urge our other partners in NATO to respond to Soviet requests for talks about reducing maritime forces?

Let me turn to the declaration itself. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that its terms guarantee the primacy of NATO in matters of security? Does he agree that the parallel development of any European security identity and defence role must not detract from the central importance of NATO and the transatlantic relationship with the United States and Canada?

In view of the welcome establishment of a North Atlantic Co-operation Council with eastern European countries, could the Prime Minister tell us how he sees that new council's relationship with the conference on security and co-operation in Europe? Does he foresee any possibility of further developments that might in the future include the granting of associate membership of NATO to some eastern European countries?

We welcome the NATO statements on developments in the Soviet Union and the need to use all means possible to strengthen pluralism and democracy. In the interests of achieving clear and dependable progress with disarmament, does not the Prime Minister agree that the variety of political and economic contacts which Britain and other NATO countries have with the Soviet republics should be used to emphasise the need for their Governments to adhere fully and readily to all relevant treaties agreed by the Soviet Union?

While welcoming the NATO statement on Yugoslavia and the Prime Minister's further information today, may I ask what efforts the British Government are making to provide the humanitarian relief that is referred to in the Rome communiqué, which is daily becoming more necessary as the tragedy in Yugoslavia continues?

In the strategic concept, established at the Rome summit, it is clear that the NATO countries are adopting policies that seek to take full advantage of the new opportunities produced by the historic change in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. People and countries, east and west, will doubtless benefit from these deliberate efforts to replace the peace of tension with the peace of trust and co-operation.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome of the strategic concept and of the United Kingdom's role in commanding the land-based rapid reaction corps and for much else that he had to say. There is a measure of agreement on many of the matters that he touched upon.

We are working towards a test ban treaty, but it is some way away. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are many difficulties. To hold talks on reducing maritime forces would be premature. I can confirm his remarks about the primacy of NATO. That is secure. It was quite specifically realised and accepted at the NATO summit that that was the case and that the role of the United States and Canadian forces was central in maintaining the peace of Europe and remaining on the land continent of Europe.

As for the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, there will, over time, develop a relationship with the CSCE—very probably an informal one. I expect, over time also, that there is an aspiration that we should move towards associate membership of NATO for some of the eastern European countries. I would not expect that to happen at an early stage, but the North Atlantic Co-operation Council expressly exists in order to establish a bridge between western and eastern Europe and removes so many of the fears and concerns that have existed for so much of the post-war period.

As for the Soviet Union, I can expressly confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that we are expressing both to the Soviet Union, at the centre, and, equally important, to those representatives of the republics whom we now meet so regularly the need to adhere to treaties signed by the Soviet Union, the implementation of which may pass to the republics in the months and years ahead.

Returning to the strategic concept, I reaffirm that the principles upon which the alliance is based are those set out in the strategic concept: that NATO is the essential forum for defence and that that is where we shall discuss policies based on security and defence, on collective defence and, most critically, the appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces.

There are plans for humanitarian relief for Yugoslavia, much of which is likely to come through the European Community. In view of the problems in Yugoslavia, there are huge difficulties with that at the moment. There is much discussion about it. When I am in a position to do so, I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman with the details.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, particularly the initiative taken with the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. Can he say a little more about the European pillar, the Western European Union? While Members on both sides of the House accept that there is a role for the WEU in a European security identity, what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give that the core of the NATO alliance will not have its vital strategy affected by possible control by the European Community over the Western European Union?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The intention behind building up the Western European Union is to use it as a vehicle for building up the European contribution to our collective defence. It is not our policy that the Western European Union should be subordinate either to NATO or to the European union. It is expected that there will be organic links, and no doubt that will be a matter to be discussed as we come towards a treaty at Maastricht. There are several things that we are clear about concerning the WEU. It should not duplicate NATO decision-making; it should not duplicate NATO structures; it should not be subordinated either to the union or to NATO; and it should not discriminate between European allies favouring some against others depending on their membership of the Community or not.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I congratulate the Prime Minister on a broadly successful NATO summit. May I welcome in particular the initiatives taken to draw in the emerging democracies of eastern Europe and to widening the strategic concept of NATO?

May I also tell the Prime Minister how welcome are the steps, limited though they are, that Heads of Community Governments have taken on Yugoslavia? In view of the daily increase in the oppression and brutality of Croatia and the bombardment of Dubrovnik, does he realise that many of us sometimes wonder whether we have done all within our power in that tragic situation and whether we have done enough to stop those events?

On the broad thrust of the Prime Minister's statement, does he agree that there is nothing inimical between support for NATO and the establishment of a common security and defence policy for Europe? Will he confirm, as I asked him to do the other day, that the Government's policy on the matter remains that stated in the Anglo-Italian declaration less than six weeks ago—to work for a common security and defence policy in the inter-governmental conferences on political union?

The Prime Minister

We are looking for a common defence policy. The European defence identity is important, and it should be built up, but not as subordinate to the European Council because that would inevitably lead us into the position where we would be establishing competing structures to NATO and, in so doing, would weaken NATO. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman shares my view that the primacy of NATO is essential not merely for the security of our country but for the peace of Europe. I think that our position on that is entirely clear.

I was grateful for the welcome that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) gave to the strategic concept and for his earlier remarks.

As regards Yugoslavia, it is a great and increasing tragedy and does not seem to be susceptible to reason. I very much regret that. The Hague conference made no progress on 5 November. I am delighted to say that Lord Carrington is returning to Belgrade today at the request of European Community Foreign Ministers, who were meeting this morning. I hope that he will be able to make progress, but there does not seem to be much indication on the Yugoslavian side that it will return to the peace conference and negotiate constructively.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

My right hon. Friend deserves the warmest congratulations for the successful and necessary outcome of the conference. Does he agree that the one weakness of NATO is the reluctance of the republic of France to join the integrated command system? Will he make it clear that it would be widely welcomed by the rest of the members of the alliance if France could find her way to rejoining what she left?

The Prime Minister

France is an important member of NATO and a long-standing ally of ours inside NATO and without, but I certainly share my hon. Friend's view: I would welcome its return to the integrated structure.

Sir Patrick Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Is the Prime Minister aware that the North Atlantic Assembly extended associate delegate status to former members of the Warsaw pact some time ago and that it brought the Baltic states into the same relationship at its Madrid conference last month? I know how welcome in those circles the proposed North Atlantic Co-operation Council will be, and how commendable was the part that the Prime Minister played; he is to be warmly congratulated. However, is he aware that in those same circles and further afield within the alliance any proposals, such as the recent French proposal, that may impinge on the responsibilities of NATO for the security of Europe or that will weaken the transatlantic bridge will be viewed with deepening anxiety?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's third point. He is a specialist in these matters, so his support is especially welcome and I am grateful for it. Events have proved how far-seeing and correct the North Atlantic Assembly was in its actions some time ago. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's confirmation that the new co-operation body that we have established will meet with a welcome.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

My right hon. Friend has rightly stressed that we are offering a helping hand not only to eastern Europe but to the Soviet Union. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in the next few months we shall see the total collapse of the distribution network within the Soviet Union. In those circumstances, does my right hon. Friend envisage that we might be called upon to provide necessary infrastructure by the use of NATO troops offering the hand of friendship to the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that that will be necessary. It is certainly possible that there will be difficulties with food distribution and the availability of food, and, in particular, with animal foodstuffs in the Soviet Union. We are seeking to arrange with our partners in the European Community a proper distribution system to meet that eventuality. There is now the equivalent of about $10 billion of assistance available to the Soviet Union. Much of that cannot be disbursed until the completion of meetings with the Soviet Union to determine where the need is and how we can most appropriately meet it without duplicating the assistance that is already available.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the Prime Minister clarify part of his statement on the NATO summit? The second page states: Heads of Government received a report on Yugoslavia following a meeting of Community Foreign Ministers with Lord Carrington. What is the status of the "report"? The statement is about a NATO meeting. Too often the EEC has been greatly influenced by the policies of Italy and Germany and by support for Croatia, and has not concerned itself with the wider problems of Yugoslavia. What is the role of NATO in all this? Will it play a part? The EEC has been great at talking, but little else.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is being unfair to the activities of the EC. A great deal of effort has been expended to alleviate the situation in Yugoslavia. Thus far it has not been successful. It is the view of the NATO partners, collectively and individually, that the European Community's action has been helpful and should continue, and that it provides the most likely forum to bring the parties together at a peace conference to obtain a satisfactory conclusion and the ending of bloodshed. On the basis of that collective view, the Foreign Ministers who met, whose Governments are members of NATO, reported to Heads of Government and NATO, so that NATO could issue its own statement.

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his sound leadership at the recent NATO summit and on the fact that he managed to secure agreement on new links between eastern Europe and NATO, and recognition of the primacy of the role of NATO in European defence? Will he confirm that, so long as there is a Conservative Government in this country, American troops will always be welcome on British soil, in contrast to the approach of the Labour party which, for many years, has campaigned to have American bases removed from the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I confirm that American troops will be welcome in this country. I believe that that is the view of our partners in Europe. It was clearly expressed in that fashion during our discussions of the past few clays. I speak with particular interest in this matter, as there is a large American air base in my constituency. American troops are welcome here and I hope that they will continue to stay.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Should we not welcome the prospect of a European defence and foreign policy as a way of escaping from our humiliating status in relation to the United States? Would not it have the advantage that we would never again have the degrading spectacle of Ministers coming to the Dispatch Box and defending the bombing of Vietnam, terrorism in Nicaragua, the invasion of Grenada and many other disreputable episodes in post-war history, to which we have been shackled by our long relationship with the United States?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I welcome communal European policies on defence providing they are agreed intergovernmentally and agreed by unanimity. When that happens, it strengthens the foreign policy of the individual countries and of the European Community collectively. That is the way in which we have been operating in the past few years.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's assessment of our relationship with the United States or with the individual examples he gave. One of the reasons why he has the freedom to stand here and express such views is that the success of the alliance depends largely on the Americans, who have remained here since the 1940s to help to protect Europe.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's excellent statement. Does he agree that one of the tragic features of the previous occasion when Europe was in a state of reformation, just after the first world war, was the American decision to withdraw? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has never been a member of an organisation that has poured scorn on the United States, picketed their bases, and spat on American service men?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly confirm that. The United States will stay in Europe, although it is now recognised that it will reduce the number of its troops here as a result of the changed circumstances on the German border. Clearly there is now a much smaller need for a large military land-based presence than there was when the Soviet Union had troops in eastern Germany. There will be changes, but the commitment to the defence of Europe will remain.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

The Prime Minister and his NATO allies have discussed developments in the Soviet Union and argued that there should be no further proliferation of nuclear weapons. Can the right hon. Gentleman therefore explain to the House what arguments he uses to the Soviet Union to explain the decision of the Government, and indeed of the official Opposition, to have four Trident submarines as part of their defence strategy? Is he aware that hardly a single tear was shed in Scotland this weekend when the Poseidon submarines left the Clyde, yet we are now expected to accept Trident while at the same time our conventional forces, including the regiments, are being cut. How does he square the circle?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Lady may not be fully aware of what has been happening. NATO has agreed that an 80 per cent. reduction in nuclear weapons is in prospect. That will involve the elimination of all nuclear artillery and short-range Lance missiles. That reduction has come about because NATO was so staunch in recent years in keeping its nuclear weapons, which forced upon the Soviet Union the need for negotiated reductions on both sides of Europe. That is the reason for the reduction in the nuclear threshold. That reduction is welcome and has been achieved through the policies of the Conservative party, not those advocated by the hon. Lady.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Faced with the apparent collapse of central control in the Soviet Union and the new assertiveness of the republics such as the Ukraine, which wants to control its own nuclear weapons, is my right hon. Friend happy with the way in which NATO proposes to handle future arms negotiations with those fragmented republics? Should the republics take their own line on nuclear weapons, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there are enough safeguards in place?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend touches upon an important point. In future it will clearly be much more difficult to carry out negotiations on nuclear reductions until the circumstances in the Soviet Union are clarified and until we are clear precisely who has control over nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union and who can negotiate for them. It is precisely for that reason that we made it so clear in our statement that we expect the republics to honour the START agreement and the CFE agreement and to look towards non-proliferation. There is a great deal of discussion to be had upon this matter, and the North Atlantic Co-operation Council will be one forum in which that can begin.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Given that the Rome summit renounced any extension of the geographical limits of its competence in 1949, and mindful that the real threat today is the political and economic stability of the former Russian empire—witness the decision of newly independent states over the renunciation of their commitment to hand back nuclear weapons—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a matter for regret? Does he agree that the political talks already agreed with eastern European Foreign Ministers should be continued through military talks as well?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure what conclusion one would draw from the hon. Gentleman's first assertions. It is certainly true that the threat from the Soviet Union has changed and perhaps is changing. That is no reason for us to lift our vigilance in any sense, and there is no mood among NATO members to do so. But there is a mood in NATO to enter into much closer dialogue with the east European nations, including the Soviet Union, to help to continue to diminish both the threshold of armaments and the balance of risks that has existed in the past. That is of critical importance, but it must be done steadily, carefully and without putting our own security at risk.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Has my right hon. Friend seen any indication from the French Government that they might rejoin the military command structure of NATO? Will that form part of his negotiating stance on a European defence policy, having France back into NATO fully, with possibly even Eire joining the alliance?

The Prime Minister

I have had no indication that the French Government are likely to move back into the integrated military structure. As I said, we would welcome that in NATO. While I do not think it is imminent or something that we are likely to see for quite a few years, there is no doubt a willingness among NATO to accept it. As for discussions within the European Community, I do not think that that would be a practical negotiating point, even though it would be welcome.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

I understand the Prime Minister seeming to throw up his hands in despair over Yugoslavia, but may I ask whether he is aware of the appeal by the mayor of Dubrovnik for assistance in relieving the trapped people of that tragic city? Is he also aware of statements apparently made by the Presidents of Croatia and Serbia for the first time recognising the need for a peace-keeping force? Does he agree that it is imperative for there to be an early meeting of WEU with the authorities in Croatia and Serbia to test the credence of the statements of those Presidents?

The Prime Minister

To keep the peace one must first have a peace, and that was the purpose of trying to ensure, through the conference, that a peace was established. I do not believe that in the absence of that secure peace, and in the absence of both sides being prepared to keep the peace and be anxious to see a peace-keeping force there, it would be a prudent or wise proposition to send troops there.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), at a time when the eyes of the world are focused with horror on the destruction of the ancient and historic city of Dubrovnik, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there is some disappointment that there appears to be no discussion about the possibility of short-term or emergency measures to alleaviate or in any way relieve that catastrophe? In particular, there should be discussion of the fact that some criticism should be levelled at those European countries which are clandestinely supplying arms to the contestants in Yugoslavia. Is it possible to put a stop to that practice?

The Prime Minister

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes, but it is extremely difficult to see what in practice could be done while the fighting continues. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a will to assist, when it is possible and practicable to assist. At the moment I cannot immediately see how we could do that. I assure my hon. Friend that the point is of great importance and that we shall keep it under review.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

The Prime Minister reported the difficulties that surfaced at the meeting when it came to the idea of involving western European forces in Yugoslavia. How did the discussions view the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, both Governments of which have said that they would like control of their nuclear weapons? If we cannot interfere with the nationalisms of western Europe, how can we interfere with the nationalisms of far-flung areas of the world?

The Prime Minister

To be technically correct, it is not proliferation in those republics because the nuclear weapons are already there. We seek to ensure that those nuclear weapons are under a single central control so that we are in a better position to assure our own security. There is complete understanding of that in the republics. We have made it clear in the Rome summit and elsewhere that we shall take those securities into account when we discuss the economic and other assistance that we may be able to provide to the republics and to the Soviet Union centrally.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Is it not an essential strategic objective of the NATO powers to assist the forces of democracy and liberalisation in the Soviet Union against the dangers of a counter-coup? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the NATO powers will do all that they can to assist the Soviet Union in its immense difficulties?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend raises a central point, and I am happy to give a categorical assurance. Much of the assistance may be economical and through forums other than NATO, but his point is none the less entirely valid.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

I welcome the decision to strengthen the Western European Union. However, will the right hon. Gentleman forgive me if I sound rather sceptical about that proposal because when the WEU presidential committee sought expert advice on armed intervention in Yugoslavia the prospect of getting it from the British and French defence Ministries and from the Institute for Defence Studies was vetoed by Herr Genscher, the current president of the ministerial Council? The WEU feels that it is being side-tracked on all those important issues. It needs the confidence of knowing that it has an important role to play.

The Prime Minister

I share the hon. Gentleman's views, as crystallised in his last couple of sentences. It is important that the Western European Union should be confident that it has an important role, and that that important role is clearly defined. We began to define it at the Rome summit and it will be crystallised further once we have completed the discussions at Maastricht. However, that the WEU has an increasing role in the defence of Europe as the European pillar of the alliance is undoubted.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us. I shall allow questions to continue until 4.15 and then we must move on. I hope that hon. Members will ask brief questions so that most hon. Members will have an opportunity to participate in the debate.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about a rapid reaction force? Is not there a real danger in multi-country political control resulting in nothing happening if there is a real crisis? Does he agree that it is different from the previous situaton in NATO, when there was clearly only one real enemy and everyone knew where the threat came from—[Interruption.] In future, however, that may not be the case and a rapid reaction force with multi-country political control may never happen. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?

The Prime Minister

I regret to say that I could not hear every aspect of my hon. Friend's question. A rapid reaction corps is a new system. It is a new way to respond more flexibly and speedily to the changed circumstances in Europe and the need for a different form of defence in Europe. It is under a different command. We command the land forces in the rapid reaction corps. The NATO assessment is that that is the right way to proceed and will maximise defence at minimum cost to the alliance.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Given that NATO was a creation of the cold war in 1948, does not the Prime Minister understand that many of us are disappointed that the NATO summit did not use the opportunity to wind up the organisation altogether and rid itself of nuclear weapons rather than prolong a military alliance that could have been transformed into a peaceful alliance of European countries?

The Prime Minister

NATO has played a great role in ensuring the freedom of the whole of eastern Europe, and I think that the hon. Gentleman should welcome that. If his suggestion is that NATO should be wound up because there is now no military threat, I say to him that the huge stock of nuclear weapons that still exists on Soviet Union soil is of such a scale that I believe his opinion will be shared by very few people.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Will my right hon.Friend accept my sincere congratulations on Britain's role in what was obviously an historic, far-reaching and forward-looking meeting, especially its role in ensuring the promotion of peace throughout Europe and the maintenance of the essential link with the United States of America? Will he confirm that, when he mentions the word "peace", he means not peace alone, but peace with freedom, which has always been demanded by the people of the United Kingdom and the United States? If he agrees, will he include that small but vital word in future NATO communiqués?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend's definition, but I believe that it is implicit in the way that the term is used in the declarations made from the Rome summit. I am grateful to him for his earlier remarks and reaffirm my view that the United States linked with NATO and United States troops in this country are both essential for our freedom.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

When the Prime Minister discussed with other NATO leaders his determination to go ahead with the tactical air-to-surface missile weapon system, did not some of the other leaders suggest to him that it was a little odd for Britain to be going ahead with a new weapon system when the main threat of the talks involved non-proliferation and disarmament? Did he discuss with the west Germans whether they would be happy for us to base such a system on their soil?

The Prime Minister

It was not a matter of discussion at the NATO summit, but we need an appropriate mix of nuclear weapons, both now and in the future. If the day comes when we do not, no one will be more pleased than me, but at present we need a proper mix of nuclear weapons, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I express my appreciation for my right hon. Friend's constructive work in ensuring that there is no incompatibility between strengthening Europe's contribution to its own defence and retaining the primacy of NATO for the defence of alliance territory? Are other countries of the Western European Union assigning permanent representatives to NATO to the WEU ministerial Council as we are? Have plans been advanced to encourage the WEU to take a more active role in out-of-area operations and contingencies?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the latter question is yes, and we have suggested to our partners that they should assign their permanent representatives to the new organisation. They have not all concluded precisely how they will react, but I have great hopes that they will do so.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

A few moments ago the Prime Minister was reminded of the fact that the last United States' navy nuclear submarine sailed out of the Firth of Clyde at the weekend. Could not that significant event be seen as an advance signal of the eventual American withdrawal of its membership of NATO? Is there not a growing body of opinion in America that believes that Europe should be defended exclusively by the forces of European nations?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is no. The Americans will have much longer range submarines in future, but there is no doubt that it is, and has been for many years, the policy of the American Administration that the Americans should continue to play a key part in the defence of Europe. That view was expressly reaffirmed by the President at the Rome summit.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

May I join my hon. Friends in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the significant personal role he played in securing for NATO its position as the linchpin of western security and on ensuring that there is a continued welcome for the United States and Canada to help in the defence of the north Atlantic? Is that not evidence that as long as my right hon. Friend retains his present position the defences of our country will be secure?

The Prime Minister

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I regard it as a matter of prime importance that defence should remain central to our policies and that no risks should be taken with British defence. No risks have been or will be taken.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Prime Minister referred to a possible economic blockade of Yugoslavia. Is not that interference in another nation state; and how would he respond if other countries in Europe or elsewhere told him how to organise Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

If we were not seeking to stop the bloodshed in Yugoslavia, the hon. Gentleman would be the first Member of this House to criticise us.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in uncertain times, and with the possibility of loose nukes in eastern Europe, in the Soviet republics and elsewhere, it is essential that under his leadership the Government not only retain that last guarantee of our national independence and security—the British nuclear deterrent—but that we improve and modernise it?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree. Some reductions in nuclear weapons are in prospect, as I said earlier, but I can affirm that we propose to update Polaris and that we propose to build and keep Trident. That is the absolute guarantor of our defence, and that will remain our policy in future.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Was not the plea that reportedly came from Croatia and Serbia today for military involvement in Yugoslavia not so much for a peace-keeping force as for an intervention force to separate the two sides so that a political settlement can be reached? The two sides simply cannot trust each other with ceasefires arranged from The Hague that do not hold on the ground. Is it not time that the Government went to the Security Council seeking sanction for a military intervention force so that a political settlement can be found? If they do not, we shall have to witness these people slaughtering each other, and that is disgraceful in a European country.

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that that would be the right way to proceed—for the practical reason that I do not believe that it would be successful. It would perhaps increase and extend the fighting to Bosnia, Macedonia and elsewhere, which would not be in the interests of Yugoslavia as a whole, if it still exists. The only way forward for the time being is to try to proceed as we are and to hope that Lord Carrington's latest mission to Belgrade is successful.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Bearing in mind the almost unanimous support given in the House this afternoon for the continuing role of NATO as the linchpin of Western security, would my right hon. Friend be surprised to be reminded that only a year or so ago the Norwich city council banned a NATO exhibition? Would he be further surprised to learn that the council is controlled by the Labour party? Does he not therefore think that its support for NATO is skin deep and that it is vital that he remain in charge of these matters up to the next election and beyond?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am surprised that such a sensible area as Norwich should have a Labour council, but I am not surprised by its action.

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