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10.13 am

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) on bringing this matter to the House's attention. The Government should have done so. I have repeatedly asked the Leader of the House during business questions for a full-scale debate devoted exclusively to the issue of NATO's expansion, and I hope that--rather late in the day--he will accede to my request, because many hon. Members would like to speak about such an important matter.

I agree with some of what has been said this morning about the importance of trade and commerce. I hope that a number of applicants for NATO membership will also become members of the European Union: not only would that make sense in terms of trade and commerce and the cementing of those countries' market economies, but the countries joining the European Union--whether we like it or not--will as a consequence enjoy some security guarantees. Although there is no security element in the European Union's treaties, it is inconceivable that external aggression on one member state would not be deemed aggression on the whole European Union. Such aggression could not be tolerated.

All that will come in time. Meanwhile, we have the immediate lining up of countries that wish to be considered for NATO membership. Today, hon. Members

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have made the mistake of talking in general terms, as if all the states involved were equal in terms of size, geographical location, the contributions that they can make to NATO and the development of their democracies. Some states would, I think, be disqualified on the last count, because democracy has not developed and flourished in those states. I feel that we have an obligation to look at each application on its merits, and I want to concentrate on the countries that should logically be the first to join NATO--those whose case for membership is the most powerful and compelling, not only in their interests but in ours. I am thinking particularly of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

It is a matter of fact that those countries will be given membership first, and I welcome that. I do not accept that their membership will impose additional costs or burdens on the United Kingdom taxpayer which should disqualify them. I shall return to that point shortly. I am shocked and horrified that the House of Commons should contain Members of Parliament who ignore the moral obligation that we owe to the people of the central European states, particularly Poland.

The hon. Member for North Tayside referred to Winston Churchill's speech at Fulton, Missouri, 51 years ago. He said that he remembered it. I remember the words: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across Europe behind which we must refer to it as the Soviet sphere." Churchill implied that, for the next half century, we would say to the people of central and eastern Europe, "Look over the wall. See how wonderful things are in the west: look at the wonderful market economy. Is it not a tantalising prospect?" Those who believed our propaganda must have thought that the sun always shone and the rain never fell in the west.

What happened? Communism collapsed, the wall came down, the barbed wire was wound up, and the former communist countries developed democracies. Now they are saying, "Please may we join?" and we reply, "Not so fast; hang on a moment." That came through in some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). However, when he listed his criteria for membership--criteria with which, to a large extent, I did not disagree--he spoke of the principle of national self-determination, and of free peoples. Well, the people of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are free peoples, and they want to join a free association of democratic states. We will need pretty powerful and persuasive arguments to say that they should not join--bearing it in mind that Turkey, which I do not consider to be a democratic state, is also an existing member. The membership of those countries would guarantee their democracies, although they are already robust and flourishing and, indeed, we can learn from some of their modern parliamentary institutions. We must recognise that they have a powerful case.

Poland is a nation of nearly 40 million people, and has a large land mass. It has a thriving market economy and a robust democracy. Given that it is a former Warsaw pact country, it has some pretty sophisticated armed forces, which collaborated with the British Army in training last summer. It has much to contribute in defence and military terms. We must consider the question of interoperability. Enormous strides are being made in bringing Poland into line with the NATO technology and communications systems, for instance. That can and will be achieved in a

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relatively short time. Those arguments about interoperability were never raised when Spain joined. They are trotted out now to disguise the other objection, the overriding one, with which I disagree but nevertheless view as a legitimate point: what will be the impact on Russia if we expand NATO?

I return to Winston Churchill's speech in Fulton, Missouri, when he said that we must refer to the region behind the iron curtain as the Soviet sphere. Have we fought the cold war for half a century to see the defeat of the Soviet Union, only to concede a Russian sphere of influence and right of veto over free democratic peoples? I have not, and that is why I view it as a moral issue. We should recognise that these people are entitled to come in and to enjoy collective security.

The security guarantees are important. I do not wish to devalue the guarantees under article 5 of the NATO treaty. If we took in all the applicant countries at this stage, it would devalue NATO. I am not advocating that. I am saying that we should consider their entry on their individual merits. We can extend security guarantees to Poland. Even if the House cannot be persuaded about the moral issue of admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, there are overriding selfish reasons why we should do so. Demonstrably, if there ever was a day when we were threatened from the east--although, to be candid, logically it is not likely; we just have to look at the map of Europe to see that--it makes sense to move the borders of our interests eastward.

I listened to the hon. Member for North Tayside and his recollection of history. I think that his argument was that it was because of a treaty that we had to go to war in 1939. Of course, that is a matter of fact, but is he saying that it would have been better if we had not had that treaty and that, without it, we would not have had to go to war with Hitler? The problem is that it was his predecessors on the Conservative Benches who brought a new word to the English language--appeasement. He is saying today that we should appease the threat of potential aggression.

Mr. Bill Walker: For the sake of the record, I served with Polish service men. I have a high regard for the Poles. During the second world war, the Polish armoured division was based in my constituency and many of the service men in that division who returned still live there. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is never difficult to sign treaties? What is difficult in life is to honour what we sign. It is important that we recognise the dangers, the risks, the hazards and the commitment. If another act of aggression takes place, his children and grandchildren will have to go to war, not the hon. Gentleman. That is what happened in 1930. That is the only point that I was making.

Mr. Mackinlay: The problem was that we did not tackle aggression. We did not have sufficient treaties in place. We allowed Hitler to move on and to take slices of Europe until such stage as we had to say, "Thus far, no further." I agree with the hon. Gentleman that treaties should not be entered into lightly or frivolously and we should not make commitments that we cannot fulfil, but I return to the thrust of my remarks on Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and Slovenia, with its geographical position on the Adriatic. It makes military and defence sense for us to have them in NATO.

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In his criteria, the right hon. Member for Wokingham mentioned the need for sensitivity with regard to borders. In relation to the states to which I have referred, that is old hat. Poland, for instance, is one of the countries in Europe that has the fewest minorities. It has fewer minority problems than the United Kingdom, if we regard the problems of Northern Ireland as a minority situation. It is a matter of fact that Poland's borders are agreed with the Federal Republic of Germany. There is, frankly, no problem there.

Notice that I do not say that Romania should be in the first wave--because it is deficient in terms of democracy, the market economy and so on--but Hungary has reached new agreements and accords with Romania, which are welcome. The Czech Republic identifies in terms of trade with the Federal Republic of Germany, looking westwards, and Slovenia has recently reached agreements and accommodation with its larger Italian neighbour, so great strides have been made. Those new treaties, new agreements and new arrangements make some of the problems that we have had and still have in western Europe look much worse. For instance, Spain has problems with the Basques and the Catalans and we have problems in Northern Ireland. In contrast, there are no problems now in those other states, and that should be acknowledged.

I hope therefore that Her Majesty's Government and the next Labour Government will robustly pursue the principle of expanding NATO, ensuring that the democracy criteria for membership are adhered to. That is very important. The countries to which I referred can contribute to collective security and enhance NATO. We should not find bogus reasons or appease anyone, because that is not in the interests of ourselves, the countries of central Europe to which I referred, or Russia. It is important that we are sensitive to Russia's involvement, but it would not be in Russia's interest if we gave it the right of veto over the development and fulfilment of free democratic peoples, who were subjugated for so long in central Europe.

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