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House of Lords

Wednesday, 24th April 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

The Earl of Clancarty--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his uncle and made the solemn Affirmation.

NATO: Enlargement

Lord Belhaven and Stenton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to expedite the admission of Poland and her central European neighbours (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) to NATO in the light of Her Majesty the Queen's expressed support for Poland's wish to join the alliance in her address to the Polish Parliament on 26th March.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we remain committed to NATO's enlargement, and are contributing actively to the Alliance's work to prepare for the admission of new members.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her Answer. However, would my noble friend care to comment on a recent report which states that President Yeltsin said that an agreement could be worked out to include the provision that no country may be accepted into NATO without Russia's agreement? Further, does my noble friend appreciate the fact that there is a sense of urgency so far as concerns those countries? Their rapid economic development and security could be endangered by continued delay and uncertainty in the matter.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I should tell my noble friend that we are aware of the Russians' concerns, but they are really misplaced. Neither NATO nor its enlargement pose any threat to Russia. On the contrary, we are convinced that, if properly handled, enlargement will contribute to efforts to enhance stability and security in Europe as a whole. We have told President Yeltsin that we take full account of Russian concerns. However, I do not believe that it would be right to allow Russia to exercise a veto over other sovereign nations' wish to join a defensive alliance which has provided the cornerstone of all our security for so long. Indeed, we have made that clear.

I should also tell my noble friend that, so far as concerns the economic development of such countries, we are very firmly behind them. All our work through the know-how fund, and in other ways, will help. But, obviously, as long as there is doubt about Russia's actions in the future, it will have an effect on the

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stability and the growth of those countries. That is why we should put the issue to rest as soon as we possibly can.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the Minister sure that Russia does not consider the acceptance of former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO any threat to Russia?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I believe that Russia is making a grave mistake if she thinks that NATO is a threat to Russia. All along we have sought to convince them--and, to a large extent, this has been accepted by President Yeltsin--that Russia has an important contribution to make to European security. Indeed, in our discussions the Russians have been made well aware of the benefits of developing a strong NATO-Russian relationship in parallel with enlargement. That debate continues, but it is one that has broadly been accepted. One has to understand that they are going through a pre-election period in Russia.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, while we all accept and know that NATO is no threat to Russia, is it not a fact that the introduction of NATO near to the Russian border could be an encouragement to some ultra politicians on one side or the other which could cause long-term damage to the West?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend is right in one sense. However, we have made it absolutely clear that, in working with Russia for that greater stability of which I spoke just now, NATO is likely to do nothing provocative. We have also made it quite clear that the Partnership for Peace, which is of great importance, gives a good opportunity for really close co-operation with NATO. Even though there are some nationalist forces which would pursue the line suggested by my noble friend, I believe that the majority of people know that that will not be so. Certainly NATO will not act provocatively.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware of the importance of the attitude of NATO and the need to try to co-ordinate the eastern European countries into the NATO alliance. However, is the Minister also aware that the opposition to Mr. Yeltsin is very strong--indeed, I believe that it will continue--and that there is the likelihood of a change of government which might mean that there will be stronger opposition still?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I have always thought it extremely dangerous--as the noble Lord will know--to predict what is to happen in an election, certainly even three months away from it, let alone further ahead. In the next three months a number of things may change. It is quite evident from the substance of the discussion in Moscow over the weekend that Mr. Yeltsin's prospects are a good deal stronger now than they were a few weeks ago. I urge the noble Lord not to write him off. Although only three names are being bandied about in our press, there are other Russians who see the virtue of working much

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more closely with western Europe; who see the virtue of Partnership for Peace; and who are determined to work out the new relationship in a positive manner.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Polish Government have made any commitments on the financial costs involved? Does she agree that this must be resolved before final steps can be taken to admit Poland to NATO given the pressure on the defence budgets of NATO members?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, at present I do not believe that Poland has made any commitment on costs. We are, of course, aware of the problems. That is why there needs to be a steady and continuing effort to resolve the problems that exist. The problems that Poland would experience if she were not to have the opportunity to join NATO would be far greater than even the financial problems that we know of already.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that to many Russians the stretch of country from the Oder-Neisse line east and the Baltic states are as significant to them strategically as the Low Countries are to Britain?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. They are strategically important but we view this not just in terms of what lies on one side or the other of the Oder-Neisse line but as regards the whole of the community in Europe. Given the choice that has been made by Poland and all the other nations in the area, including the new Lander in Germany, it is quite clear that people want to work out a peaceful way of living and working side by side. We who have the strength and experience of having done this in western Europe should be doing all we possibly can to assist this to happen for the sake of Poland and the other countries, and for peace in Europe as a whole.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of any opposition on the part of other members of the European Union to this application?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: No, my Lords, I am not. I shall make inquiries but I cannot help my noble friend at this moment.

Civil Service College

2.45 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of present uncertainty, what are their proposals for the future of the Civil Service College.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government recognise that the Civil Service College has a continuing role in the provision of training and development courses self-evidently linked to the Civil Service. I am pleased to announce to my noble friend that the college is now developing a number of

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partnerships with the private sector which will enhance its status in the provision of courses for those in the public and private sectors.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, first, I am much obliged to my noble friend for her courtesy in this matter. I hope I may ask her whether she will deliver a message to her right honourable friends to the effect that, while a few windows open in such an institution can only do good, nevertheless it would seem more than a little eccentric to put the control of a college, the purpose of which is to train civil servants, in the hands of those who have no knowledge whatever of the running of that service.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I do not imagine that my noble friend would expect me to start delivering messages when the right honourable gentleman whom he might wish to receive the message can no doubt read Hansard himself. However, it is right to say that, as with other government agencies, we have considered a number of options. As I said before, we have made no proposals to change the position of the Civil Service College.

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