Nuclear Weapons

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1989.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Eastham Mr Kenneth Eastham , Manchester, Blackley 12:00 am, 9th May 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received from his Belgian counterpart about Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

In recent weeks my Belgian colleague and I have discussed the question of modernising NATO's short-range nuclear weapons both bilaterally and at a meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group. The NPG communiqué, to which we both subscribed, reflects a large measure of agreement on essentials.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Eastham Mr Kenneth Eastham , Manchester, Blackley

Is it not a fact that the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Wilfried Martens, has been pressing the Government and other NATO countries for earnest East-West discussions about reductions in nuclear short-range forces? Why are the Government continuing the arms race philosophy, being so hard-line and causing such disagreement nowadays in NATO, such that the British Government seem to be the only Government who want to perpetuate the arms race?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

The hon. Gentleman is not fair to the Belgian Government because all along the Belgian Government have supported the main NATO strategy of nuclear deterrence and have strongly said that they do not favour a third zero of the shorter-range nuclear forces. They agree that weapons systems must be kept up to date. We must be fair to the Belgian Government.

I wish to make it quite clear that the British Government consider the policy of nuclear deterrence, in which the shorter-range nuclear weapons play an important part, as a key factor in preventing war. It is to prevent all war that all our policy is directed and it has been successful over the past 40 years.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South

Will my right hon. Friend take time during his next discussions with the Belgian Defence Minister to assure him that this Government will stand firmly behind the NATO strategy of nuclear deterrence, will ensure that proper conventional forces are supplied into the future for NATO's deployment and will ensure that we shall never let our allies down by backing out of NATO or even discussing such a possibility?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend and I re-affirm definitely that we in this Government entirely support the prevention of war by nuclear deterrence. In that we are supported absolutely unanimously by all our NATO allies of all political persuasions. All hon. Members, especially those in the Labour party, should reflect on that carefully at this time.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Does the right hon. Gentleman support President Bush in his new policy of re-integration towards the Soviet Union? Does he accept that that signifies that United States is moving towards the Kohl-Genscher view on the modernisation of nuclear weapons? Will he take steps to advise the Prime Minister to moderate her views before President Bush moderates them for her?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I fully support what the United States has been saying on these subjects in recent weeks under its new Administration. Its words are absolutely in line with those of myself and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

Would my right hon. Friend retain any credibility with his Belgian counterpart if he supported the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons on the basis that he doubted whether they were any use at all, that he would never use them anyway, and that he would phase them out by the year 2000? Would not even the Belgians think that my right hon. Friend was guilty of fudge and mudge?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I cannot think of anyone in any of the other member states of NATO who would agree that the possession of a deterrent that one says that one would never use is of any use whatever.

Mr. O'Neill:

Will the Secretary of State say which members of NATO support the Government's position on modernisation because not even the United States is prepared to go along with that and is itself seeking a compromise with the Federal Republic of Germany?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

In answering that, I cannot do better than to quote from the NATO communique, to which all members of the Alliance subscribe—

Mr. O'Neill:

Not completely.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

Including my Belgian colleague. The words that he subscribed to are: For the foreseeable future our strategy of deterrence will continue to require both conventional and nuclear forces. At this meeting we again expressed our determination to ensure that NATO possesses diversified, survivable and operationally flexible nuclear forces across the entire spectrum. These forces must be kept up-to-date where necessary. That is a complete answer to the hon. Gentleman and to his party while it is trying to work out its future policy.