At the nuclear planning group meeting on 19 and 20 April, Ministers reaffirmed their determination to ensure that NATO has effective and up-to-date nuclear forces across the full spectrum of ranges, and expressed their continued support for national efforts to meet modernisation requirements stemming from Montebello. Ministers also noted SACEUR's conclusions about the link between modernisation and stockpile reductions and about the contribution to deterrence of new longer-range, ground-launched and air-delivered weapons. A copy of the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, and agreed by all Ministers, has been placed in the Library of the House.
Is it not a fact that a question mark hangs over the decision taken by the nuclear planning group? Is it not also a fact that the Prime Minister, by delaying the modernisation of short-range missiles, is reluctant to accept that decision? Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean that there is to be an increase in the number of FE111 s and FE15s?
The hon. Gentleman is misinformed about the outcome of the meeting. The outcome, with the unanimous agreement of every nation present, was to reaffirm the nuclear defensive strategy of NATO, to reaffirm the need to keep weapons up to date and to reaffirm the unanimous view of all that a third zero would not be in the interests of the west. It cannot be said too often that we have had secure peace and freedom from war for so many years because of the existence of nuclear deterrence, which we would abandon at our peril.
Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question that I put to him on 7 March, which the Minister of State also refused to answer on 11 April and about which I wrote to the Department a month ago and to which I have not received a reply? Do the Government take seriously the threat of a tactical nuclear attack on NATO's fixed assets in West Germany?
I am not sure what lies behind the question—[Hons. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The Government certainly do take seriously the large superiority in weapons lined up against us in western Europe—weapons of all kinds; nuclear, conventional and chemical—and it is to make all those unusable that the policy of nuclear deterrence has worked so effectively for so long.
How would my right hon. Friend set about planning into such a meeting a nuclear deterrent which he had committed himself not to use? Would it not be something of a white elephant? Or, to put it another way, would it not be like hiring an expensive guard dog which had lost its bark, which he was having put down and which he intended to stuff?