Nuclear Planning Group

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th July 1989.

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Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran , Beverley 12:00 am, 11th July 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to discuss the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons with members of the Nuclear Planning Group.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My right hon. Friend will next meet his colleagues in the Nuclear Planning Group in the autumn, when they will discuss a range of matters concerning nuclear issues.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran , Beverley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Soviet Union modernised its tactical nuclear weapons in the 1980s—this decade—and that NATO, by trying to redress that imbalance, is not turning its back on peace but simply ensuring peace by having parity in such weapons in Europe?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

That is correct. There is enormous numerical superiority in the Soviet systems, and they have been modernised all the way along. If we are to maintain the flexible response of the mix of nuclear and conventional weapons for our deterrence, it is important that these weapons are kept up to date.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

The justification for short-range nuclear weapons has been the gross imbalance in conventional forces in favour of the Warsaw pact. If President Bush's initiative is sucessful, to the extent that conventional arms reductions have been achieved or are substantially under way by 1992, is not the reality that there will be no willingness in the United States to develop a follow-on to Lance and even less willingness in the Federal Republic of Germany to have it deployed there?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The reality is that flexible response is an essential part of Alliance policy. Even with reductions in conventional weapons, I think that we will keep to that policy. That was confirmed at the recent summit.

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester North

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reasons for modernisation are precisely the same as those that actuated the Labour party to modernise our nuclear deterrent by the introduction of Chevaline? The only difference is that the Labour party did it without telling anybody and we do it openly.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

That is absolutely right. That was a period when the Labour party took a more responsible attitude towards defence. It is a great pity that the Labour party's new review has not taken us forward one jot.

Mr. O'Neill:

Does the Minister of State agree that one reason advanced—usually the main one—for the existence of short-range nuclear forces is the disparity between the conventional forces of the Warsaw pact and NATO? If the CFE—conventional forces in Europe—talks reduce those forces to parity and then below, what justification will there be to retain short-range nuclear forces?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the justification for flexible response is that the enemy should not at any time contemplate attack because of the series of responses that might result. That is the whole basis of NATO policy. It was confirmed recently at the summit, and Labour Members are the only people who are out of step on this matter.