My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations from individuals and organisations regarding the role of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. I am sure that the British people support the Alliance's recent rejection of the third zero.
Has the Government's view changed? The Prime Minister told us that she could do business with Mr. Gorbachev, but it seems that today the Conservative party is rubbishing all the disarmament proposals that people all over the world are welcoming. In particular, surely the Minister knows that the people of Europe and the people of Britain are excited by the prospect of getting rid of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe—East and West. We all want disarmament; it is in all our interests. Why are the British Government standing in the way of progress which would benefit all the people of the world?
We are certainly not rubbishing the Soviet Union's initiatives. We welcome everything that is taking place at the moment. We are involved, within the Alliance, in serious negotiations to reduce strategic, conventional and chemical weapons, and we are hopeful that there will be a fruitful result. However, we must be careful to maintain our guard during the negotiations and not to put ourselves at a renewed disadvantage compared with the Soviet Union.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be nonsense if our aircraft did not have a stand-off capability when the Soviets already posses one? So long as they have their stand-off capability, surely we should have such a capability.
I agree absolutely. That is very important. We should always be able to match the Soviet capability and have systems as up to date as theirs. It is also important that we should adhere to the resolutions passed at the recent summit and ensure that we keep flexible response as part of NATO's strategy.
Does the Minister agree with the statement by President Bush last week, prior to his departure for Warsaw, that he is still confident that a conventional deal can be struck within the next six to nine months and that, following that, short-range nuclear forces should become the subject of discussion with a view to their removal, at least in part? Do the Government share President Bush's optimism or do they wish to act as the dogs in the manger and hold back the process?
There is no question of our being dogs in the manger. There are a great number of complicated negotiations to go through. Six to nine months is an ambitious programme, but I am not saying that it cannot be achieved.