Force Levels

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham 12:00 am, 28th November 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with his United States counterpart about the need to maintain adequate force levels in Europe.

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

My right hon. Friend will meet Mr. Cheney at the meeting of NATO's defence planning committee in Brussels, where NATO's force plans will be discussed.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Is it not essential to remember that there are still more than 500,000 Russian troops in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and that any premature dismantling of our NATO defences would threaten and jeopardise the peace and freedom of Europe for which NATO has fought so hard in the past 40 years? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital for us to keep as close as possible to the United States Administration and to Congress to ensure that there is no weakening of our mutual resolve?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must always look at the capability of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact rather than at their intentions which, of course, can change at relatively short notice. Those capabilities have been further enhanced by the new production of Soviet war materials of one sort or another. That has improved the quality although the quantity may have come down a little.

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Edinburgh Leith

Do not the Government always say that we must remember that individuals are important? An individual called Paddy Meehan wrote a book, which I have here—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Has it anything to do with the question?

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Edinburgh Leith

The House should consider its contents, or at the very least—[interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman sit down, please?—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask his own question. We cannot have this approach.

Photo of Mr Ian Stewart Mr Ian Stewart , Hertfordshire North

Conservative Members welcome the remark by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his NATO colleagues—representing the United States and our European allies—that we should "gang warily" with the redeployment and reduction of forces in Europe. Ought not any move that we make in that direction be agreed thoroughly with our NATO colleagues rather than being a one-off on the part of individual countries, and should it not he firmly within the framework of agreement between East and West?

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

That is absolutely right. We must continue to pursue rigorously the current talks in Vienna—the negotiations on conventional armed forces in Europe, or CFE. That will lead to major reductions in the superiority of Soviet numbers, and we may then be able to start considering significant reductions on the NATO side.

Mr. O'Neill:

Is the Minister aware that only the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister seem to be prepared to continue waging the cold war? Does he agree that, although it may take some time to reduce force levels through negotiation, it should be possible for the Government to follow the lead given by Lord Carrington—a former Foreign Secretary and Secretary General of NATO—who has said in the past week that there is now no case for short-range nuclear forces in the form of a follow-on to Lance? Will the Government make that contribution to ending the cold war, and abandon this folly?

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

No. The Government feel that it is much better to do everything in co-operation with our allies. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that we are all signed up for the comprehensive concept, which agrees that there is still a need for a mix of conventional and nuclear forces and for flexible response. Only the Labour party is out of step with the rest of Europe at present.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury

Does my hon. Friend agree that any such discussions must take full account of the Soviet Union's continuing massive chemical capability? That is underlined by both the continuing secrecy surrounding the Shikhany plant and the chilling revelation that lethal chemical weapons were used in Georgia for crowd control purposes.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have no evidence whatever that the Soviet Union has reduced its stocks of chemical weapons, and, as my hon. Friend has said, the injuries sustained at Tbilisi were not the kind that would be expected to result from the use of riot dispersal agents such as CS gas.