Nuclear Weapons

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1992.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Thompson Mr Patrick Thompson , Norwich North 12:00 am, 5th February 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on developments in reducing nuclear weapons in Europe since 1983.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Since 1983, as a result of both NATO's resilience and its willingness to respond rapidly to change. significant progress has been made in reducing nuclear weapons. The 1987 intermediate nuclear forces treaty eliminated all United States and Soviet ground-based intermediate range nuclear missiles. Last autumn President Bush and President Gorbachev announced the elimination of ground-based, short-range nuclear weapons, an undertaking which the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States has agreed to honour. The United Kingdom is also playing a full part by halving our sub-strategic stockpile. President Bush's recent initiative on strategic arms takes this a step further, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear last week that we welcome President Yeltsin's commitment to deep cuts in super-power arsenals.

Photo of Mr Patrick Thompson Mr Patrick Thompson , Norwich North

My hon. and learned Friend's reply is very welcome. Does he recall the debate that took place some years ago about the deployment of cruise missiles? Does he recall that resulting NATO policy has been successful? Does he also recall the attitude of some Opposition politicians and, indeed, many local councillors in Norwich who actively opposed NATO and its policies at that time? Does he share my hope that a lesson has been learnt from that?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I rather doubt whether the lesson has been fully learnt by Opposition Members, but the reference to "some Opposition politicians" is too general; we ought to make it more particular. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was a strong opponent of the deployment of cruise missiles. Had that policy prevailed, I doubt whether we would have had even the INF treaty.

Photo of Mr James Lamond Mr James Lamond , Oldham Central and Royton

Does the Minister recall the remark made by President Yeltsin the other day which so delighted the Prime Minister—that Britain's nuclear weapons were irrelevant and of no consequence in the discussions about nuclear disarmament? Does not that remark demonstrate that we never had an independent nuclear deterrent, as neither President Yeltsin nor anyone else in the Soviet Union accepted it as a deterrent; and that we have poured tens of billions of pounds down the drain trying to maintain that mystique?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

That question merely illustrates the fact that the Labour party is historically a party of unilateral disarmament and that, by prejudice and policy, it is to a considerable degree still a party of unilateral disarmament.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the out-of-date nuclear systems that we are withdrawing from Europe have ensured that Europe is a very much safer place, and that the minimum deterrence that we are planning with Trident should be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House, in practice as well as in theory?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I certainly agree. That is why I deplore the various policy statements made by the right hon. Member for Gorton in the past opposing the deployment of Trident. That was an entirely wrong policy, and I think it time that he apologised to the House for having espoused it.