HC Deb 06 May 1970 vol 801 cc391-4
14. Mr. Brooks

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will now define tactical nuclear weapons to ensure that the potential enemy against whom they might be used is aware that it is Her Majesty's Government's policy not to exchange strategic nuclear weapons.

Mr. Healey

A tactical nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon used against a tactical target. I have said this in the House before. Of course, it is not Government policy to use nuclear weapons of any type unless a major invasion of Western Europe has already taken place and N.A.T.O.'s conventional forces are unable to resist it.

Mr. Brooks

Will my right hon. Friend tell us what a tactical target is? Does it, for example, include a city? Does not he agree that if the nuclear strategy of a limited tactical first strike by N.A.T.O. under certain conditions is to be workable, it is desperately important that any potential enemy should know that this is intended and nothing further?

Mr. Healey

As my hon. Friend will recognise, this is one of the extremely important matters which have been considered in the Nuclear Planning Group of N.A.T.O. in recent years, and considerable progress compared with past thinking has been made during these deliberations. The furthest I can go in attempting to give a single sentence definition of a tactical target would be a target the destruction of which has a direct impact on the course of the land battle.

Mr. James Davidson

Will the Minister then say, in the event of an incursion by armour from the other side of the frontier, how big a force would, in his opinion, have to be to be a strategic rather than a tactical force?

Mr. Healey

With great respect, I do not think the hon. Member listened very carefully to what I said. Tactical nuclear weapons are weapons used against targets the destruction of which is immediately relevant to the course of the actual fighting, as distinct from enemy cities or targets a long way behind the area where fighting is taking place. The size of an enemy tank thrust, although it may determine whether or not it is necessary for N.A.T.O. to use tactical nuclear weapons, has nothing to do with whether their use in that situation would be tactical rather than strategic.

18 and 34. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what consideration he gave, in considering a policy of first use of nuclear weapons entailing the firing of battlefield nuclears on targets in East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia, to the corresponding targetting by the Warsaw Pact powers;

(2) what steps he is taking to prevent escalation to inter-continental nuclear war following the implementation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation policy of nuclear response to conventional attack.

Mr. Healey

The whole purpose of N.A.T.O's. strategy of flexible response is to deter aggression or, if that fails—and over 21 years it has not failed—to prevent it from escalating automatically. As I have explained on numerous occasions, the adoption of this strategy represents a major steps away from the "trip-wire" strategy which was in force when I entered office.

Mr. Jenkins

As my right hon. Friend has just explained that he has difficulty in defining the precise difference between a tactical and a strategic nuclear weapon, on what grounds is he so confident as to say that, whereas strategic nuclear deterrence is not credible, tactical nuclear deterrence is credible? How does he know that the one will not escalate into the other?

Mr. Healey

Tactical weapons have a central rôle in reinforcing the credibility of the strategic deterrent. I must correct my hon. Friend. I would have no difficulty in defining tactical nuclear weapons in great detail, but this is a matter of some complexity, and I admitted to difficulty in finding an adequate definition in one sentence. Fortunately, I am not limited to one sentence, and neither are S.H.A.P.E. and the Supreme Allied Commander, in drawing up plans in this respect.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government have said, as they have in the White Paper, that in certain circumstances we will be the first to use nuclear weapons, it is an open invitation for other Powers to use their nuclear weapons before we can get in with ours?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. I do not think that that is the case. The fact is that it has always been N.A.T.O.'s policy in certain circumstances to use nuclear weapons against an overwhelming conventional atack. The fact that this is so is one reason why no such attack has ever taken place.

Mr. Goodhew

If the Secretary of State believes in a flexible response, why does he not say to his hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) that in answer to a chemical attack he would use nuclear weapons, something much more flexible? If he believes in a flexible response, why does he not have chemical weapons as well?

Mr. Healey

It is always a question of judgment. I think that the hon. Gentleman asked this supplementary question in a serious tone, and it is a very serious matter to decide in which areas flexibility is desirable and in which areas flexibility is not desirable. This is an area in which flexibility is not desirable, because I do not think that it would be in anybody's interest to give an impression to a potential enemy that we were prepared to fight a chemical-nuclear war in Europe.

26. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give an undertaking that the number of tactical nuclear weapons available to British forces in Germany will not be reduced in return for a reduction in the number of medium-range nuclear missiles aimed at Great Britain and other countries in Western Europe from Russia and other Warsaw Pact countries.

Mr. Healey

This is a hypothetical question relating to a matter which would be of concern to the whole of the North Atlantic Alliance. It will hardly be appropriate, therefore, for me to give an undertaking such as the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Goodhew

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that his policy and N.A.T.O.'s policy of a flexible response depends on the use of tactical nuclear weapons in certain circumstances and that they are, therefore, vital to N.A.T.O.'s forces?

Mr. Healey

I am scarcely likely to forget that. I do not need the hon. Gentleman to remind me of it.