HC Deb 22 May 1973 vol 857 cc196-8
4. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his discussions with the United States Defence Ministry on its proposal to introduce the new miniature nuclear weapons for deployment in Europe.

6. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will urge in NATO rejection of the use of miniature nuclear weapons in Europe.

20. Mr. Roderick

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he has come to any conclusions about the implications for British defence policy of the development in the United States of America of the miniature nuclear weapons.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I have nothing to add to my remarks on the subject of miniature nuclear weapons during the defence debate on 10th May.—[Vol. 856, c. 761–2.]

Mr. Allaun

The Times certainly reported this proposal. Will the Minister give an assurance that, if this matter is pressed, Her Majesty's Government will oppose such a dangerous plan? Does he agree that if this kind of nuclear weapon were used the Russians would not set up the Soviet equivalent of a Royal Commission to examine the size and type of bomb but would probably react with their heaviest nuclear weapon, which would wipe out life on our island?

Mr. Gilmour

As I said in the defence debate, no such proposals have yet been made, and if they are made they will be considered very carefully in the Nuclear Planning Group, by ourselves and by our NATO allies. There would be no question of any rushed or merely technical decision. I cannot speculate on how the Russians might or might not react to something so hypothetical.

Mr. Tebbit

Will my hon. Friend urge the necessity of keeping an open mind on this matter, because, unless we have the capacity to repel with relatively small weapons an armed incursion into Europe, inevitably we shall be faced with either surrender or the use of large nuclear weapons?

Mr. Gilmour

As I have said, if these proposals are put forward we shall consider them but it is too early yet to say what our conclusions will be.

Mr. Jenkins

Is the Minister aware that the sort of thing which is evidently in the mind of his hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) would be suicidal? Is he further aware that his answer was not satisfactory because he said that he will consider the matter? He is being asked in many quarters not to consider the matter but to reject it in principle. Many people believe that the use of small nuclear weapons would inevitably escalate into the use of large nuclear weapons, and they also believe that NATO's strategy should be founded on conventional weapons. Will the Minister give an answer in that sense and not relate it to his previous answer?

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view but, as I said in the defence debate, it is much more sensible to wait for the proposal to be put forward and then to consider it rather than to reject it without consideration before it has been made.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not true that the Soviet Union in its exercises and defence planning makes provision for the use of nuclear weapons right across the spectrum from the outset of hostilities? While this is a possibility, should not the United Kingdom and members of the NATO alliance at least prepare for it?

Mr. Gilmour

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), when Secretary of State for Defence, put forward something on the lines of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) said at the beginning of his supplementary question.