HC Deb 21 February 1978 vol 944 cc1199-200
10. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to have consultations with his fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Defence Ministers about the neutron bomb.

Mr. Mulley

I shall next be meeting my colleagues at the NATO meetings in April and May, although not for the specific purpose of discussion the enhanced radiation—reduced blast warhead.

Mr. Blaker

When the Secretary of State next meets his NATO colleagues for a discussion on that subject, will he make the point that the argument that the neutron bomb is especially reprehensible because it kills humans but does not destroy property is untenable in the sense that it would have applied also to the arrow and it could be applied to chemical weapons, which are deployed in large quantities by the Russians? Will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Prime Minister to give a robust reply to Mr. Brezhnev's letter?

Mr. Mulley

It is well known that the original and quite unbelievable publicity with which the so-called neutron bomb was launched was quite indefensible. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is impossible to have a weapon that will kill people and not destroy property. That, I think, is well understood. However, there are problems about its impact on arms control negotiations, and Her Majesty's Government, like nearly every other NATO country, have not formed a final view. I cannot predict when that final view will be taken within the Alliance.

Mr. James Lamond

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to deploy the neutron bomb in Western Europe must lower the threshold of nuclear war? Does he accept that President Brezhnev was in earnest when he said in the Kremlin on 2nd November—[HON. MEMBERS: "Were you there?"]—that the Soviet Union would develop similar weapons, at enormous cost, if the neutron bomb were placed in Western Europe? That would be a cost that neither the Warsaw Pact nor NATO could afford and would serve only unnecessarily to increase the enormous arms expenditure of the world.

Mr. Mulley

I take my hon. Friend's point that there has been argument about whether the increased military capability of the bomb for the purpose, for example, of attacking tank formations would lead to its being used more readily and, therefore, lower the threshold. That is a serious point and is one of the matters that we are taking into consideration. If it should happen—I cannot predict what the final NATO decision will be—that the neutron bomb is brought in, it would be important not in any way to relax political control over the use of nuclear weapons.