HC Deb 21 February 1978 vol 944 cc1205-8
Q1. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to attend a meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I expect to attend the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington on 30th and 31st May.

Mr. Rodgers

If my right hon. Friend attends such a meeting, will he convey the revulsion of ordinary decent people in this country at the suggestion that the neutron or enriched radiation bomb should become part of the armoury of NATO? Will he advocate that this gruesome weapon, which apparently has the capacity to destroy people yet leave property intact, should be outlawed and denounced by both Western and Eastern power blocs?

The Prime Minister

The neutron bomb is a weapon fearful in its use, but it is no more fearful than a number of weapons now being developed by the Soviet Union, including, for example, the SS20. Therefore, I do not think that we should tackle this matter from the point of view of a single weapon. It is important that the world Disarmament Conference, which is to assemble at the United Nations in New York, should take a broad view of the whole of this problem. I propose to attend that conference on 2nd June and to make a speech on the need for disarmament and on the manner in which it should be tackled.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

When the Prime Minister meets his NATO colleagues, will he feel able to speak with pride about Britain's Armed Forces? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] If so, will he take his miserable little Secretary of State by the scruff of the neck—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—and get him to do something about Armed Forces pay now—chop, chop?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first part of the question is "Yes, Sir, on all occasions." As regards the second part of the question, what the hon. and gallant Member said may not be out of order, but I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will indicate that you do not regard it as in very good taste.

Mr. Crawshaw

Does the Prime Minister realise that what he said today will appeal to those who are interested in the defence of the country? Does he agree that, whereas for 33 years this country has lived in peace under the threat of the atomic bomb, it may be that the neutron bomb will provide such terror that war will be abolished from the face of the word for ever?

The Prime Minister

The neutron bomb and its serious effects are now being used by the Soviet Union as a propaganda cover to prevent discussion of some of the other serious weapons being developed. I want to ensure that this is on the record. Mr. Brezhnev can help in this matter if, instead of focusing propaganda on the neutron bomb, he will enter into serious discussions at the United Nations or elsewhere on how we are to deal with some of the other weapons that are now being developed and on which research is taking place. There is a formidable prospect facing the world on this particular matter. I do not want to see the world destroyed by our terror. Nor do I want us to succumb to blackmail by someone else's terror. It is in that spirit that I think we must approach this matter.

On 1st February the United Kingdom submitted a draft programme of action to the United Nations which called for the following: first, to curb the accumulation and development of nuclear weapons by international agreement; secondly, to agree on a treaty to assure the world that those who renounce the nuclear weapon will not have it used against them; thirdly, to extend confidence-building measures which are in operation in Europe to other parts of the world fourthly, to arrive at a comprehensive test ban treaty as quickly as possible. This is the kind of programme that I want to put forward as quickly as possible.

Mr. Churchill

What discussions have Ministers had with the Soviet Government about the recent development of the mobile intermediate-range SS20 missile, which has a destructive potential literally thousands of times greater than the theatre nuclear neutron bomb?

The Prime Minister

For once I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). The SS20 is a more dangerous weapon than the neutron bomb. That is why I do not want to focus attention on a single weapon. There are weapons on both sides that must enter into a comprehensive disarmament discussion.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I, through you, explain that I meant nothing personal a moment ago in my reference to the Secretary of State for Defence? I wish, however, to draw an important point to the attention of the Prime Minister—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will have heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman's explanation.

Forward to