HC Deb 16 January 1979 vol 960 cc1471-3
1. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next expects to discuss the neutron bomb in the NATO nuclear planning group.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

The ministerial meetings of NATO's nuclear planning group discuss plans and programmes for the maintenance of the Alliance's nuclear forces as a whole. The next meeting is due to take place in the spring. I see no reason, however, to anticipate the enhanced radiation weapon being on the agenda.

Mr. Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider that reply and put it on the agenda? Will he try to persuade his American allies particularly that they should not be waiting for a suitable moment to announce that they are going ahead with this bomb but should be mak- ing capital out of rejecting completely any development of the bomb and challenging Eastern Europe to reject equally obnoxious weapons?

Mr. Mulley

The American President has made very clear that, in deciding not to produce the warhead or to deploy it at this stage, he is seeking reciprocal renunciations from the Soviet Union and its allies. So far, these have not been forthcoming. This has been publicly stated on many occasions.

Mr. Townsend

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the West suffered a major propaganda defeat over this weapon? What is he personally doing to readjust the balance? Will he remind the House of the great predominance of Soviet armour on the central front?

Mr. Mulley

It is well understood that the decision whether to produce the weapon is essentially one for the United States President although he has undertaken to consult NATO before reaching such a decision.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real difficulty is the strength of the Russian tank armour on the central front? Until the Russians are prepared to thin that out, there will be further discussion about the need to take action to offset the preponderance of the Russian tank armour.

Mr. Mulley

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the threat posed by the substantial tank forces of the Warsaw Pact. As I have said, the American President's line, which we have supported, is that he should seek reciprocal arrangements from the Warsaw Pact before reaching a final decision on this matter.

Dr. Glyn

Is the Secretary of State aware that this is the only weapon, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) said, capable of dealing with the Russian tank threat? Is he also aware that this does not affect American defence at all? It is entirely necessary for NATO for its own protection. When he meets the President, will the right hon. Gentleman try to persuade him that it is absolutely essential that we have this weapon.

Mr. Mulley

I think it would be going too far to say that the weapon was absolutely essential or, on the other hand, that it was the only means of dealing with possible attack by tanks. It was, however, designed for this specific purpose, not least to restrict the area of damage to forces and civilians in the vicinity.

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