HC Deb 10 July 1979 vol 970 cc251-3
15. Miss Wright

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if any commitment has been made, at NATO Defence Ministers' meetings held since 3 May, to accept the development of new medium-range nuclear missiles and their possible basing in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Pym

The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that NATO's longer-range theatre nuclear forces are kept up to date, particularly in view of the greatly increased Soviet capability in this area. However, decisions on the level and form of individual nation's contributions to a collective Alliance effort are not likely to be made before the end of this year.

Miss Wright

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the general acceptance of such weapons will inevitably heighten tension in the area and make prospects worse for SALT III and possible for SALT II? Will he comment on the recent statement by the United States Defense Secretary that an agreement would be reached on the modernisation of nuclear weapons for NATO before the end of the year?

Mr. Pym

The escalation of the military strength of the Warsaw Pact countries in the nuclear and non-nuclear sectors is such that it is necessary, in the view of the Alliance, to modernise our theatre nuclear forces. We cannot negotiate arms control or a reduction of arms except from a position of strength. Our most immediate concern is the way in which the military might of the Soviet powers is, as far as one can see, escalating and increasing more rapidly every year. It behoves us to ensure that we have a range of weapons capable of deterring any threat by the Soviet Union. From that position we would hope to be able to negotiate an arms control agreement that would reduce the number of forces and the strength of the armies on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the admirable leading letter in The Daily Telegraph yesterday written by Air Vice-Marshal Stewart Menaul in which he argued the cost-effectiveness and spoke highly of the capability of the air-launched cruise missile in the nuclear role?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I saw that letter. There are a number of possible weapons that would fulfil the nuclear capability that is desired. The Alliance is looking into those options. I am doing the same on the part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Frank Allaun

How is it that more money can always be found for new weapons even when vital social services are being slashed?

Mr. Pym

Unless we can protect and secure the peace and the way of life of the free Western world, there will be no social security to defend.

16. Mr. loan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of recent international talks leading to a real reduction in nuclear weapons, if Her Majesty's Government will postpone plans for developing new nuclear weapons for basing these in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Pym

The Government have welcomed the SALT II agreement, but that does not remove the need to maintain the effectiveness of the United Kingdom's own nuclear contribution to the Alliance.

Mr. Evans

I welcome the fact that the Government accept the SALT II agreement. However, does the Secretary of State realise that the world is now spending £200 billion on the nuclear arms race? Rather than making more sophisticated nuclear weapons, would it not be better for there to be an agreement between East and West for balanced reductions of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Pym

The object of the policy is to reach a situation where we can reduce the forces on both sides. Our immediate anxiety is the scale of the increase on the other side. I do not think that the security of the Alliance can be made hostage to the hope of a future breakthrough on the arms control front. We must have something solid with which to negotiate. In the end we hope to reach that position. However, it feels a long way off at the moment.

Mr. Churchill

Bearing in mind that under the terms of the agreement the Soviet Union will be doubling its stocks of nuclear warheads, as opposed to nuclear missiles, will my right hon. Friend correct the inaccuracy on the Order Paper? When he meets Defence Secretary Brown in Washington shortly, will he take steps to provide a remedy for the grave imbalance that has arisen in European strategic weaponry?

Mr. Pym

I assure my hon. Friend that I have his remarks very much in mind.