HC Deb 12 June 1979 vol 968 cc210-2
1. Mr Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to meet his NATO colleagues.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Francis Pym)

I expect to meet my NATO colleagues at the ministerial meetings of the nuclear planning group and defence planning committee later this year.

Mr. Arnold

When my right hon. Friend next meets his colleagues, will he try to obtain an ordered response to the new problems posed by the conclusion of the SALT negotiations in circumstances in which ratification appears to be problematical? Does my right hon. Friend believe that that is possible?

Mr. Pym

Yes. Our American allies have kept us closely informed throughout the negotiations that they have been conducting bilaterally. By the time the meetings to which I referred take place no doubt the signature of SALT II will have taken place, and, possibly, ratification, too, though that is a more doubtful proposition.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Does the Secretary of State think that it makes any difference that the Warsaw Pact countries have the ability to destroy the world three times over while we have the ability to do it only twice?

Mr. Pym

One factor is vital, particularly in view of the sustained build-up of forces on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It is that the deterrent capability of the West should be in first-class order and should be seen by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries to be totally capable of deterring them from any aggressive intention.

Mr. Buck

When my right hon. Friend meets his NATO colleagues, will he start paving the way for a major initiative for the recasting of the NATO role so that it can truly become the defensive shield of the Western world, irrespective of its geographical guidelines as they now exist?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that that is something to which we can give consideration. It is doubtful whether any changes in the boundaries of NATO would make a great deal of difference, but I am certain that all the countries of the free world are interdependent and that the greater our collaboration the greater will be the success of our deterrent and security effort. However, I would certainly not exclude possibilities such as those my hon. and learned Friend has in mind.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Do the new Government adhere to the previous Government's professions at the United Nations disarmament conference a year ago? If so, how does the Secretary of State reconcile that stance with the further expenditure on arms now proposed?

Mr. Pym

Arms control is a process to which this Government, as did the last, have given a great deal of attention and sustained support. But it will not come about by itself. It can come about only from a position of negotiating strength, and therefore we must retain the balance of the two.

17. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to meet his NATO colleagues.

Mr. Pym

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold).

Mr. Proctor

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour Party's manifesto for the recent election contained a reference to the withering away of NATO? Will he reverse this and do all that he can to increase the numbers in our Armed Forces by increasing their pay, conditions, equipment and morale?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. That which he urges me to do is the Government's intention. Within a couple of weeks of being appointed I was fortunate enough to go to a NATO defence Ministers' meeting. It was helpful to me to have an early opportunity to discuss these important issues with other members of NATO. It is the Government's intention to increase our defence capability. As my hon. Friend knows, we have already increased the pay of members of the Armed Forces in accordance with our commitment. That by itself is not enough completely to restore morale, but it is an important part of that job. The decision was taken within a few days of the Government being elected to office.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman has said today that the Government are still considering a new generation of nuclear weapons but in an interview on BBC2 that was shown last Saturday the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, committed Britain to a new generation of nuclear weapons. I should like to know who is speaking the truth. Is it not a scandal that someone from another place should make a statement committing Britain to all the public expenditure involved in such a policy when the right hon. Gentleman does not admit it from the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman is trying to make a scandal where none exists. Our commitment to a nuclear deterrent is clear. I have made it clear from the Dispatch Box this afternoon. We are determined to maintain that deterrent. There is no division or scandal such as the hon. Gentleman would like to invent.

Mr. Jim Spicer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a strong body of opinion within the NATO Alliance which believes that there is a case for the establishment of a second ACE mobile force with a parachuting capability? Will he undertake to discuss that with his NATO colleagues when he next meets them?

Mr. Pym

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I have not yet considered that matter, but I take note of his request.

Mr. Stoddart

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that there is to take place later this year a planned nuclear test explosion? If he confirms it, will he stop it?

Mr. Pym

I think that I am right in saying that no Government of any colour have ever declared any circumstances or details about any possible nuclear tests. I do not think that that has ever taken place under any Government, and I do not propose to break that tradition.

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