HC Deb 29 March 1983 vol 40 cc164-7
1. Mr. Race

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now answer parliamentary questions on the number of nuclear warheads possessed by the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, respectively.

8. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest assessment of the numbers of Russian nuclear missile warheads targeted on western Europe.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

It has not been the practice of the United Kingdom, United States or Soviet Governments to reveal the numbers of nuclear warheads in their stockpiles. Comparisons of the numbers of nuclear delivery systems deployed by NATO and the Soviet Union are set out in figure 7 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982". We estimate, however, that in the intermediate range alone the Soviet Union possesses 351 SS20 missiles with 1,053 warheads, and that approximately two thirds of these face western Europe, together with about 250 warheads on the older SS4 and SS5 missiles.

Mr. Race

Is it not one of the Secretary of State's basic functions to hide the truth from the people? Given the answer that he has just provided, is it not true that he has neglected the fact that there is already massive overkill among the nuclear super powers and that, taking all warheads together—strategic, theatre and tactical—the West has the majority of warheads? If those facts were known, would not more people join the CND than ever before?

Mr. Heseltine

It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman believes that we live in a society that tries to hide the facts from the people. He must be fully aware that only three and a half years ago his party was in full possession of all the information that is available to me and believed categorically then that it was necessary to have nuclear weapons and to modernise them.

Mr. Chapman

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the past five years the number of Russian nuclear warheads targeted on western Europe has increased by 400 and that during a similar period there has been a reduction on our side of no fewer than 1,000? Is not cruise a replacement for more obsolete weapon systems as well as a response to the deployed SS20s?

Mr. Heseltine

I confirm that the Americans have withdrawn 1,000 nuclear warheads from Europe during the period to which my hon. Friend referred. Without matching the figure of 400 that he mentioned, I can tell him that since March 1982, 54 SS20s have become operational at six completed bases. The cruise missile system is to be deployed in western Europe in response to the large number of SS20 missiles that have been deployed and face this country.

Mr. Newens

Will the right hon. Gentleman stop dodging the question? If one takes strategic and theatre nuclear weapons together, in terms of targeted warheads has not the West more than the Soviet Union? Will he answer that question? Will he deny those facts if they are not true?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that all these matters are the subject of discussion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—at the disarmament talks which are proceeding and which we support strongly. If the Soviet Union is genuinely interested in reducing the numbers of those warheads, it is the Western powers' priority to achieve that aim.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Is it not contemptible and immoral for the Labour party to say, as it does in "Labour's Plan", that it is not opposed to the existing Alliance, but wishes to abandon nuclear defence? Is it not utterly contemptible that it is prepared to accept the protection of the American deterrent, but is opposed to the British deterrent?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has raised a critical issue, about which we have far greater information today with the publication of the latest defence statement of the Labour party. Broadly, it says that it wishes to undermine the basic defence policy that has guaranteed the peace of western Europe for the past 37 years. It wishes to see the end of the NATO Alliance. It wishes to remove Polaris—

Dr. McDonald


Mr. Heseltine

Yes. The words for which I search say that the Labour party wishes to see—[Interruption.] I have not found the words, but they are in the document that has been handed to me. The Labour party wishes to see the end of the NATO Alliance and the Warsaw Pact Alliance. I have now found the words. It says: The ultimate objective of a satisfactory relationship in Europe is the mutual and concurrent phasing out of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The idea that this country's defence policy can depend upon support from NATO, which is supposed not to have nuclear support from this country, is incredible and would lead to the disintegration of the NATO Alliance. The Labour party—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is too long an answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Order. I must tell the House that if there are to be long supplementary questions I shall call only one hon. Member and move on, because long questions are not fair to others whose names are on the Order Paper.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Instead of indulging in his normal politics of gimmickry, the Secretary of State should brief himself properly before he comes to the House. He will know, or his civil servants will tell him, that the last Labour party conference voted overwhelmingly, by more than a two thirds majority, to stay in NATO. Is not the important fact that the Soviet Union and the Western Alliance could destroy each other 50 times over with the warheads that they now possess and that the real priority—I am sorry that the Secretary of State is so insensitive to this—is to freeze nuclear weapons and reduce them so that the world can become safer and saner?

Mr. Heseltine

If the real priority is to reduce nuclear weapons, why did the Labour Government, four or five days before polling day, say that it was essential to maintain nuclear deterrence and to modernise the weapons systems we had?

2. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is Her Majesty's Government's policy on the deployment by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons in central Europe.

5. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the number of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons deployed on each side in Europe.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)

NATO maintains a range of nuclear forces geared to the Alliance's strategy of flexible response. At present the Warsaw Pact has approximately 650 short-range nuclear missiles and about 300 nuclear-capable artillery tubes deployed in Europe. NATO has 100 comparable missiles and about 1,000 nuclear-capable artillery tubes. The Alliance is currently examining the size of its nuclear stockpile in Europe with a view to ensuring that the size of the stockpile is set at the minimum level consistent with effective deterrence.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Minister aware that a NATO commander recently said that those battlefield weapons were obsolete, dangerous and unusable? Therefore, would it not be sensible to remove them as a step towards attaining a nuclear-free Europe?

Mr. Blaker

I do not know to which NATO commander the hon. Gentleman is referring. I do not know of any authoritative statement to that effect. However, it is true that the Alliance is examining its stockpile of battlefield nuclear weapons to see whether they are all necessary.

Mr. Meacher

Is it not the case that those large numbers of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons deployed throughout central Europe could be used outside direct political control in the event of a breakthrough by Warsaw Pact conventional forces? Does not that pose by far the greatest threat of an outbreak of an uncontrolled nuclear escalation in Europe? What steps is the Minister taking, together with the Foreign Office, to bring about negotiations on the withdrawal of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons to complement the START and INF talks that are taking place in Geneva?

Mr. Blaker

The hon. Gentleman's first premise is wrong. Those weapons could not be used without political control. With regard to a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) on 1 March about the consideration that we are giving to that proposal and the disadvantages that we see in it.

Sir Neil Marten

If the West has withdrawn 1,000 missiles, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just said, how many have the Russians withdrawn?

Mr. Blaker

As far as I know, none, Sir.

Mr. Denzil Dailies

Is not the real problem that the NATO strategy of first use of nuclear weapons, which is what it is, is totally unrealistic? Should not the Government, instead of engaging in attacks on people who are campaigning for peace, campaign within NATO to eliminate the battlefield nuclear weapons and move away from the policy of first strike to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Blaker

I shall amend the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir N. Marten) and add that the Soviet Union has withdrawn some of its more obsolete weapons, but has replaced them with more modern ones. With regard to no first use of nuclear weapons, we have a much better policy, which is no first use of any weapon, nuclear or conventional. We shall never use any weapon unless we are attacked. We are a defensive Alliance and threaten nobody. The Soviet Union's declaration about no first use of nuclear weapons in part reflects the Soviet Union's confidence in its superiority in conventional weapons, and, what is more, it is unverifiable.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the reason why NATO deployed tactical nuclear weapons in western Europe was that the Soviet Union had a predominance of 3:1 in armour, a massive number of artillery weapons, and had organised its defence industry on a war footing? If the Soviet Union wishes to see a better understanding between East and West, perhaps it could scale down the size of its conventional forces deployed in Europe.

Mr. Blaker

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures have frequently been quoted in the House. The Soviets have, in addition, overwhelming superiority in intermediate range nuclear forces.

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