HC Deb 01 November 1983 vol 47 cc734-5
21. Mr. Boyes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if there have been any recent changes in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence policy.

Mr. Heseltine

No, Sir. NATO remains committed to the policy that all individual members have supported since the Alliance was founded, keeping the peace by effective deterrence.

Mr. Boyes

Will the Minister comment on the suspicion that the decision, in Quebec, to remove 1,400 old battlefield nuclear weapons will lead to their replacement by the W73 warhead, which has already been produced and stockpiled in the United States?

Mr. Heseltine

The announcement that we made in Quebec was for a net reduction in warheads. We took no decision to introduce new systems.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend urge his NATO colleagues to give urgent consideration to the deficiency represented by the lack of an offensive chemical capability? Will he bear in mind that the Warsaw pact forces have that capability, to which we have no answer? Does not that call into question exactly what we are doing along the northern flank if we cannot answer that chemical capability?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which is one of the most serious arguments against those who believe in one-sided disarmament. When this country made a one-sided gesture, the only response from the Soviet Union was to increase its capability in chemical warfare.

Mr. Duffy

Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), does not the Secretary of State think that he should have agitated in Ottawa last week for a much greater cut in battlefield nuclear weapons? He knows the obsolescent state of many of them and is aware of the onset of new technology. Was not that a time, above all, when a meaningful gesture would have assisted talks in Geneva and, in addition, could have been reconciled with reality? Should not the numbers have been cut by at least 50 per cent.?

Mr. Heseltine

I am always interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say. As every one of the 2,400 nuclear warheads that we have agreed to remove were present when the Labour Government were in office, I find his remarks staggering.