HC Deb 26 February 1985 vol 74 cc161-2
11. Mr. Nellist

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning the meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nuclear planning group in March.

Mr. Heseltine

The nuclear planning group will meet on 26 and 27 March in Luxembourg. This is one in a series of bi-annual meetings of NATO Defence Ministers, the purpose of which is to discuss nuclear matters within the Alliance.

Mr. Nellist

Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity at that meeting in March—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] The right hon. Gentleman reads the answers, I am reading the questions. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity in March to take positive steps to withdraw battlefield nuclear weapons and to ensure that no plans are put forward for the introduction of artillery shells that are capable of transformation into advanced radiation weapons, which are more commonly known outside the Chamber as the ideal capitalist bomb, the neutron bomb?

Mr. Heseltine

As the hon. Member will remember, the neutron bomb was an idea supported by the last Labour Government. We have no plans for the introduction of such a weapon. When I am asked about nuclear weapons of every range, I reply that I shall go on with the policies pursued by the last Labour Government because I believe that they work. They maintain the peace, and I can see no argument for abandoning those policies.

Mr. Forth

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the people of this country expect any responsible Government to ensure adequate defence for themselves and their allies, and they congratulate him on his continued efforts in this regard and expect him to continue to do just that?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is right, and that is the principal reason why we can assure the Labour party that it will remain in opposition for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State give some sign, particularly to the people of my constituency, of when he will raise the upgrading of Pitreavie with his NATO partners, because we are extremely anxious about this particular deliberation? There is a story in The Scotsman today, which perhaps the Secretary of State will catch up on, which says that we shall duplicate Northwood at Pitreavie. What will the cost of that operation be? How much NATO finance will be involved? If the right hon. Gentleman does not have an answer, perhaps he will write to me.

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I have not seen The Scotsman today — an omission that rarely happens during the course of the day. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on those points.

Mr. Denzil Davies

What general matters will be discussed in the nuclear planning group in March? Hon. Members on both sides of the House are becoming fed up with getting different accounts from the Government and from the United States Congress. This is a real problem, and I hope that the Secretary of State appreciates it. How shall we get proposals in March on the modernisation of these weapons? Will the Government say clearly to the Americans that they have no intention of allowing nuclear shells to be used for the FH70 howitzer?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman, who clearly follows these matters, will remember that NATO has taken a decision to see how far it can reduce its short-range nuclear weapons. The principal item that we shall have to deal with in the forthcoming meeting, the agenda of which has not been finalised, is the scale to which we can carry out the Montebello decision to reduce the number of short-range nuclear weapons. In that process, we shall have to discuss which of the remaining capabilities have to be modernised. That is obviously a dual decision. How far we shall make progress, I cannot anticipate.

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