HC Deb 26 February 1985 vol 74 cc158-60
7. Mr. Boyes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the modernisation of Britain's tactical nuclear weapons.

10. Mr. McTaggart

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the modernisation of Britain's nuclear weapons.

13. Mr. Clay

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement regarding the acquisition by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces of new nuclear artillery shells.

2. Mr. Stott

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether his Department is considering the modernisation of the Army's nuclear artillery shells.

Mr. Lee

Nuclear shells for artillery deployed in support of the Alliance by the United Kingdom and other NATO countries are provided by the United States of America. NATO Ministers have identified a range of possible improvements and SACEUR is undertaking a review, but no specific proposals have been made. As for British theatre nuclear weapons, no early decisions are likely or required, although it is normal practice to keep under review the need to replace all United Kingdom in-service weapon systems.

Mr. Boyes

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) informed my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that our United States allies were not considering improving the artillery shells that are deployed? However, Bernard Rogers, when speaking to a sub-committee of the United States Senate, made it absolutely clear that he wanted massive improvements to and refinements of the 155 mm shells to allow those shells to take an enhanced radiation warhead. Is it not a fact that that weapon will be more dangerous than the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? About 200,000 people died in a year in those cities. How many will die if we start using these types of artillery shells?

Mr. Lee

General Rogers is entitled to express his views. In March SACEUR's formal review will report to the nuclear planning group on the composition and improvements of the nuclear stockpile in the longer term. The matter of the enhanced radiation or neutron weapon is for the Alliance to consider at the highest political level. No proposals have been made. There are no so such rounds in Europe.

Mr. McTaggart

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that any modernisation of British nuclear weapons, irrespective of the reason for that modernisation, represents an escalation in the arms race, which is against the wishes of the vast majority of the people? Is that why conflicting statements have been made to the House of Commons and to the United States Congress?

Mr. Lee

I do not accept the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I draw the attention of the House to an article last week in the New Statesman, which stated: The Soviet Union is also modernising its short-range nuclear forces with a new nuclear mortar artillery and three new surface-to-surface missiles in a classic example of the arms race.

Mr. Clay

Is it not a fact that on 1 May 1984 Dr. Wagner told the United States Congress that he had a list of improvements? He referred specifically to the 155 mm artillery shell and the 8 in shell. He said that NATO Ministers endorsed all the proposals. Does that not directly contradict the answer given both earlier and later to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and others of my hon. Friends? Is this possibly another case where a civil servant was asked to produce two different briefs—one that told the truth and one that misled the House—and we received the one that misled the House?

Mr. Lee

I cannot comment on the first aspect, because Dr. Wagner is not a United Kingdom citizen—he is a United States citizen. I cannot comment on specific United States plans, although I repeat that there are no specific NATO proposals. We are awaiting the SACEUR review.

Sir Patrick Wall

Will my right hon. Friend purchase the Copperhead laser-guided I55mm shell? If not, why not, given the fact that recently it scored 10 hits out of 10?

Mr. Lee

With respect, I cannot answer that question, and I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Marlow

Is it not a little absurd that we should have a balance of deterrence in nuclear weapons which we continually update, whereas we do not have a balance of deterrence in chemical weapons?

Mr. Lee

The Government's position on chemical weapons is well known. There has been no change.

Dr. Hampson

Does my hon. Friend agree that even a defensive alliance such as NATO must continue to modernise at every level if it is to retain its credibility? Has not the Warsaw Pact recently moved new heavy artillery nuclear brigades into the forward area?

Mr. Lee

The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is yes. I agree that we must modernise our deterrent. It must be continually reviewed if it is to be effective.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Minister aware that public opinion within the Alliance is looking, not for the modernisation of tactical nuclear weapons, but for less reliance on their use? Does he agree that the first and perhaps most pressing condition of that now is adequate sustainability at a mundane level such as 30-day stock levels of ammunition, spare parts and petrol? Will he assure the House that he and his colleagues are meeting SACEUR's anxieties on that matter.

Mr. Lee

Sustainability is very much in our minds. I do not wish to be precise on specific days of reserve requirements, for obvious reasons.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary aware that when his colleague the Minister of State wrote to me about the FH70 he gave me a categorical assurance that it had no nuclear role? However, before the House on the Hill a statement was made by Administration officials. They said: NATO has expressed an interest in modernising nuclear artillery. Specifically, the British, Germans and Italians are concerned that their modern FH70 Cannon under development will be nuclear-capable. Will the Minister put the House right on that point? Do we envisage the weapon having a nuclear role? Has it a nuclear capability, because that point is important to many Opposition Members? Secondly, in view of the fact—

Hon. Members

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interruptions take up time. Come on.

Mr. McNamara

Secondly, as the United States armed forces are developing a forward artillery ammunition supply vehicle which is capable of supplying nuclear weaponry to that howitzer, will the Minister give an undertaking that we will not practise with such supply weapons in the future?

Mr. Lee

There is plainly some confusion about that weapon, and therefore in all fairness I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and give him the precise position on it.

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