HC Deb 04 June 1985 vol 80 cc138-9
2. Mr. D. E. Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the work of the arms control unit in his Department.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)

The defence arms control unit was formed on 2 January. It has combined and strengthened existing civilian and military expertise within the Ministry of Defence in this area. It provides the focus within the Ministry for advice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on how best to support the Government's policy of balanced and verifiable arms control, on which the lead responsibility continues to be with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Thomas

How can we place any confidence in the work of the unit or in statements made in the last year by the Secretary of State and other Defence Ministers when clearly they have misled the House and the country about the deployment by NATO of battlefield nuclear weapons?

Mr. Stanley

I cannot accept that. The position is clearly reflected in the communique that was issued after the latest meeting of the nuclear planning group. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that perfectly consistent with the answers that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my colleagues on the Front Bench have given.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most important to maintain the closest co-ordination with the Foreign Office on this matter? Would he like to say something about the co-ordination that there is between the unit and similar units working within the ambit of the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Stanley

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. There is a need for close co-ordination, and I can assure him that it takes place extremely closely at both ministerial and official level.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is it not a fact that this so-called arms control unit is a cosmetic exercise? What arms are being controlled? In fact, the Government are engaged on a massive escalation of nuclear power in purchasing Trident. They have accepted cruise missiles at Greenham Common and probably at Molesworth. They are embarking on the modernisation of British battlefield nuclear weapons. What on earth are we talking about in terms of arms control?

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong when he refers to a cosmetic arrangement. I thought that the Opposition Front Bench and other Opposition Members would welcome the constructive contribution that is being made for the first time by the Ministry of Defence in arms control, under this Government.

Dr. Hampson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the previous Labour Government could have taken such an initiative, but made no such attempt to have an equivalent unit in the Ministry of Defence, which the public expect? Is the unit in touch with Washington? It is vital that we tell the American Government that they must hold to SALT 2 although it is unratified.

Mr. Stanley

I can assure my hon. Friend that the defence arms control unit keeps in close contact with opposite numbers in Washington as well as in the Foreign Office.