HC Deb 27 January 1987 vol 109 cc175-7
10. Mr. Caborn

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether Her Majesty's Government have assessed the likelihood of an attack on Britain by Soviet short-range intermediate nuclear forces.

Mr. Stanley

That threat is under continuous assessment.

Mr. Caborn

As the Reykjavik summit raised many expectations about the possibility of removing nuclear weapons from Europe, will there be a United Kingdom initiative through NATO to set up negotiations for a freeze on short-range nuclear weapons, even if there is no progress on long-range intermediate nuclear weapons?

Mr. Stanley

As the House has been told on many occasions, we are more interested in obtaining reductions than in producing a freeze. A freeze in that area would simply freeze a massive Soviet superiority. On short-range systems, in Europe the Warsaw Pact has a 9:1 advantage in missiles in the 150 km to 1,000 km range and an 8:1 advantage in missiles with a range below 150 km. It would make no sense at all to freeze that degree of Soviet superiority.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that so long as Britain has as an effective independent nuclear deterrent, as she has today and will have if the Government are returned in future with the Trident system, and so long as we remain a strong member of the NATO Alliance, with American nuclear weapons based in Britain, there will never be a serious nuclear threat to Britain? However, if the Labour party's policies were ever to be implemented that risk would increase enormously.

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend. Provided that we maintain the policies that have stood us so well for the past 40 years we shall continue to enjoy our peace with freedom. If we follow the policies advocated by the official Opposition, we could begin to jeopardise that.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Will the Minister return to the question that was put to him? Will he confirm that if the British Government were to support the proposal of the Socialist parties in West and East Germany for a 150 km nuclear-free corridor, it would save Britain from attack by short-range nuclear weapons?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman should refer to the remarks that I made on that in the recent debate on the Army. If he consults the Official Report he will see that the proposal for a 150 km nuclear-free zone in the central front makes no sense at all because every square inch of that zone can be successfully targeted by battlefield nuclear weapons possessed by the Warsaw Pact.

Mr. Jim Spicer

How long would the British Corps in Germany, which is really an extension of the United Kingdom, survive a Russian attack without being able to call upon at least battlefield nuclear weapons?

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that it would make no sense at all to move the tactical nuclear capability of 1st British Corps. As we have made clear on many occasions, if the role of 1st British Corps were reduced to a conventional role only, its position on the central front would be completely non-sustainable.

Mr. Cartwright

Will the Minister assure the House that, in responding to the threat of Soviet conventionally armed tactical ballistic missiles, priority will be given to improving passive defences such as target hardening and dispersal, rather than being tempted down the road of exotic and expensive technologies involved in a European star wars system?

Mr. Stanley

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government attach great importance to passive defences and the hardening programme to which he refers.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Labour party's policy were adopted the Soviets would not need to bother attacking? [Interruption.]

Ms. Clare Short


Mr. Speaker

Order. Interruptions take up time.

Mr. Stanley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that for 40 years Britain has not had a serious threat of being subjected to nuclear blackmail. The policies that the Labour party wishes to follow could well expose Britain to nuclear blackmail.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The Minister referred to battlefield nuclear weapons and 1st British Corps. Will he confirm that 1st British Corps does not have any nuclear weapons and that the nuclear weapons are American-owned and controlled? Will he confirm also what General Rogers said the other day in an interview — that every member of NATO. except France and Iceland, has to agree to unleash battlefield nuclear weapons? If General Rogers is correct, does that mean that any country in NATO, apart from France and Iceland, could veto the unleashing of those weapons?

Mr. Stanley

I do not know what criticism the right hon. Gentleman is making, because the arrangements for the nuclear weapons of 1st British Corps are exactly the same as those enjoyed by previous Labour Governments.