HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc147-9
2. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to meet the United States Secretary for Defence to discuss nuclear defence policy.

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

My right hon. Friend next expects to meet the United States Secretary of Defence at the spring meeting of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group.

Mr. Alton

Now that the American authorities have admitted that the W79 nuclear shell has been deployed in West Germany, and that as long ago as Montebello the decision was taken to modernise battlefield nuclear weapons, how can the Minister justify the wholly contradictory, deceitful replies given from the Government Dispatch Box to my hon. Friends——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the word deceitful, please?

Mr. Alton

I shall withdraw deceitful. How can the Minister justify the replies that he and his colleagues gave to my hon. Friends the Members for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that no such decisions had been taken?

Mr. Stanley

I can certainly justify exactly what has been said, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully to what has been said on that particular issue. At the Montebello meeting of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group in 1983 NATO agreed both a major reduction in the number of its theatre nuclear weapons in Europe and the need for possible improvements to ensure the effectiveness of the remaining stockpile. That was clearly set out in the communiqué issued at the Montebello meeting. Since then SACEUR has put forward his proposals for these improvements and these have been pursued with the individual nations concerned. But, as Defence Ministers have made clear to the House, no decisions affecting the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons in service with British forces have yet been made. That is what we have said, that is correct, and it is completely straightforward.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State to remind the American Defence Secretary that during the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles, which are important to the twin-track negotiations, the alliance parties and the Labour party voted in this House against their deployment? Although today they try to pretend otherwise, that was how they acted at that time.

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is of course entirely correct. Although some other parties in the House have sought to re-write the history of their actions in this House, only the Government have consistently adhered to the deployment of ground launched cruise missiles and Pershing 2 without which no INF negotiations would be taking place at the moment.

Mr. Duffy

Will the Minister remind his right hon. Friend, when he next meets the United States Defence Secretary, that the new Chairmen of both of the Armed Services Committees in Congress, Mr. Les Aspin and Sam Nunn, are a good deal more nuclear-allergic than their predecessors? They probably typify a growing understanding throughout the Alliance of the importance of early INF agreement in Europe, about which the Prime Minister should be careful not to appear to be quibbling or dragging her feet?

Mr. Stanley

In both the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States there is a total understanding that we can deter a nuclear threat only with nuclear weapons. The only allergy to nuclear defence exists on the Opposition Front Bench. They are undermining the whole of the NATO posture of a combination of nuclear and conventional deterrence?

Mr. Nicholas

Does my right hon. Friend not find it slightly strange to be questioned about the detail of nuclear policy by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), bearing in mind that he represents a party in which 83 per cent. of the prospective parliamentary candidates are committed to unilateralism?

Mr. Stanley

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of that very important statistic. While we are on the subjects of polls, I noticed a very interesting poll produced in the Sunday press last Sunday. The sample was asked "Which party do you trust to make the right decisions about defence, nuclear weapons and disarmament?" In reply, 42 per cent. said the Conservatives, only 20 per cent. said Labour and the Liberal—SDP alliance was the least trusted of all parties, with only 15 per cent. support.

Mr. Denzil Davies

It is quite clear from the Minister of State's replies that his answers are now written by the politburo in Smith Square and are not really Government answers at all, or perhaps they are written by the chairman of the Conservative party himself. To return to the question, there is a certain amount of confusion. I do not charge the right hon. Gentleman with deceit. However, there is a certain amount of confusion between what was said in this House and what is said by some American officials. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position? As I understand it, a decision was taken——

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Put the question.

Mr. Davies

I will put my question in my own way.

As I understand it a general decision was taken at Montebello to modernise the remaining NATO theatre or tactical nuclear weapons. Is the Minister of State saying that British tactical nulear weapons and those American nuclear weapons that could be available to British forces in Germany were excluded from the Montebello agreement, or included? If they were included, a decision in principle has been taken.

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman must carefully study what I have said. The position is absolutely clear. A decision in favour of the modernisation of the residual stockpile was taken at Montebello as part of the agreement. However, as for the implementation of that decision in relation to theatre nuclear weapons in service with British forces, no decisions have yet been made.

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