HC Deb 26 April 1988 vol 132 cc185-6
1. Ms. Primarolo

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the time scale for deploying new tactical air-to-surface missiles under the Montebello decision.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)

The agreement by NATO Defence Ministers at Montebello in 1983 did not include specific decisions on such matters. SACEUR was asked to come forward with specific proposals, which were presented to Ministers in 1985. All these continue to be discussed with the individual nations concerned. The time scale associated with the deployment of new systems will depend in the first instance on the choice of system and on development and production decisions which have yet to be taken.

Ms. Primarolo

Did not the Minister, in a written answer on 21 March, admit that the decision for tactical air-to-surface missiles was taken at, and dates from, the Montebello agreement? Will the Minister continue his confessions to agree that those missiles will carry nuclear warheads? Will he further agree that the carrying of those missiles by aircraft is an escalation and that, in a reply to me on 21 January, when I pointed out that the most likely form of tactical weapons would he air-launched cruise, he said that I was grossly misinformed?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must ask her question.

Mr. Younger

There was a recommendation in principle from the Montebello meeting to consider those matters and, as I said in my answer, they are being considered.

The objective of devising an air-launched air-to-surface missile, if it can be done, would he to deliver the missile to the target effectively. At present this is done by free-fall bombs. When those become out of date a new method will be needed, and this is one possibility that we are examining.

Mr. Whitney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given, particularly, the continuing modernisation of the Soviet nuclear and conventional capabilities, it remains essential that we continue to improve our capabilities in accordance with the Montebello decision?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am sure he will be well aware that the Soviet Union has vigorously been updating its equipment. For instance, longer-range, more accurate SS21 missiles are being brought into service, dual-capable aircraft are being modernised the build-up of Backfire bombers continues and short-range, stand-off nuclear weapons are also being deployed, so it is hardly an option that we can ignore.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The Secretary of State will recall that when NATO last embarked on its modernisation proposals it led to the deployment of cruise missiles. It also adopted a dual-track system whereby modernisation took place at the same time as negotiations. If NATO has decided in principle to modernise tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons—we hope that it has not and will not do so—why not follow the same principle as last time and, if it is necessary to modernise, why not modernise at the same time as negotiating, especially as the Soviet Union appears to have a superiority in tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons?

Mr. Younger

It is extraordinary for the right hon. Gentleman to say that we should not modernise our existing weapons because—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say that."] That is what the right hon. Gentleman said.. If he did not say that, perhaps he will intervene in a moment to say that he did not, but, as I understood him, he said that those weapons should not be modernised, which means that we would have out-of-date weapons. I see no argument for having out-of-date weapons.

The dual-track decision has been immensely successful. We had the INF deal because of that decision, which the Conservative party advocated but which the Labour party denied. We are still proceeding on a dual-track decision. Although we may have to modernise some of our existing weapons, we are vigorously pursuing reductions in strategic systems, the abolition of chemical weapons and reductions in conventional weapons. All that means a very effective dual-track decision, which the right hon. Gentleman should admit is working extraordinarily well.

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