HC Deb 26 April 1988 vol 132 cc191-3
7. Mr. Wareing

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the time scale for deploying new dual capable aircraft under the Montebello decision.

10. Mr. McTaggart

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the time scale for deploying new dual capable aircraft under the Montebello decision.

Mr. Younger

As I said earlier, the agreement by NATO Defence Ministers at Montebello in 1983 did not include specific decisions on such matters.

The modernisation of NATO's dual-capable aircraft is a continuous process, the need for which was confirmed in the papers submitted to Ministers at Montebello and in SACEUR's subsequent proposals for the implementation of the Montebello decision.

Mr. Wareing

The Secretary of State will be aware that I had correspondence with the Prime Minister and with Lord Trefgarne during the period leading up to the last general election. I was told constantly that no specific proposals had been made at Montebello and that the Government could not speculate on a situation that may not even arise. On a visit to the United States I was informed by people at the Pentagon that the decision was taken at Montebello. The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) was informed in a written answer on 21 March that a decision was taken at Montebello. Therefore, is not the Secretary of State being dual-capable with the truth? Does he not realise that a Gallup poll published today shows that 65 per cent. of the British people are in favour of negotiating and only 21 per cent. are in favour of modernisation?

Mr. Younger

I should have thought that virtually 100 per cent. of the British people were in favour of negotiations, which the Government are pursuing successfully. It remains the case that no specific proposals were put forward at Montebello. Only general requirements were put forward. We await specific proposals, and when they arrive we shall have to consider them.

Mr. McTaggart

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is already a substantial imbalance in the number of aircraft in NATO's favour? Does it not make sense to correct that imbalance by including them in the conventional arms talks and the parallel talks to be set against Warsaw pact imbalances?

Mr. Younger

I do not agree with that at all. In fact, the Soviet Union is rapidly building up its dual capable aircraft. We would be foolish to stop doing the same and not to keep them up to date.

Mr. Bill Walker


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) must not carry on conversations across the Chamber.

Mr. Walker

Most people have never flown aeroplanes. They know nothing about them and ought not to be listened to.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Royal Air Force should have its weapon systems modernised because RAF pilots and aircraft need to survive modern battlefield conditions? If they are to attack enemy bases, they have to be capable of penetrating very sophiscated Soviet air defences and therefore need to have stand-off capabilities.

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Opposition's doctrine seems to be that we should have out-of-date and ineffective weapons. I can see no argument for that.

Miss Widdecombe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the success of both the negotiations to which he referred in earlier answers and the INF treaty, it is imperative that we modernise our shorter-range weapons to guarantee flexible response, which is central to NATO policy?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. If proof were needed, the experience of the last three years shows conclusively that, provided we keep our weapons systems up to date and negotiate with the super-powers for reductions in armaments, we can brillantly succeed in doing that. And that is what has happened.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Will the Secretary of State now answer the question? He says that he is 100 per cent. in favour of modernisation and negotiation. If he wants to modernise, why not negotiate at the same time? If the dual-track arrangement was so successful, why not try it again for battlefield and tactical nuclear weapons? Since the Soviet Union has a superiority, why not modernise and negotiate at the same time?

Mr. Younger

Simply because the priorities in the continued negotiations for reductions in weapons, to which we are committed, are to reduce the strategic systems, to have a worldwide ban on chemical weapons and to tackle the conventional imbalance. Those are the main priorities that threaten our security and the best ones for which we should try to achieve reductions.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is this not a totally spurious issue? Did not the Labour party, in the bad old days when it was in office, have a consistent record of introducing new, dual-capable aircraft into service, such as the Canberra, the Jaguar and the Tornado?

Mr. Younger

Yes, my hon. Friend is perfectly correct. I understand that the Tornado was devised originally by a Labour Government. It is a pity that the present Labour Opposition do not have such a responsible attitude as their predecessors.