HC Deb 23 February 1988 vol 128 cc135-6
Ms. Short

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received from the West German Government regarding nuclear strategy.

Mr. Younger

None, Sir.

Ms. Short

Is it not true that Germany is anxious to negotiate away battlefield nuclear weapons, because the Germans are very worried that a nuclear war might be fought on their soil? Instead of welcoming reductions in nuclear thresholds in East and West, the British Government are leading the pack in demanding rearmament in Europe to make up for the INF cuts. I understand that the decisions are to be made in May by NATO Defence Ministers in Denmark. Can the House have an undertaking that we will discuss the matter before those serious decisions are made?

Mr. Younger

The German Government entirely support the nuclear strategy of the NATO Alliance, of which they are prominent members. The Alliance will be discussing the next stages in the process of nuclear disarmament in the next two months. It will, I think, agree that the priorities for the next stage should be a worldwide ban on chemical weapons, and a start on reducing conventional weapons.

As the hon. Lady must surely admit, there is now no doubt that the attitude of the present Government, who have been leading the pack towards reductions in nuclear weapons, has been overwhelmingly successful.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the leaders of West Germany realise that the Trident programme is the guarantee of their freedom and ours, and that if we were to abandon the nuclear deterrent we should be faced by the vast superiority of the Warsaw pact countries in conventional and chemical weapons? Will he promise to listen not to the harridans of Greenham Common, but to the common sense of the British people?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have no doubt that the German Government and people will understand that their safety and security depend on the nuclear strategy of NATO.

Ms. Ruddock

I am sure that the Secretary of State is as aware as I am that the Soviets have an overwhelming superiority over the West in short-range nuclear weapons. Is it not a fact that the British Government are opposed to a negotiation between NATO and the USSR because it is most likely that Mr. Gorbachev would agree to removing all those short-range nuclear weapons, despite the fact that the Soviet Union has a great excess, and that the British Government are terrified of the denuclearisation fo Europe, which is what the people of Europe want?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Lady ignores the fact that this Government have been leading the search for fewer nuclear weapons and are the first Government ever to have achieved a reduction in nuclear weapons.

Germany would agree with us that the priorities are as I have set out. We are saying, not that other forms of nuclear weapons should not be negotiated away, but that the priority, for our safety, is chemical weapons and the conventional imbalance. The hon. Lady should come to terms with the fact that the solution that she supports has failed dismally.

Mr. Summerson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there is a war on West German soil the aggressor is hardly likely to be either NATO or the West German Government?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The question of conventional weapons must address the fact that the Warsaw pact forces are arraigned in an offensive posture and it is that which we must negotiate away as soon as we can.

Mr. Denzil Davies

I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that there is consensus in the Federal Republic, between Right and Left, that there should be parallel talks on the reduction and elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons, and on conventional arms reductions. If the talks on conventional reductions prosper, the talks on battlefield nuclear weapons can prosper. However, if they do not, there will not be any progress in the talks on battlefield nuclear weapons. Why are the Government so opposed to such a reasonable suggestion? What are they afraid of?

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman is putting words in the mouths of the Germans, who fully support NATO's nuclear strategy, which depends upon a flexible response being available in any possible nuclear attack. The NATO Alliance as a whole, including Germany, will have to make up its mind whether it agrees with the priorities that I have set out as the British Government's view. It will do that in the next few months.

Mr. Wallace

Last week the Prime Minister commented on the need to modernise nuclear weapons. That could have implications for the Federal Republic. Has the Prime Minister discussed that view with any representative of the German Government? Have any decisions yet been taken on modernising a British tactical nuclear weapon, or is that decision to await the decision of the NATO nuclear planning group?

Mr. Younger

No decisions of that kind have been taken. This matter predates the INF agreement. It is necessary that we keep our existing weapons systems up to date. Nobody can keep weapons systems without keeping them up to date. That is what the Montebello discussions were all about, and we shall have to reconsider that in the future to make sure that we never have outdated weapons.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

When responding to the Opposition, who use the West Germans to support their unilateralist cause, will my right hon. Friend remind the House of West Germany's record and of the fact that it was the West German Government and leaders who appealed to NATO to bring in the dual-track policy that brought about the installation of cruise weapons in the first place?

Mr. Younger

Yes. Opposition Members are being most unfair to West Germany, which is a strong advocate of NATO's strategy. I remind Opposition Members that all the NATO allies, without exception, support NATO's strategy of nuclear deterrence. Only the British Labour party is out of step in this matter.