HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc153-4
1. Ms. Primarolo

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest estimate of the number of United States nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (a) currently based in Europe and (b) to be based there by 1995.

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

There are currently no United States air-launched cruise missiles based in Europe, nor, as far as I am aware, are there any plans to base such weapons in Europe in the future.

Ms. Primarolo

Was not a clear decision made four years ago at Montebello to increase the number of air-launched cruise missiles in Europe? Is not the decision continuing despite the changed circumstances of the INF agreement? Are not the Government guilty of deceiving the electorate at the last election by not making clear their intention to install 1,300 air-launched cruise missiles in Europe, with some being based at Boscombe Down?

Mr. Younger

I am sorry to say that the hon. Lady has been grievously misinformed. The Montebello decision took place years before the INF agreement, which we welcome and very much hope will be ratified shortly. Therefore, it had no relevance to that agreement. It related to updating and modernising the existing nuclear weapons. The INF treaty, to which we fully subscribe, abolishes a whole range of nuclear weapons, and it will be scrupulously adhered to by this country.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important point to make about this is the success of the INF negotiations, leading to a reduction in these weapons in Europe? Is not this success due to NATO's dual-track policy, which is supported by the Government, and about which the Opposition have been in a total muddle?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I remind the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), as has my hon. Friend, that if the dual-track decision had not been the policy of this Government there would have been no INF treaty and no reduction of nuclear weapons of this sort, for which the Opposition would have been responsible.

Mr. Cohen

Has not a Dutch Minister told the Dutch Parliament that the Montebello requirement applies in principle in all countries which have particular weapon systems"? Britain had cruise, and therefore Montebello applies to cruise. The Secretary of State and the Government knew that there was going to be a big increase in air-launched cruise missiles, but they pushed ahead and deceived the electorate at the last election, despite the INF agreement.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The INF treaty deals with land-based cruise missiles, and we warmly support that. It is our achievement to have got it, not that of the Opposition. We are proud of having achieved it.

The modernisation of the other ranges of nuclear weapons that we have must take place from time to time, and will continue in the future until such time as there is another treaty reducing still more weapons. Our aim is to achieve that.

Mr. Heseltine

As I was at Montebello when we took the decision, I can say that everything that my right hon. Friend has said today is wholly correct. It was a determination to modernise our weapons systems while significantly reducing the number of individual weapons systems. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is fundamental to the concept of nuclear deterrence that we modernise our capabilities?

Mr. Younger

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend and welcome his comments in the light of his having been present at the Montebello decision. He is perfectly right to say that the one thing that is of absolutely no use to anyone is a whole lot of weapons that are out of date. We shall not allow that to happen.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Do not air-launched cruise missiles need aircraft to launch them? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, whatever was decided at Montebello, all Britain's Tornado aircraft and all American F1–11 aircraft stationed in Britain will be included in the conventional arms reductions talks that will start in a few months' time?

Mr. Younger

The precise details of what will and will not he included in those talks is still to be established. The right hon. Member knows that no decision has been taken for the adoption of air-launched cruise missiles. Our existing Tornado aircraft, with their free-fall bombs, will continue in being in the meantime.

Back to