HC Deb 22 March 1988 vol 130 cc182-4
2. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals for nuclear disarmament he will take to the NATO nuclear planning group meeting at Kolding in April.

3. Mr. Duffy

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next expects to attend the nuclear planning group of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Ian Stewart)

My right hon. Friend, who is on an official visit to the far east, has asked me to reply.

The next meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group will take place on 27–28 April at Kolding in Denmark. My right hon. Friend supports NATO's arms control priorities, which include 50 per cent. cuts in the strategic nuclear weapons of the United States and Soviet Union.

Mr. Mullin

Will the Minister confirm what the Prime Minister told the House on 4 March, that the meeting at Kolding will have on its agenda proposals for new deployments to compensate for the withdrawals being made under the INF agreement? Did not the Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag, and is not one of the aims to sabotage or undermine the great gains made by the INF treaty?

Mr. Stewart

It has long been recognised in NATO that force adjustments are needed from time to time in the light of changing circumstances, including, of course, questions such as the INF agreement, and that matter rests. There is no sign of remission by the Warsaw pact in the modernisation of its forces and it is entirely right that NATO should consider what it needs to do about updating its nuclear and conventional capabilities and making sure that its forces are deployed in the most effective way for the security of the West. Conservative Members believe that that is the top priority.

Mr. Duffy

How does the Minister suppose the Secretary of State will react when he is reminded by his German colleague that all parties in the Bundestag are agreed that the disarmament process should continue in respect of nuclear weapons with a range of less than 500 km? Moreover, how will he react when he is reminded by the rest of his European colleagues on the NPG that they are disinclined to link any approval of compliance with the INF with any correction of the conventional imbalance? Does the Minister see how far his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been isolated by the Prime Minister? Is he prepared to conjecture how far the Secretary of State will react?

Mr. Stewart

The impression that I gained when I visited NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe, last week was that the other members of NATO were coming to accept the wisdom of my right hon. Friend's position. Indeed, the priorities established in NATO—arms control is indeed a question of priorities —are clear. We want a 50 per cent. agreement for the reduction of strategic weapons, we want a worldwide ban on chemical weapons, and we need to tackle conventional forces. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows perfectly well that in Germany there is some political anxiety about the process, but all Heads of State, including Chancellor Kohl of Germany, accepted the declaration at the end of the NATO summit meeting that short-range nuclear forces should be tackled only in conjunction with conventional forces and a chemical ban, not vice versa.

Mr. Mates

Is not the pernicious and false propaganda being peddled by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and some of his hon. Friends precisely what we have to counteract with the truth? Is it not true that we have to modernise our weapons, and that if we had not modernised our intermediate nuclear forces we would not have the first agreement to reduce and eliminate one set of nuclear weapons? That is what our opponents understand. We must continue to modernise, and it must never be confused with substitution. There is no question that we are substituting any INF weapons that have been removed. There is every need for us to modernise and keep up to date with the rest so that we can negotiate more real reductions from strength.

Mr. Stewart

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The question of modernisation hardly seems to be a matter capable of dispute because, shortly after the INF agreement, the Soviet Defence Minister said that the Soviet Union would exert all efforts to make the Warsaw pact even more powerful. Non-modernisation by NATO in the face of the relentless build up by the Warsaw pact would be unilateral disarmament by another name. It would be gradual unilateral disarmament I agree, but, none the less, that is what it would be. Perhaps that is why it appeals so much to Opposition Members.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Minister accept that there is no case for trying to replace the INF systems that have been so painfully negotiated away, but that there is a powerful argument for sticking to the 1983 Montebello decision, which argued that NATO's nuclear stockpile should be smaller but effective, survivable and more sophisticated? Is it not a matter of prudent common sense in the current situation?

Mr. Stewart

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right, that it is not only prudent but necessary to follow through the Montebello decisions in the way that he suggests. The reduction of nuclear weapons was an important part of the Montebello decision, and I welcome the fact that the INF agreement removes a whole class of nuclear weapons. It is our intention that it should lead to a reduction of nuclear weapons in Europe.

Sir Antony Buck

Will my hon. Friend confirm that if the unilateralist policies advocated by the Opposition had been pursued, the INF agreement would probably not have come about? When he deals with the NATO nuclear planning group, will he be kind enough to put forward some of the points advanced by the French, who are still members of NATO, although, regrettably, not part of its integrated structure?

Mr. Stewart

Like my hon. and learned Friend, I regret that the French are not part of NATO's integrated military structure, but they are showing welcome signs of taking a closer interest in the general affairs of NATO, which is greatly to be welcomed.

As for the INF agreement, if the Opposition had had their way and there had been no deployment of cruise missiles, there could never have been an INF agreement, because there would have been nothing to have an agreement about.

Mr. O'Neill

When the nuclear planning group meets, will the remit of the Minister's right hon. Friend be secure compensation, his objective at Monterey, or modernisation, which was the Prime Minister's objective at Brussels? Or, in respect of short-range weapons, will it merely be the deferment of any decision until the 1990s, as suggested by Chancellor Kohl after the last summit?

Mr. Stewart

Many matters are under consideration by NATO. This is a continuous process. The modernisation of forces that we have been discussing is one of those matters, but, equally, adjustments and deployment of forces are always on the agenda—and so they should be. I cannot understand why some Opposition Members think that there is something wrong or immoral about ensuring that, as there are no limits on the deployment of forces by the other side, our forces should be deployed in the most effective way for the security of the West. That is what NATO will be considering.