HC Deb 29 November 1988 vol 142 cc565-6
8. Mr. Menzies Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning the proposed modernisation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's short-range nuclear weaponry.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

I have nothing to add to the communiqué issued after the nuclear planning group meeting in The Hague, Scheveningen, on 27–28 October. A copy of the communiqué has been placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Campbell

What weight does the Minister give to the views on this matter of our West German allies, who have an acute geographical interest in short-range nuclear weapons? Should we not delay modernisation until we are satisfied that it is necessary? Should we not press for a multilateral agreement, which will make modernisation unnecessary?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not accept the premise of that question. NATO is not divided on the fundamentals, that nuclear deterrents will be required for the foreseeable future and that nuclear forces must be effective and kept up to date. That was the position taken at the Scheveningen agreement.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my hon. Friend agree that the modernisation of all weapons systems has to go on continually because it takes so long to take a system from the initial plan as to how we should defend ourselves through to producing a weapons system? Any delay in that process is likely to put us so far behind that we shall never be able to keep up our deterrent systems.

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no point in having a nuclear deterrent if it becomes obsolete because it will deter no one.

Mr. Sean Hughes

A few weeks ago the Prime Minister declared in Washington that the cold war was over. Do the Government share the view expressed by the French Foreign Minister, that we should wait two or three years before modernisation to see what the Soviets decide to do?

Mr. Hamilton

The Government certainly do not follow that view. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the French are not military members of NATO.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the House that the Soviets are modernising their nuclear forces at theatre level, as well as at strategic level? Does he agree that it is vital for the Royal Air Force, which will have an important role in nuclear deterrence for many years, to be able not only to launch stand-off weapons but to have effective defence suppression systems, such as the ALARM missile? Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether progress has been made on ALARM?

Mr. Hamilton

The ALARM programme is progressing, although, as my hon. Friend knows, there have been difficulties with it. My hon. Friend is right about the Soviet Union, which takes the view that it should modernise its whole range of nuclear weapons. That is what we are doing as well. It is also worth bearing in mind that since 1979 about 35 per cent. of the nuclear warheads held by NATO in Europe have been unilaterally disbanded to reduce the number from 7,000 to 4,600.