HC Deb 11 April 1989 vol 150 cc729-31
12. Mr. Hague

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made as to whether the Soviet Union is abandoning its concept of the deep battle.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

In the last two years Soviet statements have claimed that its military doctrine is now of an exclusively defensive nature. Although we welcome such statements, it should not be forgotten that the Soviets still retain the capability to conduct operations deep into NATO territory and to launch a surprise attack.

Mr. Hague

Will my hon. Friend agree that the conclusion to be drawn from his answer is that, however welcome the latest proposed reductions in Soviet armed forces may be, the forces of NATO must continue to be fully prepared and fully modernised? Can he tell us anything of how radical the changes in Warsaw pact organisation, doctrine and equipment would have to be For it to be said that the pact had changed from an offensive to a defensive military posture?

Mr. Hamilton

There would of course have to be major structural changes in the deployment of Soviet forces and their training would have to change as well. So it would mean a complete change throughout the whole of the Soviet military structure.

Mr. Cryer

Is this word "modernisation" not jargon for cheating on the INF agreement? Will not the 133 non-nuclear nations who were signatories to the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty change their minds about not deploying or manufacturing nuclear weapons if the United Kingdom starts to cheat in an atmosphere of mutual peace and force reductions generated by the Soviet Union? Would that not be a very dangerous step, and will the Government stop cheating and think again?

Mr. Hamilton

There is no question of the United Kingdom cheating on the INF treaty. The problems of the non-proliferation treaty have been with us for some time. We suspect that there are countries that are deploying the nuclear capability. That is regrettable.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Russian forces, particularly the naval forces, are changing their tactics and that the British armed forces need to respond? Has there been a major review of Royal Navy equipment and tactics, particularly as the Soviet Union has decided to keep its naval forces deployed in a defensive rather than in a blue sea role?

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend must be careful. The fact that the Soviets may be exercising their naval forces rather less than they did in the past may be for reasons of economy. It does not mean that they are reducing their capability, which is what we must judge them by.

Mr. Sean Hughes

In view of the Minister's answers, will he do the House the courtesy of answering the question that the Secretary of State refused to answer at the last defence Question Time? Do the Government take seriously the threat of a Warsaw pact short-range nuclear attack on NATO's fixed assets in Germany?.

Mr. Hamilton

The Government take seriously and place importance on a flexible response. We believe that we should have modern and up-to-date weapons to respond over a whole range of different capabilities.