HC Deb 07 February 1989 vol 146 cc792-4
10. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and what matters he hopes to discuss.

Mr. Younger

I next expect to see Dr. Wörner at the meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group in the late spring. We shall discuss a range of subjects of mutual interest.

Mr. Riddick

When my right hon. Friend next meets the secretary-general, will he discuss the urgent need to modernise NATO's short-range nuclear missiles, particularly bearing in mind the great superiority of the Soviet Union in this area? Can he assure the House that if there is a change of policy in this area it will be as a result of tough negotiations with the Russians rather than of having accepted the cosy advice of the Russians?

Mr. Younger

I note what my hon. Friend says. NATO will have to come to the question of the modernisation of short-range weapons and I am sure that it will bear in mind that there are very strong arguments for having such weapons—arguments that I have often deployed myself. There are also strong arguments, although I do not agree with them, for not having these weapons at all. But I submit that there are no arguments for having out-of-date unmodernised weapons, which are useless to all concerned.

Mr. Duffy

Will the Defence Secretary impress upon Dr. Wörner the supreme importance of defence co-operation in these days of escalating defence costs, if the era of structural disarmament is not to be hastened, because the latest thinking of Tom Callahan on his familiar theme is really very alarming? Will he, further, remind Dr. Wörner that no member nation has done more than the United Kingdom to promote joint collaboration?

Mr. Younger

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The more collaboration there can be between allies, the better. Indeed, if we do not pursue that we shall find it increasingly difficult to afford the systems we need.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Soviet forces have a great preponderance of short-range nuclear weapons compared with the NATO Alliance and, furthermore, are continuing to modernise them?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Soviet Union has modernised all its shorter-range systems in the last few years. It is, therefore, a very obvious ploy to try to discourage NATO from doing the same. Decisions will have to come up soon on that and I am quite sure that the balance of advantage is to make sure that NATO still has an adequate range of options for its flexible response strategy.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is still desirable that the Irish Republic should play a part in NATO? Will he take the opportunity when he meets the secretary-general to discuss that as a real possibility?

Mr. Younger

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but strictly speaking that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Hill

In the discussions with NATO perhaps my right hon. Friend will remember that the burden sharing throughout Europe could be well represented by the European pillar of NATO, which is, of course, the Western European Union? I feel that groups such as WEU should be involved more than they are at present in such discussions.

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are joint chairmen of WEU this year, I strongly agree with what he says and I think that the WEU is acting as quite an effective way of expressing the European contribution to our collective defence.

Mr. O'Neill

Given the Secretary of State's enthusiasm for short-range weapons, could he, in his discussions with Manfred Wörner, take account of German anxieties about these weapons, because it is over Germany's land area that they would travel? Could he explain to the House his views on a follow-on to Lance, for which very little enthusiasm is being expressed in the Federal Republic? Does he think, therefore, that there will be any decision before December 1990, when the Federal Republic has its Bundestag elections?

Mr. Younger

I feel that I should begin by saying, "Welcome back." I was beginning to fear from the hon. Gentleman's notable silence earlier that he must have visited a Trappist monastery in Russia, with due results.

Of course I agree that shorter-range nuclear weapons are an important subject. Negotiations are still an essential part of our flexible response strategy, and that applies just as much to the defence of Germany as to that of any other part of Europe.

We shall have to address the possibility of a follow-on system to Lance, but as no such system has yet been selected, we are not in a position to say whether we shall take part.

Mr. Nelson

In view of the chairmanship of the independent European programme group which my right hon. Friend will be undertaking over the next two years, will he say what discussions he may have with the secretary-general about the importance of transnational co-operation on an industrial base to ensure that we in Europe continue at least to keep a proportion of the equipment with which we supply our own defence needs?

Mr. Younger

Yes, I shall be keeping the secretary-general in close touch with the work of the IEPG during the next two years when we shall be chairing that body. I know that he fully supports what we are trying to do. At present we are trying in particular to create an open market in defence equipment throughout western Europe, which should be greatly to the advantage of collaboration and the procurement of our equipment generally.

Dr. Owen

Would it not be wiser, in view of the divisiveness on modernisation in the Federal Republic of Germany, to concentrate first on a stand-off air-launch missile—on which it is probably possible to reach unanimity in NATO—and essential modernisation for Tornado and F-111 aircraft, and to leave aside the question of Lance for the next couple of years?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point. As he knows, we are considering with our allies the best course to follow in replacing our free-fall bombs, and one of the possibilities would be a stand-off air-launch missile. Discussions are continuing.

It is worth pointing out that, while there are still divisions among our friends in Germany about the precise course to take, all concerned in the German Government are clearly agreed that they must not do anything that could lead to a third zero, which would be gravely damaging to the policy of flexible response on which we all depend.

Mr. Jack

My right hon. Friend will be aware of Dr. Wörner's interest in the announcement of the Tornado midlife update. Will he tell us when that will occur?

Mr. Younger

We shall be making announements about the precise details, but I have no doubt that the Tornado midlife update will have to be brought forward soon, as it is a high priority.

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