HC Deb 11 July 1989 vol 156 cc800-1
13. Mr. Galbraith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the defence implications of reductions in (a) conventional forces and (b) short-range nuclear forces.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

The greatest threat to stability and security in Europe remains the huge superiority that the Soviet Union and its Warsaw pact allies have in many types of conventional armaments. All the NATO allies are agreed that the elimination of those disparities in conventional forces is our highest arms control priority. The allies have recently confirmed that for the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a requirement for land, sea and air-based nuclear systems, including ground-based missiles, in Europe. Security and stability of Europe would be greatly enhanced if the Soviet Union were to eliminate its huge superiority in short-range nuclear missiles.

Mr. Galbraith

Does the Minister agree that it would make sense to have a lower level of arms all round? That being so, why can we not have simultaneous action on conventional and short-range nuclear forces? Is it not somewhat unreasonable for Britain to insist that we can have no deal which involves any cut in our forces in Germany or which puts British aircraft with nuclear capability on the negotiating table?

Mr. Hamilton

The reality is that NATO has already reduced its short-range systems by 35 per cent. since 1979, but, like all unilateral gestures, it has not got us very far.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does my hon. Friend recall the words of only two months ago that the purpose of retaining the deterrent is not to use it or even threaten to use it, as enunciated by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) on 8 May? What sort of policy would that be for a Government who were attempting to have a nuclear deterrent?

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend is right. A deterrent does not count as a deterrent unless there is a preparedness to use it. That is why I believe that the country will see through the Leader of the Opposition and will realise that the deterrent would not be worth keeping if he were in power.