HC Deb 07 March 1989 vol 148 cc742-3
5. Dr. Moonie

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met the Defence Minister of Denmark to discuss modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons.

Mr. George Younger

I last met the Danish Defence Minister when he came to London, at my invitation, on 6 February. We discussed a range of issues of mutual interest, including SNF.

Dr. Moonie

The Minister must be aware that the Danes share the disquiet of the West German Government about our modernisation plans. Will their views be taken fully into account, or will it again be a case of Granny knows best for Europe?

Mr. Younger

It will be for the Danish Government to decide their attitude when NATO comes to discuss the modernisation of the SNF. I spoke to the Danish Minister and it is worth recording that Denmark fully subscribes to NATO's strategy and nuclear deterrence, which is more than I can say for Her Majesty's Opposition.

Sir John Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I recently had the opportunity to visit Denmark, Norway and Iceland to see NATO defences in that area? Is he further aware that while Denmark is a non-nuclear power it is a loyal member of the Alliance and its small forces would give a good account of themselves in the event of war?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. Recently, at the last nuclear planning group meeting, Denmark fully subscribed to the principles contained in the communiqué, which made it clear that it was in full support of NATO strategy.

Mr. Cohen

The Secretary of State says that Denmark fully subscribes to NATO strategy, but does it fully subscribe to the Prime Minister's plans for short-range modernisation in central Europe, as the Germans do not and most of Europe does not?

Mr. Younger

None of those countries has yet been called on to make a decision on the matter. They will all have to decide in due course what their views are, but there is a wide measure of agreement on a number of important principles. They are, first, that if we are to have weapons we must keep them up to date; secondly, that the Lance system will be obsolete by 1995; and, thirdly, that none of us wishes to see a third zero in nuclear weapons in Europe.

Mr. David Martin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the western nations, including Denmark, would be wise, when listening to what Russia says, to see what that country actually does before abandoning any plans that we may have to modernise short-range nuclear weapons, bearing in mind that Russia has a long way to go not just to abolish chemical weapons but even greatly to reduce its conventional weapons?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While we warmly welcome the change of climate in the Soviet Union and the willingness to discuss matters that it refused to discuss for many years, we must wait to see results from the suggestions that the Russians make. As I made clear earlier, from the point of view of reducing weapons, NATO has a much better record than the Soviet Union in having done so already.

Mr. O'Neill

The Secretary of State spoke of Montebello and of how important it was in relation to the reduction of weapons, but there were two elements in Montebello, one being the replacement of weapons. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks to his colleagues in western Europe, will he appreciate that there is no great enthusiasm for the early replacement of many of the systems which it was envisaged in 1983 would have to be replaced because the circumstances in Europe in particular and the world in general have changed considerably since then? Does he further agree that the Prime Minister's hectoring approach to the NATO allies is regarded as offensive and irrelevant in relation to the modernisation of those weapons?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is right to remind all concerned that the Montebello decision was not just a decision to reduce nuclear weapons but to replace those that were aging or out of date. The only criterion as to whether weapons should be replaced is whether the existing ones are out of date and no longer usable. That is the position that we must face in relation to those systems which will become out of date soon.