HC Deb 07 March 1989 vol 148 cc743-4
6. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what nuclear weapons the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has scrapped over the past 10 years.

Mr. Younger

Since 1979 some 2,400 nuclear warheads—or some 35 per cent. of the land-based stockpile—have been unilaterally withdrawn from NATO Europe. In addition, under the INF treaty, some 400 deployed land-based nuclear missiles, together with their warheads, will be withdrawn from Europe by the Alliance by June 1991.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the last 10 years NATO, rather than the Warsaw pact, has taken nearly all the arms control initiatives? Will he warn some of his wobbly colleagues in the Alliance that when the Soviet Union finally lifts the seventh veil of its arms control striptease something rather nasty may be revealed?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said. I agree entirely that, in performance, there is simply no contest between NATO, which has managed to reduce its weapons systems while maintaining its security, and the Soviet Union, which until recently has done absolutely nothing in that regard. As to the future, we should be very wise to continue our successful policy of maintaining strong defences and forcing the Soviet Union to the negotiating table. After all, that policy is working.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State, instead of looking back over the past 10 years—though it is natural that he should do so—try to look to the next five to 10 years and give us some insight into his views on the START negotiations? At this juncture the Soviet Union and the United States have both made gestures towards building down to 50 per cent. What meaningful contribution are the Government making to that process by proceeding to develop four Trident boats, all armed with D5s?

Mr. Younger

The START negotiations, on the whole, have been fairly encouraging, and we are fairly confident that, before very long, there will be agreement on a 50 per cent. reduction in the super-powers' strategic systems. That is very remarkable progress. So far as the British deterrent is concerned, everyone involved in negotiations—not least Mr. Gorbachev himself—has made it clear that it is not expected that the British deterrent or, for that matter, the French deterrent, will be included at the current stage. We have always made it clear that if, in the future, there is a major change in the line-up of the super-powers, if there is a 50 per cent. START reduction, if the conventional imbalances can be substantially reduced, and if there is a world ban on chemical weapons, we shall be prepared to see whether we can make a further contribution in respect of our deterrent.

Mr. Barry Field

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the promotion of Lt. General Gromov to his new key position means that, for the first time, NATO troops will face battle-hardened Soviet troops? Does not this make it even more important that NATO should keep its nuclear deterrent—particularly its short-range weapons—intact and modernised?

Mr. Younger

I have no doubt that those factors should all be taken into account. Undoubtedly, the ability of NATO to defend itself is a key factor in persuading all concerned to negotiate a reduction in weapons.