HC Deb 09 May 1989 vol 152 cc712-3
8. Mr. Mans

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what information he has as to whether the Soviet Air Force has reduced its offensive capability.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

We have no evidece to indicate that the Soviet air force has reduced its offensive capability; indeed there are signs that this capability has continued to grow. My hon. Friend will find this aspect covered more fully in the 1989 defence White Paper.

Mr. Mans

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that it shows the need constantly to update our own Air Force equipment and to be prepared, if necessary, to use that equipment, which the Labour party's policy does not recognise? That is the only way to ensure that we can negotiate arms reductions from a position of strength rather than weakness.

Mr. Hamilton

That is absolutely true. The Soviet Union is producing 600 new fighters every year and 40 to 45 heavy and medium bombers. Those are becoming increasingly better equipped and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Soviets have a good tactical air-to-surface missile which, I am quite convinced, is more sophisticated than our free-fall nuclear bomb.

Mr. Watts

Does my hon. Friend agree that his assessment of the offensive capability of the Soviet air force would be affected if President Gorbachev had given an undertaking never to make use of that offensive capability?

Mr. Hamilton

That is right. We are still awaiting such a pronouncement from President Gorbachev that he is not prepared to use armaments. His existence as president of the Soviet Union would be short-lived if he made such an announcement.