HC Deb 18 May 1993 vol 225 cc146-8
8. Mr. Amess

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on Government nuclear defence policy.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

The Government intend that our independent nuclear deterrent should continue to provide the ultimate guarantee of our security, underpinning our defence strategy and providing a significant contribution to alliance deterrent forces.

Mr. Amess

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reassure the House that the Government's nuclear defence policy will remain firm and consistent, unlike that of the socialists opposite? Will my right hon. Friend also take this opportunity to say that the Government do not intend to follow the Labour party's lead yesterday when, once again, it changed its nuclear defence policy and said that it would leave this country undefended by negotiating away our minimum deterrent, while other countries remain nuclear powers?

Mr. Hamilton

At this point, I should make an apology to the House. At the last Defence Question Time, I said that the Opposition Front Bench had gone through a 180 deg turn on nuclear deterrence. That was clearly wrong. The Labour party had gone through a 360 deg turn on nuclear deterrence. It is alarming to me that only yesterday the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) talked about negotiating away our deterrent. I think that his only proviso was that the Labour party would not give Trident away for nothing. Personally, I do not find that very reassuring.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

As NATO's nuclear doctrine is now one of minimum deterrence, is it not time that the Government abandoned the strategic anachronism of the tactical air-to-surface missile and declared that when Trident is deployed it will carry no more warheads than the Polaris system which it is to replace?

Mr. Hamilton

That is asking two questions. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he will have to wait for an announcement on the tactical air-to-surface missile, or whatever replacement we choose for the WE177 system. No decision has been made on the number of warheads that will be carried by Trident, but I suspect that it will be more than those that we are carrying on Polaris.

Mr. David Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that last week's announcement by Mr. Aspin—that America is no longer to develop an orbital global missile defence system—is dangerously premature and complacent? Will my right hon. Friend ask him to think again?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes. What has changed is the American conception of the threat from Russia, but America is still very much involved in a theatre defence system which can be deployed against any errant nation that might want to fire off ballistic missiles. One should not assume that the whole of that programme has been abandoned. It has not. It has just been restricted to a theatre system.

Dr. Reid

Given the Minister's dislike of 360 deg turns, does he recall that it is now two years since I and other members of the Opposition Front Bench told him that it was absolute nonsense, in the face of the current threats, to spend £3 billion on a new tactical nuclear weapon while cutting the infantry? Now that he has done a 360 deg turn on the infantry and accepted that we were right, can he confirm that he is reviewing and preparing the ground for his second 360 deg turn by abandoning the tactical air-to-surface nuclear weapon referred to in the White Paper? Can he also confirm that the money that is saved by that abandonment and his correct 360 deg turn towards the policy of the Labour party will not be frittered by economic madness but will be ploughed into the infantry and the Territorial Army, which are needed by this country if it is to fulfil its present commitments?

Mr. Hamilton

I think that the hon. Gentleman suffers from a certain amount of overstatement in saying that the restoration of two infantry battalions is a 360 deg turn on the British Army. As usual, he is asking me to pre-empt the decision about the replacement for the WE177 nuclear bomb. I have made it clear that we shall not do so. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for an announcement.

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