HL Deb 26 April 1984 vol 451 cc145-8

3.25 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government how many Soviet missile warheads were deployed against Western Europe in 1973 and in 1983 respectively.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, since 1977 the Soviet Union has deployed over 1,100 SS.20 warheads, about two-thirds of which are targeted on Western Europe. Although many of the older SS.4s and SS.5s previously deployed have been withdrawn, the deployment of the SS.20 represents a new order of capability. In addition to having three warheads, it is more accurate, has a longer range and shorter reaction time, and is mobile. There are also, of course, large numbers of nuclear capable shorter range missiles deployed in Eastern Europe, not to mention submarine and ground launched strategic ballistic missiles which could threaten Western Europe.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I wonder whether he has read the two books by Victor Suvorov, Inside the Soviet Army and also The Liberators, and whether he agrees with the author that the Russians plan to lay down what they call a nuclear carpet at an early stage of a nuclear war aimed at knocking out our airports, our docks and our military headquarters. Also, does he agree that NATO's reasonably limited nuclear weapons are the best deterrent against this?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we do not of course know with any degree of certainty what actions the Soviet Union would take in the event of a conflict between East and West, though no doubt Soviet military planning places a high value on the element of surprise and pre-emption. It therefore remains the absolute priority of NATO's defence policy to ensure that such a conflict does not take place.

On a personal note, may I say how saddened I was to hear of the untimely death of Lord Bishopston. He would no doubt have been intervening on this Question and he will be sadly missed by your Lordships and, of course, his family. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in expressing our deep sympathy to Lady Bishopston and her children.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, may I be allowed to say that my noble friends and I are deeply grateful to the noble Lord for his kind tribute to Lord Bishopston. The news of his death shocked and distressed all of us. Lord Bishopston made an important contribution to our proceedings. He was a kindly and generous man who acted from strong religious convictions. We shall miss him enormously, and join with the noble Lord in sending our sympathy to Lady Bishopston and her family.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, may I associate these Benches with what has been said? We had a great regard for Lord Bishopston, who served as Second Church Estates Commissioner. He was spokesman on the other side on ecclesiastical matters, speaking only recently in a debate. We should like to acknowledge his kindness and charity and the very real distinction which he brought to this House, and we, too, convey our sympathy to his widow and four daughters.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches wish to be associated with the message to be sent to Lady Bishopston. We very much appreciated the work that he did in this House. May I also say that some of us, at any rate, very much appreciated the fact that Lord Bishopston was an ardent supporter of women's equality when it was very difficult to find male supporters to give the kind of help that Lord Bishopston so unstintingly gave, influenced no doubt by the fact that he had four daughters. But we were extremely grateful for that.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many nuclear weapons the Government think the Russians would have over after they had destroyed their Western neighbours as effective powers, and how many would they have left over in the case of their Eastern neighbours? Would it be something well over 900?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have to say that that is a question to which I could not reply without giving some careful consideration to the answer. But, of course, it is certainly the case that they have many more missiles than they need for their declared defensive purposes.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, they need something less than 200.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, in associating myself with what has been said about Lord Bishopston, I think that if he were here he might wish to ask the noble Lord whether it is not the case that, if a nuclear war starts, it is very likely to eliminate human life on earth. Therefore, the numbers question is perhaps secondary to that.

Lord Trefgarne

Yes, my Lords. That is why our policy is to ensure that no such war should start.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, it would have been interesting to see the Question answered exactly in the terms in which it was set out. Yet would the noble Lord agree that the answer is readily deducible from the annual military balance published by the IISS, which shows that in 1973 there were a great many such warheads and now there are even more? Would the noble Lord care to comment on the fact that nobody asked the Russians to enter into negotiations about the SS.20s until after the 1979 decision to deploy in the West? Would the noble Lord also care to comment on the fact that, even now, no negotiations have ever taken place about sea-launched Russian cruise missiles with nuclear warheads? Nor do the Government normally count them in any statement they make about the number of Soviet nuclear warheads.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord points to the desirability of further negotiations and discussions on this matter. I agree with the noble Lord. That is why I hope that the Russians will return to the negotiating table, which they left so unnecessarily a few months ago.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, would my noble friend agree, following the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that all independent studies, and the NATO study itself, have shown that during the 10 years concerned, which are mentioned in this Question, the balance of the intermediate range nuclear warheads has swung very heavily in favour of the Soviet Union?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. Before we started to deploy the cruise missiles and the Pershing II missiles, the Soviet Union had a monopoly of this kind of weapon.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the House recognises, I am sure, the enormity of the issues, and appreciates that the statistics are very important; but I want to ask the Minister to reassure the House that real care is taken in support of Secretary of State Shultz's assertion that what the West wants are militarily significant and verifiable agreements. Does the Minister agree that the greatest danger we now face is the risk of war through misunderstanding or miscalculation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not believe that the risks of war, to which the noble Lord has referred, are so great as some people imagine. Not so long ago we had a debate in your Lordships' House on this subject. The fact remains that there has been no war in Europe for nigh on 40 years. I believe that is the result of the policies that we have pursued during that time. It is also true that in recent times the Americans have begun withdrawal of about 2,400 warheads from Europe. That is something which some people often forget.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, for those interested in the numbers question, the total number of warheads targeted on the USSR is many times greater than the number of warheads targeted on the USA?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we were talking about the intermediate range land-based systems. As the noble Lord will know, and as I said just now, until we started to deploy the cruise missiles and the Pershing II missiles, the Soviet Union had a monopoly of this kind of weapon in the form of the SS.20.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, does it really much matter whether they have 10 times or 11 times the number they could possibly use?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is a question which the noble Lord had better put to them.