HL Deb 13 March 1985 vol 461 cc167-8
Lord Orr-Ewing

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 what is the present East-West balance of longer-range intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe.

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

My Lords, the Soviet Union has a significant advantage of about 3 to 1 in land-based LRINF missiles in Europe. This imbalance is even more marked since each SS20 has three warheads. Details are contained in the annual Statement of Defence Estimates.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, did my noble friend see the tables set out in yesterday's issue of The Times, which showed that, in terms of warheads, NATO has 96 warheads in Europe whereas the Soviet Union has more than 1,400 warheads? That is a ratio of 15 to 1. Does that not show the necessity of carrying on with disarmament talks and trying to persuade the new Soviet regime to reduce this massive imbalance?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the precise figures which my noble friend offers, but certainly they are of that order. The figures also underline how impossible it is for us to agree to a freeze with that sort of imbalance existing.

Lord Carver

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister explain why he restricted his reply to land-based missiles? The Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, refers to the total East-West longer-range intermediate-range nuclear forces. Surely the Minister's Answer should have included the Polaris and Poseidon submarines allotted to SACEUR, and all the French systems.

Lord Trefgarne

No, my Lords; I do not think it would have been right to include those figures. They never have been included, as the noble and gallant Lord will know. In any event, our system is of course a strategic system.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, bearing in mind the fact that the Russians have deployed new intermediate-range missiles since the breakdown of the talks, can the Minister say how the balance today compares with the balance when those talks broke down?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, again I fear that I do not have the precise figures before me, but certainly there has been an increase in the number of SS20s deployed during that time.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, as even a cruise missile is 15 times more destructive than the weapons used on Hiroshima, and since any one of them could destroy a city the size of London and all its inhabitants, is not questioning the numbers rather a lunatic exercise?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords. I do not know about "a lunatic exercise", but it certainly makes all the more important the talks which are presently going on.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, was not the supplementary question asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, perfectly realistic in all the circumstances? Given that we are on the threshold of very important talks, would it not be best to allow them to proceed, hoping that they will be successful and that we may participate in due course, rather than have this rather useless exchange at this time?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly hope that the talks to which the noble Lord has referred will proceed and will be successful. The role of the United Kingdom is a peripheral one as far as those talks are concerned, because our own nuclear forces represent such a tiny part of the whole.

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