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Tactical Missiles

Volume 894: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for standardising the next generation of tactical missiles throughout NATO.

As with other equipment, I should like to see a much greater degree of standardisation of the various kinds of tactical missiles in the next generation. We for our part will be looking for cooperation of one kind or another to meet most of our future requirements for such missiles.

Is the Minister aware that the European nations of NATO are producing no fewer than 18 different kinds of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and 16 anti-tank weapons, all of which duplicate each other? The real problem is one of basic design study. Will the Minister give consideration to NATO undertaking this study for all of us, since we are now all fighting the same war?

Yes. I appreciate the authority of the hon. Gentleman in view of his rapporteur activities on this subject at Western European Union. I can tell him. however, that the conference of national armaments directors is now attempting to achieve standardisation of the next generations of weapons, and meetings are being called solely for that purpose.

Will my right hon. Friend take note that many Government supporters hope that there will not be a new generation of tactical missiles? Is it not stupid that mankind should continue to embark on this never-ending arms race, which represents a tremendous threat to humanity in military and economic terms? Is it not time that we heard more about disarmament and détente than we hear on these occasions when we discuss military matters?

I am sure that my hon. Friend was present when I spoke about détente in answer to an earlier Question. Let him not think that when we talk about tactical missiles they might be nuclear missiles. At the moment Her Majesty's Government are considering four new types of missiles, which include helicopter-launched anti-tank guided weapons, crew-portable anti-tank guided weapons, undersea guided weapons and helicopter-launched anti-ship guided weapons—all of which, I know, British industry would like. I doubt whether it will get them all. Many thousands of jobs are at stake in the aircraft, aeroengine and missile industries as a result of these conventional missile weapons.

On the assumption that this country will need to co-operate with our NATO allies in the defence of the Western world, may I ask whether any estimate has been made of the savings to this country of standardisation within NATO?

No, I do not think that an estimate has been made of the savings that could be made. Obviously they are considerable. That is why the Eurogroup within NATO—a group of nations involved in trying to bring together equipment requirements for the Western Alliance—is so essential and why its work should be processed. That is one of my intentions as chairman.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the balance of advantage of specific tactical nuclear weapons to the West is something of the order of three to one? Is not this an area in which we could easily afford to take an initiative at the Vienna talks to achieve a reduction of the presence of these weapons, which are of extraordinarily devastating power, on both sides?

I do not agree with the figures quoted by my hon. Friend. No doubt his latter point will be taken into consideration in the course of that conference.