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Arms Control

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will seek to place on the agenda at the next meeting of NATO Defence Ministers the matter of the possible deployment of Pershing II missiles.

A meeting of NATO's Defence and Foreign Ministers to decide on the introduction of new long-range theatre nuclear forces and a parallel arms control approach to the Soviet Union is already planned for 12 December.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the speeches by President Brezhnev and Mr. Gromyko recently were no doubt seriously and sincerely meant? Rather than make a decision of this kind and run the disarmament talks in parallel, would it not be better to postpone this decision in order to give the Vienna talks the best possible hope of success, in accordance with the speeches that were made on our behalf at the United Nations' Special Session in New York?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the talks in Vienna have been going on for a very long time. Naturally, we should like to see progress made there. So far it has been, and it is today, the view of the NATO Alliance that the modernisation programme has become necessary in view of what has occurred on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But that approach, which we shall consider next month, is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, coupled with an arms control approach. We shall consider both together because they are two sides of the same coin.

As nuclear confrontation and tension can lead to war, certainly since the Americans have their finger on the button, will the Government try to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons by postponing, for 12 months at least, the decision on the new generation of Pershing and cruise missiles?

It is not the intention of the NATO Alliance to increase the extent to which reliance for deterrence lies upon the nuclear deterrent itself. It is a proportion of our capability, and the modernisation programme is not intended to increase it as a proportion.

Would it not help arms control negotiations, and the possible consideration of the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons, if the Soviet Union were to make a meaningful offer to halt production of the SS20 and Backfire bomber and to withdraw those already deployed against this country and Western Europe?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, and the Government agree with him.

Is not the present position that with the SS20 the Soviet Union could hit any place in Europe, and that we have no means of hitting back by tactical nuclear weapons? Therefore, is not the modernisation of our weapons essential, and would not that give us a leverage towards SALT III, which most people want?

It is true that the Soviet Union has that capability. We also have a capability to strike them with theatre nuclear forces, but the contrast is that on the Warsaw Pact side they are modern and new and increasing in scale, whereas in our case they are ageing and in need of replacement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that even many committed supporters of NATO feel that the Government's response to Mr. Brezhnev's statement has been brusque, negative and lacking in any positive initiative? Will he indicate, if not to the House today, very soon and before 12 December in a full debate in Government time, what the Government's attitude is to containing the nuclear arms race and to positive measures of arms control and disarmament?

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. As he knows, I have raised this matter before, and I have also talked the matter over with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who will, I am sure, note the right hon. Gentleman's request.