Skip to main content

Nuclear Missiles (Nato)

Volume 14: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1981

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to meet other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Defence Ministers; and if he will be discussing with them the disposition of nuclear missiles in Europe.

I expect that there will be discussion of nuclear weapons in Europe at today's meeting of NATO's Defence Planning Committee, which my right hon. Friend is attending. Progress in the Geneva talks on nuclear arms control will be discussed by Alliance Foreign Ministers at the North Atlantic Council at the end of this week, which will be attended by my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Will the Minister assure the House that the recent speeches of Mr. Brezhnev, which seemed to hold out at least a partial olive branch with regard to the disposition of nuclear missiles, will be noted? Does he appreciate that throughout Europe and, indeed, spreading throughout the world, there are now demonstrations of such monumental proportions that the will of the people for peace is bound to have some effect upon the Governments of the world, and is certainly having some impact on the United States? Cannot the voice of our Government be raised to make it clear that our people are demonstrating, that we fear the disposition of these missiles, and that we believe that negotiations at the highest level at a summit with the Soviet Union, which has its hands full in many situations elsewhere, should take place with a view to reducing the number of nuclear weapons?

The Government have repeatedly made it clear that our objective is to secure verifiable and balanced multilateral disarmament. The hon. Gentleman may know that recent public opinion polls showed that a substantial majority of the British people wish us to retain our own independent strategic nuclear deterrent.

The trouble with Mr. Brezhnev's statements is that, so far as I know, he has never specified exactly what missiles he would be prepared to freeze or dismantle. He has never said that he would freeze or dismantle the SS20s, so he would still be free to build them up.

With regard to the Geneva negotiations, the zero option has been put forward by the Americans, with support from NATO, and we hope that it will be accepted.

If Mr. Brezhnev's so-called olive branch were accepted in full, and not just some but all of the SS20s now stationed in Europe were removed to the other side of the Urals, would they not still have a range capable of destroying the whole of Western Europe up to the coast of Ireland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the SS20s were stationed behind the Urals they could reach almost the whole of Western Europe. That is why it is important to specify that, if there is to be agreement, the SS20s must be dismantled and not simply moved out of Europe.

Is not a nuclear-free Europe the answer? Is not the real objection to Mr. Reagan's proposal that the Pershing 1 missiles will remain in Germany and seven submarines will remain in French waters, quite apart from the other nuclear weapons referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in question No. 11?

The trouble about a nuclear-free Europe is that we would be exposed to the dangers that I have just described in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). We hope that we may be able to reach agreement with the Soviet Union on the dismantling and non-introduction of certain land-based theatre nuclear missiles, which we regard as the most dangerous problem, and then move on to discuss disarmament in other fields.

Can my hon. Friend say a little more about the report-back procedure from the Geneva talks to NATO? Is it his understanding that Secretary of State Haig will be talking to NATO at the meeting to which my hon. Friend referred in an earlier answer? If there is any question of British or French nuclear weapons being included in theatre arms limitation talks, will he confirm that such discussions will not take place without representatives from this country and France being present?

It has already been made perfectly clear that neither the French strategic deterrents nor our own will be discussed in the talks. With regard to the system of reporting back, Ministers will report back—no doubt they will do so with regard to the current meetings in Brussels—but there is also a system for officials to report back more frequently.

As the Geneva talks have now begun and as it is clear that the discussions will extend beyond the weapons originally envisaged—the SS20, Pershing and cruise—what positive action will the Government take to try to make a success of the talks? Why do not they say that they are prepared to reduce the number of nuclear weapons based in Britain as a contribution to reducing the number of nuclear weapons based throughout Europe?

If the right hon. Gentleman means that we should say now that we are starting to reduce our own nuclear weapons, that would have precisely the opposite effect to what he would like. It would reduce the strength of the American hand and strengthen the Soviet position. We have been at one with all our NATO colleagues for the last two years—it is now exactly two years—in pressing for these talks. At last they have begun. Initially, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Soviet Union refused to take part in them.