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Dr Richard Wagner

Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet Richard Wagner, Special Assistant to the United States Secretary of State for Defence.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Since Dr. Wagner alleges that the Secretary of State misled the House, will the right hon. Gentleman apologise and take this opportunity to explain to the House which new nuclear battlefield weapons will be used in future by our Army in Germany?

I have already made it clear to the House that I wholly reject the suggestion to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention, and I have made my views known to the United States Administration. The effects of SACEUR's proposals on the composition of our nuclear forces are being carefully considered. If I have any announcements to make, I shall make them in the House at the appropriate moment.

My right hon. Friend has already mentioned his important discussions on the strategic defence initiative with the United States Defence Secretary. He will be aware that representations have been made, I believe to the Prime Minister and to others, by leading representatives of the computing community in Britain, suggesting that the important objectives of the SDI are completely incompatible with what is known of the potential of computing and software here and in the United States. He will also have seen the papers published at the weekend by Professor Parnass, who was a member of the SDI software team, stressing that the objective is unattainable. Since this is a matter of the utmost significance, will we have an opportunity to discuss it?

Whether the House has an opportunity to discuss this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I dare say that my hon. Friend's views have already got through to that most important decision-maker. The attainments of the computing industry are secondary to the fundamental point that research programmes have been started in the United States. Those research programmes are of interest to us, whether or not they obtain the objectives.

The Opposition welcome what the Secretary of State said about Dr. Wagner's remarks. We also welcome the withdrawal of some battlefield nuclear weapons, but we are worried that, at the end of the day, we might have more powerful battlefield nuclear weapons in central Europe. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, before decisions are taken, the matter can be debated in the House? Part of the problem about remarks by Dr. Wagner and others is that the House does not debate such matters. Apart from any other consideration, such matters should be debated in the House before decisions are taken.

The House must think it extraordinary that a representative of a Government who modernised our independent nuclear deterrent by the Chevaline process without telling anyone that they had done it should expect us to subject modernisation programmes for nuclear weapons systems to debate in the House. It is unthinkable.