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Inf Agreement

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what enhancement measures Her Majesty's Government are considering in the wake of the intermediate nuclear forces agreement.

The composition and balance of NATO's nuclear forces is being updated continuously. We have to ensure that their credibility and effectiveness are maintained in the light of changing circumstances. As part of that process NATO is currently considering what adjustments, if any, might be required to its remaining forces following the elimination of ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing missiles. There are a number of possible options, but no decisions have yet been taken.

Will the Minister supply a full list of the new measures by which he plans to increase the number of nuclear weapons? Will he also give an opportunity for the House to debate such matters, instead of carrying on such things in secret?

No proposals have yet been placed before NATO allies. Obviously, we shall have to discuss such proposals with our allies when they are put up. I have given the general background against which we shall consider them. I should have thought that the hon. Lady might have found a little time in her supplementary question today of all days to congratulate the Government on the success of their policy for reducing nuclear weapons, as the treaty will be sealed today.

Will my right hon. Friend also take into account the Soviet Union's intentions to modernise its nuclear forces and, at some suitable time, publish a list of such projects?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. The Soviet Union, as long as it thinks it must have such weapons, wisely keeps them updated all the time. We carefully watch what it is doing. Some useful publications have been produced. I understand that the American Administration will soon produce another publication.

I warmly welcome the development of the INF agreement. Will the Secretary of State advise whether he is looking at the option of replacing land-launched missiles with sea-launched cruise missiles, which will probably be based on the Clyde? Does he accept that, given the history of Polaris and Poseidon and the advent of Trident, that would be an unacceptable burden for the people of Scotland?

I do not agree with any of the points that the hon. Lady has raised. It is no part of my intention to substitute the missiles that we hope will be removed as a result of the deal. At all times we shall have to look at the armoury of weapons that are available to us for our defence and make sure that they make sense, one with the other, and enable us to keep up a credible, flexible deterrent force. We shall have to look at that matter once the deal is concluded.

The figures that have been issued by the International Institute for Strategic Studies—I use the figures precisely because in the past they have been quoted approvingly by the Labour party—show an imbalance in favour of the Soviet Union of 2:1 in tanks and tactical aircraft and 3:1 in artillery. Will my right hon. Friend give a commitment on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we shall not entertain any reduction in battlefield nuclear weapons unless there is real and verifiable progress on the part of the Soviet Union towards a balance of conventional arms in the north European plain?

My hon. Friend is quite correct, and I can give him that assurance. It has been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my other colleagues on many occasions that before we would be prepared to go further into the reduction of battlefield nuclear weapons we would have to be convinced that there had been major changes in the conventional imbalance and, one hopes, that a worldwide ban on chemical and biological weapons had been concluded. We have none of such weapons, but the Soviet Union insists on keeping a large and increasing arsenal of them.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is great scope for the German suggestion from Chancellor Kohl that there should be simultaneous talks about the reduction of battlefield nuclear weapons and conventional weapons? That is the way in which we should go forward after the INF treaty, which we all welcome, is signed this afternoon.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the INF treaty. I hope that he will reflect on the reason why it has been possible to conclude it.

The hon. Gentleman has said from a sedentary position that it had nothing to do with us. I presume that he is referring to the Labour party, because it certainly had nothing to do with it.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's question, I can confirm that the British Government's position has been made clear. We could not contemplate further discussions about battlefield nuclear weapons until we were satisfied that the conventional and chemical imbalance had been dealt with.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is odd to hear Opposition Members talking about the enhancement of weapons systems when, before the INF agreement that we are discussing today, they consistently advocated the unilateral weakening of our defences? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had followed their advice, and that of their friends, CND, we would not have made these major steps forward?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. If we had followed the advice of the Labour party we would not have had a deal today, and we would have had a whole range of nuclear weapons facing us to which we would have had no answer and which we would have had no prospect of negotiating away.