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Nato Nuclear Planning Group

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what decisions were made at the recent NATO nuclear planning group meeting in Alberta, Canada.

The meeting discussed a wide range of nuclear issues. In particular, nuclear planning group Ministers were able formally to welcome President Bush's recently announced decisions to terminate the follow-on to Lance development and nuclear artillery shell modernisation programmes. A copy of the final communiqués from the NPG has been placed in the Library.

Is not it a fact that tension throughout the world has eased a great deal and at the highest level of the super-powers there is new thinking about nuclear armaments? Will the Minister assure us that we are not the odd man—perhaps I should say the odd woman—out in recognising that fact, but are ready to meet all the other nations who are ready to bring down their nuclear armaments, or are we going to stand out as though the Russians are expected to attack next Thursday afternoon at 3 o'clock?

Of course, things have changed in the past 12 months. It is a recognition of the fact that the Warsaw pact's capability is much reduced, and the threat from the east European countries is probably no longer there, that it does not seem to be as necessary now as it was to make sure that short-range nuclear systems are modernised. However, I believe that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will continue to recognise the need for a flexible nuclear response and to accept the fact that the Soviet Union is still a military super-power with a large nuclear capability and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his answer. Does he agree that the Soviet Union not only has more nuclear weapons than the whole of NATO put together but, more importantly, that nuclear weapons are spreading to an increasing number of Third world countries? Does he agree that it is inconceivable that western Europe should shed the only nuclear defences which currently belong in European hands by Britain and France relinquishing their small strategic nuclear deterrents?

That is quite right. As my hon. Friend has said, our deterrent is a minimum deterrent, so it is not a matter of embarking on a massive arms race. We have the minimum deterrent necessary to give us a nuclear capability. It is a tragedy that the nuclear non-prolification treaty has not been so successful as it might have been and there are other countries developing nuclear capability in addition to the original five powers, including China, which have nuclear weapons.

In relation to President Bush's welcome statement, will the Minister state whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister was consulted, or merely informed, before the statement was made?

Yes, there was consultation, and we were kept in touch about the intentions of the United States before the announcement was made.

Does the Minister agree that although there is a lessening of aggression and tension coming from eastern countries, including the Soviet Union, there seems to be an increase in aggression and tension coming from the middle east, particularly Iraq and Libya? Will he therefore assure me and the people of this country that we shall keep up our vigilance and continue to develop our conventional forces and modernise our nuclear deterrent—unlike the Labour party which, at the last Labour party conference, agreed to a reduction in defence spending of £5 billion or, to put it another way, the complete removal of the Royal Air Force? May I ask the Labour party whether £5 billion is the price of protecting our loved ones?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that we keep a defence capability, because we live in an extremely uncertain world. Many of the recent developments that have led to the easing of tension actually create new dangers, so it is important that we should have a nuclear capability as part of our defence capability, and it is essential to keep it up to date.