§ 1. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what contingency plans exist in the Ministry of Defence to review contracts, reduce manpower and to reallocate resources if disarmament talks reach successful conclusions.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)
We shall, of course, be ready to adjust our forward programmes if balanced, binding and verifiable agreements to reduce armaments and force levels are reached; but we cannot plan to do so until the nature and timing of specific agreements are known.
§ Mr. Bennett
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. What does he mean by "ready"? Do any of the contracts that are being placed contain contingency clauses that show that the Government have any faith that they genuinely want the disarmament talks to be successful?
§ Mr. Nott
I hope that the current round of disarmament talks will be successful. If they are, I do not foresee any problems in reducing the level and scale of our armaments in accordance with any agreement. However, it is not necessary to have in contracts clauses of the kind suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir Victor Goodhew
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one hindrance to any agreements in the past has been the difficulty of verification, because the Soviet Government will not allow any inspection? Will he also confirm that the moment that the Soviet Government make such a move the British Government will enter into a verifiable and reasonable agreement?
§ Mr. Nott
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his knighthood. I am sure that it is a delight to the whole House.
My hon. Friend is correct in saying that the unwillingness of the Soviet Union to agree to inspection is one of the principal obstacles to successful arms talks. That is particularly so with regard to chemical weapons, of which the Soviet Union has been unwilling to allow any inspection procedures. That is one of the most worrying features of the present situation.
§ Mr. John Silkin
Was not our nuclear capability considered to be a basis on which we could attend the top 732 table of negotiations? As we are not there, is it not about time that we dropped the humbug of pretending that we have an independent nuclear deterrent and got on with the job of disarmament?
§ Mr. Nott
It is no humbug that we have an independent nuclear deterrent; it is a question of fact. It was a question of fact when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Cabinet. I assure him that the Soviet Union regards our nuclear deterrent not as humbug, but as real.
We have never sought to be party to the arms control talks, although we are giving them every support.