HC Deb 11 June 1958 vol 589 cc191-3
20. Mr. Peyton

asked the Minister of Defence what stage in the development of Thor missiles has now been reached; and if he is still satisfied that these weapons can make a useful contribution to the defence of this country.

22. Mr. de Freitas

asked the Minister of Defence what portion of the £10 million to be spent on surface installations for the Thor missiles will be used for the missiles which will be launched from underground.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

The Thor rocket is now in an advanced stage of development. It is too soon to say how much of the site works for it will be suitable for later rocket weapons. I am confident that Thor rockets, deployed here and on the Continent, will constitute a valuable addition to the Western nuclear deterrent, and thus to the peace of the world.

Mr. Peyton

While I appreciate that both security considerations and the fact that another Government is involved may make it very difficult for my right hon. Friend to say much, may I ask if he will bear in mind that there is a very widespread and strong desire to know the maximum possible about the development of this weapon on which so much reliance is being placed?

Mr. Sandys

I think a good deal has been said already. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air gave a certain amount of information on 14th May, to which I would refer my hon. Friend.

Mr. de Freitas

Can the Minister explain why it is that, almost without exception, independent aviation and military correspondents in this country, and indeed many in the United States, have described the Thor as not only ineffective, but obsolete before it has come into service?

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Member never misses an opportunity to belittle the value of this weapon. If I may adapt a famous phrase of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, I would say that it is the best rocket we have got.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the policy to establish these rocket bases in this country was justified to this House largely on the expectation that the United States Government would amend the McMahon Act? If, in fact, it is not amended, will there be any change in the Government's policy in this regard?

Mr. Sandys

I know of no connection between the two points. The purpose of deploying these rockets over here is to increase the effectiveness and the variety—because that makes a difference from the point of view of knocking out the deterrent—of the Western nuclear deterrent. Jokes with the hon. Member opposite apart, all I would say is that in test firings of new weapons we do expect failures, and we very often gain more experience from the failures. I have already given an assurance that this weapon will not be deployed here until both we and the Americans are satisfied that it is effective.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that this matter cannot be debated now.