§ 11. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Secretary of State for Air how many Thor missile bases are to be dismantled; and what alternative weapons are intended to replace them.
§ Mr. Allaun
But is it not a fact that a decision to dismantle the Thor has recently been discussed? How much longer does the right hon. Gentleman intend to waste 4,000 skilled men and millions of pounds a year in the upkeep of the Thor? Also, if the reason for considering the dismantling of the Thor is its vulnerability, will not dependence in its place on the Skybolt merely mean extending the possibility of annihilation from East Anglia to the whale of the country?
§ Mr. Amery
That is quite a mouthful. We are, of course, continually studying all our weapon systems to see how far they need modification or replacement. No decision has been taken yet about the period for which the Thor will be kept in service. As to the last part of the supplementary question, it is our firm belief that peace is most effectively protected by the deterrent policy and, where our country is concerned, by a British independent contribution to that policy.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman says definitely that no decision has been taken. Has he seen an article in The Times this morning, in a prominent position, by its defence correspondent, which states that as a result of the dis 1074 cussions leading to the White Paper which is to come before the House next month decisions have been taken—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question seems to be out of order, because he appears to be asking the Minister to deny or confirm a newspaper observation.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, for having put my supplementary question in that form. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, in preparation for the White Paper on defence Which is to be submitted to the House in February, no definite decisions or discussions have taken place to do away with the Thor missile bases?
§ Mr. Shinwell
If no decision has been taken, why not? Does not everybody know that these missile bases are no longer of any value?
§ Mr. Mulley
While I do not dispute the last statement, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has not learned that the whole strategy of N.A.T.O., as publicly expounded by General Norstad and others, is to get rid of these first-strike weapons in favour of second-strike capability? Is he not giving this very careful consideration? Also, can he give a date when he will be able to tell the House when the Thor bases are to be dismantled?
§ Mr. Amery
As we have explained to the House in the context of the decision on Blue Streak, we should, naturally, prefer hard weapons—those which are invulnerable and difficult to attack—to soft ones. Nevertheless, in the present state of the art, soft weapons like the Thor still represent an important part of the deterrent.