HC Deb 31 January 1962 vol 652 cc1073-4
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. Amery

No decision has yet been taken on the rundown of the Thor force. As the House knows, we plan to base our deterrent in the latter part of this decade mainly on the Mk. 2 Vulcan armed with Skybolt.

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 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. Amery

With all respect to The Times and to the right hon. Gentleman, I can only repeat that no decision has been taken.

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. Amery

No, Sir. On the contrary, we are satisfied that the Thor still makes an important contribution to the deterrent. This is, in fact, the largest concentration of intermediate ballistic missiles on this side of the Atlantic.

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.

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