HC Deb 08 November 1977 vol 938 cc458-9
2. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for the development of a cruise missile.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

We are examining cruise missiles so as to be able to participate in discussions within the Alliance concerning their potential. We have no plans to develop or acquire them.

Mr. Arnold

What representations were made by the Government to the Americans when they apparently agreed with the Russians not to transfer cruise missile technology? Why do the Government now believe that the development of the new deterrent force has become unnecessary?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman's questions are not necessarily related. As far as I am advised, no final agreements have been reached between the Soviet Union and the United States. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not necessarily accept all the Press reports as to what may or may not be part of such agreements. Naturally, consultations that we have within the Alliance must remain confidential. The reason why we are satisfied with the Polaris force is that it will have a useful life for many years to come.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

As my right hon. Friend has said that we have no plans to develop the cruise missile, can we take it that the British Government are entirely behind the move to place a restriction on the range of cruise missiles within the context of the SALT talks, which clearly is necessary if any agreement is to be an effective disarmament agreement?

Mr. Mulley

As my hon. Friend knows, we are not a party directly involved in the discussions and negotiations for a SALT II agreement, but our United States allies keep us and all members of NATO informed about progress. The detailed arrangements are, I think. still to be finally settled.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government take into consideration the fact that the use of cruise missiles would blur the distinction between conventional and nuclear war and that their use could well lead to a full nuclear war, employing strategic nuclear weapons?

Mr. Mulley

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I do not think that he has fully understood what the function of a cruise missile in the Alliance would be. It is essentially a means of delivery. It is not itself a weapon. The character of the weapon and the target would be the important factors. I would agree that if at some time cruise missiles were to be introduced within the NATO framework the existing political control over use would have to be retained.