HC Deb 13 December 1979 vol 975 cc1540-56
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Francis Pym)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels yesterday. We considered proposals for modernisation of the Alliance's long-range theatre nuclear forces, and a parallel arms control offer. A copy of the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting is being placed in the Library.

Faced with the rapid growth in Soviet long-range theatre nuclear capability, notably the deployment of large numbers of modern SS20 missiles and Backfire bombers, at a time when the Alliance's own equivalent forces are increasing in age and vulnerability, we concluded that some modernisation of NATO's theatre nuclear capability is essential.

The modernisation programme will involve the deployment in Europe of United States-owned and operated systems, comprising 108 Pershing II ballistic missile launchers, which will replace the same number of the existing Pershing I As, and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles. All 14 NATO countries concerned have agreed to support the programme, and certain infrastructure costs will be met through NATO's existing common funding arrangements. As far as basing is concerned, Germany, Italy and Belgium, in addition to ourselves, have agreed to stationing, subject in the Belgian case to a six-month deferment of implementation while arms control developments are monitored. The Netherlands will take a decision in 1981 on deployment in their territory. The first deployments should take place in about three years' time.

We will discuss with the United States where the 160 cruise missiles to be deployed in the United Kingdom should be stationed. I will make a statement about this as soon as is practicable.

As an integral part of the programme, we also agreed that the United States should withdraw 1,000 of its nuclear warheads from Europe as soon as possible, and that remaining stockpiles will not be increased as the 572 warheads associated with the modernisation programme are introduced.

In parallel with this programme, the United States will make an offer to the Soviet Union to begin negotiations on the limitation of both Soviet and United States land-based long-range theatre nuclear systems. The intention is that their bilateral negotiations should begin as soon as possible. They will be based on the principle of equality between both sides; any limitations will have to be adequately verifiable. The aim will be to contribute to a more stable military relationship in Europe, and hence a more predictable and manageable situation at a lower level of armaments. Because of the particular importance of these negotiations for the European members of the Alliance, a special consultative body will be set up within NATO to follow the negotiations on a continuous basis.

Her Majesty's Government have, as I have earlier made clear, fully supported the Alliance effort to reach agreement on this programme, which I believe is essential if we are to avoid a dangerous gap emerging in NATO's theatre nuclear capability. Such a gap would weaken the Alliance's strategy of flexible response and so cast doubt on the credibility of our deterrent capability. The decision reached yesterday is a dramatic reaffirmation of the American commitment to the defence of Europe. This decision is also a demonstration of the cohesion and political will of the Alliance to respond to a growing Soviet threat and to resist a massive Soviet propaganda campaign. My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I therefore regard the outcome of the Alliance's lengthy and careful deliberations as highly satisfactory. We must now hope that the Soviet Union is now willing to negotiate seriously on the limitation of theatre nuclear systems.

Mr. Rodgers

The Secretary of State will know that the view expressed earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) is widely held on this side of the House. There is deep concern about the Government's failure to provide time for a debate on this most important subject before the decisions were made yesterday. The Secretary of State told the House six weeks ago that my hon. Friend had made representations about the need for a debate and we strongly supported them. It is a contempt of the House on the part of the Goverment not to have had a debate before the meeting took place.

There are a number of specific points that I wish to raise. What is the total effect on the number of nuclear warheads deployed by NATO in Europe? The right hon. Gentleman gave a figure in his statement, and it appears that there will be a net reduction of 428. Will he confirm that? Secondly, he referred to certain infrastructure costs. Apart from these, what additional costs will fall on the United Kingdom Exchequer? Have they already been provided for, and, if not, how will they be accommodated?

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that there will be consultations with the United States about location. Can he say anything further about the timetable, and who else will be consulted before these very sensitive decisions are made? Fourthly, the statement referred to United States-owned and operated systems. If these are not to be dual keyed systems, will there be any consultation process before the United States authorises their use?

Fifthly, I wish to raise a question about arms control. What is the timetable for the new United States offer? Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is no reason at all why one should not be made as part of SALT III even before SALT II is ratified? Will he recognise that there is widespread anxiety that these negotiations should begin as soon as possible?

The Secretary of State knows that the range and character of these new weapons, and particularly the SS20, represents a dangerous and significant escalation of the nuclear arms race at a cost which is becoming less and less easy to bear. In fact, the descriptions of the weapons that the right hon. Gentleman used today cast doubt on conventional nuclear theology and the distinction between types of weapons as understood in the past. He must know that there are those who strongly support NATO and accept the need to modernise its equipment from time to time but who also believe in the vital importance of arms control, disarmament by agreement and detente. The tone of many recent remarks, particularly by the Prime Minister, casts doubt on the sincerity of the Government, faced with the opportunities that are now opened up. It is plainly the case that the right hon. Gentleman's response to Mr. Brezhnev's initiative was brusque. That view is widely shared. We very much hope that the Government will approach the new discussions in a positive spirit. I should be grateful for an unequivocal commitment in that direction.

Mr. Pym

I turn at once to the last point raised by the right hon. Member. He is misrepresenting our position. The fact is that 1,000 warheads will be taken out, and we shall not use the 572 to increase the number thereafter. For every warhead that goes in, one will be taken out, so the reduction at the end of the day will be 1,572. That is a massive response. I welcome the statement of Mr. Brezhnev, but appreciate that there are reasons to doubt his complete sincerity. We have put forward a very serious offer. The whole Alliance is keen on arms control, as are Her Majesty's Government, for at the end of the day that is the object of our defence policy—to secure our safety and freedom at the minimum cost in money and resources.

I think that I have covered the right hon. Gentleman's question about the number of nuclear warheads.

With regard to infrastructure costs, the United Kingdom will meet its share, which I understand is calculated now to be approximately £10 million. Preliminary provision has already been made for that in our future costs and estimates.

As to the timetabling of basing, I have little doubt that we shall come to a conclusion in the course of next year. I hope that it will be in the early part of next year. But there is no exact timetable. We have to go through the necessary processes.

Concerning consultation, in so far as one can consult on a matter of national security, we shall certainly consult to the maximum possible extent.

The arms control will be done essentially in the context of SALT, and it will start as soon as possible. As I said in my statement, there is no reason for any delay. We are waiting for an indication from the other side that it really means business. While we have made this offer of a reduction in warheads, we know that the number of nuclear warheads on the other side of the Iron Curtain is in- creasing and shows every sign of increasing at the present time.

Mr. Buck

My right hon. Friend will have the congratulations of all his right hon. and hon. Friends on what has been achieved in Brussels, and on the leading part that he clearly played in the negotiations. Will he agree that perhaps the most important thing is that it will enable us to go into negotiations on the limitation of theatre nuclear systems from a position of comparative strength rather than weakness, and that this is much to be desired?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. I am sure that the decision on increasing the missiles and modernising the weapons will have the effect in the long term of helping the arms control negotiations, and not the other way round.

M. Frank Allaun

The Secretary of State has undoubtedly worsened the prospects for negotiations and detente. Despite that, what initiative will he now take in response to Mr. Brezhnev's offer on medium-range missiles? If Russia—as I hope, and as Mr. Brezhnev offered—reduces her SS20s, will Britain forgo her cruise and Pershing missiles before deployment?

Mr. Pym

I think that the offer made by the United States through the Alliance yesterday as part of this package, to remove 1,000 warheads, is a very formidable offer, and compares—it is in quite a different category, I should have thought—with the offer made by Mr. Brezhnev at the beginning of October.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider this comparison. There are at the present time 600 SS20 nuclear warheads deployed or available. The SS20s programme is continuing to build up. The comparison to make is with the 572 warheads that will be brought in by the Alliance when this programme is implemented. That is quite a substantial contrast. The negotiations with the Russians on arms control and on this offer, from the point of view of the United States and the Alliance, cannot begin too soon. We shall wait now for a response from them to see whether negotiations can begin. I think that the hon. Gentleman would be fair if he recognised that this is a very positive response.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Unlike the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), I should like to make clear to the House that I, on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues, fully support the decisions taken in Brussels yesterday, as we agree that it is necessary to update and modernise the NATO theatre nuclear capability.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether a possible option on the 160 or so cruise missiles which are coming into this country might be for them to be stationed on surface ships instead of being land-based?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that, in view of the decisions which are likely to be taken in Washington shortly concerning our independent nuclear deterrent—over which we would have very different views from those of his own party, as we would be totally opposed to updating that—we shall be able to debate the subject and take a vote on it in this House? Or will the right hon. Gentleman present a White Paper to the House on his Government's defence policy?

Mr. Pym

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the support that he gave to the decision taken in NATO yesterday. It was taken with the agreement of all 14 member nations.

With regard to surface ships, the answer is "No". All 160 will be ground-launched.

The strategic successor system is another subject which will fall to be considered later. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said the other day, the question has to be decided in the light of the national security needs. But I should be surprised if there were not time for a debate before that decision falls to be taken, which is some time within the next few months. There is no timetable for that, so I should be surprised if there were not an opportunity.

Sir Frederic Bennett

The Minister has given us a number of very helpful comparable statistics about relative strength in this area. Having mentioned the number of SS20s deployed, quite apart from the Backfire bombers, could he tell us how many such weapons within the Soviet armoury are capable at the present time of reaching targets throughout Western Europe? How many tactical nuclear weapons has the West that are capable of reaching targets within the Soviet Union, as opposed to the unfortunate satellite countries of Eastern Europe?

Mr. Pym

On the SS20s alone, as I mentioned just now, there are no fewer than 600 warheads, which could hit any part of Europe. That is excluding the Backfire bomber. There is no question but that the nuclear capability of the Soviet Union to strike in Europe is infinitely greater than our retaliatory capacity.

Mr. Heffer

How can the right hon. Gentleman say that the peoples of NATO have agreed, when the Dutch Parliament—and I assume that we believe in Parliamentary democracy—discussed it and voted against it? The right hon. Gentleman's position is not a logical one for him to take.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Labour Party conference was overwhelmingly against these weapons being introduced? Before the Government take a final decision—although I understand that a decision has been taken—we ought to have a debate in this House, so that we can discuss this most important question, because the future of our towns, our cities and our people is at stake. The right hon. Gentleman might be prepared to accept it complacently, but many of us on the Labour Benches are not prepared to accept it.

Mr. Pym

The matter of a debate, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is not for me. The point I was making was that the Foreign Ministers and the Defence Minister meeting yesterday were all agreed on the need for this programme and supported the whole programme, the size of the programme, the production of the missiles and their deployment—subject to the reservation that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned in the case of the Netherlands and the six months' reservation in respect of Belgium. That is the true position.

Mr. Critchley

I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. What effect will the stationing of American cruise missile systems have on the need for a Vulcan replacement? Will the eventual negotiations, to which we all look forward, be multilateral or only between the United States and the Soviet Union?

Mr. Pym

The cruise missiles and the Pershings to which I have referred will be the replacements within the Alliance of long-range theatre nuclear forces. To some extent, the Tornado programme is also a replacement for the Vulcans, but there is no intention at the moment to replace the Vulcans as such. The negotiations will be bilateral.

Mr. Cook

Is not the reality that the four countries participating in the decision have now adopted three different positions? In retrospect, after the protracted negotiations this week, would not the Secretary of State concede that the cohesion of the Alliance would have been better served if he had accepted the advice of those who urged that a commitment to deploy a weapons system which does not even exist yet should be deferred until the arms control avenue has at least been explored?

Mr. Pym

That was debated at considerable length in the meeting yesterday. The unanimous view was that it was necessary to go ahead with the modernisation programme at the same time as going ahead with the arms control negotiations.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision reached in Brussels, together with the statement of President Carter that he is substantially increasing the American defence budget, is the best news for peace and freedom since the Soviet Union deployed the SS20 against us? I thank my right hon. Friend for his courage in giving leadership on this matter, which has brought credit to our country as a whole.

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. It is the view of the Alliance that any other decision would have weakened the Alliance and exposed the Western world to risks that we would not have been justified in taking.

Mr. Stoddart

Will the Secretary of State accept that there are many in this country, including myself, who seriously and sincerely hold the view that the policy that he has embarked upon is completely suicidal? If these weapons were used on a first strike and second strike basis, will the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate of how many casualties there would be in Britain? Would it be 5 million, 10 million, or would we all go up in smoke together?

Mr. Pym

To use the hon. Gentleman's own words, the view taken by the Alliance was that not to take that decision could be suicidal. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union's nuclear capability could annihilate Europe. Everybody knows that there is no aggressive intention or desire anywhere in any country in Europe or anywhere in the free Western world. We have to protect our position and we felt—and we all agreed—that without that decision our protection would be inadequate and we would be failing in our duty.

Mr. Gummer

Will my right hon. Friend contrast the ambivalent attitude taken by the Opposition Front Bench with the decision last week by the Suffolk Labour Party to oppose not only all nuclear weapons but the stationing of cruise missiles in Suffolk? Will he go out of his way to explain to the people of Britain that only by being properly defended can we ensure that our children live in freedom?

Mr. Pym

I have done my best—almost every week, somewhere in the country—to set out the rationale and the arguments for the nuclear case. Like us all, I should like to be without them altogether, but it takes both sides to achieve that. It is important that the reason for this policy is understood by the public. In the last two or three months I have been doing my best to try to present that policy.

As I said in my statement, there is no decision about basing. I know that there has been concern in East Anglia, and I understand that. However, there has been no decision even to base any of the ground-launched missiles in East Anglia. I cannot say that they will not be based there, and I cannot say that they will be; it has not yet been decided.

Mr. George

It was reported yesterday that the United States Secretary of Defence and our Secretary of State lectured their colleagues on the need for more conventional defence. If we are to commit Britain to up to £8,000 million on a Polaris replacement, will that have an effect on conventional forces? If we are to upgrade conventional forces and spend £8,000 million, what will be the total cost?

Mr. Pym

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been no decision about a strategic successor system. Equally, there is a desire—and he is right about that—to maintain the level of our conventional forces. It is a corollary of a nuclear capability that the nuclear threshold is not lowered. The higher the nuclear threshold, the better. That is very much in our minds, and it is not our intention to lower that threshold.

Mr. Rathbone

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the country will welcome this genuine step towards genuine detente? There will be some who will share the anxiety with me that the net reduction in nuclear warheads within Europe may tip the balance against NATO in a worrying way. Can he give any reassurance on that point?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I can. It has never been the intention of the Alliance to match the Soviet Union missile for missile, nor is it necessary. We must have a full range of capability enabling the Alliance to respond, if necessary, at any level. At whatever level is appropriate, there must be a capability to respond. Unless the Soviet Union makes a drastic change in its policy, there is no likelihood of reaching a position where the number of missiles and the number of warheads match each other on either side of the Iron Curtain. Presently they have more missiles than we have, and the weapons are more modern. That position will not change until the Soviet Union decides to negotiate, decides to protect itself and allows us to protect ourselves at a lower level of arms.

Mr. Ennals

Is the Secretary of State aware that in East Anglia and elsewhere there are many who have supported the NATO Alliance and the concept of deterrence who, nevertheless, are deeply disturbed by the decision taken by the NATO Ministers? They see that decision as a further escalation in the arms race, especially as the House has had no opportunity to debate the issue.

Mr. Pym

I fully appreciate the concern felt, but I hope that people will reflect on the following points. There have been hundreds of warheads in East Anglia—different numbers at different periods—and it has always been like that. The nuclear capability that has been stationed in East Anglia has been part of our deterrent capability, as it has always been. Surely there is some re- assurance in the fact that we are to reduce the overall numbers, which means that not only will we not increase the nuclear element of our defence capability but that we will reduce it.

Those weapons will be modern and capable of doing the job that they are there to do, namely, pose the retaliatory threat—if we ever were threatened—of inflicting an unacceptable degree of damage. There should be more uneasiness if our defences were not adequate to deal with such a threat. I hope that people will be reassured by those facts.

Mr. Nelson

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement this afternoon. Will he indicate why nearly all the cruise missiles are land-based, and why a decision has been taken against airborne launching? Will he also confirm that this welcome decision will in no way undermine the need for a full replacement of our strategic nuclear force?

Mr. Pym

After a close analysis, which lasted more than two years, it was felt that the ground-launched cruise missile offered the most effective and practical solution to the problem. The ship-launched and air-launched missiles were thought, and judged, to be more vulnerable and expensive. That was agreed, by all the countries concerned, to be the most effective way of achieving the objective.

Mr. Dalyell

The Secretary of State, in a previous incarnation on this side of the House, spent four years telling the House how concerned he was about its authority. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that this complex subject is adequately dealt with by necessarily haphazard questions and answers? In all conscience, should there not be a serious debate?

Mr. Pym

I said some time ago that if such a debate could be arranged I would welcome it and I would be more than glad to take part in it. There are pressures on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, as everybody knows, especially in the first Session of a Parliament. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that we must provide the time for a debate, and had that time been available we should have done so. At the same time, if the hon. Gentleman and his party felt so strongly about it, they could have used some of their time—[Interruption.] I am not trying to get out from under it. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The nuclear strategy has not been debated in the House for some time, and I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate it before long.

Mr. James Callaghan

The Secretary of State says that he is in favour of a debate, and the responsibility lies on the Lord Privy Seal for not providing the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Leader of the House."] Well, whoever he is, he is overpaid. The right hon. Gentleman could provide time next week if he were to abandon the Bill on the reorganisation of the Health Service, which is not necessary next week and could be taken after the recess. Those who believe in the theory of deterrence are obviously naturally concerned with the questions that have been raised on both sides of the House about the anxieties of thousands in this country. It is important that we should have full and informed discussions. I am ready to take my part in a debate on the subject in order that people should understand the risks, dangers, and alternatives, and why we have decided in favour of this course of action.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to avoid mischief being made. Missiles or weapons under the control of the United States are operated by the United States from this country. That is the arrangement that has existed so far. Will he give me an assurance that no decisions will be taken by the United States without the fullest consultation with and agreement of Her Majesty's Government? That seems to be the issue about which the House of Commons should be concerned when another friendly and allied Government are operating with our full consent and agreement from within our territory.

Mr. Pym

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says about a debate. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has responsibility for the business of the House, has tried hard to find an opportunity to fit in such a debate. I used to have some responsibility for House of Commons business. I know the difficulties, as does the right hon. Gentleman. We would have liked a debate. It is only fair to my right hon. Friend to make that clear.

I appreciate fully what the right hon. Gentleman says about participating in a debate. It would have been helpful if he could have deployed in his own words the arguments that lead him, I have no doubt, to the same conclusions as those reached by the Government.

I think that the answer is "Yes, Sir" to the right hon. Gentleman's third question. The same arrangements for consultation will continue that have existed heretofore. The right hon. Gentleman will be even more familiar with those than I am.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been rising to ask questions. That does not include those who did so only after the Secretary of State's last answer. I hope that the House will understand that this course will mean one fewer hon. Member being called to participate in the steel debate. I hope that questions will be brief.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House the rate at which the Soviet armed forces are acquiring Tupolev 22 supersonic bombers and SS20 IRBMs? Is the NATO Alliance not merely reverting to the position in the early 1960s when it deployed both Jupiter medium-range ballistic missiles and Thors in Western Europe?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that I can give my hon. Friend the figures for the rate of the build-up. In any event. I could not do so without notice. However, we know that it continues. Unfortunately it shows every sign of continuing.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the decision not to have a debate in the House has not been taken by an individual? Is not the agenda of this place controlled by the Cabinet? Has it not been a Cabinet decision not to put such a debate on the agenda of the House, and to deny the House a debate before the decision was taken?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that only one key is involved in the use of these weapons? If another accident occurs—never mind intention—of the sort that took place on 9 November at Colorado Springs, when the right hon. Gentleman claimed that everything was all right because the world had not been blown up, what will be the Government's attitude? Does the use of one key indicate that the Americans have the right to enjoy the use of these weapons without consultation? If there is any similar alert, the Americans may decide that there is no time for consultation in any event, so we are on our way to a radioactive cinder heap.

Mr. Pym

That is a grotesque misrepresentation of the position. The hon. Gentleman should be fair. He should pay some attention to public reassurance. What I am about to say may be rash and, first, I touch wood, but the safety record in the United Kingdom has been good. Perhaps we have been fortunate not to have an accident involving a nuclear weapon. However, I repeat that the hon. Gentleman should be fair. When he uses language of the sort that he employed in his question he is not being helpful. I agree that it is a single and not a dual key system. However, there are consultative processes that have been long established, which successive Governments have thought to be adequate in all the circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of a collective decision not to have a debate. The business of the House is a matter of priorities. The Cabinet would have been happy to have a debate on these matters. However, it has to decide what the priorities are in the House. As every hon. Member knows, there is heavy legislative pressure on the House in the first Session of any Parliament. Apart from that pressure, we have had the problems of Zimbabwe, which have taken additional days. The Cabinet did not decide not to have a debate. The Cabinet decided that time should be devoted to the business that my right hon. Friend has announced.

Mr. Burden

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for a debate. I support the right hon. Gentleman's request. I link my name with his because on Tuesday he stated that if there were a debate there would be widely varying opinions expressed by his right hon and hon. Friends. The country is entitled to know the extent of those differences.

Mr. Pym

I assure my hon. Friend that I was in touch with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on this issue. I am sure that the House will recognise the pressure that exists on the Government programme. To be fair to my right hon. Friend, he responded to the priorities chosen by the Cabinet.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that this is the only Parliament in Europe that has not had a debate on this subject? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the decision has been taken without the democratic practice being followed of debate preceding decision? It seems that the decision has been taken and that we shall not have a debate. That being so, what is the strategic thinking behind the utterly disproportionate number of cruise missiles that will come into Britain compared with the totality in the whole of Western Europe? Why are we to have 160 out of the total? That seems a disproportionate share when we compare the numbers that will be in other countries

Mr. Pym

I do not think that it is. The Federal Republic of Germany will have more if we take its Pershing and ground-launched missiles together. At present all the long-range theatre nuclear forces in Europe are in the United Kingdom. Following the decision, these missiles will be spread more widely throughout the Alliance. That is an advantage.

Mr. Kershaw

Is it not traditional in matters of foreign policy and treaties for the Government of the day to come to a decision, to convey it to the House and to ask for its approbation? Has that not always been done? Surely the Government are in line with that traditional practice.

Mr. Pym

That may be so, but there is no reason why there should not be a debate.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Are the Crown bases in Cyprus considered to be British territory for the purpose of allocating nuclear warheads? When the right hon. Gentleman said at the conference that he could deliver the British people behind the decision that had been taken, on what authority did he come to that conclusion? What expression of public opinion led him to take that view when all expressions so far have been opposed to the decision that led him to say that he could deliver the British people?

Mr. Pym

That is not so. If I used that phrase and if it sounded presumptuous, I apologise. I am not aware that I said anything of the sort. One takes nothing for granted and I have not done so. I have made many speeches on this issue in many parts of the country. I have tried to excite public debate on an important matter. Whatever the constitutional position may be, there is no thought of stationing any cruise missiles on Cyprus.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the NATO plan is for defence and not attack? Does he also agree that over the years a strong defence has been proved to give us the balance of freedom that we have had since the Second World War? Will he comment on the level of public debate that there has been in Russia and in other countries in the Warsaw Pact on these matters? If yesterday's decision had not been taken, and if the Russians had continued to build weapons at their present rate, will my right hon. Friend estimate how long it would be before they again advanced ahead of us?

Mr. Pym

The essence of the policy is for the NATO Alliance to possess a retaliatory capability that would and could inflict damage upon a potential aggressor that would be totally unacceptable, thus preserving peace and preventing war in the first place.

I cannot answer the question about what would happen if the Russian missiles build-up continued at its present rate for a number of years. I cannot think what they will do with them all. I begin to wonder what they will do with them as they become out of date in due course. I hope that the Russians will dismantle them, but I am afraid that there is no answer to the question.

Mr. Douglas

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is no greater priority, when we alter the balance of terror, than that we should discuss publicly in this House how we propose to adjust that balance? Will he prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to make time for a debate as soon as possible?

In his reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition the Secretary of State said "I think" in relation to the control of these weapons in the United Kingdom. Will he re-examine the question and be absolutely sure about the method of approach to the control of the weapons? In the body of his remarks he spoke of a consultative body, which would monitor negotiations. Will he give us the terms of reference and details of the personnel in that organisation and say when and to whom they will report?

Mr. Pym

I sought to say that the control arrangements remain exactly as they are today and as they have been for many years. They apply today to the United States nuclear capabilities already deployed within the Alliance. There will be no change. Concerning the second point, the full details have not yet been worked out. As a result of the new initiative on arms control negotiations from our side and in view of the importance that I know hon. Members in this House and people in all countries attach to it the consultative body was thought to be a desirable piece of machinery to set up within NATO. It will enable countries such as Belgium, Holland and ourselves to monitor the arms control negotiations carefully over the next six months. It was thought useful to have a special body to see how matters were developing so that everyone could have a well considered assessment within the Alliance, which would allow them to take into account developments that occur.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

We must move on. Before we take Standing Order No. 9 applications, I have two brief statements to make.