HC Deb 02 December 1980 vol 995 cc109-11
1. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when next he plans to attend a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in order to discuss the deployment of cruise and Trident missiles.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Francis Pym)

I attended a meeting of the NATO nuclear planning group in Brussels on 13 and 14 November. A copy of the full communiqué has been placed in the Library. We discussed both the Trident system and the NATO long-range theatre nuclear force modernisation programme.

The two NATO meeting is that of the Defence Planning Committee, which is to be held next week.

Mr. Renton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In view of the increasingly vocal concern in Britain about the cost and additional vulnerability of our deploying cruise and Trident missiles, what steps will my right hon. Friend and his NATO colleagues take to put over the message that the possession of an effective modern nuclear deterrent is essential if we in Western Europe are to protect ourselves against invasion and attack—if, in a word, we are to prevent ourselves from being in the position of Afghanistan or Poland?

Mr. Pym

For my part, I do my best to make the basic cause and need for defence very clear and to explain in detail how our forces are disposed. My colleagues in other countries represent to their publics precisely the same need. We are agreed in the Alliance about the essential requirement of having a complete and comprehensive defensive shield, which includes its nuclear element. For our part, we do the best that we can to make this very clear to the public.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Contrary to the view expressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), does the Secretary of State intend to ignore the recent public opinion poll which showed 56 percent, against cruise, 59 per cent. against Trident and 60 per cent. thinking that cruise would make Britain more likely to be attacked in the event of war?

Mr. Pym

I shall do my best to fulfil my responsibility, with our allies, to ensure that war does not begin and that peace is preserved.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although cruise missiles are to be stationed in my constituency, so far I have received only 20 letters on the subject? However, can my right hon. Friend say whether, in any discussions that he has had with his NATO counterparts, the sum total of cruise missiles to be deployed in Western Europe has in any sense been a negotiable figure, in view of possible negotiations which may be opened with the Soviet Union?

Mr. Pym

The answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question is "No, Sir; that has not arisen". The Alliance is unanimous in adhering to the decision that it took originally. We must all hope, of course, that the negotiations now going on at Geneva will yield some fruit. If they are successful it might be possible to reopen that question, but it has not arisen yet. What we must remember is that those negotiations might not succeed, however much we hope that they will.

As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, everybody dislikes nuclear weapons intensely. We all look forward to the day when we no longer have to rely on them in any sense for security.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Does the agreement with the United States contain a penalty clause for cancellation of the Trident missile? If there is such a clause, what would be the cost of cancellation?

Mr. Pym

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have no part in any such decision. I feel sure that in the unlikely event of his party ever returning to office it would, upon a fresh analysis of the realities, come to exactly the same conclusion as we have. The arrangements are exactly the same as they were for Polaris. As the hon. Gentleman remembers, there was much talk on the Opposition Benches then about renegotiation, but it never happened when Labour came to power. I do not envisage that it will happen now.

Mr. Rodgers

As the right hon. Gentleman says, everybody dislikes the missiles about which we are talking. I think that it is the concern of both sides of the House that the breathing space between 1980 and 1983 should be used with the objective of negotiating agreement with the Soviet Union affecting the SS20. What new initiatives are now being taken towards arms control and disarmament in that area?

Mr. Pym

We are in the process of carrying out the initiative on arms control that the Nato Alliance took last December at the same time as the cruise missile decision was taken. The Soviet Union was reluctant to begin any negotiations. Despite that, the United States still said that it would withdraw 1,000 warheads, and that decision is in the process of being carried out. Only recently have the two sides sat down in Geneva to talk about the possibilities for the future. We must hope that they will succeed, but we must never forget that it is just possible that there will not be a change of heart on the other side, and we may face the fact that we shall have to go ahead with this programme, as has now been decided. We must all hope that better counsels will prevail, but we must also prepare for the possibility that they will not.

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