HC Deb 02 December 1980 vol 995 cc115-8
6. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if there has been any deferment of the proposal to instal cruise missiles.

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. It is still planned that the first of these missiles will be deployed to Greenham Common in late 1983.

Mr. Cryer

Why cannot the United Kingdom defer the installation of these menacing missiles, as Holland and Belgium have done? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the installation of cruise missiles represents the implementation of the Pentagon's limited nuclear war strategy and Presidential Directive 59? Would not a limited nuclear war as envisaged by the Pentagon be a radioactive cinder heap for the United Kingdom?

Mr. Pym

It would be as well for the House to remember that if the Alliance had not remained resolute in its decision to modernise its theatre nuclear forces there would be no negotiations at Geneva. The Russians began by making conditions. When they saw that the Alliance was determined to go ahead with the programme they decided that it was worth their while to negotiate. As things stand, there is no question but that the decisions taken unanimously by the Alliance still stand.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it is incorrect to regard the cruise missile as being for first-strike only? Will he confirm that standing patrols carrying cruise missiles can survive a first-strike so that they can be used for second-strike action?

Mr. Pym

At no point has NATO nuclear strategy envisaged a first-strike weapon of any kind.

Mr. Jay

Are the British Government giving full support to the United States in the negotiations with the Soviet Union to secure reciprocal restraints on the deployment of such weapons?

Mr. Pym

Yes, Sir. The resolute line that we took in the decision contributed to the negotiations that are taking place. The right hon. Gentleman may be reassured on that matter.

Mr. Latham

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that no additional danger to the United Kingdom is involved in having cruise missiles here, since we already have both American and British nuclear weapons on our soil? Does he agree that the argument that additional danger exists makes sense only in the terms of unilateralism—a policy that was opposed by the last three Labour Prime Ministers?

Mr. Pym

I give my hon. Friend that assurance. There is an escalation in scale, but the capiability of our nuclear forces—our own and the American forces stationed here when deployed—will be about equivalent, in relation to the Soviet Union capability, to Polaris in the 1960s. In one sense there is an updating, but the proportion remains the same. In principle, we are in exactly the same position.

Mr. Newens

Will the Secretary of State, in any circumstances, be prepared to support proposals for a nuclear-free zone in Europe which would make it unnecessary to deploy cruise missiles, and ensure that similar steps would be taken by the other side? Would not that meet the desire of the British people not to have nuclear weapons on their soil, because such weapons make life more dangerous, not less?

Mr. Pym

As presently promoted, the idea of the European nuclear free zone is a Continental unilateralism. No part of that suggestion requires any withdrawal of nuclear weapons on the other side. From that point of view it is unsatisfactory. No one should turn down out of hand any suggestion where there is a possibility of making progress. Our objective is to secure a reduced level of defence. The Opposition must make up their mind quickly whether, if, despite every effort, negotiations fail, they will be in favour of continuing with the programme. In our view, it is vital that we do so.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Because of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment, as is my right.

7. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make available the outline of discussions with the United States Government concerning the joint consultation procedure, to be followed before United Kingdom based cruise missiles are activated.

Mr. Pym

As I have made clear to the House on several occasions, the use of the bases concerned by the United States in an emergency would be a matter for joint decision between the two Governments in the light of the circumstances at the time. These arrangements were originally agreed between Mr. Attlee and President Truman in 1951 and made public in a communiqu6 following talks between Mr. Churchill and President Truman in 1952, and have been in operation under successive Governments ever since.

Mr. Farr

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he not think that the details should be updated because there is a considerable belief in Britain that joint consultation is only a charade and that, if necessary, any objections that the British Government may have could be brushed aside?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. It is not joint consultation, but joint decision. We have not felt, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has not felt, the need for any updating of the arrangement. It has endured for a long time. The previous Government supported it. We do not think that it is necessary to make an adjustment at present.

Mr. Flannery

When the Secretary of State raises the question of joint consultation about the joint decision, and voices—as I am sure that he will—the disquiet felt by the majority of people in Britain about cruise missiles, will he point out that from rather less than 600 missiles we are due to have 200 in Britain? Does he agree that, because of the grave disquiet, that is a disproportionate number of missiles that will be kicking about in East Anglia and other places?

Mr. Pym

It is a mistake for the hon. Gentleman to be alarmist about the matter. Until not so long ago all the long-range theatre nuclear capability belonging to the Alliance in Europe was stationed in the United Kingdom. Under this arrangement it will be spread more widely, which is to the advantage of Britain.

Mr. Kilfedder

The Secretary of State said that the people approve of cruise missiles and Trident. How can they form a judgment without having all the facts before them? Will he arrange for regular television programmes to tell the people about the horrific consequences of nuclear warfare that will last for a quarter of century?

Mr. Pym

If it were within my power I should be delighted to facilitate a television programme to show the way in which the deployment, strategy and thinking behind the nuclear weapon part of our defences actually preserve the peace. It is difficult to obtain a balanced view an a television programme. It is important that it should be shown wherever possible.

Mr. Cook

Did the Secretary of State notice that one of the planning assumptions of Operation Square Leg was that Greenham Common and Molesworth would be destroyed in the first nine minutes of hostilities? Because of that dismal view by the Home Office, will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw his misleading brochure that has been distributed to residents in those areas assuring them that they would not be a special target in the event of war? Is not the reality that cruise missiles make it even more certain that mainland Britain would be hit by strategic nuclear weapons in the event of war in Europe?

Mr. Pym

These is no justification for that view, and I disagree with it.

Mr. Rodgers

Will the Secretary of State look again at the question of control? He is right to say that the joint decision arrangement has existed since 1951. I do not suggest that successive Governments have not been satisified with it However, does he not agree that we are facing a new position and there is a great deal of anxiety about it? Does he further agree that we must recognise that, although we hope that negotiations will succeed, they may fail? In that event, why cannot we consider the prospect of a dual key? It cannot be ruled out simply because it has not been the case in the past, except when there has been ownership.

Mr. Pym

There could be a dual key if we pay the price by buying a large proportion of the missile, or some of them, and man them ourselves. I do not think that that is the best use of our resources for defence. It is more important to use our resources on conventional defences. We have gained a good bargain out of the modernisation programme for the European members of the Alliance. The United States is paying for most of it. The cost to us and to our allies is really quite small. The added strength to our deterrent is out of all proportion to the cost to us. We recognise clearly that, although we must never exclude the possibility of reviewing the control arrangements at some time in the future, no Government, including the previous Labour Government, have felt the need to seek such a review.