HC Deb 24 January 1980 vol 977 cc672-784

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jopling.]

Mr. Speaker

Before we begin the debate I remind the House that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, and brevity will be a virtue.

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

As the House knows, this debate is an occasion which I much welcome. Nuclear defence issues are of the gravest moment for Britain and for the world. For a variety of reasons they must be much in our minds at present, and the opportunity to put the Government's views forward for discussion by the House is therefore timely. I am right in saying that this debate will be the first for 15 years in the House on this subject. Therefore, in those circumstances, I judge it right to devote my speech to nuclear issues and nuclear policy, because they are important, and because I recognise the more frequent opportunity the House has—and will have again next Monday—to discuss more immediate issues of foreign policy.

This subject is one which naturally and rightly arouses deep emotion, and about which people hold strong views. We are all acutely conscious of the real anxieties that are felt about nuclear weapons and, at the same time, aware of the very great responsibility that must attend any consideration of them. I believe strongly that the arguments surrounding nuclear strategy neither should be, nor can be, taken for granted. They require constant rethinking and restating, and I feel sure that it is right for the House to play its part in that process.

I propose to remind the House of NATO's basic concepts of nuclear deterrence, and then to set within that essential framework the two particular issues of policy—Alliance theatre nuclear force modernisation and the future British nuclear contribution.

For good or ill, we live in a world where nuclear weapons exist. We seek increasingly to control them in various ways, but we cannot disinvent them. The fact of their existence is built into the entire structure of security and deterrent balance between East and West. Horrendous though the instruments are, that structure and balance have made a crucial contribution to keeping the peace in the NATO area for half a lifetime now, and they have kept peace, not just nuclear peace. I think we sometimes allow the comfortable-sounding word "conventional", which has settled into the vocabulary of defence debate, to blur our memory of what non-nuclear war was like. In the six years from 1939 that "conventional" war took its immense toll of something like 50 million lives. The scars of that remain today. NATO needs to deter all kinds of military aggression. The Alliance's nuclear armoury is part of an interlocking system of comprehensive deterrence, not just a counter to the Soviet nuclear armoury. This armoury is vital if the Alliance is to present to a would-be aggressor, before he starts any aggression at all against NATO, a clear chain of terrible risk.

It is all the more necessary in the face of a potential adversary who has built up and is continuing to build up a vast—and offensively structured—apparatus of military power at all levels and in all fields; and furthermore who has, within the last month, brutally demonstrated that his willingness to wield that power is little inhibited—if at all—by the rest of the world's concept of peace, freedom and justice. That being so, its possible use against the West has to be inhibited by other means—by deterrence; that is, by fear. That is what NATO's own nuclear weapons crucially help to do.

I should dearly like, as I believe the whole House would like, to see the world kept in peace and freedom by a security system which had less need to possess such awful instruments in reserve, or, better still, no need. To desire a new system is one thing; to make it real, effective and dependable is quite another. We are not yet in sight of that, unhappily, and perhaps we are further away than before. The Government are not prepared to dispense with, or weaken, the structure which shelters us now.

Let me make it clear to the House that NATO's nuclear concepts do not assume that the Soviet armoury must be matched weapon for weapon. NATO seeks only that provision which its own deterrent strategy requires. That strategy is not one of trying to win a military victory by nuclear exchanges at any level. Such a victory would have no meaning even if it could be achieved. What, above all, NATO seeks to do is to work upon the minds of the Soviet leaders. Deterrence is primarily about what the other side thinks, not what we may think.

The Soviet leaders have often shown much caution when faced with evident resolve and evident military capability. They have also shown by their words and published doctrines, by their military provisions and deployments, and by their international actions, that they do not think in terms of restraint or defensive strategies or minimum force. Their massive and expanding forces are a plain indication of how they evaluate the role of military power. NATO deterrence has to convince men who hold those views, not a mirror image of our own views. It has to show them, even before they embark on a military adventure, that, wherever and however they might pitch their agression against NATO, the Alliance will always have within its reach effective options for retaliation rather than accepting defeat. That is our fundamental aim. That is what the strategy of flexible response means and it is not feasible without the possession of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Would it be fair to say that NATO, having used its flexible response, would, rather than face defeat, use the deterrent to blow up the world?

Mr. Pym

I shall come to the relationship between the various component parts of this flexible response later.

Against that broad background, I want to come to NATO's modernisation programme for its long-range theatre nuclear forces. I made a statement to the House about this on 13 December immediately on my return from the NATO meeting, and the House will not wish me to go into details again. However, I wish to emphasise some general points.

For many years NATO has had the capability to threaten deep nuclear strike, reaching as far as the Soviet homeland, with systems based in Europe and separate from the main strategic armouries. This is an important element in the chain of deterrence. Strategic nuclear parity between the super-Powers, if anything, heightens the need for it.

At present NATO's land-based systems for this purpose are simply the United States F111s and United Kingdom Vulcans, all stationed on airfields in England. They are ageing—particularly the Vulcans—and their vulnerability is increasing, both on the ground and in the air. So in any event something would have to be done about this.

The need was very sharply heightened by the fact that the Soviet Union showed, and proved, that it was not content with the advantage that it already had in this category. It set about increasing it with formidable new systems such as the SS20 mobile ballistic system fitted with a MIRV warhead and the Backfire supersonic bomber. These did not merely increase Soviet preponderance in a general way; they particularly increased the direct pre-emptive threat which the Soviet Union could pose to NATO's armoury—that is, the aircraft that I have mentioned.

In these circumstances, to do nothing would have been to accept the potential neutralisation of part of our deterrent. That is why NATO had to act and why the Government warmly welcomed the collective decisions of 12 December. The United Kingdom played a positive role in supporting those decisions and in developing them through long and careful preparation. I would like, if the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) will allow me, to pay tribute to the preliminary work put in train and carried forward by him.

The House will know that it was a key aspect of Alliance policies, which again we supported strongly, that the modernisation decisions should be accompanied by a major and related arms control effort. Despite events last month, that still remains a key aspect. But the House will also know that the Soviet Union has rebuffed that initiative, at least for the present. A grave responsibility rests on Soviet leaders for this reaction, which I am certain the whole House regrets.

It may be claimed, I suppose, that the Soviet Union had already made an offer of its own. I refer to the speech by President Brezhnev on 6 October. It is worth recalling what that offer really was. President Brezhnev already has a TNF modernisation programme. It is far larger and further advanced than ours and continues unabated. He did not offer to halt any part of it, still less to reverse it. The only offer he made in relation to TNF was an offer to reduce an unspecified number of unspecified systems in Western Russia. It was an offer that had some superficial attraction. But even if it were discharged, the SS20s, the Backfire bombers and even some of the older nuclear systems could still easily reach anywhere in NATO Europe from east of the Urals.

Looked at more carefully, the offer is completely empty. It was a piece of spurious propaganda. In essence, President Brezhnev's proposal was this: "You must not start your programme; I will not stop mine. From those respective positions, let us talk." He was saying "Heads I win, tails you lose".

There is a domestic aspect of the TNF programme on which the House will expect me to say something. Within the programme, which needs to be looked at as a whole, the Government have agreed to accept the deployment in the United Kingdom of 40 launch vehicles with 160 ground-launched cruise missiles. They are to be owned and operated by the United States within the long-established framework of the agreements between our countries; agreements which cover any use of United Kingdom bases in war, and which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently confirmed to the House. We are now having detailed discussion with the United States about where the new systems might best be located and I shall make a statement about our conclusions on that in due course.

Obviously, defence considerations must predominate in the ultimate decision, but I assure the House that we shall take the fullest account we can of other factors which I know hon. Members would regard as of great importance. We shall be ready to explain our choices and decisions as fully as we can, and to discuss their implications with the local authorities concerned. We wish to achieve the greatest possible degree of understanding and support and, as our national security is at stake, I hope that the House will agree with that. Let me just add, in case there is any doubt about it, that there is no intention of practising missile flight from United Kingdom bases, and no intention of training in off-base deployment with live missiles, let alone live warheads.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The Secretary of State has referred to long-established practices. Some of us may be ignorant about it, but does not the long-established practice include the power of veto by a British Prime Minister of any American actions?

Mr. Pym

The agreement which applies, of course, to times of emergency is that the use of United Kingdom bases would be a matter of joint decision by Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time. It is a long-established convention that has, I believe, survived for many years under Governments of both parties.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Is it not a fact that there is only one key to the missiles? Is it not also true that during the recent world-wide alert by the American forces the British Government were not informed until after the event?

Mr. Pym

The arrangements which involve both countries have survived for a long time to the satisfaction of the Governments of both countries and of both parties in each country.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Am I correct in thinking that the Secretary of State said joint "decision" and not joint "consultation"?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I did use that word.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Pym

I have had enough interruptions and I must move on.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has already indicated that he is not giving way. Hon. Members must resume their seats.

Mr. Pym

I have much more to say.

I turn now to the issues of our own direct contribution to NATO's nuclear deterrence—the systems which are in our own ownership and ultimately in our exclusive operational control. At all levels, whether classed as strategic of theatre, all our systems are fully committed to the Alliance and to its deterrent strategy. We support, and conform to, the concepts worked out in the highly successful joint forum of the Nuclear Planning Group.

It follows from this that we see our contribution essentially as part of Alliance deterrence and a reinforcement of that deterrence. Public debate and learned discussion over the years have conjectured various possible themes of justification for British nuclear capability—political prestige, our status in the Alliance or a comparison with France. One hears sometimes an argument made out for the concept of a "Fortress Britain"—some kind of insurance policy concept should the United States go isolationist or the Alliance collapse. What weight there might be in such ideas I leave others to assess. They all miss what is for me and for this Government the main point, the decisive consideration: we think that Britain needs to be a nuclear Power primarily because of what this contributes to NATO's strategy of deterrence and, through that, to our own national security.

Our strategy seeks to influence Soviet calculations fundamentally and decisively. It seeks to guard against any risk of Soviet miscalculation. The United States, by its words and deeds, has constantly made clear its total commitment to come to the aid of Europe, and to help to defend Europe by whatever means are necessary, without exception. No words or deeds in advance could make that more crystal clear. But we are, of course, dealing with possible situations that would be without precedent in history and of unique peril.

The decision to take nuclear action at any time would be vastly hard for any President of the United States to take. In recent years I think that it has become even harder, if that is imaginable, because of the fact of super-Power nuclear parity. The British Government have the greatest confidence in the weight and reality of the United States commitment. We cast no shade of doubt upon it. What matters most is not what we think but what the Russians think. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister once said, when considering international matters, the important thing is to look at other nations not as if we were standing in their shoes but as if they were standing in their shoes.

The Russians cannot be assumed to look at the world as we do. They cannot be expected to look at the interplay of power and interest, at the importance of principle, promise and loyalty, in the way that we do. They look at it quite differently. That hardly needs explaining. In a crisis, Soviet leaders—perhaps beset by some pressures of turmoil in the Soviet empire, perhaps looking out upon a NATO Alliance passing through some temporary phase of internal difficulty—might conceivably misread American resolution. They might be tempted to gamble on United States hesitation.

The nuclear decision, whether as a matter of retaliatory response or in any other circumstance, would, of course, be no less agonising for the United Kingdom than for the United States. But it would be a decision of a separate and independent Power, and a Power whose survival in freedom might be more directly and closely threatened by aggression in Europe than that of the United States. This is where the fact of having to face two decision-makers instead of one is of such significance.

Soviet leaders would have to assess that there was a greater chance of one of them using its nuclear capability than if there were a single decision-maker across the Atlantic. The risk to the Soviet Union would be inescapably higher and less calculable. That is just another way of saying that the deterrence of the Alliance as a whole would be the stronger, the more credible and therefore the more effective.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The Secretary of State has been singing the praises of the United States of America coming to our aid at a time of crisis. We have a crisis. The reality is that the United States is showing nothing but hostility to us. It refuses to supply pistols to the RUC in Northern Ireland to defeat the terrorists who are murdering innocent British citizens and British soldiers. The reality is that the United States looks after its own interests and is prepared at any time to betray its friends.

Mr. Pym

The fact that we are able to have this debate and that parliamentary democracy is still able to survive to such an extent round the world is due to the defence capabilities of NATO and other alliances. By far the largest contribution to NATO is made by the United States. Its contribution is 60 per cent. of the whole. We do well in the Alliance to recognise the enormous responsibility that our friend and ally, the United States, takes.

The contribution which we in the United Kingdom make to the Alliance in this way is unique. France has a substantial nuclear capability, but there is no sign of her accepting the degree of engagement to NATO which is cardinal to our own approach. No other Alliance member is even remotely a candidate. In particular, and over and above the binding prohibitions that they have freely accepted under two separate treaties, the leaders of the Federal Republic of Germany have often made clear in the firmest terms their recognition that Germany does not contemplate nuclear status. There are and always have been special considerations in Germany's case. So what I am saying is that, if it is accepted that deterrence is helped by the existence of a second centre of nuclear decision-making in NATO—and our allies so believe—we alone can provide it.

I come now to the specific content of our contribution. As I have implied, this is comprised of more than one element. It has both strategic and lower-level components, inter-related. A strategic component alone and by itself would not contribute adequately to overall deterrence, because the chain which links it to other levels in a flexible response strategy would be defective. A theatre component alone and by itself would lack credibility, because the awful logic of deterrence requires that the nuclear decision-maker should have the evident and perceived power to go all the way to the strategic level if the aggressor will not desist.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Do the Government intend to improve and increase the nuclear potential of the Royal Navy?

Mr. Pym

No. At the moment we have no intention of altering the proportion of our nuclear capability within our total defence effort.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, East)

Will the Secretary of State indicate which nuclear weapons are in existence in Britain, and those that are proposed to be instituted in this country? Will he also indicate under whose specific control these nuclear weapons are?

Mr. Pym

I have referred already to some of those weapons when talking about theatre nuclear forces. I am about to deal with the strategic system.

I want to say something at this stage about the role of our four Polaris submarines and what they contribute to our defence effort. The force that we have possesses immensely formidable striking power and is effectively invulnerable to pre-emptive attack. It is run by the Royal Navy with great skill and dedication. In the decade or more of its operation, covering now 114 individual submarine patrols, there has never been a moment's intermission in its standing readiness on station. It is difficult to imagine a higher tribute than that to the professionalism and the efficiency of the Navy and our submariners.

The strategic environment in which they operate and the whole Alliance operates, is not static. Without breaching the provisions of the 1972 treaty on anti-ballistic missile defence, the Soviet Union has continued to upgrade its ABM capabilities, and we have needed to respond to that upgrading so that we can maintain the deterrent assurance of our force. The previous Conservative Government therefore pressed ahead with a programme of improvements to our Polaris missiles, which our immediate predecessors continued and sustained. The House will, I am sure, understand that I cannot go deep into detail, even to correct the widely mistaken assertions which have sometimes appeared in public, but I think the programme has now reached a stage where I can properly make public more information about it.

The programme, which has the code-name Chevaline, is a very major and complex development of the missile front end, involving also changes to the fire control systems. The result will not be a MIRVed system, but it includes advanced penetration aids and the ability to manoeuvre the payload in space. The programme has been funded and managed entirely by the United Kingdom with the full co-operation of the United States Government, including the use of some of their facilities for trials and tests.

Some American firms have been employed, but most of the work in industry has gone to British firms. We have had a very successful series of flight trials and development is close to completion. Deployment will begin soon afterwards, and that will maintain the full effectiveness of our strategic deterrent into the 1990s.

It has been a vital improvement. I do not think the House will be surprised that it has also been costly. The programme's overall estimated cost totals about £1,000 million.

It is a major improvement. For at least another decade we can be confident that our strategic force is equipped absolutely to fulfil its deterrent function. But, for a variety of technical and operational reasons, we cannot sensibly or responsibly plan on its continuance much into the 1990s. We intend to ensure that our strategic deterrent remains effective for a long time thereafter. Knowing how long it takes to design and procure new strategic forces of the complexity now needed or, indeed, any complicated weapon system, we must decide before long about Polaris's ultimate replacement.

The matter was touched upon in broad terms when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister held discussions with President Carter on 17 December, and the subsequent communiqué shows clearly that the United States Government support the maintenance of our strategic deterrent capability and Anglo-American co-operation in providing it.

It is not possible to say exactly what a new force would cost. That would depend not only on the system chosen but on other decisions not yet taken and negotiations not even begun. But the question of the likely impact on our defence programme as a whole is, of course, of the greatest importance and interest. I should like to offer the House some general comments on this aspect.

For this purpose and in illustrative terms, I think we can accept it as reasonable to discuss the matter on the basis that a total capital cost in the range of £4,000 million to £5,000 million at today's prices might be a realistic estimate. It would be of that order of magnitude. The spending of this vast sum would, of course, be spread over a long period, some 10 or 15 years, and the peak rate of annual expenditure would probably come towards the end of the 1980s. How big a proportion of the whole defence budget it would absorb depends on several factors that no one can be precise about, including, obviously, the size of the defence budget several years ahead. But I judge that even during the years of the main capital spend the acquisition of any new system would be unlikely to absorb much more than perhaps about 5 per cent. of the budget on average, and in other years—that is, the years that were not those of major capital spend—the figure would be less.

That is, of course, still a massive demand on our limited resources, but we must keep it in the perspective of what modern defence provision inescapably costs. The amount we are talking about would be of the same order of magnitude as we are spending on the Tornado programme, both in overall total and in peak rate. If anything, the strategy system might be slightly less. Even 5 per cent. of the budget—if it were that—would, incidentally, be much lower than the proportion reached during the build up of the V-bomber force in the 1950s. It is far less—several times less—than we spend on any of our three major conventional roles in NATO.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this substantial sum of money would be likely to safeguard Britain's freedom and security for some 30 years after its introduction into service?

Mr. Pym

That would be the purpose of what I am talking about.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I should like to ask a slightly more difficult question. My right hon. Friend is concentrating wholly on the replacement of one ballistic missile with another ballistic missile. Will he say something during the helpful briefing that he is giving to the House about the possibility, sometimes canvassed, that one could re-equip with a cruise missile system that would nevertheless be rateable as strategic in certain respects? If the public are to have full information on the opportunities available, it would be helpful to hear about that.

Mr. Pym

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. That was one of a wide range of options that we considered when we addressed our minds to what would be the possibilities in the post-Polaris period. As we have not yet reached the point of coming to a conclusion, it is not right for me to pursue in detail any of the particular options. I assure my hon. Friend that this was one of them and that when we began nothing was excluded.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate a timescale in which he thinks a decision might be made? The whole importance of this debate is that we know, one way or the other, that the time scale is now becoming very short.

Mr. Pym

We have no particular timetable for it, any more than our predecessors did. I would say the fairly near future. But we are not pressing ahead on a timetable with a fixed end to it. What is important in taking a decision of such difficulty and complexity, which depends on judgments as much as anything else, is to do everything one conceivably can to get it right. We are not saying to ourselves that we have to decide by March, or June or September. We shall decide when we are ready to decide.

I have tried to put the cost into proportion, and it is clear to everyone that it is enormous. But it needs to be looked at in perspective and as a proportion of our total defence effort. At the same time, the crucial role that it fulfills in our defence ability has to be appreciated. I am very clear that it would be gravely harmful if sustaining our nuclear contribution to the alliance meant emasculating our non-nuclear contribution. That would amount to lowering the nuclear threshold. I assure the House that that is not in our minds.

Operating our present strategic nuclear force is exceptionally economical in Service manpower. That is significant because constraints of manpower may in future be at least as important as constraints of money in shaping our defence effort. I do not think that there is any prospective alternative defence application of the same amount of resources that would bring Britain and NATO a bigger dividend in security than this one.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)


Mr. Pym

I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to continue. I have given way on a number of occasions and I have nearly come to the end of my speech. I do not want to continue for too long.

I have sought to put the Government's views on these grave issues of policy clearly and frankly before the House. Like it or not, we believe that NATO has no prudent or responsible alternative but to maintain the strength of the nuclear elements of its deterrence—that is deterrence to any sort of military aggression or pressure.

We supported wholeheartedly the Alliance's modernisation decision and the parallel effort on arms control. We believe that Britain's own nuclear effort makes a key contribution to Alliance security which no other member in practice is able to make. The perspective in which we must view the national decision on our strategic force which is ahead of us is not whether that special contribution is a good thing in the abstract, but whether we should now plan to abandon it after making it and sustaining it without a break for a third of a century.

The Government's judgment is that we must continue with it. To do otherwise, especially in today's harsh and dangerous world, would be an act of grave irresponsibility which would heighten the risk to all those values and freedoms that over the centuries we have managed to protect and preserve.

Mr. Delwyn Williams (Montgomery)


Mr. Pym

I am about to come to a conclusion. I ask my hon. Friend to for give me for not giving way.

I ask the House to support us in these views and to support the deterrent strategy that has won for Europe a peace that has endured now for 35 years. Of all the responsibilities of this or any Government, peace and the safety of the nation are at the top. If there is to be a Division at the conclusion of our debate, I ask the House to make clear in its vote its wholehearted endorsement of our discharge of that responsibility.

5.13 pm
Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton)

As might have been expected, we have had a powerful speech from the Secretary of State. I congratulate him on what was his maiden speech as Secretary of State, apart from a short intervention late at night. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am not grudging when I say that we all wish that the debate had come earlier. We are approaching it at a time when a decision on nuclear modernisation in NATO has been made and announced in the House, and when, on the right hon. Gentleman's own account, a decision is being approached by the Government on a Polaris replacement. I think that there is good reason for the House to complain—I do not place the responsibility necessarily at the right hon. Gentleman's door—that we have not debated defence much earlier than today.

Although we have a title for our debate, in theory the debate could go much wider. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is difficult to develop an adequate theme over the complete range of our concerns in a short, one-day debate of this sort. Therefore, I hope that we shall have another opportunity at an early date to discuss other defence aspects.

For example, had it been appropriate, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have wished to pay tribute to those who are serving in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. We heard only at lunchtime of some of the special risks that they run. Whether it is in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia or in Northern Ireland, both sides of the House must always continue to pay tribute to those who serve in the Armed Forces, often in difficult and dangerous situations.

In 1974 we debated defence on three separate occasions between May and December. We can all reflect upon the enthusiasm of the then Opposition for debating such matters and their lack of enthusiasm as displayed since May 1979. I say to the right hon. Gentleman in the presence of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that I hope that that will be remedied in future. There were a series of events in the latter part of 1979 that would have justified a debate at a much earlier stage.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

Surely the distinction is that during the period to which the right hon. Gentleman referred Britain's defence capability was steadily being run down whereas in this period it is being built up.

Mr. Rodgers

I shall come to that. I hope that when the Minister replies we shall hear in what way, to what extent and at what cost our defence capability is, as the hon. Gentleman says, being built up. Consideration must be given not only to how much we spend on defence but to the challenges that we face. Both factors are relevant to the decisions that the Government make.

In the autumn of 1979 there were many matters of considerable international concern, apart from theatre modernisation, which justified discussion. There was widespread discussion among not only hon. Members but the public about remarks made by Dr. Henry Kissinger at the beginning of September. On 6 October we had President Brezhnev's initiative. The right hon. Gentleman dismissed it today, and I believe that in many ways it was an attempt to call NATO's bluff. However, it was an important initiative, and in other circumstances it should have been debated in the House.

In the view of the right hon. Gentleman—he has expressed this view today—there was slow progress being made in the SALT II debate in Washington. Both sides of the House were concerned at the possibility that the Senate would not proceed with ratification. Surely that is another reason why we should have debated these issues in their broad international context at that time.

Mr. Pym

The last issue to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is a matter for the United States. I rise to make a minor point, although the right hon. Gentleman is making rather a meal of it. During the period to which he was referring the then Conservative Opposition chose to debate defence. Today's debate arises from the Conservative Party's initiative in Government. At no stage have the Labour Opposition decided to debate defence. They could have done so at any stage. I make that clear to avoid any misunderstanding outside the House.

Mr. Rodgers

The right hon. Gentleman will discover that the debates to which I referred in 1974 were not all on Supply. In any event, it is the responsibility of the Government of the day to make time available if issues are great enough to warrant doing so. That is the view that the right hon. Gentleman shares. He said before Christmas that he wanted the debate that is now taking place. He indicated that the debate had been denied to him. I hope that there is some agreement between us on that.

I turn to the problems that a debate of this sort creates and the need to have more informed debate on defence issues. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the debate on defence in Britain is ill-informed by the standards of the debate, for example, in the United States. We seldom consider these issues in the House. Outside, there is not the attempt to search for truth from which I think we would all benefit. I said to the right hon. Gentleman only the other day that it is often necessary to go to Washington to discover what is happening in Whitehall. Although we sometimes hear false stories, more often than not what we learn in Washington is what is concealed from the House and from the public in London and elsewhere. I hope that we shall move forward in that respect.

I shall refer later to the information that the right hon. Gentleman has given the House about the Polaris replacement. The House will be grateful to him for what he has said about that today, but there is inadequate information upon which to discuss the options and to decide whether the Government have made the right decision when that time comes. That is why I attach especial importance to the work of the Select Committee on Defence. I know that Select Committees are not always popular with some of my elders and betters. I expect that during the course of this Government they will become increasingly unpopular with the Prime Minister and her right hon. Friends.

The nature of our debate today and the extent to which we shall not wholly satisfactorily explore the issue before us show the need for a Select Committee that is not only probing into the decisions of the Executive but making information available to the House as a basis for debate.

For the most part, the information available to right hon. and hon. Members about these nuclear questions is found mainly in the evidence presented to the Select Committee at the end of the previous Session, and printed in the sixth report for 1978–79. I greatly welcome the decision of the new Committee to inquire into the future of strategic nuclear weapons, policy relating to them, and their implications in the light of the decisions that the Government will be making. I only wish that it was not so much a long-term endeavour on the part of the Committee. It is highly desirable that the Select Committee should consider many questions of this sort and make its views and the evidence available to the House, when we could have a better-informed debate than would otherwise be the case.

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, any decision about Polaris must be seen against a clear perspective of the Government's intentions for defence as a whole. Certainly the figures that he has given us this afternoon of between £4,000 million and £5,000 million as the likely capital cost of a new weapons system have to be set against the whole course of public expenditure during the period when the cost will be borne.

I think that he would readily agree that it is not a question of spreading that evenly throughout the period. There will be a year, perhaps more than a year, in which that spending may reach 7 or 8 per cent., which is a much larger figure to accommodate in a defence budget in which many items are pre-destined a long time ahead.

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is not merely a question of 7 or 8 per cent. of the defence budget, but 15 or 16 per cent. of the equipment budget? That is a more serious matter.

Mr. Rodgers

As my right hon. Friend knows from his experience, it is a serious matter. It was a point made by Lord Carver in a debate in the House of Lords before Christmas.

We do not know what the Government plan to spend on defence in the year 1980–81 and how it compares with the previous Administration's planned expenditure. As others have said, Cmnd. 7746 is a thoroughly inadequate document. The short paragraph 16 on defence is also rather badly drafted.

I wish to know how the figure of £8,062 million at 1979 survey prices compares with £7,394 million at 1978 survey prices, which is the figure that appears in Cmnd. 7439. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, it has been widely said that the represents evidence of the Government's intention to spend £115 million less in 1980–81 than the previous Administration intended to spend. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to confirm or deny that figure when he replies. A great deal of authority has been given to that figure. If it is untrue, the House has a right to know what figure will be put in its place.

Mr. Burden

As the need for improving and expanding our defences has increased as a result of events in the past few months, would the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he, and the Opposition, will give the Government their support in any additional defence expenditure that may be needed?

Mr. Rodgers

The previous Administration made a firm commitment out of their NATO obligations to increase expenditure in real terms by 3 per cent. in two successive years. The point that I have been making, to which I should like a reply tonight, is whether the actual figure to be spent in 1980–81 is £115 million less than the previous White Paper indicated.

Mr. Pym

I am glad to respond to the right hon. Gentleman at once. Yes, the figure published in our White Paper last November was a lesser figure than that published in the previous year by the previous Administration for its planned expenditure.

Between the publication of the previous Government's White Paper and the present time there was a general election. During the course of that election the Labour Party made it clear that it intended to reduce the defence effort as a proportion of gross national product. When I inherited my office, I found that sufficient resources and money had not been allocated for the previous Government's existing programme. We have added to our cash limits £545 million in the current financial year.

Mr. Rodgers

A number of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman in his intervention will be dealt with subsequently in the debate. I am grateful for his confirmation that, in practice, the Government will be spending £115 million less in the coming financial year than the previous Government had intended to spend.

I turn to the two principal issues that are before us today: first, theatre nuclear modernisation and, secondly, a Polaris replacement. As the House knows, when the right hon. Gentleman made his statemen on 13 December, we accepted the need to move ahead on the proposed timetable. It was the view of the previous Government that theatre nuclear modernisation was essential, and that is our view today. But there are genuine anxieties that should not be lightly dismissed.

As I mentioned on 13 December, the new weapons, especially the cruise missiles, are a major step forward in technology, as is the SS20. They are not tactical weapons in the way previously understood. The gap between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons is constantly narrowing. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would deny that it is important that, in making decisions of the sort made by NATO in December, the overall nuclear balance should be considered within the overall military balance. One of these should not be considered in isolation.

There appear to be doubts about the technology of the cruise missile. There are certainly persistent and reliable reports of major testing failures. No contract has yet been placed for its manufacture. Obviously, that is of great concern to the House. It will be of concern to all who have a proper anxiety about the location of the missiles. I should like some explanation of the Government's understanding of that position.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about consultations on where the missiles will be located. He would not dismiss lightly, as I shall not dismiss lightly, the very genuine anxieties that exist. Everything should be done by way of explanation and discussion to relieve the anxieties.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

If the right hon. Gentleman is placing the official Opposition behind the Government in the modernisation programme, may I take it from him that Labour supporters in the country, who seek to oppose and resist the programme, would be speaking against the wishes of the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. Rodgers

Either the hon. Gentleman is being rather naive or his comments reveal a considerable lack of feeling about the views of those who may be directly affected by the location of missiles. It is entirely understandable that those who know that missiles will be located in their locality should have a special anxiety. Whether or not they are supporters of my party, it is reasonable that they should express those anxieties, even if it involves opposition. I have stated very clearly the view of the parliamentary committee of the parliamentary party, and I have no wish to depart from that in any way.

The fourth item relates to consultation. The right hon. Gentleman went rather further today than on previous occasions in explaining what was involved. I am grateful to him. However, there is still a certain amount of doubt about what the previous arrangements were. The fact that they are long-established and have worked well does not seem to me to be an adequate reason for failing to give a fuller explanation at this time. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman said that the use of United Kingdom bases was subject to a joint decision. But, as he knows, cruise missiles will be mobile, and it is not at all clear to me whether they will be located at their bases at a time when a decision on their use has to be made. I should like a much fuller explanation, if not today, on an early occasion, as to exactly what the joint decision will involve. I should like a reassurance that the joint decision is a decision to use the missiles and not simply to locate them at United Kingdom bases.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Rodgers

I must continue, otherwise I shall take far too long and many other hon. Members want to speak.

I turn to the question of the Polaris replacement. This is an area in which strong beliefs are vigorously held, and it is perhaps unfashionable to be agnostic. But I am not the slightest bit ashamed to say that at present I have not been convinced by the robust certainty of others. First, there is the question whether it is wise to replace Polaris at all. To me, that remains an open question which should be subject to debate. I have a nagging feeling that it would be a wise insurance policy for the next century. I do not like the idea that the only weapons in Europe might be in the possession of France alone. On the other hand, I was deeply impressed by the clarity of the arguments of Lord Carver in another place, and we must consider very carefully indeed in a hard-headed fashion the overall case for replacement.

Secondly, if a decision to replace is made, we should not take it for granted that the right course is to replace Polaris by Trident. There are strong arguments, which I would not choose to deny, for continuing with a submarine-launched missile if we are to continue at all. However, there are other options which the Government ought to consider, including in particular the option of retaining Polaris in new boats beyond the 1990s.

There is a good deal of evidence that this would be not only a practical proposition but less expensive. If we are concerned to prevent the continuing escalation of a nuclear arms race there are times when it is right to replace adequate weapons with adequate weapons rather than go for weapons that are more complicated, expensive and effective than they need be within the whole context of deterrence. When the time comes I hope that that will be a serious option and that the House will be presented with the figures upon which it can judge a decision.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the plans to replace Polaris would not emasculate spending on conventional arms. He must not assume that we shall take that for granted in the absence of argument and costed options. I am sure that he will agree that he has given a very broad figure about the capital cost of replacing Polaris with the weapons that the Government might choose. I hope that before a decision is made, costed options will be made available to the House so that hon. Members can form their own view, not only about the wisdom of replacing Polaris but about the alternatives that are available and the effect of any decision on the defence programme as a whole as well as our obligations within NATO.

Parliament and people must be trusted with far more information than they have previously had. Security is a cloak devised not for the convenience of Government but for the protection of our people. A cloak should not be thrown lightly over issues of great public concern unless there is overwhelming evidence that security considerations are uppermost. I should tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister that it would seriously undermine the validity of the final decision—whatever it may be—and support for it if that information were not made available and the Government relied merely upon glossy handouts and smooth public relations as the basis upon which the argument was conducted.

The events in Afghanistan have cast a dark shadow over East-West relations, as the Lord Privy Seal's statement this afternoon shows. It has been a massive blow to confidence and, inevitably, a sharp check to detente. I believe that President Carter had no option at the present time other than to withdraw SALT II from the Senate, and I shall say a further word about that in a moment. In that sense, today's debate takes place in a somewhat different atmosphere from that of the debate we might have had a month ago.

However, anxiety is a dangerous mood from which to calculate the wisest course, and anger is no substitute for cool appraisal in these very difficult matters. It is essential that we continue the pursuit for peace through agreed measures on arms control, disarmament and detente, and do not throw away the idea of progress in Europe. The Lord Privy Seal made some interesting remarks about that this afternoon, and I feel that the House approved them. I believe that we should go further and make clear that, whatever the problems arising from Afghanistan—and although the need to maintain our proper defences is clear—at the same time the pursuit of peace should continue.

The decision that was taken in December to deploy new nuclear missiles and the knowledge that that deployment cannot take place until 1983 provide a valuable breathing space. I hope that there will be a positive initiative during that period by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends, as well as within NATO, to endeavour to reach an agreement on the firm limitation of the deployment of those weapons, associated properly and inevitably with decisions on the part of the Soviet Union to withdraw the SS20 and to provide for proper verification.

I am not seeking to put forward a formula for these complex matters, but they are bound up with SALT III, and the sooner the negotiations begin, the better. I also hope that real progress will be made with the MBFR discussions in Vienna. I know that these can easily be a cause for cynicism, because they have continued for a long time and yielded limited results. But, here again, there is scope for examining whether the initiative taken by President Brezhnev on 6 October has any real content. Those proposals should have been launched and put on the table at Vienna, but they were not. However, there is no reason at all why we ought not to use that forum to seek to make progress in this important sphere.

Thirdly, there must be full and active support for a comprehensive test ban treaty. The discussions should be brought to a conclusion and all possible measures should be taken to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in support of the 1968 non-proliferation treaty. It is difficult to put our minds to those matters in the present mood. A massive responsibility lies with the Soviet Union to rebuild the confidence which is necessary to achieve progress and to reach détente. The search for peace must be unremitting, and that search must go on, whatever decisions may be necessary from time to time to ensure that Britain within NATO has adequate weapons and manpower to meet its proper responsibilities.

5.40 pm
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State most heartily on his firm and unequivocal commitment to the maintenance and prolongation of the British nuclear deterrent. I should like also to acknowledge the essentially bipartisan speech of the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers). This was as it should be.

The first nuclear weapon was invented by the Churchill-Attlee coalition, and developed jointly by Britain and the United States. We have no reason to be ashamed of the work we did then. It shortened the war against Japan by at least two years and—I agree with my right hon. Friend—it has prolonged the peace since 1945 in a way that conventional weapons might never have done.

Of course, so long as the United States had the monopoly, and, later, overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons, the peace would no doubt have been pre- served without any other country embarking upon nuclear weapons. But in their wisdom the Attlee Government, the Churchill Government and their successors recognised that that situation might not continue indefinitely. They knew that the development of weapon systems was a lengthy business. In spite of strong opposition from the Labour Party, many hesitations from the Conservative Party and strong American pressures not to embark on nuclear development, sucessive Governments stuck to the course of making sure that Britain had an effective independent deterrent.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on having secured at last the endorsement of the White House for the British nuclear force. The wisdom of successive Governments has been confirmed by events. American supremacy in nuclear weapons is gone, and will not return. In the context of nuclear parity between the super-Powers—I put it a little more brutally than did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—no one could expect the United States to commit suicide in defence of an ally.

I do not need to labour the argument. Dr. Kissinger developed it very eloquently in Brussels last September. He is no longer in office, but in my knowledge of him he is a man who does not speak lightly. In any case, the logic inherent in the situation supports his argument. That knowledge and understanding is one of the reasons why the policies of Paris and Bonn today are perhaps a little more equivocal than we should like to see.

The conclusions are clear. Britain must have an effective nuclear weapon system of its own, capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on an enemy, and as far as possible invulnerable, and, therefore, available for a second strike.

Having had some personal responsibility for the V-bomber force, for the missile end of the Polaris project and for the production of nuclear weapons, I know how difficult and complex is the decision which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to take in prolonging the nuclear force in this decade and the next. I shall not, therefore, presume to give him advice on which weapons system to adopt. However, I join with the right hon. Member for Stockton in saying that we would be grateful for as much information as can be given within the bounds of security about the options open to him.

I welcome the decision to station American cruise weapons in Britain. The deployment of the SS20 and the Backfire bomber in the Soviet Union left us with no alternative but to agree to that request. I congratulate the Government on the lead which they have given to our European colleagues in NATO on the subject.

The decision raises two issues, one of which was raised by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). This is not the first time that we have had American missiles in Britain. We had them within Bomber Command in the shape of the Thor. In those days—I was responsible at the time—the Americans could not fire without our agreement, and we could not fire without theirs. I accept, to a degree, that American bombers in Britain do not require our mechanical consent before they operate. Are aircraft and missiles on the same footing? Is there a difference? I am not sure, although I suspect that there may be.

The second question is the reverse of the first. I do not put American co-operation in doubt today, but can we be sure that in all circumstances in the future the White House would be prepared to give the order to fire when we might think it necessary? The logic of the argument which makes us feel that there shoud be two centres of control for the strategic weapon applies to this intermediate weapon. It will be costly, but I find it difficult to escape the conclusion that we should have cruise weapons of our own, with their own British warhead.

I should like to say a word about battlefield weapons. It is difficult to imagine any situation in which the British Army in NATO would stand alone and would need its own battlefield weapons, but in military matters such things can never be foreseen with certainty. The United States may not always deploy its forces in Britain. We may be called upon to deploy forces outside NATO, in areas where battlefield nuclear weapons would compensate for smaller numbers. After all, under the CENTO treaty we deployed tactical nuclear weapons to the sovereign base areas in Cyprus in support of CENTO.

The financial pressures on my right hon. Friend will be hard. I do not underrate them. I am not saying that battlefield weapons are the highest priority, but I should like an assurance from the Minister when he replies that there will be a research programme on the subject and that we shall look into the possibility of consulting the United States and France—I note that France is reported to be considering the possibility of developing so-called neutron weapons—so that we shall not be left out of the field should the need arise.

5.48 pm
Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

Although the debate is essentially about nuclear weapons within our defence forces, it will be agreed that the subject can be examined only in the context of our total defence and security policy. In the interests of brevity I shall not fully deploy my arguments, and I hope the House will understand if I speak in a form of verbal shorthand.

For over 30 years, under successive Governments, defence policy has been firmly based on the NATO Alliance. I have never accepted—nor do I think that the majority of hon. Members accept—that we can have a sensible defence policy outside the Alliance neutrality; nor that it makes sense to take a pacifist position. I refute—on the evidence of human experience and history—the arguments of those who claim that if we had no defence forces, we would be totally immune from attack by a potential aggressor.

Membership of the Alliance confers obligations as well as benefits. NATO is entirely defensive. Its policies are based on the twin pillars of deterrence and detente. To be credible in its deterrent policy, NATO must have nuclear weapons, both theatre and strategic, at its disposal. No ally, consequently, can be opposed to nuclear weapons in principle, because we all depend upon the totality of the NATO defence system.

It is against that background that we need to examine the programme of theatre nuclear weapon modernisation. Deterrent policy is simple in theory. It is to deny a potential aggressor the possibility of easy gains, so that before resorting to war he knows the enormity of the risks that he runs for himself and, indeed, for the world. But in practice it becomes difficult and sophisticated, because the question we have to ask is: how much do we need to have to be able to deter?

Arguments about the throw-weight, range and vulnerability of nuclear weapons and the relative strength of conventional forces all come into the argument. But it is more complicated than that, because in the ultimate what is sufficient to be credible to a potential aggressor is the subjective judgment of that aggressor himself.

I accept in the present circumstances the need for TNF modernisation, and it is worth stressing two points. As I understand the position, the outcome will mean fewer rather than more nuclear weapons in Europe and within the Alliance, because the withdrawal of the antiquated weapons will make it possible to reduce the numbers. I hope also that there will be a reduction by a withdrawal of atomic weapons in the ground to air and perimeter defence roles. Secondly, as I think the Secretary of State made clear, at least three years are necessary from the time of a decision before the first of these weapons could be in position. Therefore, a case has been made for the modernisation of the Alliance in this regard.

I wish to make absolutely clear that I do not believe, and never have believed, that it is feasible to think that there are some scenarios in which one could hope to expect to use theatre nuclear weapons without a very grave risk of an escalation up to the strategic level. It is absolutely essential that the same measure of strict political control should be exercised over theatre nuclear weapons as over the strategic weapons. In this country I would have preferred to have the air-launched rather than the ground-launched weapons, but that might have created problems within the SALT II agreement.

The key argument in all this—it was the argument in the Assembly of the Western European Union and in various parliaments in the Alliance; I do not know whether it arose in the NATO Council—was not whether we should modernise but whether we should modernise before seeking a possibility of arms control agreement with the Soviet Union in this area or whether we should first take the decision and then seek negotiation. As at least three years must pass before any weapon can be deployed, it was reasonable to take the view that there was time for serious negotiations if the Soviet Union and her Warsaw Pact allies wanted to have the negotiations. I therefore accepted that the NATO decision could not be further delayed.

A key to any further progress in arms control is the ratification of SALT II. The prospects did not look too good in early December. Although we welcome the statement that I understand President Carter has just made, endorsing again his commitment to SALT II, there is a big problem now as a result of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. While I understand the attitude of the Senate in present circumstances, I am bound to say that I feel that President Carter and Her Majesty's Government are in danger of over-reacting to the events in Afghanistan. It is absolutely vital that SALT II ratification should take place as soon as possible, for only then can we have meaningful negotiations on TNF or any real progress towards MBFR in Vienna, as well as, one hopes, a start on progress to halt further nuclear developments, in SALT III.

The Secretary of State today explained that successive Governments had taken steps to ensure that the Polaris force would remain effective into the early 1990s. There is no question but that the arrangement should continue on that basis. I warmly endorse the very proper tribute that the Secretary of State paid to the Royal Navy for the way in which it has sustained that force at 100 per cent. readiness. I am sure that it will do so in the future, as in the past.

I believe that there is no hurry at all to take a decision on technical grounds, and even less on policy grounds, with the possibility of SALT III having a bearing on the future nuclear weapons within the Alliance. There is a good argument on military grounds why the Polaris force should not be replaced. It provides a useful but very marginal contribution to NATO's nuclear capability. We acquired Polaris on very favourable terms. It is worth remembering that the first boat was on station within six or seven years of the agreement being signed. I do not know whether it will be possible to buy a successor from the United States on such a favourable basis. If—and I stress the word "if"—we decide to go ahead with a replacement, it seems most sensible that it should again be submarine-based and a successor to Polaris, such as the Trident.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

The right hon. Gentleman may recall the advice that Sir Ronald Mason, as chief scientific officer, gave to the small committee that was set up under the previous Administration to consider the most appropriate launching system Did the committee arrive at the conclusion that the submarine-launching system was the most appropriate replacement, or was it the right hon. Gentleman's own conclusion from all the evidence that he has assembled?

Mr. Mulley

It is my own conclusion. The previous Government, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, had not reached any decisions in that area. As I was explaining, I do not think that it is an urgent matter in terms of the time scale. The cost will be substantial, and I do not dispute the range of magnitude that the Secretary of State indicated. It is at least arguable that that kind of money could be better spent in Alliance terms on conventional forces than on a replacement of Polaris.

The biggest problem facing our Armed Forces and the nation is how we are to be able to discharge the very substantial duties and obligations that we undertake within the Alliance, both on the central front and particularly in the Atlantic. We do not, incidentally, get enough credit for what we do in that respect. No matter what party is in power, and no matter whether our economic position improves, as we all wish it to do, I have very great doubts whether the necessary money can be found to give the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force the equipment with which fully and properly to discharge the very heavy obligations that they have within the Alliance at the moment.

The Secretary of State referred to the Tornado. New tanks are necessary. As well as possibly replacing the Polaris missile the Royal Navy will need many new ships to deal with the anti-submarine problem, the mining and many other problems, all of which will require substantial equipment costs. The sum of £4 billion or £5 billion is a large slice of the money for any Government to make available for equipment in the foreseeable future. It is also difficult to imagine a scenario in which we would wish to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons outside the NATO framework. The argument for the retention of a British nuclear capability is, in my view, essentially political and not military. The Secretary of State stressed—though I would not give it quite the same emphasis—the provision of an extra centre of decision-making which is, of course, a factor within the Alliance. Secondly, in the European context, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) explained, it is important to consider whether it would be right that France, which is at present outside the full defence integration of the Alliance, should become the only European Power with a completely independent nuclear capability. All these factors need to be considered.

Before I came to a decision I would need to know more about the views of our allies on the replacement of Polaris and the various conventional tasks that we may have to reduce in the future. We ought to know what proposals the Government have for reducing some of our other tasks within the Alliance, and we should like to see what progress, if any, is made on arms control, both for conventional and nuclear forces. I would reserve a decision until matters are clearer on these points. I do not think, as I have said, that we need to take a decision for a year or two, on technical grounds,

6.2 pm

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Not just because of your appeal for brevity, Mr. Speaker, because there are many who wish to contribute, but because I find the issue a simple one, I shall respond quickly and give not only my own point of view but that of many in this country who are not necessarily advanced in their technical knowledge about all the possible options that are open to us.

I do not propose to devote any of my remarks to the type of change that we might make, by replacement, to our independent H-bomb armoury. I hope that in the not-too-distant future there will be another occasion when we can debate this subject, dealing with the method that we should adopt to replace our major nuclear weapon. I believe that a decision has already been taken, despite what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) said, to replace our sovereign nuclear capacity in our present nuclear submarines. I am not qualified to say, nor would I wish to say, which precise method we should adopt. I believe that there will be at least one more—probably several—occasion on which this matter will be debated.

I want to concentrate on the position as I see it. I hope that those who follow me will contradict me if I have given any incorrect information to the House.

At present, if we are concentrating on theatre nuclear weapons, there are at least 200—probably more—SS20s ranged against us. They are mobile, and nearly all, if not all, are triple-headed. These missiles can be moved freely anywhere within the boundaries laid down in the Warsaw Pact. They are capable of destructive power up to and beyond the west coast of Ireland. I do not believe that there is any argument about that.

The warheads of each one of these 200 or moremissiles—the Russians, it is said, introduce one new missile every week and it is impossible to keep pace with the growing size of this threat—have at least the destructive capacity of the bombs dropped on Nagasaki or Hiroshima. They are all capable of destroying the whole of Western Europe or causing great damage right up to and beyond the west coast of Ireland. As I said, if I have over stressed the destructive power of these weapons I stand to be corrected, but that is certainly the information that I have obtained.

If we leave Backfire on one side—another dreadful weapon that is coming into the weaponry of the Soviet Union—what have we at our disposal to match this threat? The only theatre nuclear weapons that we deploy within NATO at present are those which, at best, can reach and destroy targets within the satellite countries of Eastern Europe.

It does not make much sense to me to stand with a weapons system that is not capable of reaching an aggressor but is capable merely of causing destruction of life and property in satellite States which have no wish to be in their present position. It seems an odd form of strategy to have only weapons that can kill people who are our reluctant enemies and our potential allies in the future. Yet that is the present position.

I want to concentrate on the possible scenario of a war in Europe. Already the Russians have greatly superior conventional forces right across the board. The last defence White Paper published by the outgoing Labour Government showed this convincingly. I have no doubt that the White Paper published by the present Government will show that this situation has certainly not improved but has probably worsened.

The possible scenario that I want to put forward is that the Soviet Union—with its superior conventional forces and without, at that stage, resort to theatre nuclear weapons, which would be held in the background as a threat—may decide that the moment has come to launch an aggressive war in Europe.

In such circumstances these greatly superior forces could smash through Europe and reach the Channel ports. I ask all my colleagues what would be the position that faced us, with a Western Europe occupied by a victorious Soviet army using conventional forces? The only response would be for the Americans to launch an inter-continental thermonuclear retaliatory strike. Whom would that help? Would it help the people of Europe who would live in already occupied countries, or would it help the Americans who, in such an event, would undoubtedly invite a vast retaliatory strike with similar weapons against themselves? That is a policy of mutual suicide and mutual destruction.

In those circumstances, the scenario is such that we are left in no doubt other than to seek, to the best of our ability and within the limits of our resources, to contribute towards that not happening. The best way to do that is to prevent that scenario being regarded in the Kremlin as feasible.

First, with our allies, we should concentrate the maximum limit of our resources on improving our conventional forces to restore some of the balance that used to exist but has now largely been lost. Secondly, from bases within NATO we should as soon as possible deploy theatre nuclear weapons that can, with massive effect, hit targets within the Soviet Union and not be limited, as now, to targets within the satellite States of Eastern Europe. If we do that we shall have a convincing, not an aggressive, deterrent force. No one, unless he is entirely prejudiced or mad, believes that NATO has the will, the capacity or the intention of launching a war against the Soviet Union or Europe.

We should then be able to convince those in the Kremlin that adventures, such as those entered into in other parts of the world, will prove unsuccessful and extremely painful to them if they yield to the real temptation to take advantage of Europe's weakness in both conventional and theatre nuclear weapons. We must try to reach a stage at which that real deterrent is restored. I do not think that any hon. Member will think that that aim is not worth striving for and achieving.

6.12 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

I start with the question of theatre nuclear modernisation. It is a pity, but perhaps understandable, that when NATO announced its decision last December all attention concentrated on the decision to modernise the weapons systems and to deploy the Pershing II ballistic missile launchers and the ground-launch cruise missiles. I thought that two other parts of the NATO announcement were equally, if not more, important.

First, there was the Americans' willingness to withdraw 1,000 nuclear warheads from Europe and not to replace the 572 warheads associated with the modernisation programme. That struck me as a gesture that should have been taken up. I hope that despite the difficulties—we all understand the increased tension as a result of the Afghanistan situation—our Ministers will encourage the Americans to continue the withdrawal of nuclear warheads from Europe.

Secondly, there was the United States offer to start negotiations with the USSR on the limitation of long-range theatre nuclear systems to be based on equality on both sides—bilateral negotiations between the USA and the USSR, but involving a special NATO consultative machinery to monitor the results.

I think that there would be almost total agreement in the House on the urgent need to limit these incredibly sophisticated and horrible theatre nuclear systems. In the tension that has arisen as a result of what has happened in South-West Asia, this kind of initiative has inevitably been lost sight of, but, despite the original Soviet rebuff, it is vital to press on with those negotiations. I hope that our Ministers will press NATO to ensure that the negotiations start as quickly as possible.

I understand the view of many of my hon. Friends that that is a reverse way of tackling the problem. They argue, with sincerity, that we should have delayed the decision to produce and deploy the missiles until we had seen the results of the limitation negotiations. I understand the force of that argument, but it ignores what I regard as the growing threat of the Soviet systems.

We know that the SS20 is a more sophisticated, accurate, powerful and mobile system than anything that has gone before or anything currently in the West. Figures have already been quoted of the numbers available. The most conservative United States estimate suggests that there are now between 60 and 75 SS20s targeted on Western Europe. But given the current rate of increase, it is suggested that by 1985 no fewer than 200 of these missiles will be targeted on sites in Western Europe.

There are now between 40 and 60 Backfire bombers assigned to the European zone. By 1985 that figure will have risen to about 100. As we have heard from the Secretary of State and other speakers in the debate, the NATO response is largely geared to ageing and vulnerable bombers, or to the land-based Pershing I missiles, which cannot reach targets in the USSR.

I understand the argument about the state of the nuclear balance in Europe. The International Institute for Strategic Studies has given a detailed and well-authenticated assessment of the military balance. It recognises all the difficulties in trying to reach an accurate assessment of the balance, and it comments as follows: We therefore conclude that something very close to parity now exists between the Theatre Nuclear Forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact"— I underline the final comment— although it is moving in favour of the Warsaw Pact". The Institute also suggests: the introduction of new and more capable systems on the Soviet side could, if unconstrained, begin to produce a theatre nuclear advantage which will be used to legitimate a NATO response. That seems to be the crucial problem for us. If we were to go into negotiations before taking a decision to deploy the missiles, I cannot see what incentive there would be for the Soviet Union to make a success of the negotiations. If, as all the evidence suggests, they are growing in superiority, logic would dictate the reverse: that the longer they delay the success of the negotiations, the greater their sense of superiority in these theatre nuclear systems.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

My hon. Friend is arguing that we cannot negotiate on arms control from a position of inferiority. He will recollect that in the 1960s, when the SALT II proposals were being framed, the European Powers pressed for the forward-based systems to be left out because at that stage we were superior in theatre nuclear forces. It was then argued that we could not negotiate from a position of superiority because we would end up in an equal situation with the Soviet Union. We cannot constantly reject arms control negotiations, first, when we are superior and, later, when we are inferior.

Mr. Cartwright

I did not suggest that we should seek to negotiate from a position of strength. That would mean having no negotiations until we had deployed the weapons and achieved that position of strength. I was suggesting that if we delayed a decision to deploy the weapons, I could see no incentive on the Soviet side to reach agreement. However, if we do what I hope will result from the original NATO proposals there will be an opportunity to use this gap, which we have until about 1983, before the missiles can be in place, to get some meaningful negotiations going. The time scale allows opportunities for serious negotiations.

The modernisation programme should be implemented in such a way that it will enable account to be taken of the success of those negotiations as they proceed. NATO should also make it clear that it is willing to renounce its new weapons, always provided that the USSR makes an equal contribution in the renunciation of its long-range theatre nuclear forces. I think that that kind of approach is more likely to produce the results that we all want to achieve than a decision to delay implementation of the modernisation programme until what could be very lengthy negotiations have come to an end.

I find it more difficult to reach a hard and fast position about Polaris replacements. Like other Opposition Members, I find it hard to visualise a situation in which an independent British nuclear deterrent would be used. Lord Carver made a powerful speech, to which reference has already been made. His comment on 18 December sums up my view of events. With all the experience that he brings to these problems, he said: I have never heard or read a scenario which I would consider to be realistic in which it could be considered to be right or reason able for the Prime Miister or Government of this country to order the firing of our independent strategic force at a time when the Americans were not prepared to fire theirs—"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 1979; Vol. 403, c. 1628.] That is the nub of the problem. It is hard to visualise a scenario in which a British deterrent would be used independently of action by the United States.

I question what such weapons add to the total quality and quantity of the NATO nuclear response. I understand the Secretary of State's point about adding to Soviet uncertainty. However, if we imagine ourselves taking part in such gigantic games of bluff, I am not convinced that the Kremlin will place great weight on our independent nuclear deterrent when balancing the risks and calculations involved.

I wonder how independent the deterrent is if it depends on the supply of essential American components, and if—as some experts suggest—it will depend on American satellite information for an accurate target. I also wonder whether we can afford such a deterrent. We have already considered the impact on defence spending. The Secretary of State said that it involved about one-twentieth of the defence budget. As some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, that will take a much higher proportion of the cost of equipment programmes. We should question whether that is the most cost-effective way of approaching the problem.

It is reasonable to consider public reaction to gigantic sums being spent on such a weapons system at a time when hospital wards are being closed and when schools are being shut down. At a time when social programmes are being cut, it is right that public reaction should be considered. I also understand that it would be unprincipled for us to renounce nuclear weapons whilst sheltering under the protection of the nuclear deterrents of the United States.

I understand the argument for an insurance policy against the unlikely event of the United States leaving Europe to stand on its own in a nuclear conflict. It is hard to weigh up the competing arguments on the principle of continuing with an independent deterrent. It is difficult to make any judgment about the options that are available. Indeed, the Secretary of State was not very forthcoming about that. We read in the press that the most favoured system is the Trident submarine launched ballistic missile. However, several experts have suggested that that is a much more sophisticated and expensive system than we need. Some experts have suggested that we could continue Polaris in a fleet of new submarines, subject to one or two important technical changes. Others have suggested that the cruise missile provides a cheaper and equally effective solution.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) emphasised the tremendous need for more information. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Was all, South (Mr. George), as he has been beavering away for some months in an attempt to extract more information. He wrote to the Prime Minister in November of last year and the reply that he received has been made widely available in the Select Committee on Defence, and has been quoted in the House. One part of that letter is very disappointing. The Prime Minister said: However, the actual choice of a successor system will inevitably depend on highly sensitive technical and operational judgments which could not be made public without damaging our vital security interest. That approach to such an important decision is unacceptable. The Secretary of State for Defence put a rather different point of view on 18 December. He said, I want the greatest possible discussion about the matter."—[Official Report, 18 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 522.] However, discussion without basic information will be a valueless exercise. The report of the Sub-Committee on Defence and External Affairs has been referred to. That Sub-Committee made clear in its report that the report was not complete. It stressed that it had not been able to reach a judgment about the timetable involved, nor had it been able to come to a conclusion about the options available to the Government. We are left with a gap in our information, and that cannot be filled in the time available to the new Select Committee on defence.

We are discussing one of the most important—perhaps the most important—defence decisions of the decade. Therefore, that gap should be filled. I underline the words of the Secretary of State when he said that it was a decision that depended on judgment. The House will fail in its duty to the nation if the Government are not pressed to provide the basic information needed to decide whether their judgments are correct.

6.25 pm
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

I have pleasure in following the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), as I particularly agree with his comments on the need for more adequate information on the nuclear defence options open to us. That information is needed to ensure a better public debate before this major defence decision is made. I am glad that the Government decided to have this debate. It is right to discuss openly an issue that could involve millions of lives as well as millions of pounds. I hope that what is said today will be taken into account by the Government before they reach any decisions.

It is also timely for us to consider our nuclear defence posture. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has demonstrated yet again the vulnerability of independent nations when they lack adequate defences. That invasion also demonstrated the expansionist creed of Communist ideology.

There is an overwhelming case for renewing Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent. I favour its renewal, principally because it has proved to be the ultimate guarantee of our national security for the last 30 years. It has also proved to be the guaranteee of our political independence within NATO. It is not just a question of having the ultimate means of defending ourselves and of retaliating against a first strike. An independent deterrent also ensures that, within NATO's nuclear shield, we have political independence within the Northern Alliance. I am convinced that an independent deterrent is worth retaining as we move towards the end of the century.

Our existing nuclear deterrent is very good value for money. The present British nuclear force costs as much to run per year as it costs to build about 13 miles of motorway. Although any replacement will involve considerable capital investment, we should recognise that over a period of time the running cost forms a relatively small proportion of the total defence budget. The present cost is extremely good value for money.

A strategic nuclear capability also ensures that our conventional defence capability is maintained at an adequate level. Where a nuclear capability is possessed, it is necessary to ensure that the nuclear threshold is sufficiently high and it is important to have sufficient conventional weapons. Conversely, if a country does not have a nuclear deterrent, I can see arguments being put forward for cutting the conventional defence budget. Year by year it will be possible for opponents of defence to press for expenditure on other social or economic priorities and to suggest that we may be able to do with 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. less being spent on the defence budget. They will be able to argue convincingly that they will not be lowering the nuclear threshold to the point at which a button will be pressed. If we possess a nuclear deterrent, it will be a guarantee of an adequate level of conventional defence weaponry.

As several hon. Members have said, the nuclear deterrent will become more important and necessary if strategic weapons proliferate. We face the prospect that China and Pakistan will possess such a capability within a matter of years.

Who, 20 or 30 years ago, could have envisaged the number of countries that currently possess nuclear power capabilities? Who can now say with certainty that a large number of independent countries throughout the world will not possess a nuclear defence capability towards the end of the century and beyond? In such circumstances, and looking to the future, it would be folly for us to be without that capability. I am therefore convinced of the need for renewal of the strategic deterrent.

We then have to consider which system we should choose. It is interesting that in the report of the Expenditure Committee, in the speeches of a number of hon. Members and the contributions of the noble Lords during their debate at the end of last year, the temptation is resisted to choose an appropriate replacement system. For too long that decision has been considered to be the sole preserve of the boffin, but the amounts of public money involved are so immense, and the political considerations so great, that we are entitled to choose and have an important responsibility to ensure that we choose a replacement system that has the right capability and can be justified to the taxpayer.

I believe that the financial facts of life for the rest of the century mean that Britain can probably only afford to put all her eggs in one basket. The V-bomber force and the Polaris fleets have, as we know, a limited life—10 to 12 years at the most. The choice that faces us is not so much the replacement ballistic missile system as the replacement launching system.

We were told today of the proposal for the "front-end" missile to carry us through the next 10 years and for a missile replacement at the end of that period. However, if we accept the need for a nuclear deterrent, there can be little argument about the type of missile. The real decision is on the launching system. In terms of cost, the launching system is infinitely more important.

It is usually assumed that submarines are the best launching pads for ballistic missiles as they are still relatively undetectable, hiding between thermal layers of the world's oceans. It is said that that justifies the substantially greater cost of the submarine-based system. The cost is, indeed, very much greater.

The Ohio class submarines that will carry the Trident missiles for the United States currently cost in the region of $2,000 million each. The total package for the programme for building 12 of these Poseidon submarines will cost over $30 billion. That is a considerable sum.

The research that I have conducted leads me to fear that technological advances in anti-submarine detection and weapons systems are rendering the submarine only marginally less detectable than its airborne or land-based counterpart. That is a vital consideration.

There have been major developments in Soviet anti-submarine warfare over the past decade or so. The Soviet Union and the United States have spent massive sums of money on anti-submarine techniques. The excellent defence White Paper that the previous Government produced last year drew attention to that fact, and it is recognised by this Government. It is not so much that any one development in submarine detection amounts to a breakthrough, but, collectively, improvements in sensing systems have made the detection of submarines a much more certain science.

Improvements in sonar array technology, which consists of hydrophones either fixed or trawled through water, and signal processing by computers, now enable the noise of a submarine thousands of miles away to be filtered out from seismic and other aquatic noises. Secondly, airborne anti-submarine surveillance is constantly improving. The ability of satellites and radar to monitor oceanographic disturbances caused by submarines has now been refined to a much higher degree of probability. Thirdly, what might be termed exotic devices are being developed by the United States and the Soviet Union. They include electromagnetic detection, infrared systems, lasers and optics. Soviet search helicopters now carry highly sophisticated ASW electronic equipment.

We should also be aware that the "Backfire" aircraft, converted for ASW purposes—the long-range Tupolev 22M—is equipped with high resolution radar and magnetic anomaly detection equipment. That aircraft, with a long range and carrying highly sophisticated equipment, is able within a short space of time to track and identify submarines with a much higher degree of certainty than hitherto.

Significant strides have also been made in anti-submarine weaponry. The hunter-killer submarine remains by far the most lethal weapon, but torpedoes, missiles, depth charges and mines from surface ships, helicopters and aircraft are now very accurate indeed.

In this context I should like to know the assessment of Professor Ronald Mason, the chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, on the best launching system. If press reports are correct, Sir Anthony Duff prepared recommendations for the small secret committee set up under the previous Government on the strategic and political implications of a renewal decision, but in my judgment the much more important report and recommendations come from Professsor Mason, who was charged with considering the launching system options.

Is there not a danger that, if we plump for building more submarines, because, perhaps, we are more familiar with them and they have done a good job up to now, we may be ignoring the possibility of a major breakthrough in anti-submarine warfare techniques within the next 20 years or so? Those who deny that that is possible may be unaware of the progress that has already been made.

It may be felt that to suggest that the submarine is no longer the most appropriate launching pad for ballistic missiles is an affront to the outstanding service of the Royal Navy and the submarine fleet over the past 10 or 20 years. However, we must remember when we are looking 10 or 20 years ahead that at one stage the cavalry were out of date. We have an important responsibility to look anew at launching systems. We are reviewing the nuclear deterrent for the rest of the century and beyond. We must anticipate likely developments in technology that may render a replacement vulnerable or obsolete within a decade.

The onus is on the Government to allay my fears and those of other commentators. My support for renewal of our strategic nuclear deterrent is not in doubt. I am concerned that the most expensive replacement—that is to say, the submarine-carried missile—may be chosen, but its advantages, which are those that determine the considerably higher cost, may be undermined by rapid technological developments in future.

The airborne and land-based launching systems may turn out to be no more vulnerable than submarines, but they will be considerably cheaper. We may have the prospect of much better value for our money if we plump for a combined system of mobile land-based and airborne systems.

Despite constraints of secrecy, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to indicate that the Government have not finally decided on the new replacement launching system. I hope that we shall be assured that it is not simply because the submarine has served us well for the past 20 years that it will automatically be chosen, and that the airborne and land-based alternatives for intercontinental, as well as theatre, weapons will be fully considered.

6.38 pm
Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson). They both mentioned the cost of replacing Polaris and compared that with other ways of spending public sector money.

As so often in defence debates, I am again struck by how much we discuss defence policy in isolation from our economic and industrial situation. It is as though we can elaborate on defence strategy in a vacuum, isolated from economic and industrial pressures. Many of us on the Labour Benches have frequently attempted to link defence policy with our economic and industrial situation by making the observation that we are pursuing a defence policy that places too great a financial burden on our economic capacity. I am pleased to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East that he is coming round to our way of thinking.

We might rephrase the link we make in view of the growing crisis of British industry and put it to the Government that, unless there is a halt in the industrial collapse over which they are presiding with such complacency, Britain will be unable to compete militarily, just as it will be unable to compete in any other major economic or social field. If I were in the shoes of the Secretary of State for Defence I would spend less time in Cabinet demanding additional resources for defence expenditure and more time asking my colleagues in the Cabinet whether, at the end of four years of their policy, there will be a sufficient industrial base left for Britain to sustain any kind of military confrontation in the future. The right hon. Gentleman did not ask that question tonight.

In charity, may I say to him that some speakers have been rather unfair to him? I thought that he was exceedingly frank about the information that is available to the House and that he made more information available than has been made available in any Government announcement during the previous five years.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I depart a little from what he said. Although he released a considerable amount of information, I was disappointed with the quality of the thinking and analysis that accompanied it. I have sat with the right hon. Gentleman through many evenings in the House discussing the affairs of Scotland and the devolution legislation. He and I, and at least one of my hon. Friends, with rigorous logic, exposed some soft centres in the Bill. I was therefore disappointed when the right hon. Gentleman did not display the same rigorous logic in tackling the strategy that underpins our nuclear weapons posture.

For much of his discussion on the deterrent the right hon. Gentleman fell back on the formula that it is our contribution to the NATO nuclear deterrent. The trouble with that formula is that I have never found anyone, not even among the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, or among the civil servants who are responsible for advising those who have held those posts, who is prepared to maintain that position for five minutes in private conversation. Indeed, a distinguished predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, of his party, conceded that he had never come across any one who believed the official rationale behind the British nuclear deterrent.

If the argument is scratched, what pops up is a justification of a British nuclear deterrent not on the ground that it makes a contribution to the Alliance but, paradoxically, on the ground that it makes us a bit independent of the Alliance—that we cannot trust the Americans. That surfaced latterly in the right hon. Gentleman's speech in the added formula that it gave us a separate decision-making centre. That justification was devastatingly illustrated and demolished by Lord Carver in his speech in the House of Lords when he pointed out that it is impossible to conceive a situation in which we, in exercising that decision, would choose to fire when we knew the Americans had chosen not to fire.

For six years in debates in the House I have been saying that I cannot conceive a scenario in which we would choose to use the Polaris weapon after the Americans had chosen not to use their nuclear deterrent. I can understand why hon. Members were not impressed when I said that, because I take a lot of convincing that such a situation exists. But when a former chief of defence staff tells us that in the 21 years in which he has been involved in nuclear planning no one has been able to convince him that such a situation exists, when the whole resources of the Ministry of Defence have been unable to convince the man at the top that the Polaris vessel could eventually be of use, I suggest the time has come when we have to rethink the strategy that underpins it.

I can understand why in the 1940s the then British Government felt obliged to go for a nuclear deterrent. Britain was then a leading military Power with global responsibilities. I can even understand how those who were in Government in 1962 deceived themselves into thinking that that situation still obtained. Plainly, we are now not a global military Power. We are a medium-range Power with serious economic and industrial problems. In that situation, to commit the kind of expenditure that would be required to replace Polaris seems to me plain daft.

There has been some discussion of the costs in the course of the debate, and I do not propose to bandy another figure. I emphasise that, if we go for the Trident option, which would appear to be the preferred option—we do not know, the Secretary of State has not told us—it will be expensive. The Secretary of State said that it would be less expensive than the Vulcan bomber, but I think he would agree that it would be more expensive than the Polaris option which was exercised in the early 1960s. The Trident submarines have twice the displacement of the Polaris submarines and would be extremely expensive. They would require substantial investment of skilled men, sophisticated plant and other resources for a project of which there would be only five runs and for which there could not conceivably be an export market.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech that defence policy should be placed in an economic context, and he is right. Should he not go further and place his own defence view within a foreign policy context?

Mr. Cook

I should be happy to put my defence views in a foreign policy context. If I am successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, in Monday's debate, I shall be only too happy to elaborate.

Mr. Speaker

A lot depends upon what happens today.

Mr. Cook

I shall take that hint to heart, Mr. Speaker, and press on.

As we continue on the path of industrial decline, we appear to be more and more obsessed with prestigious projects of no commercial relevance—the replacement of Polaris, the construction of Concorde and the expansion of the nuclear power programme when everyone else is contracting. These are programmes of no conceivable commercial utility or export potential. It is time that we adjusted ourselves to the fact that we are a declining medium-range Power and looked first and foremost at how we use our desperately scarce industrial resources to commercial advantage rather than on grandiose projects which we have inherited from the past.

I take to heart your comment, Mr. Speaker, and move rapidly to the other main topic of the debate, the deployment of the cruise missile. There are many comments I should like to make on the strategy underpinning that decision.

I invite the House to note that the SS20 replaces the SS4 and the SS5. I do not seek to justify it in those terms. The SS20 frightens me as much as it frightens anyone else; it is a weapon of appallingly destructive capability. It is interesting that 20 years ago when the SS4 and the SS5 were first deployed no one in the West argued that there had to be a Western response to that weapon system. On the contrary, it was the accepted doctrine that it could be contained within the overall nuclear balance. Indeed, the response at the time was to withdraw the then Jupiter missile.

Now, there is still a nuclear balance that is not unfavourable to the West. Yet we have chosen to rope off one discrete element of that nuclear balance and to make a response to it. What worries me most is that we concentrate time and again on the military response rather than attempt to respond to it with an arms control restraint.

We were told before the meeting on 12 December that there would be, as part of the decisions taken, a package of arms control initiatives which would be equal and balanced decisions on the deployment of the cruise missile. I said at the time that any decision, any initiative, in arms control which came in the wake of a decision to deploy more weapons was bound to be cosmetic. But I have to say that even I was not prepared for the token and cursory nature of the statement on arms control in the communiqué that was issued on 12 December, because, looking at the five items under arms control listed in that communiqué, there is no arms control initiative; there is no bargaining position set out; there is no statement of what the West is offering; there is not even a statement of what the West expects from the Soviet Union. All we have is a set of guidelines telling us nothing more than that the issue will be covered in the SALT III discussions, if there ever are SALT III discussions. Everyone knew that it would be covered in the SALT III discussions because the Soviet Union would insist on including the American forward base systems.

With reference to one of those guidelines, it is a bit much that NATO includes insistence that any agreement be verifiable when the major danger of the cruise missile system is that it introduces a very real challenge to the accepted ways of verifying arms control agreements. After all, the Tomahawk missile, which is to be deployed in East Anglia, is so compact and so small that it was originally devised to be fired from torpedo tubes. The deployment of that missile, and doubtless the deployment of parallel missiles on the other side, will greatly complicate any attempt to get an arms control agreement.

I can only say, having seen that communiqué, that the conclusion must be drawn that, as some of us said before 12 December, the NATO countries were benton taking a decision, a commitment, to deploy before exploring a possible arms control solution, and, having taken that decision, are now bent on implementing it.

Having quoted from one former chief of defence staff, I should like to end by quoting from another. I was present in Strasbourg last May when Lord Mountbatten made a speech at a ceremony in honour of SIPRI—the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He opened his speech with the following question: Do the frightening facts about the arms race, which show that we are rushing headlong towards a precipice, make any of those responsible for this disastrous course pull themselves together and reach for the brakes? The answer is 'No' ". Tragically, seven months on, the answer is still "No." Although the facts remain frightening and with every passing year become more frightening, we have opted once again for arms escalation rather than arms control. There can be no long-term security down that path; there can only be increasing fragility of our relationship with the East and increasing penalties if that relationship ever breaks. I believe the time has come when we should pursue the path of arms control with at least the same commitment as we have invested in the pursuit of rearmament.

6.54 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The proliferation of nuclear weapons has reached such a stage that it poses a threat to world peace, and every sane international expert in strategic affairs recognises the serious danger that arises from the excessive stockpiling and deployment of more and more sophisticated nuclear weapons. At the present time the countries of the world are spending about £200 billion a year on military armaments and forces, and one-fifth of that amount is spent on nuclear arms. It is a sad commentary on our civilisation that at the present time there is not enough money to prevent the death of about 8 million children throughout the world this year as a result of hunger and illness related to malnutrition.

But we do not have to look beyond the boundaries of our own country, because we are a nation in decline and that decline can be stopped only by radical policies and vast investment of money.

Is it not extraordinary that this is the first debate on this subject for 15 years, as the Secretary of State himself said? It really is an indictment of this Government and its predecessor, and that Government's predecessor.

Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)

Not this one.

Mr. Kilfedder

Well, this debate could have been brought in immediately after the general election. It is perhaps not remarkable that it is brought in at this time against the background of the events in Afghanistan. Perhaps that is what made the Government bring this debate before the House,

Mrs. Fenner

It was promised before that.

Mr. Kilfedder

As one would expect of him, the Secretary of State made a rousing speech, full of blood and thunder, and reminiscent, perhaps, of the days when this country had an empire and the world took note when Britain flexed its muscles. The truth is that even the nuclear modernisation that the right hon. Gentleman enthusiastically advocated would not be a deterrent to a potential enemy. On our own, or even with NATO, the updated nuclear force would be no protection, and certainly would not frighten a potential aggressor.

It was the Secretary of State, I think, who said that he believed that the United Kingdom strategy was not to win a victory—as if that were a possibility—but by the possession of nuclear weapons to make the other side think about the threat. I do not believe that if the potential aggressor were the USSR it would be deterred even by the measures proposed by the Secretary of State. I think that the USSR, if it wished, could wipe out this country in a single strike, and of course the Civil Service could bring our strategic nuclear capability to an end in a single strike as well. So I do not think that the Government should speak too highly about the protection being afforded by the measures that the right hon. Gentleman advocated.

It was said that our nuclear weapons had maintained the peace for 20 years and more, but war has been fought with conventional weapons in that time. Who would dismiss the terrible slaughter in Vietnam and the agony and mutilation there? There is no evidence whatsoever that if the United Kingdom had not possessed nuclear weapons during the past 20 years more wars would have occurred.

The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), remarkably, said that no one would expect the United States to commit suicide in defence of an ally, and there he was speaking about the United Kingdom. But of course what the United States would do would be to allow, indeed force, the United Kingdom to commit suicide in defence of the United States of America. That is the position that we are in today. I say "force", because it is quite clear that the United States could press the button on the cruise missiles and precipitate us into war, and of course we are the people who would suffer, thousands upon thousands being wiped out. As far as the United States is concerned, the United Kingdom is expendable in war.

There are two major Powers today, the United States of America and Russia, and perhaps if each destroyed the other's satellites they would then be able to patch up a peace and go on living. But for us in this country there would be nothing but devastation and death.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Kilfedder

I shall give way in a moment.

No matter how the Government may attempt to dress up our nuclear strength, there is no doubt that we are speedily becoming a satellite of the United States of America, almost a launching-pad for new cruise missiles, which would not be under the control of this Government or, indeed, of this Parliament. The only finger on the button of those nuclear missiles would be the finger of the United States of America.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Member has suggested that the United States regards the United Kingdom as expendable in war. Has he ever been to East Anglia and visited the cemeteries, where there are graves of large numbers of Americans who died to keep this country free?

Mr. Kilfedder

I fully accept that, but I am talking about the present time. We cannot keep talking about the past. It is lamentable that we do not have enough information to make sane and sensible decisions on this matter. The spokesman for the official Opposition confirmed the position of this country by observing that only in Washington could one find out the details of the nuclear policy of this country. That information cannot be obtained in Whitehall; one must go to the capital of a foreign country to obtain it.

We are told that the United Kingdom can rely on the United States, but, sadly, that is not the case. We can rely on the United States as long as that suits the interests of the Americans. It is in their interests to have us as part of a region that is in opposition to Russia. It would be far better if we could have a policy separate and apart from the United States, so that if the Americans wanted to fight it out themselves they could do so without risk to our citizens.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned the American soldiers who died fighting in the last war, and I pay tribute to them. But I shall quote an example of the United States' attitude today. We made a request to the United States Government for the supply of pistols to arm the police in Northern Ireland. That was a necessary measure for us, but the President of the United States snubbed the Prime Minister, even though she was quite emphatic about this matter. The pistols were needed in order to give innocent United Kingdom citizens better protection against the psychopathic killers in the Provisional IRA who have slaughtered thousands of innocent people in the Province, but for political reasons and for votes the United States has refused to supply those weapons.

Is our fight against the forces of evil in Northern Ireland not supposed to be their fight as well? Yet money has been supplied to the Provisional IRA from the United States and support has come from American news media and politicians. That support has enabled that evil terrorist organisation to kill decent, innocent British subjects in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, when we deal with the United States let us ask for proof of American good will and a willingness to fight terrorism wherever it exists—in Iran, Russia, Afghanistan or Northern Ireland. When the United States proves the sincerity of its friendship we can start from there and consider how best we can co-operate with that country in dealing with a menace from outside.

In conclusion, I believe that we should not embark on the modernisation of nuclear weapons without a lengthy debate. Every possible effort must be made to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Unless we are firm about that today, many people will condemn us in future.

7.4 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

May I put once again the question that I asked during the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence concerning the long-established rules to which he referred in his speech? This is not meant mischievously. On what basis can cruise missiles be fired from British territory? This is not just a question of F111s. Nor does it concern just Polaris. We all know that these cruise missiles can reach as far as Moscow or Kiev, and that suggests that perhaps there should be a change in the long-established rules. I shall read in Hansard tomorrow what the Secretary of State said, but he should not be under any misunderstanding that there are a great number of people in Britain who now want an answer to this question. Does a British Prime Minister have a veto over the actions of the American President in relation to offensive weapons based on British soil? Does she, or does she not?

Secondly, there are some of us who are not very enchanted with American policy and who have, frankly, lost confidence in the judgment of the office of Presidency of the United States. Who could watch BBC 2's television description—even if it is only half fiction—of John Dean's account of Haldeman, Erlichman, Mitchell, Dean and Nixon without feeling as I do? It makes one shudder. Apparently the tapes are taken direct from the oval office. These men, like a distraught Nixon, have that kind of nuclear authority. There are some of us who feel that there is a certain element of truth in the fact that a lot of the recent public image of the United States over Afghanistan is about the re-election needs of President Carter.

We have been told by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that the defence view in the foreign policy context should be taken. I make it clear that I do not think that the Russians should be in Afghanistan. But equally I do not go along with the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) and others who see this as evidence of Russia's global aggression. I believe that Afghanistan is about other matters. It may be partly about 58,000 dead in Afghanistan before the Russians went in. It may well be true that they were faced with a situation similar to that of Pol Pot in Cambodia. There were problems there. Also, the Russians may have had very real problems over the possible establishment of an Islamic republic. By the year 2000, one-third of the population of the present Soviet Union will be Moslem—

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Dalyell

I shall give way in a moment. The situation that they face is that for every family in Byelorussia there are one and a half children. In the Moslem area there are five children per family. This certainly creates considerable problems for the Soviet Union. I am saying, not that the Russians should be in Afghanistan, but that we should hesitate before we draw the conclusion for nuclear policy that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan is all about global aggression.

Mr. Churchill

What possible excuse can the hon. Member advance for the fact that the Soviets have moved into the independent third world country? Is it merely because that country was Moslem and the Soviet Union has Moslems within its borders? Is that an excuse or a justification in the eyes of the world? Does the hon. Member seriously seek to advance that in this House when countless thousands of Afghans are patriotically fighting to rid their soil of Soviet imperialism?

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. It is not my business to excuse the Soviet Union or otherwise. In this debate it is my business to draw certain conclusions on the nuclear issue. I contest whether the Russian nuclear threat to the West is any greater, or any less, than it was before the invasion of Afghanistan. I leave it at that. However, I do not believe that we should be panicked into decisions on nuclear matters because of the regrettable events in Afghanistan.

What sends shivers down my back is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) at Question Time. He did not get an answer from the Lord Privy Seal about military aid to Pakistan. It is one thing for the Soviets, or the United States, to have nuclear weapons. In the view of many of us, it is another thing—worse and more serious—that States like Pakistan, and others far less stable than great nations, which have had control of nuclear weapons for some years should get nuclear weapons.

If I have nightmares, they are about a Pakistani bomb or a Libyan bomb. We are now told that the Iraqis are doing nuclear weapons for some years, should also be about an Iraqi bomb. Those nations might use a nuclear bomb. It is for that reason that I go on and on, at Prime Minister's Question Time, about the Khan incident, the Urenco incident at Almelo. The guts of this issue is the question of nuclear proliferation in Asia.

Will the Minister answer the question put by my hon. Friend as to whether the military aid referred to in the statement by the Lord Privy Seal will in any way help the Pakistani nuclear effort? I am aware that in his address on the state of the Union President Carter seemed to indicate otherwise. Some of us are concerned that, in the short term, it is thought that Western defence strategy requires that we help certain Asian regimes.

We believe that it is dangerous for short-term reasons to arm, helter skelter, regimes that may be oppressive and unstable. That is why I ask specific questions. They are brief and I am sure that the House will forgive me if, in the interests of accuracy, I read them. I want to know what the Government are doing about the so-called London group of companies and the export of materials and machinery that make a nuclear capacity possible.

First, in particular, the 1977 London agreement suggested that Suppliers should transfer trigger list items only when covered by IAEA safeguards, with duration and coverage provisions in conformance with the GOV/1621 guidelines. Exceptions should be made only after consultation with the parties to this understanding. Suppliers should authorise transfer of items identified in the trigger list only upon formal governmental assurances from recipients explicitly excluding uses which would result in any nuclear explosive device. On the question of special controls on sensitive exports it is suggested that Suppliers should exercise restraint in the transfer of sensitive facilities, technology and weapons-usable materials. If enrichment or reprocessing facilities, equipment or technology are to be transferred, suppliers should encourage recipients to accept, as an alternative to national plants, supplier involvement and/or other appropriate multi-national participation in resulting facilities. Suppliers should also promote international…activities concerned with multi-national regional fuel cycle centres. In the matter of control on suppliers of derived weapons-usable materials it is argued— Suppliers recognise the importance, in order to advance the objectives of these guidelines and to provide opportunities further to reduce the risks of proliferation, of including in agreements on supply of nuclear materials or of facilities which produce weapons-usable material, provisions calling for mutual agreement between the supplier and the recipient on arrangements for re-processing, storage, alteration, use, transfer or re-transfer of any weapons-usable material involved. Suppliers should endeavour to include such provisions whenever appropriate and practicable. Finally, on the question of sensitive plant design features, it is said: Suppliers should encourage the designers and makers of sensitive equipment to construct it in such a way as to facilitate the application of safeguards. The House will acquit me of discourtesy in reading that rather carefully because it is in the form of a very precise question. To what extent have the Government been active in promoting the activities of the London group of companies? If the Government in any way become slack in that regard, in order—for the sake of short-term benefit—to build up some Pakistani military capability, we can see a nuclear proliferation which will bring great danger. I leave it at that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Before I call other hon. Members may I appeal for 10-minute speeches? Twenty-two hon. Gentlemen have sought to catch my eye and I do not wish to disappoint too many of them.

7.18 pm
Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I shall attempt to obey your exhortation, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I take up first a point made by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) which appalled me. This debate takes place in the midst of a flood of grave and disturbing news. Events in Afghanistan form a background to the debate. Nor are we heartened by the news of the arrests in Russia of those who, among other things, are monitoring the Helsinki agreement.

The most disturbing element of the background to this debate is the invasion of Afghanistan, which the hon. Member for West Lothian sought to brush aside. He appears to think that it is irrelevant to our considerations. Perhaps the Russians have removed a soft-line Communist regime and imposed a hard-line regime on Afghanistan and with the Yugoslavian situation in mind the Russian action is wildly disturbing.

Mr. Dalyell

If the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) had listened to my speech, he would not have said that. He must have been concentrating on his own speech.

Mr. Buck

I was concentrating hard, and the impression gained by myself and my hon. Friends is as I have described. I shall read the hon. Member's speech with care in the Official Report tomorrow. I would hate to say anything incorrect relative to an interpretation of the hon. Member's speech.

Our deliberations take place against a disconcerting background. The invasion of Afghanistan and the arrests in Russia provoke great concern and set the tone of our debate.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his speech and on the decisions that he has taken. I congratulate him—following his recent return from NATO establishments—on the leadership that he demonstrated there by announcing the refurbishment of our tactical nuclear forces. Events in Afghanistan and Russia should cause us anxiety. Obviously the hon. Member for West Lothian disagrees. He and I have co-operated on defence issues in the past. The background of the debate is disturbing. There is overt aggression by the Soviets and, further, there are examples of internal repression.

What should be the free Western world's response to such Russian action? It is important that we show a quiet but total determination. Bounds must be said to have been set with respect to Russian expansion. To ensure that there is no further Russian expansion, NATO must be our principal shield and weapon. NATO has preserved relative peace—that is, peace on a world scale, for over 30 years. It was in danger of being the victim of its own success. There had been less concern about defence matters, which was disturbing in itself. Its success in defence matters can now be shown to be powerful in terms of the actions that I have described, which were outside the NATO geographical area.

I was delighted to hear the Shadow defence spokesman, whom I respect and who certainly gained the respect of the Armed Forces when he was in office, give his support to much that has been decided by the present Secretary of State. His response was heartening, on a national basis. I hope that he does not have too much trouble with his colleagues below the Gangway. His response was the most heartening aspect of the debate. He gave support to what has been decided on a NATO basis.

The Secretary of State reaffirmed the NATO doctrine of flexible response and has backed this by action. He has taken action to maintain the credibility of this doctrine in the eyes of the world and, most important, in the eyes of the Warsaw Pact countries. Those countries must believe in the credibility of such a response. We have backed our devotion to that type of response by action, by agreeing to a new generation of missiles within our shores. We have taken action to back the words of the Government Front Bench.

I shall leave to the Minister questions about the utilisation of weapons. It is inconceivable, however, that they would be used in any circumstances without the full acquiescence of the British Government. Such is the close relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom that any deployment of them without our prior agreement is unthinkable. It is for the Minister, however, to give the Government's definitive view on this.

I pay tribute to our American allies. They have had considerable knocks from hon. Members. I can understand the chagrin of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) about the extraordinary attitude of the Americans to the supply of certain small arms. However, that should not dictate the overall view of the House and its attitude to the Americans.

It is remarkable, for when one visits America one realises that it is not a country but a continent. Those who live in the Mid-West sometimes find an Englishman interesting if he comes in from New York, not because he comes from England but because he has been to New York. Such was the phenomenon when my uncle went there after the First World War. He was interesting because he had come from New York. He was not in the least interesting as a result of being an Englishman. It is a tribute to our ally that a quarter of a century after the war it should have substantial forces and a commitment to Europe. We should not overlook that.

It is important, however, that we should have our own independent deterrent. Great though America is, change can take place with rapidity. I am not contradicting myself when I say that, in spite of the great reliance that we place on the American alliance, we should have our own independent deterrent. The reasons for that were stated succinctly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Of course it is costly. However, when the cost is spread over a number of years, for the preservation of peace it represents value for money. I was delighted with my right hon. Friend's speech and gratified by the Opposition's response.

The question of personnel is a key issue. However good are the weapons, and however effective they may be, they are useless without personnel to man them. Weapons are as good as the expertise that backs them up. I hope that soon we shall be able to debate that issue.

I am proud that the first act of my Government was to deal properly with Service and police pay. I represent a garrison town, and the pay settlement had an immediate impact on the morale of our Armed Forces. However good our weapons, they are no good if they are not in the hands of true professionals. The morale of those professionals went down because of their pay being so inadequate.

I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate nuclear weapons and the Armed Forces in greater depth when the White Paper is published. I hope that that White Paper will fully deploy the arguments about strategic policies. I hope, too, that it will contain details of many issues, including those that involve the dockyards, pay and pensions.

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and to the firmness of the NATO Alliance, which has survived so much. I am sure that it will continue to preserve our country in freedom.

7.27 pm
Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

A motion on the Order Paper has been signed by 101 of my hon. Friends. More signatures are to be added. That is an unusually large number for a Back-Bench motion. The motion states: That this House strongly opposes the Government's proposals to deploy on British soil Cruise and Pershing II missiles, which incidentally would not be controlled by Great Britain and equally strongly opposes plans to replace Polaris; calls on the Soviet Union to reduce the number of its SS-20 missiles; and calls on NATO not to proceed with the medium-range missiles. Although many hon. Members have had to leave the House tonight to return to their constituency engagements and despite there being only a one-line Whip, we shall divide the House this evening.

In the last four months the Governments of America, Britain and Russia have lost their heads. They have all acted contrary to detente, on which the survival of every one of us depends. NATO has rebuffed the announcement by Mr. Brezhnev which was, first, to make a limited unilateral withdrawal of 1,000 tanks and 20,000men from East Germany and, secondly, to reduce the number of its SS20 missiles if NATO agrees to forgo the cruise and Pershing II missiles. We went ahead with the missiles. American senators opposed the ratification of SALT II. The Pentagon has decided to form a rapid deployment force of 100,000 men to be used in the Middle East when considered necessary by America.

In Westminster the Government are about to decide on the Trident. Russia has invaded Afghanistan. That is to be condemned, just as we condemned the American invasion of Vietnam and the British invasion of Suez.

As a result of all these events, thinking people throughout the world are worried. I should like to read part of a letter that I received this week from a Lancashire housewife. It says: Dear Mr. Allaun, I am writing to you because I become increasingly apprehensive about the prospects of a nuclear war, especially when I observe the 'hawkish' posturings of this present Government. I feel that the prevalent feeling now is not 'if' there is a nuclear war but 'when'. As I have two very young children, I am quite frankly very worried about their future and feel I should do something about it. There are a lot of worried people in the country. There have been strong statements opposing the nuclear arms race from his Holiness the Pope, from the late Earl Mountbatten, in a sensational speech ignored by nearly all the newspapers in our country, from Lord Brockway, from Lord Noel-Baker, from the TUC and from the Labour Party. This is not pacifism. It is survivalism. The instinct for human survival has been alerted. I am glad to say that interest in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is reviving fast.

No Member of Parliament wants war. I concede that. But the Government are embarking on a policy that will make war, if not inevitable, highly probable. The war would be fought with nuclear bombs on both sides. If it broke out, I cannot see either of the super-Powers sitting on a pile of nuclear bombs and not using them. There is no way of preventing them from reaching the target on either side. I hope that, if they fall on Britain, I and my wife and children are right underneath, because we would be killed instantly. If we were 50 or 100 miles away, we would still die three days later in agony because the atmosphere, the ground, the water and food had become radioactive.

The real task of our Government is not how to win the war—there will be no victors—but how to prevent it. There are only two choices. Either the East and West accelerate the nuclear arms race, as they are doing, or we go all out for detente. There is no third course. As Sir Stephen King-Hall wrote; Man's weapons of destruction have become so powerful that we dare not and cannot use them. My own position is clear: neither Moscow nor Washington but peace. It is fairly clear that neither America nor Russia intends to give up nuclear weapons forthwith. So we must press them to put the race into reverse starting with the ratification of SALT II. However, Britain is in a different position. I wish to put, briefly, the case advocated in the motion on the Order Paper.

The cruise and Pershing missiles are single key weapons. The only finger on the trigger would be American. The Secretary of State stated today that the British Government would be consulted, but I doubt it. In the recent world-wide alert by America, arising from an alarm later found to be false, the British Government were not even notified until later.

Mr. Pym

I think that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead anyone. Within a minute, our own installations identified that it was a mistake. We knew it was a mistake within seconds of its happening. Our machinery is that good. There is no question of consulting anyone or alerting anyone. I believe that the hon. Gentleman would want to be fair about that.

Mr. Allaun

That does not gainsay the fact that we were not informed. There would not be time to consult in a war situation.

We are told that it will lake three or four years to manufacture and deploy the cruise and Pershing missiles, particularly since an electronic map of Europe would have to be drawn. The 101 signatories plead that we should aim before that time to negotiate with Russia for NATO not to proceed and for Russia to reduce the number of its SS20s, as Mr. Brezhnev offered in October. I am relieved to read that, contrary to earlier reports, Mr. Brezhnev told Monsieur Marchais that "a genuine suspension of the realisation" of the NATO decision would now open the way for talks.

I wish to turn to the successor to Polaris. We should not proceed with any nuclear successor, whether it is Trident or anything else. The Labour Party is committed both against it and against the cruise missile on British soil.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Eye)


Mr. Allaun

I am sorry: I cannot give way because of the time limit. I have never refused to give way, but we are limited to 10 minutes and I have given way once already.

First, there is the cost. Estimates for the Trident vary from £4 billion to £5 billion, the Secretary of State told the House. That includes, presumably, its complement. We can be certain, from previous experience of military projects, that the cost always greatly exceeds the estimate. The money is needed for other and better things. Far more important is the danger that the Trident presents.

Let us consider the extreme case. Let us suppose that the Soviet Union decided to invade West Berlin, which I have no reason to believe it intends. Would British nuclear weapons stop that? We are told that these weapons would decimate Moscow and Leningrad. Would we do it? There was a cartoon in the New Statesman of John Bull holding a revolver to his head and saying to Russia "If you advance, I will commit suicide." Although we could damage Russia, she could wipe us out. Would this help West Berlin or West Germany? On the contrary, they, too, would be incinerated. It would not matter much to them—to the dead—what kind of Government they possessed.

The nuclear bomb is no use to us. It is no defence. We cannot prevent nuclear missiles from landing here. All that its possession could do would be to permit us to kill and mutilate millions of innocent men, women and children in Europe and Russia. That would not save us or our children. The greatest danger of all is that other nations may follow our example and become nuclear Powers. I am thinking of Pakistan, India, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Libya and Brazil. Sooner or later, the H-bomb will get into the hands of a fanatical dictator prepared to use it, even if he knew there would be instant retaliation against his own country.

If Hitler had had the bomb in 1945, he would have used it, even if it meant committing suicide. Hitler was prepared to commit suicide in the Berlin bunker. He would have brought the whole world down with him in ruins. Britain is in no position to call on other countries to halt proliferation unless it is prepared to discard its own weapons. It is possible to divest oneself of nuclear weapons. In May 1978, Canada announced that, forth with, its air force would not carry nuclear bombs on the American or European continents. That change took place, and that remains Canada's position.

Mr. Churchill

Did any other countries follow suit?

Mr. Allaun

Canada may have a small population, but it is a strategically important country. It may be said in this debate that this is appeasing Russia as Chamberlain appeased Hitler. Parallels in politics are always dangerous. The situation in the 1980s is different from that of the 1930s, when there was one aggressive expansionist Power—namely, Nazi Germany.

Mr. Churchill

The situation is the same today.

Mr. Allaun

There are now two super-Powers. Neither wants war, but each is so frightened of the other that both are preparing for war; hence the growing nuclear arms race that is taking mankind nearer and nearer to the brink. The situation is much more similar to that which existed in 1914. The 1914–18 war between the great Powers for oil and raw materials bears much more similarity to the position today than that of the 1930s.

The second argument that the Government present was stated recently in the Chamber by the Secretary of State for Defence. The right hon. Gentleman said that we could negotiate only from a position of superior military strength. The Prime Minister has said the same. This week President Carter said: We must pay whatever price is required to remain the strongest nation in the world.

Mr. Pym

I think that I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman has misquoted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She said that we could negotiate only from strength, which is what I have said. She did not say "superior strength", which is what the hon. Gentleman alleges.

Mr. Allaun

Yes, I did say "superior strength". If I have misquoted the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State, I withdraw. However, I am distinctly of the impression that the right hon. Gentleman has used that phrase on certainly one occasion. I heard him say so myself. He referred to "superior military strength".

What would happen if the Russians were to say the same? Surely it is a logical impossibility for two sides each to be stronger than the other. It is that mistaken concept that is leading to the arms race and world disaster. Of course, some Conservative Members contend that the Soviet Union takes the view that it can negotiate on the basis of superior strength. I read a good deal of Russian literature and speeches in English translations. I understand that that is done by other hon. Members. I have never read such a statement.

The men of war are demanding that we arm Pakistan and China, deny sales of wheat to Russia, and boycott the Olympic Games. I am opposed to all those steps because they all have one effect—namely, widening the breach. The breach must be sealed. That does not mean that Russia should go unpunished for intervention in Afghanistan. Russia has punished itself just as America punished itself when it invaded Vietnam.

Anything that weakens detente is a step to widening the breach. We must negotiate with Russia to stop the arms race. I conclude with the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who said that we must either live with Russia or die with her.

7.43 pm
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The views of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) are well known. I contend that they are not in accord with the views of the nation, which is appalled by the invasion of Afghanistan. It is horrified by the action of Russia in attacking a neutral country. If that is democracy, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's definition of it.

We are debating one of the most important issues against a background of the threat of war. We have witnessed the invasion of Afghanistan, and there is a possible threat to Yugoslavia. Russia is as aggressive now, if not more so, as it was under the rule of the Czars. It thinks that it can get away with almost anything without our pulling the nuclear trigger.

It may be argued by many that the nuclear deterrent has not stopped Russia's recent aggression. Of course, we were aware of the presence of a massive number of troops on the Afghan frontier long before war broke out. No doubt it will be argued by many that the war broke out despite the nuclear deterrent. That is not an argument against the nuclear deterrent. Indeed, it is an argument for it. We all know that the conventional forces of the Soviet Union are so great that, without NATO's possession of the nuclear deterrent, it would be overcome within a very short time. The Warsaw Pact countries have a large tank superiority and they represent a formidable enemy. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Min- ister has said, in any negotiation we must negotiate from strength.

Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said something that I spent six years trying to get from the previous Labour Government. He has said that he will upgrade or modernise Polaris so that it will go well into the 1990s.

I am not competent to judge how the nuclear deterrent should be replaced. I do not know whether we should update Polaris or go for some other form of missile. I am content to leave such matters to my right hon. Friend, whose knowledge of them is far greater than that of most hon. Members because he has access to information that is not available to us all. However, he has given us a frank and full explanation of the difficulties that the Government have to face in reaching their decision. In common with other Conservative Members. I shall support the decision that my right hon. Friend reaches. I know that it will be taken in the best interests of the United Kingdom and world peace.

Much has been said about the Russian SS20. In my view it is no longer a tactical weapon. It has become a strategic weapon. It may be used by the Russians to attack almost any city in Western Europe. I welcomed the NATO talks of 12 December. The talks embraced NATO's tactical nuclear weapons and their upgrading. That is what should be done. I welcome the decision to instal 40 bases in Britain. I appreciate that that will give rise to concern on the part of those who live nearby. There can be no doubt about that. However, the bases are essential for the defence of the West against a powerful enemy.

On 6 October Mr. Brezhnev said—my right hon. Friend described his statement so well—"I will go ahead whatever happens, but you must stop." I paraphrase Mr. Brezhnev's words. However, I believe that they represent the views of Russia. Russia seems to believe that it can get away with anything and that we shall not use strategic nuclear weapons. As a result of President Carter's strong stand, the Russians are now beginning to realise that they cannot continue with their adventurist excursions.

The debate is confined mainly to nuclear weapons. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for going into such depth in explaining the modernisation of our nuclear deterrent, over which we alone have complete control. It may be that we shall not have control of the 40 bases to which I have referred, but we shall continue to have our own nuclear deterrent. However, the debate cannot be confined so narrowly. In addition, we must give attention to updating our forces in NATO and give especial attention to transporting reserves from this country to NATO forces or elsewhere when that is required.

When considering the nuclear deterrent we should give thought to what we can do in Britain in the frightful event of nuclear war breaking out. There should be adequate civil defence. The previous Labour Government did not pay sufficient attention to civil defence. Nor did they give attention to the need for some form of home guard that could take the place of our regular troops when they went abroad. Those are two of the most important omissions of the Labour Government.

The formation of a home guard might mean some form of compulsory service for those who did not want to serve in the Armed Forces. Those who took that view could serve in some form of civil defence, so that when or if anything happened we should be equipped with a proper civil defence organisation capable of dealing with circumstances that would arise from nuclear attack. Incidentally, the Government have produced a pamphlet on that subject, but we have seen little of it. The Government ought to devote more propaganda to what should be done in the terrible event of a nuclear attack.

Our defences must be joined with Europe and America. Between us we are capable of stopping war. The only way that we can do that is by having sufficient strength and retaining a nuclear deterrent. I wish to know from my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that we are allocating sufficient funds to ensure the security of the nation and, above all, that we have enough money to carry out what he has set out to do, namely, modernise our nuclear deterrent upon which the peace, not only of this country, but the whole of Europe, depends.

7.51 pm
Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

I seldom intervene in defence debates. I cannot pretend in any way to be a great strategist or to be able to evaluate fully the intentions of the two super-Powers. At present we are living dangerously. Every active aggression, no matter in what form or from whence it comes, increases the danger of a third world war and, with it, catastrophe.

I studied some of the sets of figures showing the balance of forces between the world power blocs. For the life of me, I could not make out where the balance of advantage lies, or whether there is any advantage to any side. That is not clear from the figures that I studied. The world is teeming with weapons of all sorts and of varying degrees of sophistication and killing power. That is a dangerous business.

Vast arsenals of nuclear weapons exist throughout the world capable of destroying the whole of humanity, the animal and the plant kingdom 10,000 times over. Throughout the world there is a nuclear capability that could render it incapable of sustaining any life.

In spite of the huge nuclear arsenals that can destroy us 10,000 times over, we are considering adding even more deadly weapons to the already monstrous arsenals possessed by the great Powers and, to a smaller extent, by Britain. It is undoubtedly unpopular to say so, and one may be considered heretical for saying it, but I believe sincerely that to propose to site theatre nuclear weapons in Britain is ill-conceived and potentially suicidal. We shall render ourselves a prime target in any nuclear attack.

One cannot help suspecting that this country is to be used as the breathing space for the United States and the Soviet Union, to save themselves in the event of second thoughts following a nuclear attack, or if a mistake occurs and a number of missiles are launched beyond recall and by error. The risk that will be expended is heightened by the fear that neither the British Government nor the British Parliament could prevent the button being pressed if the United States wills it so.

I understood the Secretary of State to say that the launching of missiles would be by joint decision. We need some further explanation of what that decision means. Does it mean that if a British Government says "No"—that missiles will not be launched—the United Kingdom has a veto? How can we be sure that the United States, in spite of a British veto, will not pull the trigger? The only way that we could ensure that the trigger would not be pulled would be if there were two triggers and the United Kingdom had control of one of them. That is a fundamental question that needs an answer tonight.

It is inconceivable that a British Government and British Parliament could put the safety of its people in the hands of the Government of another nation, no matter how friendly that nation may be. I congratulate the Secretary of State on being so forthcoming on the matter—it has been mentioned many times in the debate, but it needs further explanation.

In the event—an unlikely event, but it could happen—of a totalitarian Government seizing power in the United States, would it be possible for the British Government to insist on the removal of the weapons from British soil, or at least to remove control over their launching from any totalitarian Government? I recognise that it is a far-fetched possibility that there could be a totalitarian Government in the United States, but it could happen. It is the duty of the House to ensure that our sovereignty and the British people are safeguarded.

I turn to the siting of the weapons. When I asked the Secretary of State on 15 January whether any weapons would be based within 30 miles of Swindon, at Greenham Common or Fairford, he implied that both sites were under consideration. I was disappointed with his reply. I may be considered parochial by not wishing these weapons anywhere in the vicinity of my constituency. However, we are supposed to be in this place to represent the interests of our constituents.

During the course of the Secretary of State's reply, he said: The siting of these weapons in no way affects the vulnerability or otherwise of a particular place. It is a mistake for anyone to think that the siting of a weapon in a particular place in the United Kingdom, or any other country in NATO, makes it more or less vulnerable. We are all vulnerable in the horrifying event of a holocaust".—[Official Report, 15 January 1980; Vol. 976, c. 1417.] I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was trying to be helpful and comforting to my constituents and others. He will forgive me if I say that I was far from comforted or reassured by his answer. He seemed to be saying, to quote a line from that jolly old song by Tom Lehrer, "We shall all go together when we go". That is no comfort to me or anyone else in Britain.

His view was contradicted the following morning, on 16 January, in an article in The Times. The article, quoting Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mavor, principal of the Home Defence College, said, in relation to a Civil Defence seminar in 1977: The chances were that those parts of the country holding no nuclear targets would come through more or less undamaged by blast or fire. Their difficulties would be caused by fall-out radiation, a large influx of refugees, survival without external supplies of food, energy raw materials…and physical, and economical isolation… The main target areas would be so badly knocked about as to be beyond effective self-help. They would have to be more or less discounted until adjoining areas recovered sufficiently to come to their aid. Therefore, there are apparently two differing points of view. It may well be that there is no real contradiction between the Secretary of State's answer and the views of the air marshal, and that what Sir Leslie was really saying was that in the event of a nuclear attack people would be incinerated, blown to pieces or poisoned by a high level of radiation. Faced with those choices, I suppose many would opt for instant incineration or disintegration. Nevertheless, others—and many of my constituents would be among them—would take the view that where there is life there is hope. I urge the Secretary of State, yet again, to keep these updated nuclear weapons well away from Swindon.

I wish to make one final point. We are told that it will be three years before the new missiles are installed. There is, therefore, still time for meaningful negotiations with the USSR—negotiations that I hope could achieve a real reduction in nuclear weapons. I appreciate that people will argue that this is not a good time to start negotiations, but I take the reverse view. When the world is in a state of tension, asit is now, I believe that the right course of action must surely be to reduce tension and not to heighten it.

I believe that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan has done two things. To a large extent it has alerted the West. I also believe that the Russians have been quite taken aback by the reaction that has occurred. It may well be that now is the time for people at a high level not to shout and rave at each other, or to threaten each other with this or that, but to get around the table, to assess the dangers to world peace and to do something about it by reducing all armaments, most of all nuclear armaments.

8.2 pm

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

We live in a more dangerous world today than the world in which any previous generation has lived. In recent weeks the dangers have been highlighted by the most recent adventure of the aggressive and militaristic dictatorship that at present holds sway in the Kremlin and that controls the world's most powerful military arsenal.

It may be reassuring to some to be informed by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) that the Soviets have no aggressive inclinations. All that I would say is "Tell that to the people of Afghanistan". It is important that we should discuss this question not merely in military jargonterms of throw-weights, mega tonnages or kill-ratios. What we are talking about—I believe that there is common ground on both sides of the House—is human beings and, indeed, the very future and survival of human life on this planet.

That is something that is forcefully brought home to anyone visiting Hiroshima, as I had the opportunity to do during the past 12 months as part of a parliamentary delegation. It was there that on the fateful day of 6 August 1945 the first atomic weapon was dropped in anger. One hundred thousand people died within hours, and during the intervening period approximately a further 100,000 have died from radio logically related diseases, principally leukaemia.

To those, such as the hon. Member for Salford, East and his hon. Friends, who question the need for Britain to maintain her independent nuclear capability, I can only say "Go and see Hiroshima. Go and see the fate of a people whose Government did not have a nuclear capability." One thing is certain—no one would have heard of Hiroshima or Nagasaki had the Japanese Government of the day happened by mischance to have had nuclear weapons of their own.

The harsh truth is that by today's standards Hiroshima's bomb was a puny and miserable weapon, with an equivalent of no more than 15,000 tons of TNT in destructive potential. Each Soviet SS20 missile deployed in recent years has the equivalent of 1½ million tons of TNT, or 100 Hiroshima bombs. The modernisation of NATO's theatre nuclear forces is vital in the face of the fact that over the past three years alone the Soviets have deployed 100 SS20s, plus a further 100 Backfire nuclear strike bombers, with a combined equivalent destructive potential of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs. Yet until very recently those holding high office on both sides of the Atlantic have been calling this a period of detente. That is certainly not my idea of detente.

I wish to pay tribute to the decision of the United States in regard to theatre nuclear modernisation and for the fact that it is currently footing 60 per cent. of NATO's defence costs. I also wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the powerful leadership that he has given in this matter among our NATO allies in Europe.

However, I wish to put two specific questions to the Minister in regard to the 160 cruise missiles to be deployed in the United Kingdom. First, are they to remain on base as a matter of policy? I think that the Secretary of State said that no training involving off-base deployment with live warheads would be involved. If that is so, I submit that that is a matter of some concern for reasons on which I shall elaborate in a moment.

Secondly, will those missiles be carried on the same transporters which to this day have been the transporters for the Pershing I? Those transporters weigh 175,000 lb, or 80 tons, and are denied to 90 per cent. of the Federal German road network because of their weight and size.

If those weapons, as a matter of policy, are to be kept on a handful of bases, whose locations will be well known above all to the Soviets, but not least to our own citizens, and if alternatively, by reason of their transporters, they are not able readily and easily to be deployed into the countryside and maintained on a deployed status, there is no question of the incentive that that concentration of nuclear missiles would provide for a Soviet pre-emptive strike. A surprise attack would be enormously heightened, because if they were deployed, there is no way in which they could be made vulnerable. If those weapons were so concentrated, it would increase dramatically the risks involved. I very much hope that the Minister will touch on that point when he replies.

The Secretary of State has told the House on a previous occasion that the NATO tactical theatre nuclear modernisation decision involves modernising, not increasing, the numbers of weapons deployed. Is it really wise to make such a point at the present time? Let us look at the present balance of theatre nuclear medium-range systems in Europe. As a consequence of the obsessive secrecy of previous British Governments of all political colours, I fear that we must turn for that information not to the British defence White Paper but to the defence White Paper of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is set out on page 109.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will rectify that in his forthcoming White Paper and that we can read the facts in British defence White Papers. According to the White Paper published in the Federal Republic of Germany last year, NATO has 386 medium-range nuclear systems, while the Soviet Union has 1,370, three and a half times as many as NATO.

Within NATO, 114 systems are deployed by the United Kingdom—the V-bomber force and Polaris submarines. The United States has 150 nuclear systems, in the form of F-111s, and France has 122 in the form of bombers and silo-launched missiles. The Soviet Union has 600 medium-and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, including 100 SS20s, 20 SSN5 submarine-launched missiles, 600 medium-range bombers, including 80 Backfire bombers—that figure was issued nine months ago and since then the number has risen to over 100—and 150 nuclear Fencer aircraft. There is no doubt that there is an overwhelming imbalance in favour of the Soviet Union. That has happened during the last three years.

I welcome enormously the frank and forthright commitments of the Secretary of State to the maintenance of an independent deterrent capability, and, specifically, the Government's commitment to the replacement of Polaris in the 1990s. I firmly believe that no single factor is likely to play a more significant part in preventing world war in Europe than the maintenance of a serious and valid British capability.

It is unthinkable that whoever holds sway in the Kremlin would dare to embark on adventures against Western Europe if it is known that not merely Europe but Mother Russia would suffer grievously as a consequence. However, I cannot conceal from the House my concern for the validity of Britain's independent nuclear capacity between now and the mid-1990s. Britain's strategic capacity is based not on one, but on two forces. It is based primarily on Polaris which, since 1969, has taken over from the RAF the primary deterrent role. I endorse wholeheartedly the tributes paid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Royal Navy for the wonderful way in which it has retained the deployment without any break during that period.

However, my right hon. Friend was not strictly correct when he stated that the Polaris force was invulnerable. Since we can guarantee the deployment of no more than a single Polaris submarine on station, it would be more accurate to say that a quarter of the Polaris force at any one time is invulnerable. In other words, of 64 Polaris missiles, only 16 are guaranteed to be invulnerable, as against 1,370 Soviet medium-range systems, leave alone the more than 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads.

The second pillar of our strategic capability rests on the 50 Vulcan bombers. While it is impossible to say how many of those 50 bombers could penetrate Soviet air defences at the present time, the rough estimate given by RAF strike command is approximately one-third—around 16 of those bombers might reach their targets. In other words, 50 per cent. of Britain's deployed and deployable strategic nuclear capability rests in the V-bomber force.

Is it consistent with the Government's commitment to the electors to maintain the validity of our independent deterrent to go ahead with the previous Labour Government's plans to end the V-bomber force in 1981–82, thereby stripping us of half of our strategic capability, at a time when the Soviet Union is escalating its capability?

It is true that the V-bombers are aged. Their average age is 19 years. But that is identical with the average age of the United States Air Force B-52 force. Far from being scrapped. its fatigue life is being refurbished, and it is being equipped as a cruise missile-carrying force, with a validity which will extend well into the 1990s. Is it prudent for Britain, with its already limited resources, to dispose of those vital assets, stripping the Royal Air Force, for the first time in my lifetime, of the capacity to strike a potential enemy in his heartland

0 My right hon. Friend, in a parliamentary reply on 10 December 1979, estimated that the fatigue life of those 50 V-bombers could be extended into the 1990s at a cost of £50 million. If the cost of 500 cruise missiles and their airborne electronic equipment is added to that, the total cost would be approximately £500 million. That is a small price to pay to provide a stopgap in the period running up to the mid-1990s when the Polaris follow-on could be deployed. That would represent little more than the deficit of the British Steel Corporation in a single year. I ask the Minister in his reply to give an assurance that the matter will be urgently reconsidered before any final decision is taken.

8.18 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

I recognise that time is short. I shall be a little more hasty than usual and not take up all the points raised by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill).

I have great regard for the Services, particularly the Royal Navy. Conservative Members who have spoken about the performance of the Polaris system have mentioned the Royal Navy, but no hon. Member has mentioned the workers who maintain and refit those submarines. Eight thousand people are employed in the Rosyth dockyard, 2,500 of whom are directly employed in refitting and repair-in the four Polaris submarines that are in service with the Royal Navy.

When such large sums of money are involved, the Government, by embarking on a new system, are endangering the morale of that base by cheeseparing methods in order to reduce, in book terms, the numbers involved in the Civil Service, by putting cleaning and other work out to contract. That is an important element.

Since the election last May I have visited the base twice and have sent reports to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. It is significant that between my visit in June and my visit in December there was a considerable improvement in morale among the work force. That is now in danger because of the cheeseparing methods and the fact that there is no proper consultation.

I am relatively new to defence debates and I do not intend to parade as an expert. I do not think that there can be many experts on a complex subject of this type. I remember that it was the grandfather of the right hon. Member for Stretford who said that it was better to have an expert on tap than on top. These are very important considerations. An article by Lord Zuckerman in The Times of 21 January 1980 illustrated the complexities of the position in which we have arrived. He said: The men in the nuclear weapons laboratories of both sides have succeeded in creating a world with an irrational foundation, on which a new set of political realities has in turn had to be built. They have become the alchemists of our times, working in secret ways which cannot be divulged, casting spells which embrace us all. This is a great problem for right hon. and hon. Members on each side of the House. We need information about the future development of weapon systems and the cost of those systems. We are not talking tonight about the abandonment of the nuclear system. The article went on to say: Given the existence of nuclear weapons—and no one supposes that they are going to be swept away—the concept of mutual deterrence, based on an appreciation of their enormous destructiveness, is valid and inescapable. Unfortunately, I think that we have to believe that. We have got ourselves into an unfortunate position in the world. We are talking about a mutual deterrence based on a balance of terror. Unfortunately again, it is almost inescapable that when one nation goes ahead with one type of weapon, other nations try to follow. We should not be trying to achieve a parity of terror in each weapon. We should, rather, be looking for a rough balance overall. We have at the present time achieved a very rough balance, with that balance moving, as the Institute of Strategic Studies has pointed out, in favour of the Soviet Union in the short run.

There is one thing that ought to be clear to us all, and I hope I take the House with me here. There should be no attempt to class nuclear weapons as a mere development of existing means of warfare. That would be a false argument. If such a claim were justified, we would not be discussing the uniqueness of the weapons as a deterrent. It is the uniqueness of these weapons as a deterrent that makes us discuss them.

I acknowledge that, while the battle in the past has been for territory and resources, the vital fact about nuclear war, if it should break out, is that it would be so devastating in terms of resources and territory that the prospect involved in deploying nuclear weapons would be nil for any country which thought of deploying them. Much more important, the human misery and suffering would be massive. While the strategists play their war games, no sane person can really comprehend what these would mean to mankind.

The battle, then, is really for the hearts and minds of men. This is in a form that is new to all our human experience. We have these weapons because we seek to persuade our electorate that we have removed the fear that someone else will strike first and that we shall be annihilated. We have removed part of this fear from the minds of our electorate. But the removal of this fear depends on the build-up of trust among peoples and nations and the inter-acceptability of different forms of government. That is what is absent today.

We are all prisoners of our own experience, but I do not think that the divisions in the world, in terms of barriers to human rights and freedoms, can justifiably be placed on the side of the West. The West did not put up the wall in Europe. That wall is not there because we are afraid of the interchange of ideas. It behoves us particularly, if I may say so with great respect to my right hon. and hon. Friends, not to change our posture too rapidly when we are in Opposition. I was out of the House for four years and I know that the cynicism that the electorate develops is quite remarkable. This is because we tend to say one thing while we are in Government and something entirely opposite when we are in Opposition. That may be a part of the confrontational nature of British politics, but in terms of an issue such as this the people want to know the truth.

I do not know whether the peoples of the Soviet sphere of influence would, if given the choice, freely vote for a different form of government, but I am willing to suggest that there are people who, given the choice, would reject the totalitarian form of government that exists in the Soviet Union. We can be perfectly clear about that. We have been given a choice, and we reject that form of government. On the other hand, I do not think that we want to have the harshness of the American capitalist system. The more the Government tend to emulate the form of harshness that is found in the capitalist system in America, the less will our people ultimately support them.

For the reasons that I have indicated, I support our defence system. My own constituency is heavily committed to what is called the industrial military complex. In addition to the Rosyth base, there are several firms operating in defence. Therefore, decisions in this area vitally affect the employment of my constituents. If there is to be a change in the system and we are not to have Polaris in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the people employed on the base are entitled to know. Conversely, if we are to have another system, we are entitled to know, in programme planning terms, the effect on manpower, and the possibilities for training and retraining.

I pay tribute to the competence and skill displayed by the people in the base who undertake the task of refitting the nuclear submarines. I hope that I shall receive a reply about the future of the base, perhaps not tonight but in relation to the work of the committee that is examining the future of the Royal dockyards as a whole.

Today we are embarking on a discussion as to the cost and availability of an independent British strategic deterrent for the period running into the 1990s. A decision ought to be taken now one way or the other. This is necessary because of the time scale of design and construction of any new submarine. I do not agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) about the vulnerability of the submarine, but time does not permit me to reply to his argument. We need the maximum information and I welcome the start that the Secretary of State has made in this respectin providing information to the House. We need the maximum of information about the cost and the life of the asset, the manpower involved, and an indication whether training in any new skills is to be made available.

The submarines are of the PWR-type. I hope that the Secretary of State and other Ministers in his Department will give some indication of the experience of these reactors in terms of safety. I should like to know what are the risks of exposure to radiation. I know from my visits to the base that efforts are being made to cut down the exposure time where people working in submarines are exposed to risk.

We must achieve the maximum safety consciousness in the base. Therefore, as I indicated in the report I sent to the Under-Secretary of State, we should give the maximum encouragement to full-time safety personnel on the safety committee who are drawn from the industrial and non-industrial staffs. Additionally, we need to know the results of our experience of operating these PWRs in naval vessels to see whether we could deploy that experience for use in merchant vessels in view of the increased cost of fuel.

This is a difficult and complex subject for us all. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for embarking on the initial moves to give the House the maximum information so that we can judge whether our system is the best to enable us to make our contribution to the defence of the West.

8.30 pm
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

We certainly discuss this sombre subject against an extremely sombre background. I find it astonishing that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), when referring to totalitarianism, should conjure up a hypothetical totalitarian government in the United States at a time when we have seen the naked aggression of the Soviet Union displayed in Afghanistan.

We are discussing a horror story when we consider nuclear weapons. There is a particular horror about them because of the sole use that has been made of them at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which resulted in the indiscriminate death of many thousands of men, women and children. Since that time the horror has increased. The weapon dropped on Hiroshima was the equivalent of 12,500 tons of high explosive. The warheads on our Polaris are 16 times as powerful as that and the largest Russian weapon is equivalent to 25 million tons of high explosive, or, put in another way, 2,000 times as powerful as the weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

The power of these weapons and the devastation they can cause is difficult for the mind to encompass. The fact remains that the existence of these horrible and terrible weapons has maintained peace in the world for longer than in any other century. I believe that by raising the risk level of starting a war we have deterred the Soviet Union. The price of maintaining a nuclear deterrent is a small one to pay for the privilege of living in peace and freedom.

Little has been said in the debate about tactical nuclear weapons. A moment should be spent considering these small weapons. Such weapons can now be used simply to destroy a bridge to prevent the advance of an armoured unit in a tactical campaign. There is no doubt that such weapons may well have to be used if conventional war were to break out on the central front in Europe, because NATO is unable, through shortage of manpower and money, to find the conventional forces that could resist a Soviet tank attack for a long period.

We must recognise that in such circumstances, unlike strategic weapons, tactical weapons might be used not to deter an attack but to counter an attack that has started so as to prevent a break through. Another factor that we should bear in mind when considering nuclear weapons is the terrifying potential of the Soviet Army in the use of chemical offensive weapons. A large number of these weapons are issued at all levels in the Soviet Army and I believe that the only way we can prevent their being used is to make the Soviets aware that we would have to reply with tactical nuclear weapons.

Mr. Best

Having mentioned chemical weapons, does my hon. Friend accept that a grave lacuna in our own defence system is the absence of an offensive chemical warfare capability?

Mr. Trotter

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best). NATO will have to give attention to this extremely difficult and unpleasant subject after it has dealt with the theatre nuclear problem.

As regards long-range forces, we are at a disadvantage in Western Europe compared with the Americans. The SS20 and Backfire weapons cannot reach the heartland of America but can easily reach the heartland of all the countries of Western Europe, including our own. That puts us in a different position from the United States and has important consequences when planning our own defences.

The SS20 is a formidable weapon. It is mobile, it has three independently targeted re-entry warheads, it is easily re-loadable and, above all, very accurate—much more accurate than the systems that it replaces. Therefore, it could be used against headquarters, airfields, supply depots and ports.

The Backfire supersonic bomber, armed with long-range stand-off missiles, from its bases in the Arctic could come down the Atlantic and, using its stand-off weapons, attack this country from the west without approaching close to our shores.

We could find ourselves subject to attack by both the SS20 and the Backfire. Their numbers are increasing at a frightening speed. A new SS20 warhead is entering service every two days and a new Backfire bomber approximately every two weeks.

A danger facing this country, but not the United States, is that we could find ourselves involved in a tactical nuclear attack. It is possible for these new weapons to be used against our bases, head quarters, ports and supply depots. Therefore, we must have the ability to reply in kind to such an attack—an attack not on our cities, but on our strategic military and economic points of pressure.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) pointed out, our deterrent consists not only of the Polaris missiles, but of the 48 elderly, but still capable, Vulcan bombers. I share my hon. Friend's concern that they are to be withdrawn from service in a couple of years. I am particularly concerned that they are going out of service before the cruise missiles come into service. Therefore, for a period there will actually be a net reduction in our retaliatory capability.

The Tornado, which is to replace the Vulcan, will not have its unique long range. The Vulcan, with a range of 4,000 miles, is the only aircraft, apart from the American B52 and F111, which has the range and capability to attack deep into the Soviet Union. The Government will have to consider what should replace the Vulcan in the long-range theatre role. There is considerable doubt in my mind whether Polaris or the Polaris replacement, if it is to be another submarine, can fill that role. These are Doomsday weapons. Polaris and Trident are based on attacking enemy cities to prevent their attacking our cities. Therefore, they are not suitable replies. They are too inaccurate to hit scientific military targets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) cast scorn on the future of the submarine as a strategic weapons system. I do not agree with him. I believe that the ocean will continue to be an effective blanket into the next century. When gentlemen in RAF blue as well as gentlemen in naval blue agree with that, I think that it is probably right.

A snag with the Polaris or Trident system is, however, that the submarine is not as aware of its exact position as with a land-based system, and this must have an effect on the accuracy of its missiles. If the target is very large, it is of no consequence. However, it means that a submarine launch system is not effective against a special target such as a headquarters or supply depot—the kind of target that we must be able to attack to prevent a nuclear attack on our own installations.

I believe, therefore, that there is a need for us to develop our own cruise missile programme. We need it not only for the reasons that I have outlined, but because the cruise missile will come into general use as a weapon not only in this country but with conventional warheads in all countries with any military capability. I am sure that it is only a question of when we introduce it. Therefore, I suggest that we should be getting down to the problem now.

This is not the right debate to go into the details of the equation and the various possibilities regarding the Polaris replacement. However, if it is to be a submarine system, there is no doubt in my mind that we must have five submarines. We must not cut corners and have only four. That would mean much reduced value for our money. With one more submarine we should have twice as many at sea permanently. That would be very good value for money.

I am surprised that we have not gone for a MIRV warhead. With a MIRV independently-targeted warhead, it is possible for each missile to attack a number of different targets in different places. I think that we should go for that rather than for the multiple re-entry vehicle, which only enables a number of different warheads to come down on the same general target area and, together with aids to penetration, make it more likely that an anti-ballistic missile defence can be penetrated. The only place that has such a system is Moscow. That indicates a fair degree of concentration on Moscow as a target. I am not convinced that Moscow is the best place to attack by way of retaliation for an attack on this country. There may be something to be said for leaving the centre of power unharmed in such a terrible situation.

I refer finally to the cost of replacing our strategic nuclear system. The Secretary of State made as frank a statement as we could expect. It is unrealistic to expect that the full reasons for such a decision should be revealed in the House. However, he did give us figures for possible costs. Those figures work out at about £100 per head of the population spread over a period of 10 years. As we spend twice as much as this each year on drink and tobacco, that cost is well within our capability. It is a small sum to pay for the continuation of our peace and our freedom.

As has been said, it is a question of the enemy's perception and what the enemy thinks will happen. It is not merely a question of the enemy's perception of the capability and strength of our weapons system, but the capability and strength of our leaders. If the Soviets look at Britain now, they will not find Ministers dozing in Whitehall, but they will find firm leadership from the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. As a result, our defences will be doubled.

8.41 pm
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

When I was asked to take over the role of defence spokesman for the Liberal Party I pointed out to my leaders that my only serious credential was the four and a half years that I spent on the lower deck of the Royal Navy. That experience ended about 32 years ago. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has gone, as I was in Japan in 1945. I was there about two or three months after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That had a great effect on me. I have never seen such devastation. When we consider the figures today, we must consider the force of the weapons that we are handling. Three years ago I was in Hiroshima again, and now that rebuilding has taken place the situation is quite amazing.

During the past six months I have tried to bring myself up to date. Every Minister and Secretary of State who begins a new job has to master the immensely complicated jargon of MIRVs, and so on. Such jargon now encompasses all aspects of political life, and is particularly prevalent in defence. The first task that I was faced with was the decision concerning replacement and the updating of nuclear weapons stationed in the Western European theatre. I had hoped that I might be able to say to my colleagues, with some conviction, that we should take the lead and oppose such actions. I had hoped that we could press for the SALT II talks to be ratified and that we would be able to get on to the early initiation of SALT III. I was influenced solely because the prospect of a continuing escalation of nuclear weapons is so appalling.

However, the more I studied the situation and the balance of military forces vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO, the more I appreciated that that option was not open. I was finally convinced of that fact when I attended the North Atlantic Assembly in Ottawa last October. I was impressed by the speech of the former president, Mr. Paul Thyness, of Norway. I shall quote a short extract from that speech, as it gives some answer to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). The extract is taken out of context, but Mr. Thyness refers to the increasing imbalance between the Warsaw Pact forces and those of NATO. He says that if this build-up continues: In a few years' time, what will there be to prevent the Soviet Union from concluding that they could attack Western Europe with practically no risk of retaliation? And equally important perhaps more important: what is there to prevent us from knowing the same thing, and tailoring our acts to fit this knowledge? What will our national sovereignty really be worth when we are unable to defend it successfully, and both sides know it? That is a convincing remark, and it certainly convinced me. I supported the Government's decision at the meeting of NATO Ministers in Brussels last month. In my view, they would have failed in their duty to the nation had they decided otherwise. I am sure that subsequent events support their actions.

In my party, as well as in the Labour Party—and, I suspect, the Conservative Party—there is a substantial body of opinion that is totally opposed to the staging of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom. I must put that on record tonight. Despite the views of the late Lord Mountbatten, whom I held in high esteem—he was Governor of the Isle of Wight—and apparently the views of Lord Zuckerman, which recently appeared in The Times, I believe NATO, and the thesis put thereby by Mr. Thyness, to be right. I shall continue to argue in its favour.

The official Opposition Front Bench posed certain questions. If The Economist reports are correct, the cruise trials in the United States are not going well. We need reassurance on the missile's delivery dates, safety and accuracy. Shall we have a say in which model is chosen? That is important, particularly in view of the earlier comments on the phasing out of Vulcan bombers. I hope that we can have some information in the winding-up speech, or shortly thereafter, from the Secretary of State.

I am, however, totally opposed to the Government's likely intentions about the independent nuclear deterrent—Polaris and its replacement. I may be out of date—it seems that it is unfashionable to be a European these days—but I believe that we should have a much greater integration of our defence forces within NATO and the EEC, and not a continuation of an independent role. That was a misconceived concept at the outset. The only possible reason for a continuing independent role is a quid pro quo with the French, who will be reluctant to give up their independent deterrent—but we can go on like that for ever. The French are building another hovercraft because they cannot bear to think that we have two British ones that are better.

An important consideration is cost. The cost quoted is £4 billion and that is undoubtedly rising daily. It is sure to be much greater.

I am grateful that we have been told today about the uprating and updating of the Polaris missile, code-named Chevaline, but that information has been a long time coming. We are told that it has cost £1 billion. We have not been kept well informed, and both Governments are to blame. We could have been given the information earlier. If the missile has been uprated, does that increase its range? It does not have a multi-purpose warhead, and that appears to be a disadvantage. If we decide on Trident, how much better will Trident be? We are entitled to answers, and I hope that we shall get them before the Government come to a final decision.

I have read the speech of Field Marshal Lord Carver in another place. On occasions he has been misrepresented in this House. He supported the Government's decision on the replacement of the theatre nuclear weapons. His contribution is well argued, and hon. Members should read it. My noble Friend Lord Gladwyn also made some relevant points in that debate. We must take all those comments into account when we are considering the enormous amounts of money that are needed to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent.

We desperately need resources to update our armoured regiments with new tanks and personnel carriers. We have heard about Swindon, so I shall mention hovercraft, which are built in the Isle of Wight. We need a large hovercraft capable of quickly conveying tanks on to beaches, particularly in the Middle East. The quickest solution is to buy those for sale from Hoverlloyd, which operate between Ramsgate and the Continent. The Russians have them and the Americans are entering into production of the larger-sized hovercraft. We should not forget the expanding Royal Navy and Royal Air Force programmes. We need minelayers, mine detectors, OPVs and a major programme of aircraft production. I ask in all seriousness, can we afford to pursue Trident? I believe that it is most unlikely. Senior members of the Armed Forces are questioning the cost of all this high technology. I believe that they would like to see more money spent on training. There is insufficient flying training, and we are losing pilots because they are getting brassed off and there are openings for them in civil aviation.

They would also like more money to be spent on the welfare services. The wage increases made a difference, but there is still need to improve morale in the services. I agree with today's leader in The Guardian. We need a great deal more information on the whole subject, and before we receive that the Government should not make irrevocable decisions. As the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) said, we need to get more information from America. It all seems to appear in Aviation Week, which is easily obtainable over here.

What is the present position on the comprehensive test ban treaty talks in Geneva? Is there hope of getting them started again, or have they totally collapsed, with SALT II? What about the MBFR talks in Vienna? Why has there not been progress there? If it is a complete stalemate, has not the time come for a new initiative? We must not allow these avenues of hope to be destroyed by events in Afghanistan.

8.50 pm
Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Sometimes the House of Commons, which some people deride, gives off a feeling of destiny. That was the case today. As I listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal I felt first a sense of peril. But I also felt a sense of realism. I heard the tones of a Government putting first things first, a Government giving new leadership. That leadership was shown by the Prime Minister in her diagnosis of the Soviet threat many months ago, by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs during his trip to the Middle East and India and previously over Rhodesia, and today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I also detected, and I welcome it, some measure of bipartisanship in the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers). That bipartisanship may not carry through the whole Labour Party but it is a matter of some satisfaction that when the nation is in peril, there is a great unity, at least on the issue of defence.

I also detected today a revival of the Anglo-American alliance. I wish that our friends in Europe were as aware of the Soviet problem as we appear to be but I welcome the evidence at every level that the Anglo-American alliance is alert to the peril.

In preparation for this debate I went to California to look at the cruise missile. I discussed with as many people as I could in NATO and Washington its technical characteristics and the overall American and NATO preception of the Soviet Union's capabilities and intentions. I came back with two conclusions. The first is that peace will be more secure with the cruise missile than without it. Deploying it in Britain will make a world war less likely. My second conclusion is that this missile system is a much safer and more cost-effective addition to the Western deterrent than anything else that is at present available.

The basic question in the debate is: do we need more nuclear weapons? The answer dependson our measure of Soviet capability and on our measure of Soviet intentions. I need say little of the capability, for it is well known to the House. In almost every respect the Soviets now have a military edge. As to their intentions, it is difficult to be sure, but I conceive that the Kremlin as it looks out on the world has come to believe that it can take greater risks because it has achieved or is about to achieve a measure of superiority.

I suspect—I fear—that the Soviets have convinced themselves that the crisis of the capitalist world, which Marx and Lenin predicted so long ago, has arrived. When they look at the unemployment, inflation, the chaos in our currencies, it is easy to understand how they may well have convinced themselves that this has happened. I believe, too, that they have looked at recent events and have concluded that when they push, the West recoils—as, indeed, it did in Angola, as it did in Somalia and the Horn of Africa and as it could do, I suppose, though I hope it will not, in the case of Afghanistan.

Worst of all, the Soviets may perceive that they are at their maximum relative advantage vis-à-vis the West—that is to say, they fear that in the 1980s many things may move against them. China would change from a potential to a real threat to the Soviet Union. Their own industrial and agricultural problems will increase. Their own oil problems will increase, too. I suspect that, believing these things, that they are now at their relatively best position vis-à-vis the West, they may be tempted to move now.

This, of course, raises the danger of miscalculation, and the most important thing for the West to do is to make it clear now that we have the will and the means to defend our vital interests, for if that is not made clear the great risk of war is the risk of miscalculation.

I conclude by directing to my hon. Friend the Minister a number of questions on behalf of my constituents and those of many of my hon. Friends in East Anglia, who are concerned that cruise missiles may be located in our constituencies. Let me say at once that if they are located in Suffolk I shall be there to welcome them, with, I trust, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

My first question concerns consultation. Will the British Government be consulted by the President of the United States before any cruise missile is taken out of its store and actually deployed? Will the Prime Minister's permission be needed before any cruise missile stationed in Britain is energised and thereby made ready for launching? In wartime, or in the approach to war, would the Prime Minister's specific approval, by voice as well as by signal, be required before any order was given by the President to release these missiles from Britain?

Secondly, on the question of targeting, will the NATO nuclear planning group agree in advance on the broad range of static targets that the guidance systems of the cruise will be pre-programmed to strike? In the case of moving targets, in the event of hostilities, who would be responsible for deciding whether the cruise missiles in this country would be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads?

Thirdly, on the question of personnel, are those weapon systems to be manned entirely and exclusively by Americans? I appreciate the case for this but I must tell my right hon. Friend that the public will find it much easier to accept cruise missiles if British personnel are also associated with them—as guarantors that no action is taken without the consent of the British Government; in the interests of security, because in the event of, for example, terrorist attack or, indeed, demonstrations by political zealots, it is better that British military police rather than Americans should be doing the job of protection.

Finally, on the question of transport—my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) raised this with the Minister, and I merely emphasise it—if we have transporters in this country that are too heavy for our roads and bridges, they will not be able to do the job. I understand that German firms are already offering to build some of these large tractors for the systems that are to be deployed in the Federal Republic. I hope that British firms will be given the opportunity at least to tender for some of the tractors that will be used in Britain.

I conclude with this thought: we may be on the slope to war. I remember the 1930s only vaguely. I do not really know whether we are now at the stage of Czechoslovakia; I am sure that we are not yet at the stage of Poland. However, there is a slope that leads to war ahead of us and there is only one way of guaranteeing that we shall not slip down that slope. That is to leave no doubts in the minds of the Soviet leaders that, if they move against the vital interests of Western nations, the West has the means and the will to stand up and defend freedom.

9.2 pm

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

The fundamental premise on which the case for modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons is based is that the Soviet Union is overhauling the West in terms of military and nuclear capability and thus impairing the balance. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that the Soviet Union now has the edge on us. I deplore the continued deployment of SS20s and Backfire bombers, but I believe that the Soviet Union's nuclear strength in relation to that of the West is exaggerated.

If one takes the case of strategic nuclear weaponry the latest edition of "Military Balance", which is produced by the Institute for Strategic Studies, estimates the United States arsenal of deliverable nuclear warheads at 11,000, and in comparison the Soviet Union at only 5,000 though this is expected to rise to 7,500 by the early 1980s. It is true that Soviet missiles frequently have a greater yield, but there is no question but that in the strategic sphere the West has tremendous superiority.

In the case of theatre nuclear weapons, my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich East (Mr. Cartwright) quoted "Military Balance" earlier. Its conclusion was that something close to parity exists between the forces of NATO and those of the Warsaw Pact, although it is moving in favour of the Warsaw Pact. However, there is no case at present for stating that the Soviet Union has vast superiority in this field.

There is no doubt that in terms of conventional forces the Warsaw Pact is well ahead in numbers of men and quantities of equipment in the European theatre. But in the world at large the West has superiority in conventional forces.

The Secretary of State said earlier today that the aim was not to achieve military superiority in all spheres, but in fact we are getting close to that aim. I believe that it is completely unrealistic of us to expect the Soviet Union to be more likely to negotiate on disarmament from a position of greater comparative weakness than now. Lord Zuckerman stated in The Times this week that Mr. Kistiakowsky, President Eisenhower's chief scientific adviser, considered that any analysis of the predictions made of Soviet military strength over the past 20 years would show that these had always been farfetched.

If the House approves the decision to go ahead with the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons because of tension resulting from Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, it will be approving a new impetus to the arms race. Once the threshold of nuclear deterrence has been crossed, there is no point in adding to the nuclear armoury. The Secretary of State said today that theatre nuclear weapons were a necessary link in the deterrent chain.

The cities of Western Europe were at risk before the deployment of the SS20s. They remain at risk—as do the cities of the United States, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union—whether or not nuclear weapons are modernised. Even if Soviet missiles were so accurate, in a first strike, as to be able to knock out all our land-based missiles—that concept is far from reality—there would still be nuclear submarines and the aircraft already airborne, which would inflict terrible damage on the Soviet Union. Even on the basis of the reasoning of those who believe in the nuclear deterrent, I believe that there is no justification for the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons.

The argument has been advanced that the United States might stand aside and refuse to risk American cities by using its strategic nuclear force. This assumes that the United States would be prepared to authorise the use of theatre nuclear weapons based in this country, on the understanding that the Soviet response would be limited to launching nuclear weapons against Western Europe alone. That is nonsense. The Soviet Union would clearly strike at the United States as well in those circumstances. Therefore, the case for the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons does not stand up.

We should recognise that the world spends a fantastic amount on arms. In 1978 we spent $410,000 million and yet, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) pointed out, the world is a much more dangerous place now than it ever was. As the arms build-up continues, the world becomes even more dangerous. The real danger of war being triggered off is through a revolt in a Third world country against poverty, oppression and degradation. That is what happened in Iran and Nicaragua and it could happen in Southern Africa. We must face the fact that a huge proportion of the world's population still lives in tremendous poverty.

The world cannot afford to press ahead with ever-increasing arms expenditure without reducing political and economic stability. Even in the West the shortage of oil is producing more and more economic difficulties, and we cannot possibly afford the cost which is a means of weakening ourselves. I argue that the continuing arms race is utter folly. I am against the modernisation of theatre weapons and the replacement of Polaris.

I am aware that in the cold war atmosphere that has been revived in this country and abroad during the last few months—to which both sides have contributed—any call that we make is likely to fall on the deaf ears of those in government. However, I do not believe that that invalidates the cogency of our case. Some of my hon. Friends and I are determined not to be swept along in the stream of cold war hysteria.

We do not approve of the Soviet action in Afghanistan, the crack-down on dissidents, the deployment of SS20s and the Backfire bombers. Nor do we approve of continual attempts by Western Governments to prevent social change in under-developed countries, for which purpose they have frequently launched military expeditions and clandestine operations against Third world countries in the past. Examples are Vietnam, Cambodia, Oman and the Dominican Republic.

We should speak out clearly in favour of disarmament. We intend that it shall never be said that we allowed without challenge a new step to be taken on the road to a nuclear Armageddon. Therefore we intend to divide the House at the end of the debate. I hope that our gesture will cause many others to think. I hope that in time they will recognise that the future not only of the British people but of all humanity lies in disarmament and ending the insanity of the nuclear arms race.

9.10 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Stepney and Poplar)

We should have had this debate eight weeks ago, before the 12 September meeting of the NATO Council. I agree with those who have protested against the delay. If the debate had been held in late November or early December, it would have been as profoundly serious an occasion as today's debate.

I was taken aback by the Secretary of State's reminder that it is 15 years since the House last debated nuclear weapons. Major decisions affecting nuclear weapons should remind us, if we need a reminder, that in dealing with the great issues of security, peace and war, our generation is burdened not only with calculations about the extent of injury or the chances of defeat or victory but with the prospect of annihilation. That is a qualitatively different new dimension that nuclear weapons have brought to world affairs.

That background would have applied had we held the debate two months ago. Now there is the additional gravity of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the implications and consequences of which we have yet only begun to measure. Afghanistan, rightly and inevitably, has been present in all our minds, but we should be clear that the central issue of today's debate—the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons—arose long before the Afghanistan invasion. We should remember that decisions about modernisation are in no sense a response to the events of the last few weeks. The case must stand or fall against the criteria of mutual security and East-West nuclear balance, which was the dominant theme of East-West policy throughout the 1970s.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) that we do not approach this decision in the context of a growing feeling of hysteria about the cold war. The issue has arisen out of continued discussions, analysis and debate, and it started with the SALT I process in 1971.

We must be clear about the central aims of policy. There are two overriding objectives in our strategic and external policies. The first objective is the maintenance of peace. The second is the preservation of national independence and freedom. The great task is to reconcile the two. In the short run it is easy to preserve the peace by the sacrifice of national independence. That is a policy of surrender and appeasement.

Both to achieve national independence and to ensure that in international relations nations refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State—the words of article 2 of the United Nations Charter—and to secure the peace, we have, in this imperfect world, to maintain that measure of individual and collective defence that will deter the potential aggressor from seizing his victim.

These twin objectives, in my view, can best be achieved by establishing a broad equality of military power, by arms limitation and by negotiation, so that the necessary equality of power is reached at the lowest possible level of military expenditure. Even in an age of discontinuity we try to learn from the great and dreadful experiences of our own century. We are, or should be, deeply conscious of the events that led, in our lifetime, to the Second World War and the failure of the democratic nations of the West to organise collective security and to allow their military power to be outstripped massively by that of their enemies. The lessons that we learnt then were clear. They probably influenced, more than any other fact, the fundamental thinking of the Western democracies today.

But we would be unwise to forget the very different sequence of events that preceded the other great disaster of our century, the First World War. This was a point made by two of my hon. Friends in their contributions. That great conflict was triggered not by a gross disparity of power between rival alliances but by an unrestricted arms race conducted in an atmosphere of increasing tension and fear, until a solitary incident set the world alight.

It is my strong view that the policy for peace in our own time must draw upon the events that led to both the First and Second World Wars. That is why I am in favour not only of broad equivalence of military power—the missing component in the 1930s—but, equally, comprehensive, negotiated, and monitored arms limitation treaties that were so conspicuously absent in the years that led up to 1914.

Nothing that has happened in the past few weeks, although we shall have to work out an effective response, has made me move from my belief in collective security, in balance and in arms limitation. These objectives can he achieved at the present high level of military expenditure. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), gave the stupendous figure of £200,000 million as the annual expenditure of the world on arms. This balance can be achieved at a still higher level. It can be achieved at a substantially lower level. Common sense and mutual advantage point to the goal of the lowest possible level. That is the one that we should seek to achieve.

Against this background we are entitled to require from the Government a clear exposition of their thinking. The Secretary of State has given the House quite a lot in his contribution today. But there are a number of questions, directed to the theatre modernisation decision, which I hope the Under-Secretary will be prepared to answer. Before turning to these I wish to touch on two subjects that have taken up a good deal of time in the debate.

First, I refer to the question of Polaris. This was overwhelmingly the theme of the Secretary of State's speech. The question of a replacement for Polaris is, or can be considered to be, a separate question from that of theatre nuclear modernisation. In Government we were not convinced that the arguments in favour of a post-Polaris programme out-weighed the major costs and resource diversions that such a programme would entail. We are, however, conscious of the fact that a decision of this kind is a decision not only of great importance but of particularly long-term significance

The Polaris programme of 1962–63 will cover the period to about 1990. The decision on a Polaris replacement, if it is made, will carry us well into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Ours is a world of such great uncertainty that we all have a bounden duty to ourselves and to the future to examine as scrupulously and as carefully as we can all the arguments and considerations that such a decision involves.

There is no need for the Government to rush into a decision. They have a duty to conduct an exhaustive investigation and debate before coming to any conclusion. It has been said that the Select Committee on Defence will not be able to carry out a study of this major defence decision during 1980. I learnt that with regret. First, it would be in the interests of us all if a study were made of whether it is sensible for Britain to embark upon a Polaris successor. Secondly, if that question were answered, what sort of weapon system should be favoured? We should have a full discussion before any Government decision is reached.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), the former Secretary of State for Defence, said that in his judgment there was no need for a decision this year. I hope that we shall not be told that it is impossible to have a proper discussion, because a decision needs to be taken within a short time span.

Many hon. Members have spoken about control over the 164 cruise missiles that are to be sited in the United Kingdom. During the statement made by the Secretary of State for Defence on 13 December my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked for an assurance That no decisions will be taken by the United States without the fullest consultation with, and agreement of, Her Majesty's Government The Secretary of State replied: The same arrangements for consultation will continue that have existed heretofore. We have advanced slightly further during the debate. A number of questions were asked and the right hon. Gentleman said—I think categorically—that it will have to be a joint decision. He spoke of a "joint decision", as distinct from joint consultation. However, I still do not think that that deals with the matter entirely satisfactorily. The arrangements to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred in the exchanges that I have quoted were those that governed the American F111, a force that is not permanently based in the United Kingdom, although its temporary stay has been extended.

As I understand it, the intention is that the cruise missiles are to be based permanently in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, because they are missiles the time scale for consultations and for decisions in an emergency is inevitably even shorter than for manned aircraft. Nor does there seem to be a clear and sustained practice for the control of United States weapons stationed in other NATO countries. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that the earlier American missiles that were sited in Britain—the Thor and the Jupiter—had been dual key. There are many examples of dual key American weapons in other parts of Europe. My information is that both the Italians and the Belgians are in favour of dual key cruise systems at the present time. That is the argument that they have advanced in the NATO discussions.

There seems to be a strong case for joint control. I cannot believe that it would be a major issue with our American allies. We are entitled to wholly satisfactory guarantees that nuclear weapons are never dispatched from this island except with the express consent of the British Government. [Interruption.] It is not too late. They have not been manufactured. It will be around three or four years before the first one arrives. I will not accept that it is all so signed, sealed and delivered that we are not able to raise these matters and have decisions altered if it is technically feasible and if, on examination, we believe that a change in the control system is required.

I wish to put to the Government certain questions relating to nuclear forces. Do the Government accept that the aim is nuclear equality? On a number of occasions in the past few months both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have spoken, somewhat ambiguously, of negotiating from strength. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make that matter clearer. I recall that in the course of his statement on 13 December 1979, he made specific reference to the principle of equality between both sides".—[Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1551–52, 1541] No one in his senses would advocate negotiating arms limitation from weakness. However, there is a major difference between negotiating from and for equality and balance and attempting to negotiate from a position of nuclear supremacy. That is the language of the arms race. I do not believe that that goal is either achievable or a sensible course to pursue if we wish for greater stability and a more secure world.

Mr. Pym

In my speech I said that it was no part of our strategy, or of NATO's strategy, to match Soviet nuclear capability weapon to weapon. All that we require is such capability that is necessary for NATO strategy, namely, the ability to inflict unacceptable damage.

In terms of arms control negotiation, there is no point in negotiating from weakness. It has to be from strength. Arms control must be carried out on the basis of equivalence and verifiable conditions on both sides in order to reduce the balance of arms on both sides. That requires the co-operation of both sides. We must be in a strong position to persuade them that they must reduce the balance of arms.

Mr. Shore

Good. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman means equality. He has made that plain. Nuclear weapons are far too serious for rhetoric and posturing. It is important that language should be well judged and carefully used.

Arms balance and arms limitation have been the major goals of the NATO Alliance for the past decade. They are the principles that have informed both SALT I and SALT II. I am glad to see that even though the ratification of SALT II has been postponed, President Carter has made very clear in his state of the Union address that it is his intention to proceed with that treaty in the correct belief that it is in the interests of the United States and the West, as much as it is in the interests of the Soviet Union.

President Carter said: SALT II is in our mutual interest. It is neither an American favour to the Soviet Union, nor a Soviet favour to the United States. Ratification of the SALT II treaty would represent a major step forward in restraining the continued growth of Soviet strategic forces. Because SALT II reduces super power competition in its most dangerous manifestation, this treaty is the single most important bilateral accord of the decade. That was President Carter, in my view making a strong and clear judgment at a time when we know that many pressures are upon him that may have made him play down what has been achieved.

Secondly, what is the Government's detailed assessment of the balance of theatre nuclear weapons in Europe today? What is their best assessment of existing trends? The House is lamentably short of information on this topic and, indeed, on other major defence questions. It is extraordinary—here I agree very much with hon. Members on both sides of the House—that we must turn more to such publications as those of the Institute of Strategic Studies and what we can glean from the Congressional investigations in the United States, rather than to information directly supplied to the House of Commons by British Ministers.

However, what we are all aware of and reasonably satisfied about is that during the past 10 years a broad equivalence has been achieved in the inter-continental, long-range nuclear striking power of the Soviet Union and the United States. That is to say that over the past decade the gap that previously existed in favour of the United States has been closed by a substantial increase in Soviet nuclear power. What we are less clear about is the balance within Continental Europe.

As I understand it, outside of so-called "battlefield tactical nuclear weapons", there has been a substantial Soviet advantage in Euro-strategic weapons, certainly since the Jupiter and Thor missiles were withdrawn from Europe in the early 1960s. But in the past that gap was thought not to be of overwhelming importance, simply because of the substantial United States superiority in inter-continental weapons.

In recent years two great changes have occurred. The American inter-continental supremacy has gone and, directly to the point of the debate, we know that, while our own theatre strategic weapons are ageing, the Soviet Union has considerably improved the quality of its theatre weapons.

In his famous speech of 8 October Mr. Brezhnev claimed the contrary. By the way, I must make it clear that in his offer to scale down Soviet theatre weapons Mr. Brezhnev made no reference at all to the SS20, which is by far the most worrying and serious change in Soviet Euro-armoury. He said: the number of medium-range nuclear weapon carriers on the territory of the European part of the Soviet Union has not been increased by a single missile or by a single aircraft over the past 10 years. What he did not say about the new weapons was how many warheads each missile was capable of propelling, or what their accuracy, mobility and other characteristics were. Nor did he say anything about the performance of the new aircraft that have taken the place of the old.

It is up to the Minister to be clear, dispassionate and quantitative about what these new weapons mean for a theatre nuclear balance. From what I have been able to glean, it appears that if the whole programme of 108 Pershing IIs—which are all to be located in Western Germany—is completed, together with the 464 cruise missiles, the resulting NATO long-range theatre force will be only a little larger than that available to the Soviet Union today. If the USSR continues with its present rate of production of SS20s and Backfire bombers, by the time that NATO's new weapons are fully introduced—and that will not be before 1986—the gap between the Soviet and NATO Euro-strategic weapons will be greater than it is today. I should like to have the Minister's comment on that.

Thirdly, I should like the Minister to reaffirm that it is still the Government's firm intention—the point was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook)—to negotiate arms limitation for Euro-strategic weapons.

At the time of the 12 December announcements the NATO Council committed itself to such a negotiation. Again, owing to the time gap between the decision to manufacture and deploy cruise missiles and Pershings and their availability—as we know, the former will not be available until 1982–83—there is ample time for serious negotiations with the Soviet Union. It is not only my wish; it is the wish of all Labour Members—and I hope most Conservative Members—that agreement should be reached during this period and that the monitoring arrangements should be introduced so that both sides can settle ultimately for figures substantially below those now contemplated. There is an opportunity for a major negotiation. If we seize it on the basis of mutual advantage, I believe that we can achieve a much lower level of balance rather than the level in which the full introduction of the programme will result.

9.36 pm
The Under-Secretary for Defence for the Army (Mr. Barney Hayhoe)

The right hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the significant imbalance in theatre nuclear weapons. Both he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) who opened the debate for the Opposition have, as a result, given their support to the NATO decision made last December. I welcome that support, and indeed this debate has been well worth while in that it has brought the matter clearly into the open.

After 15 years without a debate on nuclear weapons, there is no doubt that today's debate has been well worth while. It has been held in Government time. That means that the previous Government failed to use their own time for debates on nuclear weapons. Although as an Opposition we were pressing for a debate before Christmas, they were not prepared to use a Supply day.

In today's debate, although we have had welcome support for the NATO decision from the Opposition Front Bench, it has not carried its Back Benches in what it has said. If there had been any doubt about the deep divisions in the Labour Party on these issues, the speech by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) dispelled that. I suspect that his views are much less in line with those of Labour voters than the sensible and practical comments made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas). I, too, should like to record my praise for the civilian work force at Coulport and Faslane, as well as at the Rosyth dockyard, which played an important role in ensuring the unbroken deployment of the Polaris force. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy will write to him on the more detailed points he raised about the dockyard.

Many points have been made in this debate and I shall try to answer as many as possible. I start with the question of the options and the information available on options. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave an indication of the likely global cost of the options for a successor to Polaris. Obviously, the detailed breakdown of cost varies between options. We have been examining all the systems mentioned during the debate, and other systems. Clearly, cost is of great significance. There are other important factors which must be taken into account. First, there is the ability of the various systems to penetrate Soviet defence systems and deliver warheads, not just today, but 30 or 40 years ahead.

Secondly, a successor system must have the ability to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on a potential aggressor. It must not be possible for the Soviets to neutralise the force, even with massive "bolt-from-the-blue" nuclear strikes as they are called. It is also very important that the launch platform be capable of survival—that is, that it is not liable to detection or tracking and pre-targeting.

I cannot now put before the House a detailed list of the options that we have been considering or say precisely how far the process of narrowing down has gone, but it might be helpful if I were to say something in general terms about one belief that has appeared to gain some currency—the belief that cruise missiles somehow offer an obvious or easy or cheap answer for our future strategic nuclear capability. This is simply not so.

Let me point to some of the considerations. The United States is planning to introduce cruise missiles, carried on B52 bombers, for the strategic role. It is planning an armoury of 2,000 or 3,000 missiles likely to have up to 30 minutes' warning of Soviet ICBM attack and, moreover, forming only one part of a huge strategic triad alongside ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and all due to enter service in two or three years' time.

That is not our position. What we are talking about is a relatively small force of one strategic type to last us from the 1990s until probably the second decade of the twenty-first century. We cannot afford saturation numbers, and we shall have to face the Soviet air defences not of the 1980s but of later generations. There is, moreover, no treaty constraint on defences against cruise missiles as there is on ABM defences.

We should also note that no capability is yet planned, either in the United States or elsewhere, to launch large numbers of cruise missiles in rapid sequence from submarines. Launching from torpedo tubes would be a protracted process, during which the submarine would be increasingly vulnerable. Again, a cruise missile has one warhead; a ballistic missile can have several.

These are just some of the considerations that are being studied. I cannot enumerate them all, but I can assure the House that for our purposes cruise missiles have no built-in advantages whatever over ballistic missiles for providing any given level of deterrent capability and assurance. Suggestions that we have written them down simply on the basis of some sort of prejudice are highly unfounded.

Mr. Dalyell

The point about the cruise missiles is that the Minister was asked by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and by myself, some very specific questions about whether a British Prime Minister—

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Gentleman is just wasting time. I have been present throughout the entire debate, except for about two minutes. I really do not need him to remind me of points that have been raised in the debate. I propose to deal with these matters in my own way. I am now talking about a successor to the Polaris system. I am not talking about the theatre nuclear force missiles that the NATO meeting of 12 December agreed should be deployed here.

Mr. Cryer

That is not what they are asking about.

Mr. Hayhoe

I appreciate that also. I shall come to it later on. I want now to carry on talking about the ballistic missiles, and particularly those that might be in submarines, because it seems appropriate, in view of comments made by hon. Friends, to say something to them about the anti-submarine threat. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) has suggested that submarines are much more vulnerable than they were.

This is clearly a question which is being studied with great care. It is quite true that the Soviets are investing massively in both anti-submarine forces and technology. But so is the United States. I am advised that neither super-Power has shown any signs of achieving a major break-through in anti-submarine warfare. They continue to spend heavily on submarine-borne strategic deterrent systems and on nuclear-powered submarines for maritime warfare.

At the same time, Britain's more modest investment in technology for protecting our submarine forces against detection and attack continues. As our submarines become quieter, we remain confident that we shall be able to maintain our present lead over the Soviets in anti-submarine warfare. Their difficulties, first in detecting, then in identifying and destroying a submarine, are enormous.

While we must not be complacent, we believe that submarines will remain well-nigh invulnerable for the foreseeable future. Having said that, I fear that I am not able to give, or promise, the much more detailed and costed information about these options that has been asked for during the debate. Naturally, my right hon. Friend will give as much information as he can. He has already given, as I have today, more information on these issues than was given in the whole lifetime of the previous Government. Our record is good. It would be quite unrealistic to believe that all the detailed information—much of it of a high security classification—necessary to arrive at a decision about the successor system to Polaris could be made available to the House.

I shall say a word about the timing of the decision. We are studying options and naturally the time scales vary with the options. But the Leader of the Opposition said, in February last year, that he believed that a decision was required in two years—in effect, by the end of this year. If anything, the right hon. Gentleman may have been stretching that time somewhat and it may be necessary for the decision to be made sooner.

I now turn to the point that was made about the cruise missiles that are to be deployed in this country under the NATO agreement. A number of hon. Members raised this matter. As regards the rights of the British Government in respect of United States use of these bases in the United Kingdom, the position is clear. Our agreements provide for joint decision—decision, not consultation. The fact that cruise missiles would be dispersed from their main peace-time bases to other sites in no way affects the position. There has not been the faintest suggestion that there is a difference in that respect.

The arrangements are precisely those that we have had for nearly 30 years during which time they have always covered bases in the United Kingdom from which aircraft such as the B47 and F111 have been able to reach the Soviet Union. There is nothing new or mysterious in any of this.

Mr. Rodgers

The Minister has put the point very plainly in relation to missiles, wherever they may be located. Will he explain precisely what the difference is between a decision that must be made by ourselves and the United States, and a system of dual keys?

Mr. Hayhoe

There is a difference between decisions that have to be arrived at and a system of dual keys. There is a physical difference. The position is precisely the same as when the right hon. Member for Stockton held the office of Minister of State in the Department of Defence.

Mr. Rodgers


Mr. Hayhoe

No, I will not give way further on this. As the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) said, when winding up for the Opposition, it is important to use words precisely. I have taken advice on these words and I have, therefore, used them precisely and I think that I would not be prepared—

Mr. Rodgers


Mr. Hayhoe

I will not give way.

Mr. Rodgers


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is quite clear that the Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for weapons to be placed in this country without any proper accountability to Parliament when the Minister refuses to state—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows that it is not a point of order to ask me to say where weapons are placed.

Mr. Hayhoe

I repeat—the position on this matter is the same as—

Mr. Rodgers


Mr. Hayhoe

I will not give way. I have other important matters on which to talk. I want to turn to some which I think are of considerable importance—the ethical and moral considerations of the use of these weapons. I do not want to avoid that central question that underlies the problem of national security in this nuclear age.

All war is ghastly, and the effects on non-combatants, particularly children and future generations, are profoundly abhorrent. Nuclear weapons are particularly so. Yet, paradoxically, they are therefore better able to sustain peace through deterrence. As Winston Churchill said: Then it may be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation."—[Official Report, 1 March 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1899.] However, I well understand the genuine concern about whether the use of nuclear weapons can ever be justified and whether their possession as a credible deterrent can of itself be justified in isolation from concepts of their possible use.

Cardinal Hume went to the heart or this matter in his recent article in The Times when he said: Far from calmly accepting that we have a moral right to use such weapons, the Christian conscience should really be wrestling with a more complex problem. If it is wrong to unleash such weapons against civilian targets, can it be morally defensible to threaten to do so even against an unjust aggressor? Can we, in fact, base our policy on such threats? My answer to His Eminence's question is "Yes, we can, and, indeed, we must", although I would dearly love that no such imperative need existed, and I long for the day when it will have gone. But I recognise and respect those who do not share this view, and I welcome the recent studies by members of some of the Christian Churches, particularly the report to the British Council of Churches. Judgments and theories vary widely, even among those whose sincere commitment, for example, to a consciously Christian view of those issues can hardly be in doubt. Any notion that serious ethical consideration of nuclear deterrence can lead only to its condemnation would be plainly wide of the mark.

I want to add two points on this aspect. First, I believe that it would be widely agreed that there can be no merit of integrity in any view which condemns on basic ethical grounds Britain's own nuclear provision, but remains happy to shelter in NATO under America's.

Secondly, those who would condemn the whole concept of nuclear deterrence out of hand have a duty to tell us what they would put in its place amid the cold and threatening realities of today's world.

Like it or not, as my right hon. Friend brought out, the world's security structure today depends crucially on the fact and fear of nuclear weapons. There is no sign yet of a replacement structure that would shelter us as firmly if that keystone were pulled away. Peaceful intentions and honourable principle alone will not, as we learned so terribly 40 years ago.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Hayhoe

I want to say something now about arms control.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister has indicated that he is not giving way. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman must sit down.

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Gentleman has hardly been in his place for most of the day, so I see no reason to give way to him.

It is impossible to have a balanced debate about nuclear weapons without considering the whole question of arms control. Let there be no doubt about the Government's resolve and objectives. We seek general and complete disarmament. We believe that the best way to achieve that is through a step by step process of realistic, balanced and verifiable measures on arms control covering both nuclear and conventional weapons.

In the nuclear sphere, such measures can contribute to Western security by maintaining the present broad strategic balance at lower levels of armament and introducing a greater element of predictability into strategic planning. The Government are, therefore, actively participating in a range of arms control negotiations. However, the problem is to reach agreements that are both equitable and verifiable and which do not merely perpetuate existing imbalances.

We are not engaged in—and we do not intend to enter—an arms race, whether conventional or nuclear. However, we cannot close our eyes to the enormous build-up of Soviet military power and the threat that that poses to the West. As was clearly demonstrated at the NATO meeting in December, we and our Allies were concerned not only with TNF modernisation but with arms control.

The North Atlantic Council agreed to an important and wide-ranging package of arms control proposals to promote stability in Europe. Of course, it takes two to make a bargain. At the moment the Soviet Union is being as harshly negative on this front as it is being savagely aggressive on others. As the Secretary of State has pointed out, that is its responsibility. However, we need not assume that the Soviet Union's present answer will hold for all time. Before now, it has been known to abandon propaganda postures when NATO firmness demonstrated that in its own interest it had better negotiate realistically. In any case, NATO could never accept a proposition that the Soviet Union could halt our force programme simply by refusing to talk about arms control.

We continue to believe that the conclusion of the SALT II agreement would be in the interest of the West and of international stability. We well understand why President Carter judged that, in today's circumstances, he could not properly carry forward the ratification process. We hope, as he does, that new circumstances will make it possible to take up that subject again before too long.

As regards the comprehensive test ban treaty, the Government continue to work towards a successful conclusion to those negotiations in Geneva. We hope that a treaty will give renewed impetus to efforts to restrain nuclear proliferation.

I shall have to leave many of the points that I had wished to answer. However, I can assure the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that there is no question of Britain providing military aid to Pakistan in any form that would facilitate a military nuclear programme.

This has been a debate within a debate. The passion and attack of Labour's Left has been much more directed against its own Front Bench than against the Government. We have seen great confusion surrounding the views of the Labour Party. It is a pity that we have not heard from the Leader of the Opposition. It is by no means certain that he would have been able to make a clear and unambiguous statement of Labour Party policy. On 13 December he told us that we should have a full and informed discussion on this issue. He said: 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."—[Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1551.] I would have thought that "take my part" would mean that he would speak in the debate. But no, the right hon. Gentleman prefers to remain silent.

The debate has concentrated on NATO's plans to modernise its theatre nuclear force—the NATO agreement of 12 December. It has also concentrated on the steps that must be taken to ensure the continuing effectiveness of Britain's nuclear deterrent. That was the clear pledge that we gave in our manifesto at the last election.

I am glad that the official Opposition are not seeking to divide the House. We shall be voting tonight in support of NATO and of Britain's nuclear deterrent. Let the message of our vote tonight bring comfort to our friends, as an indication of our firm resolve.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn: —

The House divided: Ayes 52, Noes 304.

Division No. 145] AYES [10.00 pm
Abse, Leo Huckfield, Les Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Allaun, Frank Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Alton, David Kilfedder, James A.. Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Kinnock, Neil Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Lamond, James Soley, Clive
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Leadbitter, Ted Spearing, Nigel
Bidwell, Sydney Leighton, Ronald Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Canavan, Dennis Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Stoddart, David
Carter-Jones, Lewis Litherland, Robert Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Cook, Robin F. McDonald, Dr Oonagh Tilley, John
Crowther, J. S. McKay, Allen (Penistone) Torney, Tom
Dobson, Frank McKelvey, William Welsh, Michael
Dubs, Alfred Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Maxton, John Wright, Sheila
Field, Frank Maynard, Miss Joan
Flannery, Martin Mikardo, Ian TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Heffer, Eric S. Newens, Stanley Mr. Bob Cryer and
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Mr. Reg Race.
Hooley, Frank Richardson, Jo
Adley, Robert Buck, Antony Elliott, Sir William
Aitken, Jonathan Budgen, Nick Emery, Peter
Alexander, Richard Bulmer, Esmond Eyre, Reginald
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Burden, F. A.. Fairbairn, Nicholas
Ancram, Michael Butcher, John Faith, Mrs Sheila
Arnold, Tom Butler, Hon Adam Farr, John
Aspinwall, Jack Cadbury, Jocelyn Fell, Anthony
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Carlisle, John (Luton West) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Finsberg, Geoffrey
Atkinson, David (B'mouth East) Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Fisher, Sir Nigel
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Baker, Nicholas (North Devon) Channon, Paul Fookes, Miss Janet
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Chapman, Sydney Forman, Nigel
Beith, A.. J. Churchill, W. S. Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bell, Sir Ronald Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Fox, Marcus
Bendall, Vivian Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Clegg, Sir Walter Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Cockeram, Eric Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Best, Keith Colvin, Michael Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cope, John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Biggs-Davison, John Cormack, Patrick Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Blackburn, John Corrie, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Costain, A.. P. Goodhart, Philip
Boscawen, Hon Robert Cranborne, Viscount Goodhew, Victor
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Critchley, Julian Goodlad, Alastair
Bowden, Andrew Crouch, David Gorst, John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Gow, Ian
Braine, Sir Bernard Dickens, Geoffrey Gower, Sir Raymond
Bright, Graham Dorrell, Stephen Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Brinton, Tim Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Gray, Hamish
Brittan, Leon Dover, Denshore Greenway, Harry
Brooke, Hon Peter du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Grieve, Percy
Brotherton, Michael Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Durant, Tony Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Browne, John (Winchester) Dykes, Hugh Grist, Ian
Bruce-Gardyne, John Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Gummer, John Selwyn
Bryan, Sir Paul Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll)
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Eggar, Timothy Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Hampson, Dr Keith Mayhew, Patrick Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hannam, John Mellor, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Haselhurst, Alan Meyer, Sir Anthony Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)
Hastings, Stephen Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Shersby, Michael
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Mills, Iain (Meriden) Silvester, Fred
Hawksley, Warren Mills, Peter (West Devon) Sims, Roger
Hayhoe, Barney Miscampbell, Norman Skeet, T. H. H.
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Heddle, John Moate, Roger Speed, Keith
Henderson, Barry Monro, Hector Speller, Tony
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Montgomery, Fergus Spence, John
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Moore, John Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Hill, James Morgan, Geraint Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Morris,Michael (Northampton, Sth) Sproat, Iain
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Squire, Robin
Hooson, Tom Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Stainton, Keith
Hordern, Peter Mudd, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Murphy, Christopher Stanley, John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Myles, David Steen, Anthony
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Neale, Gerrard Stevens, Martin
Hurd, Hon Douglas Needham, Richard Stokes, John
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Nelson, Anthony Stradling Thomas, J.
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Neubert, Michael Tapsell, Peter
Jessel, Toby Newton, Tony Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Normanton, Tom Tebbit, Norman
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Onslow, Cranley Temple-Morris, Peter
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Kaberry, Sir Donald Osborn, John Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Kershaw, Anthony Page, John (Harrow, West) Thompson, Donald
Kimball, Marcus Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
King, Rt Hon Tom Parkinson, Cecil Thornton, Malcolm
Knight, Mrs Jill Parris, Matthew Townend, John (Bridlington)
Knox, David Patten, Christopher (Bath) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Lamont, Norman Patten, John (Oxford) Trotter, Neville
Lang, Ian Pattle, Geoffrey Van Straubenzee, W. R.
Langford-Holt, Sir John Pawsey, James Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Latham, Michael Percival, Sir Ian Viggers, Peter
Lawrence, Ivan Peyton, Rt Hon John Waddington, David
Lawson, Nigel Pink, R. Bonner Wakeham, John
Lee, John Pollock, Alexander Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Porter, George Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Price, David (Eastleigh) Waller, Gary
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Prior, Rt Hon James Walters, Dennis
Loveridge, John Proctor, K. Harvey Ward, John
Luce, Richard Pym, Rt Hon Francis Warren, Kenneth
Lyell. Nicholas Raison, Timothy Watson, John
McCrindle, Robert Rathbone, Tim Wells, John (Maidstone)
Macfarlane, Neil Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
MacGregor, John Rees-Davies, W. R. Wheeler, John
MacKay, John (Argyll) Renton, Tim Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Rhodes James, Robert Whitney, Raymond
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wickenden, Keith
McQuarrie, Albert Ridley, Hon Nicholas Wilkinson, John
Madel, David Ridsdale, Julian Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Major, John Rifkind, Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas
Marland, Paul Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wolfson, Mark
Marlow, Tony Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Rossi, Hugh Younger, Rt Hon George
Mates, Michael Rost, Peter
Mather, Carol Sainsbury, Hon Timothy TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mawby, Ray St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Scott, Nicholas Mr. Anthony Berry.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)

Question accordingly negatived.