HC Deb 17 June 1980 vol 986 cc1342-58 3.33 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Francis Pym)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about ground-launched cruise missiles.

I announced on 13 December last year the NATO Foreign and Defence Minister's decision to modernise the Alliance's long-range theatre nuclear forces. I am now able to advise the House where the 160 cruise missiles to be deployed in the United Kingdom will be stationed.

The missiles will be stationed at two existing military establishments. They are the United States Air Force standby base at RAF Greenham Common, in Berkshire, and RAF Moles-worth, a disused airfield in Cambridgeshire, currently used by the United States Air Force for storage purposes. Greenham Common will be the main operating base and will house six flights of cruise missiles. Moles-worth will house four flights. It is planned that the first units will deploy at Greenham Common in 1983.

The factors affecting the decision stemmed from the prime operational need to bring the first missiles into service as soon as possible. The choice had therefore to concentrate on establishments already in defence occupation which had sufficient space available and as many as possible of the basic facilities, in particular, adequate accommodation, road communications, and access to training areas and suitable dispersal areas. Many different locations for stationing have been very carefully studied but the two bases chosen proved to be the most suitable in the light of the considerations to which I have just referred.

The deployment of the ground-launched cruise missile force will generate very little aircraft movement at either of the bases—probably no more than a few a month. As to ground movements, it will be necessary from time to time to practise the deployment of the launcher and its support vehicles to dispersed sites away from the base. These exercises will be along preplanned routes and will take place after consultation with the local authorities concerned.

No live missiles, or warheads, will be carried on exercises at any time, and no missile test-flying will take place in this country. The missiles will be stored in purpose-built shelters in conditions that fully meet the United Kingdom's very stringent safety standards—standards that have proved themselves effective since the inception of a nuclear capability in Britain. As part of the security arrangements we shall be contributing 220 British personnel towards the guard forces for the bases and dispersal deployments.

I am having an information folder prepared covering all aspects of the basing of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom. Copies will be placed in the Library and will also be sent to the local authorities in the areas concerned. The information folder will also be available to those members of the public living in the areas of the sites who wish to know more about the reasons underlying these decisions.

I am notifying the local authorities concerned about the deployment, and their views on the environmental and social aspects of the arrival of the units will be taken into account to the fullest possible extent. They will of course be consulted in due course on the detailed building plans.

The total cost to the United Kingdom of the whole modernisation programme thoughout the Alliance will be about £16 million. As I made clear in the House on 13 December, the 160 missiles to be based in the United Kingdom are an integral part of a programme to deploy 572 United States missiles in a number of European countries. The Alliance-wide support for the new system and its widely spread deployment throughout Europe is a clear expression of the determination of NATO as a whole to preserve its security.

The Soviet Union has developed a large and expanding capability in long-range theatre nuclear forces which directly threatens the whole of Western Europe. In view of the markedly increasing threat that we face, the Alliance has decided that it is essential to modernise its own theatre nuclear forces, which are ageing and becoming increasingly vulnerable. At the same time, the Government and the Alliance remain fully committed to the parallel arms control approach, which was agreed in December as part of the modernisation decision.

As the House will be aware, the Soviet Union has rejected repeated offers by the United States to negotiate and has maintained its obviously unacceptable demand that NATO should abandon its modernisation programme as a precondition for negotiation. However, we shall continue to try to persuade the Russians to come to the table and play their part in a genuine negotiation.

The instability in the world today and the growing military strength of the Warsaw Pact countries require us to be exceptionally vigilant. NATO's unanimous decision on theatre nuclear modernisation was taken for the continuing security of the whole Alliance, and the United Kingdom is determined to play her full part.

Mr. Rodgers

The whole House will welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has made an oral statement today and not passed the matter off in the way that some of his right hon. Friends do in a written answer.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that even amongst those who accept the inevitable necessity for nuclear weapons and believe that Britain should be properly defended, these decisions and locations are bound to provoke strong feelings and natural anxieties. Although it is principally a matter for hon. Members who are directly concerned, it is right that the Government should accept an obligation to explain why these decisions have been taken and to deal fully with the genuine anxieties of the many people who will be affected by them.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the arrangements for the security of the missiles and the fact that British troops will be available to help. Will he make clear that there is a single responsibility for security and say where it lies? Whereas the arrangements that he has described are in some ways satisfactory, any divided responsibility would clearly be very dangerous.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman again confirm that there is no question of the use of these bases except by a joint decision—I repeat, decision—between the United States and Her Majesty's Government?

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that the first missiles would not be deployed until 1983. He will know that we attach the greatest importance to using this breathing space to negotiate an agreement that will make it unnecessary for the missiles to be deployed. Clearly the greatest step to such an agreement would be a plain decision by the Soviet Union to abandon its SS20 missile. Despite its present unwillingness to move, will the right hon. Gentleman say that even if it is impossible, in the coming year, to get round the table in further SALT discussions, he will look for ways, perhaps amongst the European members of NATO, to begin genuine negotiations as soon as possible, so that this breathing space is not wasted?

Mr. Pym

I certainly understand that a number of people will have anxieties about this decision. I recognised that from the outset. It is partly for that reason that I have agreed—indeed, volunteered in a positive way—to explain nationally and to individuals, if necessary, what is involved in this deployment. I certainly accept that responsibility.

The protection is a United States capability and the responsibility lies with that country, but we shall contribute to it as we believe to be appropriate and valuable in this context. On the question of use, I confirm absolutely and have no hesitation in saying that the political decision requires a joint decision by the two Governments.

As to the use of the interval between now and the deployment of the first cruise missiles for further arms control negotiations, if there were a change of heart on the other side of the Iron Curtain, certainly we would talk. But I must point out the facts to the House. In terms of the long-range land-based theatre nuclear forces, NATO has 226 systems altogether whereas the Soviet Union has 920, which is more than four times as many. That is a major imbalance. What is more, one new SS20 with three new warheads is coming into service at a faster rate than one a week.

I say to the House in all seriousness that arms control negotiations could be prejudiced by too great a gap between the one side and the other. Weakness puts us in a bad negotiating position. It is for this reason that the decision by NATO is so important. None the less, there is an unremitting effort on our part, and we shall take any opportunity that comes along should there be a change of heart on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Unfortunately, there is no sign of it, but, were it to come—were a new situation to be created—of course we would look at it. However, we must be realistic about the facts of the situation today.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Secretary of State aware that although the statement is unlikely to be welcomed it is bound to be accepted generally in the country as one of sombre and sad necessity, and part of our general commitment to the NATO Alliance? Will he explain why we do not get a forward statement about the Government's intentions on the Trident missile programme, which is not part of our NATO commitment? We believe that the two should be considered together. Does he accept that we, for our part, will oppose the expenditure involved in the attempt to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent when we are already undertaking the programme that he has announced?

Mr. Pym

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said. Both these weapons systems—the long-range theatre nuclear and the strategic systems—are part of a comprehensive pattern of defence capability and they must be looked at in that light. There is no decision on what is to succeed Polaris, and Polaris, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is assigned to NATO. Undoubtedly the allies are of the view, as are the United Kingdom Government and as were all our predecessors in the past 25 or 30 years, that the strength of the Alliance and the effectiveness of the deterrent is enhanced by this capability. We must come to that other decision when we are ready to take it. This one applies to the whole Alliance, affects other countries in Europe, and is a widely based deployment. We intend to play our full part in fulfilling our obligations to our allies under this arrangement.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my view, the vast majority of my constituents recognised the threat posed by the build-up of Soviet arms in the West and by the aggression in Afghanistan, and that Greenham must play its part in NATO's defence posture?

Having said that, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend three questions. First, will he reassure my constituents about the storage of nuclear warheads? Can he say that, as far as humanly possible, the danger of a radioactive leak or accident can be ruled out?

Secondly, how much of the £16 million modernisation programme is likely to be spent locally? Will it provide possible job opportunities, and are local construction companies likely to be involved?

Lastly, does my right hon. Friend's announcement this afternoon essentially resolve the future of Greenham, and will it spare the people of West Berkshire from the threat of noisy aircraft for the future?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said at the beginning of his questions. I feel sure that the whole House and the country appreciate what the leader of the Liberal Party indicated—that it is a sad necessity, but that for our protection we have to go along with this programme.

I think that I can give a strong reassurance on storage and the extreme unlikelihood of an accident or a leak. The United Kingdom's safety regulations are the most stringent in the world. It is a fact that since we have had nuclear weapons in this country we have been able to preserve ourselves from either an accident or a leak. That is a reassuring fact. The same most stringent regulations will continue in future.

Substantially more than £16 million will be spent in this country in connection with this programme. The £16 million is the United Kingdom's contribution to the whole programme, and that is shared throughout NATO. Quite a lot of work will be generated by this decision and it will be available to local contractors, but because it is arranged and organised under the NATO infrastructure scheme we must follow the rules and regulations. That means that it must be done by tender. However, I am sure that contractors in or near my hon. Friend's constituency will put in competitive tenders, so it is to be hoped that they will get the job.

I have no plans to alter the present status of Greenham Common as a standby base, but I think that this decision finally resolves the status of that airfield.

Mr. Ioan Evans

When the Secretary of State is making his decisions about nuclear arms, will he read the speech made by the late Earl Mountbatten of Burma, in which he said that it was nuclear nonsense to believe that by increasing the total uncertainty one increases one's own certainty? Is the Secretary of State aware that if a 100-megaton nuclear bomb dropped on London, steel would melt in Watford and Slough and rayon would melt in Birmingham and Bristol? Surely we should try to return to talks about nuclear disarmament rather than join the arms race.

Mr. Pym

I had the privilege of conversations on that subject with the late Lord Mountbatten before his death. I recall his speech accurately. He was strongly against any unilateralism. Defence must be carried out on a multilateral basis if it is to be carried out at all.

The whole object of the decisions is to preserve peace and to prevent war. I do not think that anyone who thought deeply about the subject would have anything good to say about unilateralism.

Mr. Major

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I fully support the Government's decision to install cruise missiles in Britain, notwithstanding the fact that many of them will be sited in my constituency? Will he specifically reassure my constituents in Molesworth that no live missiles will be transported to and from that site, that no live warheads will be used on local exercises, that there will be no local test flying of cruise missiles, and that he will use his best endeavours to ensure that there is the minimum possible impact on the local environment?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for the Government's decisions. I assure him that no live missiles will be used on exercises and that there will be no test flying of those missiles in the United Kingdom. It has never been the practice to indicate where the missiles will be stored, but they are being stored under conditions of the greatest safety, as I said in reply to an earlier question.

Mr. Jay

Would it not greatly improve the chance of nuclear disarmament and the early ratification of SALT II if the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan?

Mr. Pym

That would create an entirely new position in the world. It would be a great relief to everyone. My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary has taken initiatives to try to achieve that end. Unfortunately, there appears to be not the slightest sign that that will happen. If it did, it would create a totally different position.

Mr. Farr

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all that he is doing to strengthen the NATO partnership. Is he aware that his American counterpart said that the firing of the missiles will be an American responsibility alone? Under those circumstances, will he make arrangements to ensure that firing will be impossible without the use of a British-held master key?

Mr. Pym

I adhere to what I told the House earlier. The decision to fire will be a joint political decision. That is the arrangement that exists between ourselves and the United States.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does it matter where the missiles are stationed? In a time of military tension they would be widely dispersed. Would not the enemy destroy virtually the whole of Britain as a launching pad for the American missiles if we were suicidal enough to oppose it? Is the Secretary of State aware that next Sunday the Labour Party will demonstrate the country's opposition to the missiles?

Mr. Pym

I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly when he said "If we were suicidal enough to oppose it"—meaning the Soviet Union. That is abject surrender. There are thousands of potential targets throughout Western Europe on which the Soviet Union could pick if it so wished, and if it wanted to launch a nuclear attack out of the blue—which everyone thinks is extremely unlikely. It has the capability. It will soon have a comprehensive capability to hit almost all targets with the SS20s that it is churning out at a rate of more than one a week, including three new warheads each.

If the Soviet Union would give some indication that it would stop doing that, it might give us some hope to think that it would be prepared to negotiate downwards. However, it has refused to negotiate at all, and is steadily and remorselessly increasing its nuclear capability. We should be concerned about that.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Because of the difficulties faced by the United States Air Force in building shelters for the Fills, will my right hon. Friend lend all his assistance to ensure that the underground shelters are built expeditiously, so that the weapon can be rapidly deployed? Will he say something about the point defence, and whether there is a role for Rapier? In his publication of information for the general public, will he not only give the devastating figures that he has given to the House but rebut the arguments of those who wish to shelter under the American nuclear umbrella while quite unwilling to help them carry it?

Mr. Pym

We shall do everything possible to ensure that the shelters are completed on time and that we do not become embroiled in the difficulties that have existed in some cases in East Anglia. On the question of point defence and the possibility of Rapier, only in the circumstances of a bolt-from-the-blue attack would those stations be vulnerable. As my hon. Friend knows, the design of the weapons system is such that in a time of tension, or if it is thought that the position is deteriorating, the weapons are sent from the bases to other areas, and no one knows where they will be. Therefore, the stations themselves are reasonably safe from the possibility of a direct attack.

On the question of public presentation, I do all that I can to make those points. It is crucial to appreciate that we cannot defend ourselves by ourselves ; neither can any other member of NATO. We can do so only by co-operating with our Allies. As a Government, we are dedicating ourselves to ensuring that that occurs.

Mr. Cook

Does the Secretary of State recall that the December communiqu6 saw the arms control negotiations taking place within the SALT process? If so, did he seriously imagine that those negotiations could commence while SALT II remained unratified?

Mr. Pym

There is no reason why the negotiations should not commence if there was a complete change of heart on the other side of the Iron Curtain. If the Russians were prepared to talk in a realistic and genuine manner we would be prepared—indeed, we would desire—to sit down and talk to them.

Mr. Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend take a little time to write personally to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), the chairman of the Labour Party, and all those who think like him, to explain three matters? Will he explain, first, precisely the events that are taking place in Afghanistan; secondly, the nature of the SS20 and details of its deployment; and, thirdly, the details of the free exchanges that do not take place in the Supreme Soviet and the Praesidium of the Soviet Union?

Mr. Pym

I would not single out the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). I wish to present to the public all those aspects, and others, of our decisions. I have done my best to do so already at every available opportunity.

Mr. Cryer

Do not the cruise missiles represent a distinct escalation of the arms race? Is it not true that they are difficult to verify and that that is regarded as an asset by the Secretary of State? Are there not graver dangers in the vicinity through the road movement of the missiles? Does the Secretary of State agree that there will be widespread local and national opposition to an escalation of the arms race? Does he accept that already NATO and United States nuclear missiles outnumber Warsaw Pact and Soviet missiles by two to one? Is that not a step towards a graver danger?

Mr. Pym

As I explained to the House earlier, the number of long-range and land-based systems is greater in the Soviet Union by more than four to one when compared to the Alliance. Even if all 572 cruise missiles and Pershing IIs were in existence now, and deployed tomorrow, we should still be outnumbered in that area by the Soviet Union.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the ground-launched cruise missiles have little to do with the defence of the United States but are evidence of the strong, vital and ongoing commitment of the United States to the defence of Western Europe, and should be welcomed as such?

Mr. Pym

I agree that they are part of a comprehensive defensive capability.

Miss Joan Lestor

Bearing in mind the block on any questions about the base about which I am not allowed to speak, and the widespread concern in many parts of the country that will follow the announcement that has just been made, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no such block on any questions surrounding the activities around these bases and all questions emanating from them?

Mr. Pym

I am thankful to say that the question of blocking questions, Mr. Speaker, is a matter not for me but for you. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] What I want to block is any aggressive activity by a potential enemy, and I want to preserve the peace and the security not only of the United Kingdom but of any allies and friends. That is my objective. So far as possible, as I think I have indicated, I wish to do all that I can positively to explain everything relating to this decision, why it is necessary, how it will work, and so on. I think that that is the most forthright way in which I can try to help explain, not only to the House but principally to the public, the importance of the decision.

Mr. Tapsell

I fully support my right hon. Friend in his statement and congratulate him on the leading and constructive role that he has played in the NATO discussions that have led to it. If one of the reasons why it is necessary for us to have these missiles is the growing and formidable capacity of the Soviet Union to make a first strike against the NATO countries, why is it wise to have only two of these bases? Is it really wise to assume that we can ignore the possibility of the bolt out of the blue?

Mr. Pym

We cannot ignore the possibility of the bolt out of the blue, but it is the one that really introduces a holocaust that we have dedicated ourselves to try to prevent. The point about the cruise missiles is that they will not be on just two bases. There are 10 nights altogether, and at a time of tension, or in war, they will not all be deployed in the same place. They will be deployed in many different places. Therefore, the number of targets is enormous. That is why it is not necessary to have more than two bases.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Secretary of State forgive us for our somewhat sour and hollow laugh when he emphasises the words "joint decision"? What joint decision took place in relation to Diego Garcia and the exchange of letters? If the emphasis is on joint decision, and if the Americans had meant it, why the reluctance to give us a dual key system? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question that was put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Har-borough (Mr. Farr)?

Mr. Pym

We could have a dual key if we shared in the cost and the ownership of the weapon, but we do not; it is a United States weapon. The dual key is appropriate in the circumstances of joint ownership, which applies in some cases. It is not appropriate in this case. We have taken the view that it is neither necessary nor a very sensible use of our very limited resources to have joint ownership, because the United States is willing to meet the cost of it. That is why there is no dual key but there is a joint decision.

For all his assiduousness, I think that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of doing a disservice by creating a wrong impression. What matters for the defence of the West, the maintenance of peace and the continuation of freedom is that the allies and all those countries in the rest of the world combine together and rely upon each other and make their own contribution to the mutual defence of the West. By continually going on about one particular matter, the hon. Gentleman is, I think, trying to create a wrong impression.

There is, as there has been for years, a very close alliance between ourselves and our European and American allies. We are entirely confident and content with the present arrangements. They are working mutually to our advantage and the advantage of the preservation of peace. Whereas, of course, the hon. Gentleman can ask any questions he likes, the crucial point is to realise that if the free world co-ordinates its efforts there is no reason whatsoever why, be- tween us, we should not continue to preserve the peace.

Mr. Gummer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and others in Suffolk have willingly supported a high proportion of the present nuclear deterrent, and were willing and would be willing to continue, if that were necessary? In those circumstances, though, can he say whether a number of the warheads at present deployed in the United Kingdom, some of which are in my constituency, will not now need to be deployed, because of the decisions mentioned in his announcement today?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. I hope that there will not be too much disappointment in Suffolk about what I announced earlier this afternoon.

As to the warhead position, at the time that the modernisation decision was taken in NATO a parallel arms control proposal was made by the United States unilaterally to withdraw 1,000 warheads. That process has actually begun. I am not able to say—and it would not be right to say—where any of the warheads were or are, but the process has already begun, so we are going to fulfil that whether or not there is a response from the other side. I think that that is the best and most positive answer that I can give to my hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places from the beginning of questions.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain that in spite of his detailed explanation today, this decision will greatly stimulate millions of his fellow countrymen who are patriots and who believe in the defence of Britain to support the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament, on ground of this country's then being able more intelligently to play a role on the world scene?

Mr. Pym

It ought not to do so. I hope that it will not do so. Indeed, I think that the great majority of people in this country are very supportive of the defence efforts being made by this country, and appreciate the need for them. After all, some of us have been involved in war before, and we remember what happened when we became too weak. Whereas there is no desire on our part, or the Alliance's part, to match the Soviet Union weapon for weapon, we must nevertheless be sure that between us all we have an adequate guard, so that peace and freedom can continue.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that at some time some country—some Government—must take the first historic step to end the nuclear stampede before a nuclear holocaust is unleashed on the world either through mistake or through fear? Surely this Government and this country should lead the way, since we pride ourselves on justice rather than that Britain should be treated as the first line in the defence of the United States.

Mr. Pym

I do not think that it is at all right to look upon this country in that light. All I can say is that I do not support unilateralism. I think that almost everyone who has thought deeply about this matter realises that that is an unsound path down which to go. Everyone dislikes nuclear weapons, but we cannot dis-invent them. We have managed to keep the peace for the last 30 years, and we are dedicating ourselves to continue that process for the rest of time.

Mr. Faulds

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many of us on the Opposition Benches who are not prepared to kiss the ring of Marx are nevertheless deeply concerned about the deployment in Britain of cruise missiles that are not under our immediate control—whatever the right hon. Gentleman says—because of the dangers of going along with American policy, either in foreign affairs or in defence matters, in America's present political hysteria, which some of us have, sadly, come to know in conversations in the last few months, both with the State Department and with members of the National Security Council?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but I would point out that this was a unanimous decision of NATO. It was not just a United States decision, with support from us. We have been in that situation before now, but this decision was taken unanimously by all the members of NATO.

Mr. Delwyn Williams

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain should have an independent power of operating the cruise missile, on the grounds, first, that we face retaliation ; secondly, the genuine fear of many British people that America would not respond at all, or perhaps slowly, in the event of a Russian thrust into Europe; and, thirdly, the added strategic attraction of a dual control centre?

Mr. Pym

As the United States will be stationing these missiles in various countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, we have taken the view that it is not necessary, nor is it a very sensible use of our limited resources, also to have our own completely separate cruise missiles.

Mr. James Lamond

Since the unanimous decision was taken by NATO to deploy these missiles in Western Europe at least two weeks before the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, how can the Secretary of State pretend that that intervention played any, part in the decision making?

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that one of the reasons given today by himself, that he was very anxious to press on with the preparations for stationing these missiles in Britain, is effectively destroying any hope that we have of multilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union, which has, despite what the Secretary of State said, changed its position, slightly at least, in the last few weeks, by saying that it no longer demands the abandonment of this decision but is prepared to negotiate provided that the decision is suspended to allow the negotiations to go ahead?

Mr. Pym

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have never suggested that the invasion of Afghanistan had anything to do with this decision. The decision was taken before that. In answer to the second part of the question, I do not think that the representation of the Soviet position is as the hon. Gentleman describes. I have already indicated to the House the massive superiority of the Soviet Union over the rest of the Alliance in this type of weapon, and I have also indicated the rate at which new weapons of that type are being created in the Soviet Union. That is not happening in the NATO Alliance at present. If there is a change of heart in the Soviet Union we shall review the decision.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Does the Secretary of State accept that in a week when the House debated the Brandt report, which clearly outlined the disparities between North and South and showed that hundreds of millions of people exist in poverty, his statement today that Britain will spend £16 million on a weapon that will never be fired will be found particularly offensive?

Mr. Pym

If we do not protect ourselves adequately, and if we do not have an adequate shield, freedom and democracy will not be continued into the future. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman the remarkable fact that the Soviet Union pays scant regard to the needs of other countries. It makes a very small contribution in terms of foreign aid. It will supply weapons if necessary, but practically no foreign aid. We should also take that point into account. It is all the more reason to make sure that we are adequately defended. It we are not, the whole world may be taken over by the Soviet Union, and we can imagine the fantastic mess that would result.

Mr. Ron Brown

The Government are great supporters of secret ballots. May I take it that the Minister will also organise a ballot of the people who live in areas surrounding these missile sites, or is that stretching democracy too far?

Mr. Pym

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that has never been the practice, nor would it be sensible to take decisions on major matters of national and Alliance security on the basis of local polls. People can express opinions, but decisions on national security—a concern that everyone shares—must be taken by national Governments, and the House understands that.

Mr. Frank Allaun

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a long-established custom in the House that if a question has been asked previously hon. Members cannot table the same question again. The Table Office forbids it. But this afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) asked a supplementary question. I have been a Member of the House for a fairly long time, and I have never known a supplementary question to be barred because it had been asked previously. May I ask for your guidance on this point, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

It is quite simple. I am willing to make another statement tomorrow when I have looked at the matter again, but if a question is not permissible at the Table Office it is not permissible as a supplementary question. It is as simple as that. I shall look at the matter further in case I need to correct myself.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you look at the matter further tomorrow, will you lake into account that question No. 32 on the Order Paper on Diego Garcia implied considerations of troop movements?

Mr. Speaker

That point has not escaped me.