HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1131-3
5. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has concluded his discussions with American representatives regarding the siting of the 160 cruise missiles in the United Kingdom.

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

No, Sir.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that pages 108 to 117 of the Institute of Strategic Studies' document entitled "Military Balance" demonstrate not that NATO is weak and that the Warsaw Pact is strong, but that both sides are armed to the teeth and that massive chunks of expenditure by both sides are being spent on arms? Does he agree that it is foolish to install further cruise missiles in this country, over which we have no control, at a cost of £10 million when we are cutting back on vital services such as social services, education and health? Will he review the position and cancel this foolish expedition.

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. It was the view of NATO, which we strongly supported, that the modernisation programme was necessary. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that there is an arms build-up on both sides. That is wholly to be regretted. It is the purpose and policy to reduce it on both sides. However, it is well documented that the military effort in the Warsaw Pact countries is on a much larger scale than our own. Its present rate of increase is greater than ours—

Mr. Russell Kerr

Not true.

Mr. Pym

—and that is a matter for regret. We are constantly trying to reduce the scale of armament on both sides. Unless there is a verifiable, even balanced response on both sides, it behoves us to guard ourselves by having adequate forces.

Mr. Churchill

I warmly welcome the decision of the United States to modernise its theatre nuclear forces, but has my right hon. Friend considered the desirability of basing these missiles not on base, where they present an ideal target for a preemptive Soviet strike, but off base, where they will be virtually invulnerable in their deployed and mobile positions?

Mr. Pym

The intention is to base them collectively. I cannot yet say in how many bases, but they are capable of deployment at quite short notice. That is the essence of the design. The decision whether to keep them close together or widely dispersed will depend upon the circumstances of tension or the circumstances at the time.

Mr. Heffer

Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)? Will we, or will we not, have control over these missiles?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that that was the point of the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). The answer is that the control that will exist will be the same as hitherto. There will be joint decisions with the United States. That is the arrangement that has existed previously, and that is the arrangement that will continue in future.

Mr. Goodhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of the British people, seeing Russian imperialism in its latest mood, are only too well aware of the need for us to be adequately armed and to spend accordingly?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation. It must be appreciated that the United States is providing the cruise missiles and equipment and the finance.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman see the deterrent as a national weapon, or is it to be used only within the context of the Alliance?

Mr. Pym

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that all our weapons are assigned to NATO. There is, however, a residual right to use our strategic deterrent independently if the horrific circumstances leading to that decision were ever to arise. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that they are assigned to NATO.