HC Deb 14 April 1981 vol 3 cc137-9
3. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will enter into negotiations with the United States Government with a view to increasing the extent of British control over the use of cruise missiles.

5. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied as to the effectiveness of current arrangements for consultations between the United Kingdom and the United States of America before any cruise missiles deployed in the United Kingdom can be fired.

Mr. Nott

I am entirely satisfied with the existing arrangements, which have applied to United States nuclear forces based in the United Kingdom for many years. Those arrangements have been made clear to the House on several occasions.

Mr. Cryer

Do not those arrangements mean that there is no dual key system and no right of veto by the British Government over the use of cruise missiles? Does that not make the United Kingdom subordinate to American foreign and defence policy and mean that this country will be placed at risk? Is not the real position demonstrated by the reports of the resolutions of UCATT, the builders' union, for the East and West Midlands council, that it will be opposed to any work on the bases for cruise missiles, in the united determination and hostility to the missiles coming here and turning the United Kingdom into a parking lot for United States nuclear weaponry?

Mr. Nott

The House knows that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the matter. I assure him that no one is subordinate to anyone else. NATO is concerned with the collective defence of the West and with the maintenance of our freedoms in this country. The Soviet Union has greatly modernised its whole range of long-range theatre nuclear weapons. It is essental for the maintenance of peace that we also modernise our long-range theatre nuclear weapons. The arrangements have not changed in any way since the end of the war, when they were agreed between the then Labour Government and the United States.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister accept that if he is completely satisfied with those arrangements he must be easily satisfied? He says that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is deeply worried. Has he not noticed that any demonstration against nuclear armaments now is always massive and that those demonstrations are becoming bigger? Does he not realise that a vast number of our people know that out of about 500 missiles we shall have about 170 or 180, and that there is deep feeling that the people who will decide to fire those missiles are not in this country but in the Pentagon?

Mr. Nott

I know that in the last war, before nuclear weapons were used, 50 million people died. I am also as sure as I possibly can be that the nuclear deterrent has maintained peace in Europe for the last 30 years. No Conservative Member would gamble away peace with unilateral renunciation of a deterrent which has worked.

Mr. Trippier

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that the deployment of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom does not increase the likelihood of a nuclear attack, but decreases it? Will he reaffirm that the main aim of Her Majesty's Government is to preserve peace? Will he ensure that in all future publications which originate from his Ministry on the nuclear threat, the word "peace" is given the greatest possible emphasis?

Mr. Nott

I agree with my hon. Friend, who is exactly right. The purpose of the deterrent is to maintain peace. The idea that we have nuclear weapons with which to fight a war is an absurdity. That is not part of NATO's strategy and never has been. NATO is a defensive alliance concerned with the maintenance of peace. That is precisely what we are all concerned about in these difficult matters.

Mr. Jay

Can the Secretary of State say whether the proposed talks between the United States and the Soviet Union on the control of long-range theatre nuclear weapons will be held and, if so, when?

Mr. Nott

Talks have taken place already. As the right hon. Gentleman knows well, the Soviet Union was unwilling to have talks on the subject until it was assured that we were proceeding to modernise our weapons. As we are continuing with the programme for the deployment of long-range theatre nuclear weapons, I believe that the Soviet Union will wish to continue arms control negotiations, and we shall join in the process. We believe that the nuclear arms race is madness and want to stop it, but we shall not do so by unilateral renunciation of weapons that have maintained the peace.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

As the headquarters of the United States 3rd Air Force, which is responsible for the deployment of cruise missiles, is in my constituency, may I tell my right hon. Friend how welcome he was at Lakenheath on his visit with the United States Secretary of Defence? Does he recognise that although the United States Air Force could, with the British Government's permission, operate in time of need out of its own resources in the deployment of cruise missiles or other operational deployment, the civil servants' actions place it in particular difficulty? Will he therefore consult the United States Air Force about the problems that it could confront?

Mr. Nott

I was delighted with my most interesting visit to Lakenheath with Secretary Weinberger. Everything that we found was most encouraging. The part that the American forces play in this country is vital in the defence of freedom, and we should be grateful for it. If my hon. Friend is referring to the civil servants' disagreement over pay negotiations, I am sure that if there are problems they can be resolved. I was not aware that there were particular difficulties at Lakenheath, so perhaps my hon. Friend can send me details or speak to me later.

Mr. John

Does the Secretary of State recall that the acceptance by the European NATO powers of cruise missiles was on the specific basis that talks would take place between the United States and the Soviet Union? In view of the American Administration's remarks about detente being dead, is he satisfied that talks are being pursued with sufficient urgency—as much urgency as the deployment of cruise missiles?

Mr. Nott

At the NATO meeting in Bonn last week, Defence Ministers discussed the question, and it was reaffirmed that the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles must proceed alongside arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The position has not changed, but it needs two to conclude a successful negotiation. Arms control limitation and satisfactory verification will not work unless the Soviet Union is prepared to play its part.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.