HC Deb 23 June 1981 vol 7 cc127-9
9. Mr. Ernie Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what further representations he has had on stationing of cruise missiles in Great Britain.

10. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many representations he has received to date against permitting United States cruise missiles to be sited on British soil or in British waters.

Mr. Nott

Since the NATO modernisation programme was agreed in December 1979, about 1,400 letters and 29 petitions have been received by my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the House and myself on the decision to base United States ground-launched cruise missiles in the United Kingdom; the vast majority of these have opposed the decision.

Mr. Ross

In view of the large number of local authorities—71 in total—which have now taken a decision not to allow the stationing of the American missile in their areas, will the Government reconsider their support for this missile, which clearly—especially in view of the answer given from the Dispatch Box—does not have the support of the majority of the British people?

Mr. Nott

I understand that there is strong feeling on the subject, but I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that if we believed every person who signs a petition that comes to us as Members of this House we would perhaps look on the thing in a rather different way from the way in which we look at it. I accept that there is strong feeling on the subject, but the Government have announced their policy, and that is how it will remain.

Mr. Allaun

Has the Secretary of State seen the recent public opinion polls, which show that a clear majority of the British people are opposed to the cruise missile? That is without mentioning Western Europe, where the same opposition applies. Has he further seen that three of our biggest unions, not notable for their Left-wing views, have voted against it in the last month? Finally, in view of the obvious vulnerability that it creates for our country, is there not one Conservative Member with some doubts on the subject?

Mr. Nott

This country would be a prime and, in my view, an early target in any war that broke out in Europe. It would be such a target whether or not we had nuclear weapons stationed on our soil. The bringing of the cruise missile, the modernised long-range theatre nuclear system, will spread the weapons more equally round Europe, whereas at present all those nuclear weapons are stationed here, and were during the period of the Labour Government.

I did not read the recent public opinion polls as the hon. Gentleman did. I read that a large majority of people in this country believed it necessary to retain deterrence, and to retain nuclear deterrence as well, but it was clear that many people did not understand that cruise and Trident were merely modernisations of our existing weapons system.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Has my right hon. Friend taken some encouragement from the recent statement by the German Socialist Chancellor to the effect that he is determined to stand by the decision to station these weapons in Western Europe, and will even resign if his policy is renounced by his party? Does the Minister sometimes wish that the Labour Party would take some courage from Mr. Schmidt?

Mr. Nott

Yes, I was greatly encouraged by the Chancellor's statement. We have to give a clear signal to the Soviet Union that European Governments and the United States Governments see the deterrence of aggression as a joint responsibility, and not as one that can be shuffled off on to the United States.

Mr. Heffer

As the Government did not respond in a positive way to the approach by President Brezhnev, will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what the Government's view is of the positive response made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to President Brezhnev's approach? Is it not time that the Government started to do something positive about winding down nuclear weapons in Europe and other parts of the world?

Mr. Nott

The negotiations that have been promised by the United States before the end of the year have our fullest support. These are bound to be between the United States and the Soviet Union, as the two principal strategic nuclear Powers, but we are giving every support to those arms control negotiations, and will continue to do so.

Mr. Churchill

Bearing in mind the courageous leadership on this subject of Chancellor Schmidt, and the determination of President Mitterrand to continue with the French force de frappe, can my right hon. Friend explain why Britain's Socialists should be so pusillanimous and unpatriotic on the issue of deterring war and aggression?

Mr. Nott

I am not sure to which Socialists my hon. Friend is referring to.

Mr. John

Since Chancellor Schmidt is being so heavily relied upon by Conservative Members, will the Government try to emulate the urgency and the directness with which Chancellor Schmidt is approaching disarmament talks with the Warsaw Pact countries, instead of sheltering behind pro-nuclear sentiments, followed by the weakest of pressure upon the United States Government?

Mr. Nott

We have had a policy of nuclear deterrence for many years, and the Labour Party has, up to now, supported it, so that there has been no change in policy. Like the German Chancellor, we are supporting the efforts of the United States to bring about sensible arms control limitation negotiations. But there is nobody to push, because negotiations will take place in any case.