HC Deb 16 November 1982 vol 32 cc133-5
4. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when the first cruise missiles are due to be deployed in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)

In the absence of concrete results in the arms reduction negotiations in Geneva on intermediate nuclear forces, cruise missiles are due to be deployed in the United Kingdom by December 1983.

Mr. Newens

As the United States, on many occasions, particularly recently, has made it clear that it is prepared to put United States interests before those of Britain where it suits it, how on earth can the deployment of American owned and controlled cruise missiles in this country be justified? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the majority of people in Britain today reject this proposal?

Mr. Blaker

The hon. Gentleman appears to misunderstand the reasoning behind the proposed installation of cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe. That action is due to be taken, in the absence of an arms reduction agreement, at the request of the European countries. It is intended to demonstrate to the Soviet Union and to Western Europe that the United States is fully committed to the defence of Western Europe.

Mr. Cartwright

Has the Minister noted statements by United States officials that development problems affecting cruise and Pershing II missiles are no worse than those affecting any new weapon system? Does he find that choice of words comforting? Is he convinced that the cruise will be ready on time?

Mr. Blaker

According to the information that I have, I expect the cruise to be ready for deployment by the end of next year. The tests being conducted on the Tomahawk cruise missile, which is the relevant one, show a success rate of over 80 per cent.

Mr. Stokes

Is my hon. Friend aware that most people hope that the sooner these weapons are deployed in the United Kingdom the better, especially in view of the threat from the growing number of Soviet SS20 missiles? Will my hon. Friend do all in his power to counter the dangerous and misleading opposition to the stationing of these weapons here?

Mr. Blaker

I agree with my hon. Friend about the urgency of this problem. When NATO first proposed in 1979 the installation of cruise and Pershing missiles, and simultaneous negotiations with the Soviet Union to make that deployment unnecessary if agreement could be reached, the number of SS20s in the Soviet Union was just over 100. The figure is now 324. I believe, therefore, that the imbalance that existed in 1979 has worsened. We shall try to reach a disarmament agreement, but in the absence of such an agreement we must press on with our plans.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware that the brave women of the Greenham Common peace campaign are representative of the views of millions of women in this country? Has he recognised that the harsh decision of the authorities to imprison them will increase rather than decrease the determination of women and men throughout Britain who are determined to oppose this dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race?

Mr. Blaker

It is clear to me that the vast majority of people in this country believe in nuclear deterrence combined with a policy of multilateral negotiations for arms reduction. The case of the women at the so-called peace camp at Greenham Common is not a matter for me.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. Friend confirm that cruise missiles are defensive or retaliatory, and that they are in no way offensive or first-strike weapons.

Mr. Blaker

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. They travel at about the same speed as a British Airways jet. They would take three hours to reach Moscow.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is the Minister aware that the original decision to deploy cruise missiles, far from bringing America and Western Europe closer together, has created confusion and dissension, especially by raising the spectre of limited nuclear war in Europe? Why do not the Government cancel the project, which is a major and dangerous step on the ladder of nuclear escalation?

Mr. Blaker

If there is confusion, it has been caused largely by some of the unilateralist organisations which have been spreading false information. I have previously told the House that one CND leaflet contained five gross errors of fact, three of which are conceded either by Monsignor Bruce Kent or by Lord Jenkins of Putney, a former hon. Member of this House. A limited nuclear war is not an objective of Western policy. The introduction of cruise missiles is intended to demonstrate that the United States is bound into the defence of Western Europe.

Mr. Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the whole object of a cruise missile is to fight a nuclear war on the Continent of Europe? Why is that not a limited nuclear war?

Mr. Blaker

The right hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish.