HC Deb 03 May 1983 vol 42 cc4-5
3. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he plans an early meeting with the United States Secretary of Defence to discuss cooperation in defence matters.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I plan to visit the United States later this month and look forward to taking the opportunity to discuss matters of mutual interest with the Secretary of Defence.

Sir William van Straubenzee

In case my right hon. Friend discovers when he gets to the United States that opinion is influenced unduly by some of the media here, will he convey to his distinguished American colleague that although the British cordially dislike the nuclear weapon and expect the Government to press on with supervised, balanced disarmament, in the meantime they are quietly, but firmly, of the view that the weapon must be retained in defence of the Western world?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall certainly ensure that those sentiments are conveyed to my American opposite number. My hon. Friend will be aware that since they were elected the Government have made clear their commitment to the twin track policy of negotiated disarmament or the deployment of intermediate range missiles.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is the right hon. Gentleman likely to bring up the question of dual control, because many of us who are satisfied with the present arrangements know that many people wish nuclear weapons to be retained, but are genuinely concerned that they could be used without our consent? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we are in danger of losing the argument when we have the best case going?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the measured terms of his question. All of us who have served in the House behind Governments of various persuasions have a responsibility to make it clear that the degree of control that we have over American weapons and bases in Britain, in respect of cruise missiles, is the same as we have had over all other similar American systems since the 1950s.

Mr. John Silkin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the overwhelming mass of people in Britain want to be the allies of the United States, but do not want Britain to be a satellite of the United States? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he misleads the House when he says that the cruise missile system follows the agreement between Prime Minister Attlee and Harry Truman in 1951, and that we are dealing here not with nuclear bases but with a nuclear weapon that can be used, and will be used —if it is used at all—on the roads of Britain and from any base anywhere?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want Britain to be an American satellite, but I do not know anyone in the country who does. I do not, therefore, see the purpose of the question. All that this Government are doing is to continue the nuclear policies to which the last Government were so firmly committed. I cannot see what issue of principle is at stake.

Mr. Silkin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is wrong? The Government are ensuring that we become a satellite of the United States. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the cruise missile agreement, apart from the fact that the people of Britain do not want it and have shown that they do not, gives to the United States the power, alone, to set the missile off without consulting us in any way whatsoever?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the United States President and Britain's Prime Minister always reaffirm the terms of the 1951 agreement, which specifically provides that no weapons or bases used by the Americans under agreements with us will be used without the joint decision of the President and the Prime Minister.

Mr. Warren

When my right hon. Friend meets the American Secretary for Defence, will he impress upon him that if the United States expects to sell defence equipment to Britain there should be a completely open door for Britain to sell back to the United States? Will my right hon. Friend please ensure that Mr. Caspar Weinberger does his best to impress upon Congress the need to wipe out the specialty metals amendment?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a matter of concern. The Administration have persuaded Congress to pass a waiver to enable us to sell specialty metals to the United States and are seeking to extend that waiver from September this year. I shall do my best with the Secretary for Defence to confirm his enthusiasm for that and, on the Hill, to speak to appropriate Senators and Congressmen.

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