HC Deb 01 November 1983 vol 47 cc723-6
2. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether, in the light of the negotiations on theatre or nuclear weapons, he will now make a statement on the installation of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom.

7. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects that cruise missiles will be deployed at Greenham common.

10. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when it is now expected cruise missiles will be operational in the United Kingdom.

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

I have nothing further to add to what I told the House yesterday, except that one American aircraft carrying equipment landed this morning.

Mr. Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that yesterday's debate showed clearly the Government's determination to negotiate away the ever-growing threat posed by the SS20s, that the installation of cruise missiles in this country in response to that threat does not mean an end to those negotiations, which, if successful, could result in a reduction in cruise missiles, and that this policy received the overwhelming endorsement of the House?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that the world will have noticed the size of the Government's majority last night. My hon. Friend is correct. In addition to our determination to stick to our deployment date at the end of this year, we are determined to keep all avenues open for the continuation of the negotiations.

Mr. Gould

Even if the Secretary of State is correct when he says that the Americans are totally to be trusted, what have we to lose by demanding dual key control? Is it that the right hon. Gentleman dare not make that request to the Americans for fear of provoking such a humiliating refusal as to make it clear to the British people who is really in charge?

Mr. Heseltine

Yesterday, we went into the issue carefully. I considered the dual key conrol arguments that had appealed to the Labour Government, and I found them satisfactory.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Secretary of State accept that yesterday he could not produce a shred of moral or ethical argument in favour of the deployment of cruise? There is also a major practical problem in its deployment, in that whenever the authorities want to test the system's viability there will be demonstrations when the cruise carriers leave the base. If there were a nuclear alert, under any circumstances, large numbers of people in this country would prefer to be killed trying to prevent that deployment than face the prospect of the launching of cruise missiles.

Mr. Heseltine

There was a demonstration outside the House last night in support of the type of argument that the hon. Gentleman parades. The demonstrators do not add up to a tiny proportion of the number of people who supported my right hon. and hon. Friends through the ballot box to give us the majority to proceed with these policies. The hon. Gentleman talks of morality. I should have thought that the defence of the freedom of the free world was one of any Government's most important moral obligations.

Mr. Bottomley

As other countries study debates such as the one we had last night, it is important that both sides of the House should spell out their positions. Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to encourage the Opposition to say, first, where their policies can be distinguished, and are different, from those of CND and, secondly, whether their policies have changed since the general election?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, but I do not want to emarrass the Opposition to that extent.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Defence accused those who argued for dual key control of lacking trust in the United States and said that that was very expensive. Does he agree that maintaining and updating an independent nuclear deterrent is a greater example of lack of trust and is ruinously expensive?

Mr. Heseltine

I do not believe that that is right, because I rather accept the original view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that the existence of a separate independent British nuclear deterrent provides a second base of decision in Europe and therefore confuses the issue in the mind of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Marlow

Is it possible for my right hon. Friend in any way to reconcile yesterday's speech by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) with the fact that when he was Secretary of State for Defence the country was smothered with American nuclear missiles over which we had no physical control?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the disparity between yesterday's speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and those that he made as Secretary of State for Defence, but I have never looked for consistency from Opposition Members.

Mr. Boyes

Following the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) about demonstrations, it was reported recently that if any of the demonstrators — the ladies from Greenham common—arrived near the bunkers where the nuclear warheads were held there was a possibility that they would be shot. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he will instruct the people responsible for Greenham common cruise missile base that under no circumstances will shots be fired at the peace protestors?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall categorically give no such assurance. It has been the absolute duty of all Governments to defend the nuclear weapons in this country as well as all the military bases of this country's defence forces. To suggest that we should now abandon that policy is ridiculous.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Will my right hon. Friend give a categoric assurance that whatever demonstrations there may be—the great unwashed or washed, Left or Right —the Government will support the country's defences, whether at Greenham common or elsewhere, and that small minorities will not be allowed to destroy our defence credibility?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that the only majority that matters in Britain is that in the House of Commons, which has the right to pursue the policies upon which the Government were elected.

Mr. Denzil Davies

We shall all be anxious about the implication of the Secretary of State's remark that the Government would be prepared to shoot demonstrators if they demonstrate at Greenham common. The right hon. Gentleman said that the whole world would study last night's vote. It will also read his speech, which is rather confused by his statement that if we asked for dual key control the Americans would wish to have dual key control over Polaris and, ultimately, Trident. What evidence does he have for that? Does it mean that the Americans view the British independent nuclear deterrent not as a strategic weapon but as a theatre weapon?

Mr. Heseltine

The Americans regard their arrangements with us as categoric. It is Opposition right hon. and hon. Members who seek to suggest that the trust upon which those undertaking are based is defective. The right hon. Gentleman comes new to the Front Bench—

Mr. Davies

I came here before the right hon. Gentleman did.

Mr. Heseltine

Then he ought to know better. Before he suggests that there is something new in my policy of defending Great Britain's nuclear defences and our defence establishments, he should remember that every Labour Government since the war have done precisely the same.

Mr. Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question that I asked? What evidence is there that if we ask the Americans for dual key control over cruise they will wish to have dual key control of our so-called—it is now very much so-called — independent nuclear deterrent? Does it mean that the Americans see it as a theatre weapon and not as a strategic weapon?

Mr. Heseltine

Opposition right hon. and hon. Members are arguing the case that the Americans cannot be trusted in these circumstances, in which case I pose a question: if that is the basis of the argument, would the Americans be entitled to reverse the question and ask us?