HC Deb 29 November 1983 vol 49 cc745-7
1. Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received against the deployment of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom.

8. Mr. Gareth Wardell

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received against the deployment of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom.

13. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has been able to assess the public reaction to cruise missiles in the United Kingdom, following their arrival on 14 November.

15. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received since the siting of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom about their deployment.

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

My Department currently receives about 250 letters a week from Members of Parliament and from members of the public expressing a variety of views about the planned deployment of cruise missiles in this country.

Mr. McKay

Will the Secretary of State explain the strategy which he said would strengthen our negotiating position with the Russians'? How does he explain the fact that that strategy has driven them away?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our negotiations and relationships with the Soviet Union are not to be judged in a matter of days or weeks, but are a longer-term concept. I have no doubt that the essential policy of deterrence, backed by a willingness to negotiate, is the one that will continue to maintain the peace that we have preserved in this country for nearly 40 years.

Mr. Wardell

In view of the cruise missile's low speed in flight, what military advantage does the Secretary of State see in this weapon?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the concern of the Soviet Union is an indication itself of the military value of these weapons systems. A significant number of weapons systems are to be deployed unless we can reach agreement with the Soviet Union. They are deployed off-base and therefore cannot be destroyed by a first strike, which adds up to a substantial retaliatory capability, in contrast to the deployment of SS20 missiles against which they are specifically directed.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the initial hysteria of a sometimes well-meaning minority has been replaced by, and contrasts with, the steadfastness and realism of the majority of British public opinion, which now looks to the Soviets to come back to Geneva in earnest to begin serious negotiations at long last?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure my hon. Friend is right, in that the Soviet Union must now realise that it must negotiate with the elected Governments of the Western democracies. There is nothing but enthusiam in the minds of those Governments for the resumption of negotiations at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Parry

Following the demonstrations outside the House two weeks ago, the Secretary of State is aware of the strong feelings of the general public on the subject. Is he aware of the strong feelings on Merseyside? May I inform him that any plans to bring in missiles through the port of Liverpool will be resisted by the dock workers? Are any missiles to be sited at Buttonwood?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman would not want me to take too much notice of a demonstration of a few hundred people outside the House, particularly when it is contrasted with the large demonstration of support within the House for the Government's policies.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Does not the derisory small number of letters that my right hon. Friend is receiving about the deployment of these missiles underline once again the fact that the great bulk of people in this country accept the need for our nation and NATO to be properly defended? May I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent broadcast this morning, which has done so much to put across the Government's defence policy?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. There is no greater indication of the true feelings of the British people than the fact that he is the Member of Parliament for Newbury, the chairperson of the CND having been significantly defeated in that context.

Mr. Mason

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what most perturbs the majority of the British people now that cruise missiles are here is the issue of who is really in charge? For example, when American cruise missiles are deployed on British roads, who will be in charge of those convoys? Which officer of the forces involved will be in charge?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman is familiar with the arrangements, for he was, if I remember correctly, a distinguished holder of the office that I now hold. If there is a commanding officer in charge of a particular deployment, he will be the officer in command. In the circumstances to which the right hon. Gentleman draws the attention of the House, he would be an American.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the history of the disarmament talks since 1979 shows that the Soviets will not negotiate seriously unless they think they have no choice but to do so? Is it not a fact that it is only because of the antics of the CND and Soviet apologists on the Opposition Benches that the Soviets have walked out of the Geneva talks?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has made an important point. Now that the Soviet Union realises that it has to negotiate with elected Governments, it realises also that it has to make some gesture to appease the views of the protest groups upon which it previously relied. I hope that the Soviet Union will make this a short and temporary gap in the negotiating procedures and that it will recognise, as my hon. Friend suggests, that the only way to secure the sort of arrangements that we want is by positive and helpful negotiation with the Governments of NATO countries.

Mr. Silkin

Taking up the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), is it not a fact that General Rogers has never publicly endorsed the deployment of cruise or Pershing; that, on the contrary, he regards them as vulnerable; and that he prefers, and has said so, that there should be a conventional defence of NATO?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman must have access to some private views of General Rogers that are not available to me. I sit on the same NATO meetings as General Rogers and he has full access to all the Ministers of the Western Alliance. I have never heard him say anything other than words in support of the decisions that we have taken.

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