HC Deb 29 November 1983 vol 49 cc753-6
11. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many cruise missiles have now arrived in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Heseltine

I am not prepared to discuss specific details of equipment delivered to RAF Greenham common. I have, however, made it clear that the first missiles were delivered to the base on 14 November, that the first flight of 16 missiles is planned to achieve initial operational capability by the end of the year, and that NATO deployments are due to be completed over a five-year period.

Mr. Flannery

Why is the Minister not prepared to discuss something that is virtually known already? Is it not a fact that 572 missiles are to be distributed in Europe, of which we shall have 160 or so? Will the Minister agree with me—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".] Despite the public school hooligans who are interrupting, does the Minister agree that many millions of people throughout the world are deeply concerned and afraid that an accident could now precipitate us all into a nuclear war? Is it not time that we stopped glaring across the abyss and came together at the conference table by making some kind of promise to the Soviet Union that we are prepared to scale down our arms if it will do the same?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will welcome my statement earlier today about the extent to which we are reducing the number of nuclear warheads in NATO deployment to the lowest for 20 years. That is what he asks me to do. My problem is that the Soviet Union has made no response whatever.

Mr. Leigh

Given the public interest in the installation of cruise missiles, what does my right hon. Friend think will be the public reaction to the showing of the American film, "The Day After"?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I have not had the opportunity to see the film, but I shall make it my business to do so. I believe that the public will regard the horrendous portrayal of the power of nuclear weapons in that film—[Interruption.] I have read all the reviews, which have been widely presented. I believe that the public will take the view that the NATO deterrence policy is the most likely policy to ensure that such a holocaust never takes place. I hope that the public will realise that the devastation portrayed in the film takes place in America as a result of a Soviet nuclear weapon. The public should also be fully aware that the film will never be shown in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Strang

Is it intended to deploy the cruise missiles based at Greenham common throughout the countryside for training purposes?

Mr. Heseltine

Certainly there is an argument for doing that. I shall consider the timing and the justification for such deployment in the fullness of time.

Mr. Key

I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that the deployment of cruise is a serious matter, but will he reassure CND members in the Salisbury area that their telephones are not being tapped? In view of the important intelligence-gathered in a Salisbury pub at the weekend, will he also reassure CND members in that area that the large hole being dug outside RAF Chilmark is, in fact, a septic tank?

Mr. Heseltine

I am afraid that my hon. Friend has revealed a yawning gap in my own intelligence-gathering system. I have no knowledge of those events.

Mr. Haynes

Now that the Government have received their nuclear toy from the United States, bearing in mind that it will require equipment and spares, why does the Minister of State constantly duck the questions that I put to him regularly about such spares and equipment being kept at various Ministry locations, particularly in Nottinghamshire? If they are not to be stored in Nottinghamshire, why has security at the Chilwell base been stepped up to an unprecedented extent?

Mr. Heseltine

As the hon. Gentleman will be fully aware, we do not provide details of military dispositions of the kind that could be advantageous to our opponents.

Mr. Denzil Davies

In an earlier answer the Secretary of State said that the missiles could not be destroyed when they were off-base. Does he agree that although that may be true in the wastes of Nebraska or Utah it is not true when they are stuck in a traffic jam on the M4 of holed up in a bunker on some unfortunate golf course in the south of England? Does he further agree that the weapons are not merely militarily useless in Britain but, because they cannot be deployed without being detected, could lead to a first strike on this country?

Mr. Heseltine

It is interesting to know that the right hon. Gentleman contemplates the possibility of the Soviet Union indulging in a first strike. A more detailed investigation will make it clear to him that there would be no purpose in such a first strike against this or any other NATO country, because the retaliatory capability of the West is such that the Soviet Union could never gain from such a ridiculous action.

12. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether cruise missiles are yet operational in the United Kingdom; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Heseltine

NATO's plans provide for an initial operational capability to be achieved at RAF Greenham common by the end of 1983. Preparations to that end are continuing.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I understand that my right hon. Friend cannot give details, but does he agree that if we had taken the same firm stand in similar circumstances before the second world war the dates 1939–45 would never have appeared on our war memorials and the generation of which I am part would never have spent five years in war and post-war service? Does he appreciate that the signs are now far better for meaningful negotiations towards the end for which we must all hope—controlled, supervised and mutual disarmament?

Mr. Heseltine

I have no doubt at all that it is because of the essential experience and wisdom of my hon. Friend's question that the overwhelming majority of British people believe the arguments that he puts forward. I cannot help but be struck by the remarkable similarity between the naive arguments of the peace protest movement in the 1930s and the arguments used today.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

With regard to public opinion, is it not true that this morning, in connection with the programme on which the Secretary of State was answering questions, the telephone exchange was jammed in an unprecendeted manner by callers who wished to put hostile questions to the right hon. Gentleman? Is it not correct to say that none of the Soviet Union's intermediate weapons are targeted on the United States, except some new weapons beyond Vladivostok, but that all of NATO's intermediate weapons—cruise and Pershing—are targeted on the Soviet Union? Does that not answer the question about public opinion in the United States as against public opinion in this country and our hostility to cruise and Pershing weapons?

Mr. Heseltine

It is about as difficult to try to guess what thousands of unanswered telephone calls are about as it is to anticipate the lurch in Labour party policy on defence matters.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the great majority of people in Berkshire understand the need for the installation of cruise missiles at Greenham common, but that they are less happy at having to fund the cost of the policing of the base and the protection of what is a national deterrent?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend raises a most important issue. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is aware of the deep public feeling on this matter. I very much hope, now that the Soviets have walked out of the Geneva negotiations and that it is apparent that we shall have to continue with the deployment policy of NATO's twin-track decision, that those who were unable to achieve a mandate in the election will stop frustrating the wishes of the elected majority of the country in this matter.

Mr. Silkin

A moment ago the Secretary of State said that the Russians would not mount a first strike against cruise—[Interruption.] I thought that the right hon. Gentleman said that they would be silly to do so because of the nuclear power of the Western allies, who would inevitably retaliate and destroy the Soviet Union. In the light of that remark, what use is cruise militarily anyway? Is it not a political connivance by the President of the United States, agreed to in a servile manner by the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman cannot write history in this way. He knows full well that his Government were deeply involved in the process leading up to the decisions of NATO. He knows full well that every other NATO ally of the Labour Government went along with this decision. He knows full well that his party did not oppose it when this Government took the decision, and he knows full well that the concept of deterrence involves deterrence at every level, and that means an effective counter to the SS20s.

Mr. Silkin


The Speaker

Order. We must move on.