HC Deb 17 January 1984 vol 52 cc150-2
7. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has had any representations from other Governments about the targeting of cruise missiles to be deployed in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Heseltine

Her Majesty's Government have discussed NATO's twin track decision on INF deployment and arms control with a wide range of foreign Governments. I do not, however, propose to disclose the contents of the discussions.

Dr. Marek

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that none of the cruise missiles deployed in this country will be targeted on inhabited areas such as the Ruhr which are within the perimeters of our NATO allies? Will he reconsider his policy of not commenting on the targeting of missiles? If, after reconsidering the policy, he still declines to comment, will he urge the controlling power to consider the matter and to make a statement on it?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman has already raised this with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I cannot and would not wish to add to her reply. He will be fully aware, however, that the purpose of NATO is that of a defensive alliance. Targeting policy is therefore bound to be designed with that object in mind.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with Ministry of Defence arrangements for informing the Soviet Union of the nuclear-free zones in the United Kingdom so that that country's targeting can be kept continually up to date?

Mr. Heseltine

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I must be frank and admit that he has spotted a lacuna in our organisation which I shall immediately seek to rectify.

Mr. Boyes

I would not be as sure as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend).

Is the Secretary of State aware—and if so has he discussed this with his NATO allies — that an announcement by the joint cruise missile project office stated that on 19 November this year a cruise missile identical to those that have been installed in Britain failed on a test trial after a very short journey and that only 84 out of 130 missiles had been successful? I am certain that our NATO allies are not so confident about the safety of the cruise missiles that we have in Britain.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a nuclear safety committee which advises the Government and which has satisfied itself about the safety of these weapon systems. He will also be aware that it is the same procedure as that which existed under the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Rathbone

Can my right hon. Friend give us some idea not so much about the targeting of cruise as about the briefing that he may have given to his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary prior to the talks in Stockholm, with regard to cruise particularly?

Mr. Heseltine

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know has taken a great deal of interest in these matters. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and myself, as members of the Government, have a very clear joint objective for the Stockholm talks, and that is to persuade the Soviet Union to take them seriously and seek meaningful arrangements, which are readily available from the Western Alliance.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The Secretary of State may be reluctant to talk about targeting, but is it not clear from literature published in the United States and in Europe that the cruise missile is targeted on military targets which would be considered significant if a war were to break out in Europe? Is it not a fact that, rather than be obsessed with cruise missiles, he should try to move—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is as obsessed with cruise missiles as other people are. That is one of our condemnations of his defence policy. Should he not move away from his obsession and realise that cruise missiles, like battlefield nuclear weapons, are a product of NATO's out-of-date concept of fighting a limited nuclear war? If we could move NATO away from the first use of nuclear weapons, is it not the case that cruise weapons, like battlefield nuclear weapons, would not be necessary?

Mr. Heseltine

I think that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman might feel that the obsession is his. The trouble With his obsession is that he talks only about the NATO cruise deployment. He seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that over the last decade the Soviet Union has developed a range of cruise missiles capable of being launched from ground, sea or air. He never seems to have any complaints about that.

8. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the present arrangements for the dispersal of cruise missiles from Greenham common for training purposes.

Mr. Heseltine

As I have already made clear, the arrangements will be adequate to enable the personnel to train fully for their operational role. I am not prepared to discuss details.

Mr. Davies

Will the Secretary of State confirm that to enable cruise missiles to be maintained at a state of operational readiness they will have to be dispersed throughout the countryside? Will he say whether, in the event of peaceful demonstrations which will undoubtedly accompany the dispersal of those missiles, the security of those missiles and the policing of those demonstrations will be the responsibility of unarmed British policemen or of armed American service men?

Mr. Heseltine

On the first question that the hon. Gentleman puts to me about the need to deploy off base, the weapons systems could be fired from within the base, but, as the last White Paper made clear, the system is designed to be widely deployed off base.

Mr. Boyes

That is why the right hon. Gentleman has no control over them.

Mr. Heseltine

If training exercises take place, the position is that they will not be training exercises using live weapons systems. I imagine that the proper answer to the hon. Gentleman in that context is that there will not be a need for the guards accompanying those deployments to be armed with live weapons.