HC Deb 13 March 1984 vol 56 cc269-70
7. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Defence by what date the next flight of 16 cruise missiles will be operational in the United Kingdom.

12. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Defence by what date he expects the next flight of 16 cruise missiles to be operational in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)

I cannot add to the reply that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) on 17 January.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister seriously think that the British people will feel reassured by that answer? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Is he not eager to conceal the nocturnal ramblings of these horrific weapons around our countryside because the British people have clearly shown that they oppose the deployment of cruise missiles? If not, why does he not bring them all out in full daylight and tell us when they will all come out?

Mr. Stanley

I am sure that the great majority of the British people will have been delighted that the claim made by CND that cruise missiles could not be deployed operationally has been falsified by events.

Mr. Parry

Will cruise missiles be sited at the Burtonwood base? Is the Minister aware that the people of Merseyside are utterly opposed to any such siting?

Mr. Stanley

The bases for cruise missiles remain as they were when deployment was first announced. As to operational deployment, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we give no advance information on the location of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Warren

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the House that cruise missiles are not a first-strike weapon and that NATO does not have a first-strike nuclear policy?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is entirely right on both points.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

As the House has spent considerable time debating the relatively small numbers of land-based cruise missiles, will the Minister make a full statement to the House before the deployment in June of sea-launched cruise missiles? Will he also make urgent representations to his American counterpart about the American philosophy on the use of these weapons, which is that they should form a strategic reserve after world war three?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the question of sea-launched cruise missiles is for the American Government, as they are not deployed by NATO. He referred to the small numbers of ground-launched cruise missiles in this country. I hope that, by way of perspective, he will take into account of the fact that the numbers of SS20s facing the West have been trebled since the end of 1979, when there were 81 missiles. There are now 243 SS20s facing the West—a total of 729 SS20s warheads. I hope that Opposition Members will take greater account of the extent of the threat facing us.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend see whether he can find enough money in his budget to send the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and his hon. Friends to see the Red square parade next year, so that they might better understand just why cruise is necessary?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure that the hon. Members to whom he has referred would find such a visit instructive.

Mr. Hoyle

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his Department's refusal to say whether missiles are based at Burtonwood is of great concern to the people of Warrington and the north-west? Should they not be allowed to know the dangers that they are facing?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, throughout the period of every Labour Government since the war, it has been the policy of such Governments, as well as of Conservative Governments, not to say where nuclear weapons will be deployed operationally.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the many SS20s facing these shores, the Soviet Union has a substantial number of submarines already equipped with cruise missiles, which represent another factor that we must take into consideration?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that remark. He is entirely right to say that the Soviet Union has a substantial programme for bringing into operational service strategic cruise missiles, and that includes sea-launched as well as ground-launched missiles.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Why do not the Government accept and admit that the deployment of cruise missiles has been a terrible mistake and at least agree not to deploy any more? Has not deployment created a mood of isolationism in both Europe and the United States and made it much more difficult to get any consensus on defence policy in Britain?

Mr. Stanley

What would have been a great mistake would have been for this Government not to have continued with the twin-track decision, the foundations of which were so well laid by our predecessors.