HC Deb 06 February 1985 vol 72 cc945-56

4.3 pm

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

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the operation conducted last night at RAF Molesworth to clear the site of trespassers and to fence it.

The then Secretary of State for Defence announced on 17 June 1980 the Government's decision that Molesworth, a disused airfield in Cambridgeshire, had been selected as the second United Kingdom cruise missile base. The normal process of planning consultation was set in hand towards the end of last year against the requirement to begin major construction on the site this autumn if deployment by 1988 is to be achieved.

As the House will be aware, RAF Molesworth, as an unfenced and open site, has been the scene of continued trespass by individuals and groups opposed to its use as a cruise missile base. Their activities have given rise to much local anxiety. The anti-nuclear protest groups have made clear their intention to engage in a systematic programme of deliberate delay and disruption, not excluding unlawful means, in order to prevent its development. It would have been quite wrong to allow such a protest to build up on Ministry of Defence land and to accept that the serious inconvenience to local people would continue.

I therefore directed that the necessary steps should be taken to end this as quickly as possible and with the least likelihood of danger to all concerned. To do so, it was necessary to act in secrecy and with speed in order to prevent the very serious problems which would have arisen from the reinforcement of the protesters that had been threatened. This could have led to a major confrontation with all the risks which that involved to both demonstrators and those responsible for the maintenance of law and order.

The operation began shortly before midnight last night with the arrival of Ministry of Defence police to clear the site of trespassers and to take control of it. The civil police were responsible for policing outside the site itself. At the same time, 1500 Royal Engineers began to fence off the whole site with dannert-type fencing. They are also providing observation platforms and perimeter lighting which will assist the Ministry of Defence police in their continuing task of guarding the site. In addition, members of the Property Services Agency and civil contractors moved heavy equipment on to the site to begin the construction of a permanent weldmesh fence for which planning agreement has already been given.

This House reaffirmed in October 1983 its support for the NATO twin-track decision on intermediate range nuclear forces. The Government very much hope that, now that the Soviet Union has returned to the negotiating table, it will be possible to make progress on the arms control element of that decision. But until progress has been achieved which makes this unnecessary, we shall continue with preparations for the deployment of cruise missiles. That is a decision approved by Parliament. No responsible Secretary of State for Defence, or Government, could countenance such preparations being frustrated by a small, unrepresentative minority within our society.

That is why the action that I have described has been undertaken today. I have myself visited Molesworth this morning in order to pass on the Government's thanks to those concerned. The House will, I know, wish to join me in paying tribute to all those involved in ensuring that this major operation has proceeded so successfully.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

The operations about which the statement is made demonstrate again how heavy-handed, how insecure and how insensitive the right hon. Gentleman is when trying to deal with those whose only offence is their wish to protest peacefully against nuclear weapons. We remember the right hon. Gentleman threatening from the Dispatch Box that he would authorise the shooting of unarmed demonstrators. We remember how relentlessly he pursued the prosecution of the hapless Sarah Tisdall. We have read this week, in matters that are sub judice, how he exaggerated the problems of the Ministry of Defence on that occasion. Now we see the right hon. Gentleman doing exactly the same thing again. Clearly he has no understanding of what some of us thought was a civilised and humane way of trying to deal with these problems in Britain.

When the right hon. Gentleman strutted around Molesworth this morning in his flak jacket, did he not realise that he was not evicting some wild, Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang, but that he was evicting 100 British citizens, most of whom are Quakers with a long religious tradition of honourable protest against the weapons of war?

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer three questions? First, how many troops were involved and what regiments did they represent, how many military police were involved and how many civilian police were involved? Secondly, did he personally authorise this ridiculous operation? Thirdly, is he aware that all that he has done has been to sow 100 dragons' teeth? The protest not only will go on but will intensify because of what the right hon. Gentleman did this morning.

Mr. Heseltine

The whole House will have noticed that when what I have done has been to secure the maintenance of law and order and the legitimate rights of my Department to use its own land for its own purposes, the determination that we in this country share to live within the law is wholly repugnant to the Opposition.

If the right hon. Gentleman had taken the least trouble to read the statements of many members of the peace protest groups about the plans they had in mind deliberately to frustrate the Government's intention to develop that base—their widely publicised plans to lie in the path of necessary equipment, to frustrate the contractors, to stop us brick by brick—he would have realised that if I had acted with less dispatch they would have begun to implement those plans and to call up additional resources from all over the country. We could have faced civil disobedience on that site not just for days or weeks but for months.

If the right hon. Gentleman reads what has been clearly stated he will understand that about 1,500 Royal Engineers were used to build a fence. The people who maintained law and order were the Ministry of Defence police and the civil police. However, it would not be appropriate for me to give details of the numbers of policemen involved. If I did that, the only gain would be that it would enable the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to calculate how many more demonstrators they need in order to — [Interruption.] Today we have heard the petty response of a party whose only real cause of complaint is that it has been deprived of one more opportunity to support lawlessness.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his decision has the full support of my constituents in the nearest city to Molesworth and that it has, in particular, the support of the constituents of my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who is today in his customary place on the Treasury Bench? He has vigorously defended his constituents' interests for many months. Does my right hon. Friend accept that his decision, coupled with that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to meet extra police costs arising out of demonstrations at Molesworth, has reconfirmed the belief of the people of Cambridgeshire that this Government will provide the necessary national defence, but not at the expense of their local legitimate interests?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for both of his questions. Of course I completely support what he has said about the decisions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for his words on behalf of his constituents, which I very much appreciate. I am particularly grateful to him—and he will understand if I make the distinction — for what he said on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). Throughout the long occupation of parts of the Molesworth site my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon has been in the most invidious position as a member of the Government. He has continually made representations to me. I have tried to keep him as fully informed as possible, and I am glad that only about six hours after he was involved in the presentation of a petition on behalf of a very large number of his constituents, we were able—I am sorry about the short delay—to act.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

Does the Secretary of State agree that we should get last night's events into proportion? Does he accept that within a democracy protesters have a perfect right to demonstrate against aspects of Government policy with which they disagree, but that the authorities are equally entitled to outwit them? That is just what happened last night at Molesworth.

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as he has made two important points. Every hon. Member recognises that there is a legitimate opportunity for peaceful protest within certain understandable conventions. Indeed, this House is about peaceful protest, and that is one of the great traditions of our democracy. But if a Secretary of State charged with responsibility for maintaining the law in these matters, reads that unless he is careful and gets his plans right he may endanger the very lives not only of male protesters but of women and children, he has a positive duty to take all reasonable steps possible to minimise the force necessary to secure the Government's proper objectives.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members very much welcome his statement because of the relief that it will give to law-abiding constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who is a Whip, and to the constituents of other hon. Members? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have shown our determination to retain and maintain the credibility of our deterrent posture?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon and learned Friend for that point. Now that the arms negotiations are under way, nothing is more evident than that our policy of deterrence has paid off. Those who are concerned with the deployment of cruise missiles should remember that one of their principal arguments against the missiles was that if we went ahead, the Russians would not talk to us and would move out of the negotiating conferences. However, they have actually moved back. Since we took a decision to deploy cruise missiles in this country in 1979, the Soviet Union has increased its deployment of SS20s by more than 250.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the peace camps in Britain, founded on the Gandhi principles of non-violence, are very highly respected all over the world, that the transfer of British territory to an American President so that he can make war from that base without the consent of the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister or the House of Commons is unacceptable, and that the decision to build a Berlin wall around the camp, together with the right hon. Gentleman's readiness to shoot those who might try to get into the camp, shows that the Government are prepared to use the full apparatus of the state to obliterate opposition to their policies?

Mr. Heseltine

I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said about American bases in this country. If I had an apology to make to the House, it would be that I have so slavishly followed the conventions that he so honourably defended when he was a member of the previous Labour Government. However, I do not feel it necessary to make that apology, because I took the view that the right hon. Gentleman's defence policies were broadly right. I do not understand why, in opposition, he has so extraordinarily abandoned them. Perhaps I can take issue with the right hon. Gentleman on this, as on so many other things. He says that the peace groups are respected throughout the world. That is a matter of judgment. But what is respected about this country throughout the world is our love of law and order and our respect for parliamentary democracy.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these pests who have made the lives of the citizens of Huntingdon a misery are certainly not respected by the people of Cambridgeshire or Huntingdon? Is he further aware that our constituents very much welcome the firm and efficient way in which he has carried out this operation? Does my right hon. Friend realise that they greatly admire the dedicated way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) has fought on their behalf for several months? Finally, is my right hon. Friend aware that he is to be congratulated because the operation was undertaken, remarkably, without any leak from his Department?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, and I agree with everything that he said. However, I have unselfishly to admit that the credit for there being no leak must be extended much more widely than just my Department.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

How much did last night's exercise cost? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that exercise was more consistent with a police state than with a democracy in the way in which it was carried out in such secrecy? The right hon. Gentleman said that the protesters at Molesworth represented a minority opinion, but does he not realise that opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of people are opposed to cruise? The Government were elected by fewer than 50 per cent. of the voters and it is they who are in the minority on this occasion.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the Government have one of the largest parliamentary majorities since the war. The Conservative party made it quite clear that if it was elected to office it would proceed with the deployment of cruise missiles. We very much believe that the Labour party was quite right in 1979 when it took the decision that led to their deployment in this country.

The cost of the exercise last night was probably relatively small because of the large number of service men involved. It was probably the cheapest way of proceeding, because if we had not carried out that operation we might have suffered substantial delays in the construction programme, which would have imposed a larger cost on the Ministry. The hon. Gentleman asked whether our action was not representative of that of police states. I do not know how one can maintain law and order in a parliamentary democracy without asking the police to ensure that it is maintained.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most, probably all, Conservative Members believe that the protection of defence establishments is an integral part of our defence policy? Will he continue to take whatever action is necessary within our democratic traditions to avoid a repetition of the shambles at Greenham common?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking those questions and I sympathise with the approach that he adopts in asking them. The shambles imposed on our society is organised by those indulging in the protest movement. Precisely because we live in a parliamentary democracy and follow the proper traditions of that democracy, there is a limit to the scale on which the police can prevent people from indulging in demonstrations of the sort that we have seen. That imposes a terrifying cost, not just financial but social, on large numbers of citizens who profoundly disapprove of what the protests are all about. A balance must be struck, and what guides my Department, as it did last night and on earlier occasions, is that we always try to use the minimum of force compatible with securing our objectives.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Secretary of State aware that what took place was an eastern European type of operation—which illustrated only too well the continued erosion of civil liberties that has taken place under Conservative rule? [Interruption.] The shouts that are coming from Tory Members may be likened to the nods of approval that one would expect in eastern European states for action against protests. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, no matter what operation took place last night, the campaign against cruise missiles will continue because we live in a democracy and people who feel so strongly about such matters that they wish to demonstrate will not be stopped?

Mr. Heseltine

The House will think it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman can be so selective. In talking about what happens as a challenge from the East he conveniently ignores the fact that the East began the deployment of the weapon systems that led to the protests at Molesworth and Greenham common in the first place. If he had a shred of objectivity, he would consider what might happen to people who tried to occupy bases in the Soviet Union in similar circumstances.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Will my right hon. Friend agree that CND consistently and deliberately misleads as to the amount of public support it enjoys in Britain? Does he agree that the true level of support was evidenced by a petition for the removal of the camp at Molesworth, which was signed by more than 90 per cent. of the local population within three days; by a poll at St. Ives which went against CND's protest appeal against cruise; and by a petition at Alconbury for the removal of a camp, which was signed by more than 90 per cent. of the local population in a short time? Will my right hon. Friend join in urging CND to cancel its pointless and disruptive Easter march?

Mr. Heseltine

I support my hon. Friend and admire the energy he puts into the articulation of the case. When public opinion is consulted on these matters, it finds the tactics of the protest groups wholly unacceptable. The problem in a democracy such as ours is that a burden is imposed by tiny minorities behaving in a way that is unacceptable to the vast majority of us. My hon. Friend asks whether I am aware that the views of these minorities are unrepresentative. Yes, I am aware of that, and in my constituency at the last election one such person stood against me. The House will be pleased to hear that I won.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the Secretary of State accept that the tactics employed by the state are equally unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy? Does he understand that the use of massive force in a paramilitary operation by the Ministry of Defence, using troops against civilian peace protesters, undermines the very quality of democracy that he pretends to support?

Mr. Heseltine

It was an interesting choice that someone with my responsibilities had to face. Had I pursued the logic of that question, I would have given notice and presumably deployed what I would have believed to be an inadequate force, and then we could have had thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of men, women and children with whom to cope. Presumably at that point the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would have told me that I should abandon the Government's policies because an even larger and less representative minority was challenging us.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the western boundary fence of Molesworth is also the county boundary between Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire? Will he accept from me the welcome that my constituents in Northamptonshire will give to the action taken by his Department and the civil police during the evening? Is he further aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and I have, during the last weeks and months, received a growing volume of protests from our constituents in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire about the growth of criminal and antisocial behaviour by the campers at the Molesworth air base? Will my right hon. Friend accept that our constituents will fail to recognise the description of those people, who have now been removed, as Gandhian in their behaviour, as has been claimed for them? Will my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents will welcome his statement that the preparations for Molesworth will continue, because they know that the surest way in which it will be unnecessary to deploy at Molesworth is if we continue with our efforts until such time as agreement is reached at Geneva?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. I agree wholly with his last point, and I assure him that the interests of the citizens of Northamptonshire were as much in my mind as the interests of the citizens of Cambridgeshire.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Will the Secretary of State admit that this has been another example of the right hon. Gentleman informing the House that he has carried out his orders from General Bernard Rogers in the Pentagon? Did not last night illustrate again the Government's increasing determination to carry out by force what they cannot do by persuasion? It is clear that the majority of people in Britain are opposed to cruise missiles. Given all the heart-rending stories about the dilemmas and so on that the right hon. Gentleman faced, will he now say whether any warning was given to the men, women and children that they would be moved? [Interruption.] Did they receive eviction notices? If it was not appropriate to issue such notices, why have eviction notices been issued at Greenham common since the peace campers first went there? Is it not a fact that because of the tremendous resistance of the women at Greenham, he is now using the iron fist at Molesworth? The logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument that he is saving money—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] I am taking no longer than did the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell). If the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that his action will save money in the long term—by nipping the protest in the bud now—the logic of that is that he might as well get the troops out now and round up the lot of us—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and achieve what he wants in one go.

Mr. Heseltine

It may come as a severe disappointment to the hon. Gentleman to learn that we went to a great deal of trouble to give proper warning to those involved at the peace camp. The chief constable involved, using words which were designed to ensure that the campers were given the chance to go of their own free will, made it clear that coaches were available to take women and children, that welfare services would be available, in conjunction with the Cambridgeshire county council, and that no pressure to move would be put on until the morning. I believe that he went as far as could seriously have been expected in all the circumstances. Great attention was paid to ensure that that message was delivered to the people occupying the land.

The hon. Gentleman repeats parrot cries about the Pentagon which suit the convenience of his prejudices. It will come as a disappointment to him to hear that I did not discuss the plans of last night either with the Pentagon or with General Rogers, and I have no reason to suppose that they were aware of them in time for them to make any impact whatever on them. The hon. Gentleman talks about persuasion, presumably thinking that we should try to persuade tiny and and unrepresentative groups. We believe that the real challenge of persuasion is to persuade the British electorate to give us a mandate to carry through certain policies.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that a further statement follows this debate before quite a heavy day. I ask for shorter supplementary questions, which will lead to shorter answers.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the vicinity of the great air bases in my constituency, where by far the largest number of American aircraft and personnel are located, the most popular sign in the windows of the houses of the ordinary people who live nearby is not "Yanks go home" but "No peace camps here"? My right hon. Friend's action has been a clear response to the wishes of the vast majority of ordinary people who have the experience of living alongside the American camps and the peace camps and who have no doubt that they prefer the Americans.

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend puts more eloquently than I can the deep conviction that exists on this matter. Any Government since the war could have asked the Americans to go. They did not, because they knew that we gained immeasurably from the American presence.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what happened at Molesworth last night will be seen by people as nothing more than an irrational operation that is part of an irrational policy of having first strike nuclear weapons on this soil? Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that the question of law and order is for the Minister of Defence and not for the law courts?

Mr. Heseltine

The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second question is also no.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

In the interests of lowering the risks of confrontation between the demonstrators and the military, will my right hon. Friend urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to bring forward at the earliest possible opportunity the implementation of section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984? I believe that this measure would be widely welcomed by the local constabularies involved.

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand if I say that I shall ensure that his views are drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

The Secretary of State has clearly failed to note that the majority of people have, in opinion poll after opinion poll, spoken against cruise missiles. Has the right hon. Gentleman recognised that point? Will he recognise that the majority of thinking people will see the action last night as crass insensitivity at a time when the Geneva talks are continuing? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the majority of people who have protested peacefully and non-violently at Greenham common and elsewhere are doing the only thing they can to show the Government that they wholly oppose the deployment of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Lady is completely wrong. Those people could have stood for election in the constituencies, where the people express a proper democratic view. Many of them stood for election and failed. A large number of them sit on the Opposition Benches, and that is why they were humiliated in the last election.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Amid all this mock furore from the loony Left, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind the House of the real success of last night's operation? The real success is the fact that we have revealed again the determination which NATO, with Britain leading, has shown in bringing the Russians to the conference table to discuss disarmament. That is the real success of last night.

Mrs. Clwyd

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take the point of order after the Minister's answer.

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) strikes at the core of the matter. Those who were against the deployment of cruise missiles told us that, if we proceeded, the Russians would not negotiate about arms control. Now that the Russians have come back to negotiate about arms control, those people tell us that, if we continue, the Russians will not negotiate about arms control. Our view is diametrically the opposite—the firmer our deterrent, the more likely it is that the talks will be successful.

Mr. Speaker

What is the point of order?

Mr. Rogers

Am I allowed to state my point of order, or am I being challenged, Mr. Speaker? — [Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not have any belief in democracy, so I shall forget all about them. My point of order is—

Mrs. Clwyd

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Rogers

My point of order is—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am trying to help the hon. Member. It might be best if I took the point of order later.

Mr. Rogers

I am trying to control my feelings, Mr. Speaker. I felt that, when I rose to make a legitimate point of order, you were challenging my right to make a point of order. I respect your independence. In that respect, I must admit that I was concerned about the way in which you asked me about the point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member should come to the point.

Mr. Rogers

I shall, Mr. Speaker. As previous Speakers have ruled that it would be wrong for Opposition Members to refer to Conservative Members—whether it is right or wrong — as Fascists or neo-Fascists, is it proper for an hon. Member to refer to other hon. Members who have spoken during this debate as the loony Left?

Mr. Speaker

It might be thought to be a term of endearment.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accept that one of the most important outcomes of his action yesterday was the reinforcement of the right of the majority to be heard? Is it not time that the minorities were told—as my right hon. Friend has done on this occasion—that the majority's views must be understood and that their lives should not be continually allowed to be made a misery by these loony people who feel that they have a right to run into the ground the lives of everyone else?

Mr. Heseltine

I do not think that I should adopt the use of the word "loony" as its use appears to be rather sensitive in certain sections of the House. I believe that it is necessary for the parliamentary democratic process to be upheld. That is why we argue in elections, and when we win elections we carry through policies precisely as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) that I was not seeking to get a cheap laugh at his expense. I believe that we should seek not to raise the temperature of hon. Members through anything we say in the Chamber. Although I do not think that "loony" is a very unparliamentary word, let us avoid its use this afternoon. Mr. Tam Dalyell. [Interruption.]

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In view of the comment I heard made by a Conservative Member, I point out that I hope that matters of sub judice and privilege will be referred to in the proper way after a certain case is concluded. The remark was quite audible.

On what date was the Prime Minister consulted about this operation, or was it her idea?

Mr. Heseltine

I took the original decision in November. We began planning procedures within my Department. I informed my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of my plans some considerable time after that, when I believed that the plans could be fully implemented.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the moves at Molesworth last night were moves not against peaceful demonstrators but against those people who, when they decide to demonstrate, reserve unto themselves the right to break the law, be it civil or criminal? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is immensely sad to note that not one single voice will be raised this afternoon from within a party which still has some pretensions to office to praise the fact that the rule of law has been upheld?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has come to the centre of one of the most depressing features of this Opposition. There was a time when there was a consensus about the maintenance of law and order, but the Labour party seems to be incapable of ever standing up for the rights of the majority or, in fact, for the maintenance of law and order.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition are for the defence of Britain and that they believe, along with the vast majority of people—as expressed through opinion polls—that the deployment of cruise missiles will make Britain a more dangerous place in which to live? Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of Britain will contrast very much the building by the Ministry of a 7½ mile long 7 ft high fence of barbed wire with the building by the peace people of a school and a church, which was dedicated by the Bishop of Huntingdon, and the sending to Ethiopia of 20 tonnes of wheat grown by them on that site?

Mr. Heseltine

The British people will understand that if we had not put a fence around that land, the Ministry of Defence land would have been occupied by increasingly large numbers of people determined to act illegally.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Has my right hon. Friend thought about the strange anomaly of the enthusiasm of Opposition Members for opinion polls? May we expect an opinion poll on capital punishment to be as highly regarded by the Labour party? Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), would it not be right and proper to recognise that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), who speaks for the Social Democratic party and presumably for his Liberal allies, did not share the ridiculous view held by Her Majesty's loyal Opposition towards the maintenance of law and order? May I ask that the word loyal be put in inverted commas in Hansard?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes a critical point. If the Labour party had its policies tested by opinion poll, it would virtually never secure a majority on any one of them. It cannot secure a majority in any circumstances.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Secretary of State accept that last night's jackboot-method attack on the peace camp at Molesworth is but another example of the paranoia and increasing brutality of the Government's policy of foisting nuclear weapons on an unwilling population? What steps is he taking to inform the people of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and the surrounding districts of the increased danger to their livelihoods of a nuclear explosion because of the presence of nuclear weapons on that site? How many of the people living near to the camp could expect to survive a nuclear attack or the explosion of a cruise missile?

Mr. Heseltine

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would rather tell the truth. That will perhaps be rather more attractive to the citizens of Huntingdonshire who, I think, know as well as I do that the decision to modernise NATO intermediate nuclear weapons was taken in April 1979 by the Labour party then in government.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Does not last night's massive use of force demonstrate that the Government are hellbent on the further deployment of cruise missiles, which will be American-owned, controlled and operated? Surely he recognises that further deployment in Europe must damage prospects of progress in the forthcoming United States-Soviet talks on nuclear disarmament?

Mr. Heseltine

I have answered that question. There is no truth in it, and that is why the Soviet Union is back at the negotiating table. This Government are broadly pursuing policies pursued by every Labour Government since the war.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

We have had some splendid revelations today. It took a three-month planning exercise for the Secretary of State to go down in history as the victor of Molesworth common. More British troops were used against 100 British peace campaigners and Quakers at Molesworth common than were used against the Argentines at Goose green. That is the extent of Secretary of State's victory today. If ever a nut used a sledge hammer, it was the Secretary of State on this occasion. Is the Secretary of State aware that with the Geneva talks about to take place, many people throughout the world and in this country believe that we should not be going ahead with any preparations for further deployment of cruise, but that there should be a complete freeze on any deployment until we know the outcome of those talks? When the Labour party is on the Government Benches—[Interruption.]—it will not be long—it will be our policy to rid these islands of cruise, other nuclear weapons and nuclear bases.

Mr. Heseltine

I suppose that it is too much to expect the hon. Gentleman to report accurately what the House has been told. The only people who had contact with the demonstrators were members of the civil or Ministry of Defence police. The Royal Engineers were used to build the fence. To the best of my knowledge—I shall correct this if it is wrong—when I was on the site at about 11 o'clock, no force had been used in connection with moving any demonstrators because they had gone peacefully. One of the reasons why they had gone peacefully was that it was apparent that there was no purpose in them doing anything other than that. If there had been an inadequate presence on that site, they would then have been tempted to resort to the tactics that they had told us they would use — to call up more demonstrators from all over the country. The hon. Gentleman tells us that when the Labour party is in power it will pursue a whole range of non-nuclear policies. He fails to understand that it is because of that threat that it is not in power.