HC Deb 26 February 1985 vol 74 cc155-7
3. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now state the total cost of the Molesworth operation; and what was the number of personnel involved.

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

I can give an answer as it applies to my Ministry. Three hundred Ministry of Defence police were engaged in clearing the site of trespassers; 1,500 Army personnel were engaged in the erection of a temporary fence and other facilities.

The cost of Army stores used in this latter operation was about £1 million. Other costs, including those of the temporary buildings on site, other equipment and the erection of the permanent fence are likely to total £5.5 million.

Mr. Skinner

I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Defence included himself among that number. Does he realise that he cut a sorry sight as he pranced about at Molesworth in an Army flak jacket, especially since, when he was in the real Army, he hated wearing the apparel so much that he got himself out as quickly as he could? The exercise was carried out all because he wanted to remove a few peaceful protestors, Quakers and a white goat.

Mr. Heseltine

I must concede one point to the hon. Gentleman. I took what trouble I could to plan that exercise, but I made one miscalculation. I forgot to take a coat with me and it was raining.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Is my right hon. Friend aware that money spent to restrain unrepresentative groups who are trying to disrupt the Queen's peace and to change our policy for keeping the peace is money well spent?

Mr. Heseltine

When my hon. Friend talked about money spent on restraining unrepresentative groups which threaten the peace, I thought that he might be talking about the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It would certainly be money well spent in that case. I support completely what my hon. Friend said. Had we not carried out that exercise, there could have been incalculable additional costs, which were avoided because the exercise was so successful.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Secretary of State tell us what United States National Guardsmen are doing in this country? Are they being used to train people to deal with civil disobedience at Molesworth and elsewhere? Will he explain why Ministry of Defence officials were called to the American embassy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady should read the question carefully. It deals with the cost of the Molesworih operation and has nothing to do with American guardsmen.

Mrs. Clwyd

The question also asks about the number of personnel involved, Mr. Speaker. My question was related to that.

Mr. Heseltine

I can help the hon. Lady. If she looks at the briefing notes for the last Labour Government she will find exactly what American personnel are doing here on our nuclear bases.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Mayor of Peterborough, with Labour and Liberal councillors, are conniving to hand over council property to CND, which will use it to advise Molesworth protesters how to evade and to break the law? Does my right hon. Friend accept that although that is typical of the bodies referred to, it is not accepted by my—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that that question has much to do with the original question either.

Mr. O'Neill

Is the Secretary of State aware that by donning a flak jacket he achieved what the emperor achieved by taking off his clothes? We can see as a result what a pathetic exercise it was. That the Secretary of State had a role in planning the exercise says a lot about the way in which his mind works and the way in which the Government approach such matters.

Mr. Heseltine

I am sorry to be boring, but I did want to keep dry. That is why I put on a flak jacket.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity since he last made a statement to the House on the issue to assess the cost benefit of the exercise? On reflection, what was the purpose of the expenditure? Was it not to depress dissent, as the Wintex exercise which starts today will attempt to do?

Mr. Heseltine

The Wintex exercise is designed to preserve the credibility of our deterrent and therefore to maintain the peace. I can help the hon. Gentleman about the cost-effectiveness of the Molesworth exercise. It ensured that the large numbers of people living in that area were not subjected to harassment by those who were illegally operating on Ministry of Defence land. It denied the opportunity for continued occupation and for the frustration of the Government's legitimate right, and it secured the enhancement of the Government's policy to maintain NATO's policies because those policies have secured peace. That is a peace which the protesters are only too happy to enjoy because within it they can further their protest.