HC Deb 13 May 1986 vol 97 cc547-9
11. Mr. Gerald Howarth

asked the Secretary of State for Defence which Royal Air Force stations are currently used as bases by the United States air force.

Mr. Stanley

The USAF's main operating bases in the United Kingdom are at the following seven RAF stations: Alconbury, Bentwaters, Fairford, Lakenheath, Mildenhall, Upper Heyford and Woodbridge. The USAF makes use of other RAF bases and facilities elsewhere.

Mr. Howarth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those United States bases make a substantial contribution to the defence of this country, and that the removal of those bases, as advocated by the Labour party, and the replacement of that cover by the Royal Air Force, would place an intolerable burden on the defence budget?

Mr. Stanley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the United States presence in this country, including the USAF presence, is an integral part of Western Europe's deterrent, which is faced by the Soviet Union. I also agree that the Labour party's commitment to make the Americans remove their bases from this country is one of the most damaging attacks on NATO, and one of the most damaging defence policies that has ever been adopted by any British political party.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Does the Minister not accept that there is increasing concern among the public living around all the RAF bases used by the USAF, and also in areas over which Fl 1 1s and other United States aircraft fly in their training role? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time for a review of low-level flying throughout the United Kingdom? Did he read the remarks of Henry Kissinger in the press recently, where he argued for a withdrawal of F1lls to the USA?

Mr. Stanley

With regard to the final part of the hon. Gentleman's question, it remains our view, and it remains the view of the United States Administration, that the forward American deployment in western Europe is integral to the defence of western Europe. Low flying is a separate issue. It is subject to special rules that we have laid down. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular complaints in relation to his own constituency, we shall of course look at them.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not clear that the presence of United States' bases in Britain, and specifically the nuclear element, has played a key role in maintaining the peace and freedom of western Europe over the past 35 years? Is there not a real possibility that in the event of the implementation of either a Liberal or Socialist defence policy of getting rid of American cruise missiles and nuclear weapons from British soil, that could lead to the withdrawal of all US bases from this country, which would precipitate the disintegration of the NATO Alliance?

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that if the official Opposition were able to implement the policies to which they are committed there would be profound reverberations throughout NATO and profound damage to NATO. The striking contrast between the defence position in Europe now compared with 50 years ago is that 30 years ago the Americans had withdrawn to the other side of the Atlantic. Today, the forward defence position of the United States is seen to be inside western Europe, and that is why we can look forward with much greater confidence to continuing peace than our predecessors did in the 1930s.

Mr. Denzil Davies

If NATO, in a few weeks' time, agree, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for Defence, to establish binary chemical bombs in Britain, at which of the bases to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred will they be located?

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman was in the House when we dealt with a private notice question on that matter a few days ago. We made it clear then that we are considering the adoption or otherwise of a NATO force goal. I made it clear in answer to questions then that there were no plans by the United States to make any deployment of chemical weapons outside the United States in peace time.

Mr. Powley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as the important strategic defence presence of American bases in this country, there is an important economic factor in that presence for East Anglia and other areas? Does my right hon. Friend accept that if American bases were thrown out of this country there would be a serious economic loss? Jobs would be lost in East Anglia, in my constituency, as a result of any implemention of the Labour party's initiative on this issue.

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend will be glad to know that United States' forces in the United Kingdom are estimated to spend more than £600 million a year on goods and services, and that they sustain, directly or indirectly, some 30,000 jobs. I am sure that that fact will not be lost on the electorate of East Anglia or on the voters in my hon. Friend's constituency. I am sure that his constituents will give him the same support at the next general election as they gave at the last one.