HC Deb 05 February 1991 vol 185 cc161-71 3.33 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the position of United States nuclear capable forces in the United Kingdom.

The United States Government have been considering their arrangements for the forward support of their nuclear missile submarines and for the basing of their dual capable aircraft in the United Kingdom. These are being affected in the case of the submarines by the withdrawal of the Poseidon missile submarines, which removes the need for forward support in the north-eastern Atlantic area.

In respect of the dual capable aircraft, the implications of the changed situation of the Warsaw pact are particularly relevant. The United States Defence Secretary, Mr. Cheney, advised me of their proposals, which have since been discussed between us, and I can now advise the House of the outcome, which is being simultaneously made public in the United States.

First, as a result of a decision to accelerate the withdrawal from service of the United States Poseidon missile submarines, the United States Navy will, by the end of this year, no longer have a requirement for its submarine support facility at Holy Loch and this facility will therefore close. The exact date of closure has yet to be determined, but is likely to be some time in 1992.

Secondly, United States F111E and EF111 aircraft at present based at RAF Upper Heyford and F111F aircraft currently based at RAF Lakenheath will be withdrawn to the United States. The F111Fs will deploy to Upper Heyford for possibly some six weeks each year for exercises and training. These aircraft will remain committed to NATO and would return to basing in the United Kingdom in crisis or war. As envisaged for some time under NATO plans for the restructuring of alliance nuclear forces, United States F15E aircraft will be deployed to the United Kingdom, beginning in 1992; and it has now been decided that they are to be based at RAF Lakenheath. They will be deployed in smaller numbers than the F111 wing currently based there. These changes will be completed in 1994. The net effect will be fewer, but more modern dual capable aircraft in the United Kingdom.

Changes in the types of equipment needed to sustain our defences and to reflect the new international security situation have led to these different needs. The Government understand the reasons for these decisions, but, none the less, they will have significant local economic consequences.

The constituencies of a number of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will be affected. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is giving particular attention to the implications of the closure of the Holy Loch facility.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. The withdrawal of Poseidon missile submarines was expected and is welcome. Can he confirm that the closure of the facility is earlier than anticipated? Is there any possibility of its being used in future for the docking of United States hunter-killer submarines with dual capable cruise missiles?

The House notes that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give attention to the economic consequences of the closure. Can the Secretary of State for Defence ensure that public funds, both British and American, will be available for the regeneration of the Dunoon area? Can he say whether the more limited use of Upper Heyford is in response to local concern about aircraft noise? Can he tell the House whether the United States F15E will be fitted with SRAM(T) missiles and, if so, which other European nations in NATO will be offering similar facilities?

Mr. King

I can confirm that the closure is a little earlier than was originally envisaged. It is possible that there will be periodic visits but not the forward support position of United States naval tenders and possibly hunter-killer submarines.

The hon. Gentleman asked about assistance for the area. The United States, which has a number of direct employees at Holy Loch and the other bases, is advising them at the moment about redundancies and about its efforts to assist them to find alternative employment. As I have already advised the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is considering the implications of the closure for Dunoon.

As to the weaponry that might be carried by the aircraft, there is no change from the present weaponry. There is no decision yet as to whether the United States will proceed with what is known as SRAM(T) or TASM. That is a matter for the future.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his announcement constitutes a reorientation of American efforts in Europe, but that it in no way decouples their commitment to Europe and to the United Kingdom?

Mr. King

I confirm that. The proposal to station the Fl5Es at Lakenheath confirms the Americans' continuing intention to maintain a capability in Europe. We welcome that continuing commitment—albeit at lower levels, which reflect the new security situation—to NATO and to stationing forces in Europe.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

I welcome the fact that the change reflects the new security arrangements. However, does the Secretary of State realise that it will have a significant impact on the economy of the Holy Loch and of the Cowal peninsula? Over the years, the Navy and the local people have built up good relations. I pay tribute to United states personnel for maintaining those relations, which is demonstrated by the fact that every year approximately 200 United States naval personnel marry local girls. That shows that many of them consider the area to be home.

The Cowal peninsula has been designated a fragile area by the Highlands and Islands development board. Many people in the hotel and bed-and-breakfast business—to say nothing of the 119 taxis that ply their trade in Dunoon —will be put out of work. Will the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Scotland give a commitment that they will come forward with financial assistance for the area, as they did at Dounreay? What is the future of Machrihanish airport?

Mr. King

I would want notice of the hon. Lady's final question. I am grateful for the responsible and sincere way in which she responded to what I recognise, in the economic sense, must be disappointing news for her constituency and for those constituencies adjacent to it. I always try to be helpful, but I am not sure what I can do about the marriage prospects of so many girls in the Dunoon area. I take the point.

I pay tribute—and I know that the United States Government and the United States navy would also like to pay tribute—to the warm and friendly relations with the local people. The alliance has stood the world, NATO and Europe in such good stead. Personal relations locally play a big part in ensuring that the United States navy feels welcome. The navy will feel disappointed that it is leaving for other reasons. I take note of the hon. Lady's economic point.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) about the effect of the closure at Holy Loch on the whole of the Clyde estuary. Do not the events in the Gulf and in eastern Europe, and the changes in this country, highlight the necessity for putting "Options for Change" on hold until the position is clarified, perhaps in a year's time, when we may look forward to greater civility and to easier decisions on Scottish defence facilities?

Mr. King

I know that my hon. Friend would not wish us to fossilise everything at this stage while we learn all possible lessons from the Gulf. There may be changes, economies and improvements that we can make which have nothing to do with the Gulf but which would be a sensible rationalisation. Part of the developments in "Options for Change" was an increased recognition of the importance of the reserves and of volunteer forces. My hon. Friend gives outstanding leadership to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, so he will know of its splendid contribution in the Gulf.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Further to the comments of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), the economic implications of the reorientation of defence will have an adverse affect in our area. The area is poorly off at present, as the Secretary of State realises, and the Ministry of Defence has a responsibility there. For example, in my constituency 16 per cent. of the land is owned by the Ministry of Defence. Will the Secretary of State urge the Secretary of State for Scotland to meet the Members of Parliament who are involved so that we can examine the economic implications of the decisions?

Mr. King

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments and his perhaps tensions over the announcement, because he has genuinely not supported a nuclear presence in the area, yet we all recognise the economic benefits that it has brought and the problems that the announcement will pose for many of his constituents.

The heads on my left are nodding vigorously. I take it from that that the request for a meeting has been granted.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will the new deployment of the United States air force in this country affect the Americans' requirement for standby bases and, in particular, the future of Greenham Common in my constituency?

Mr. King

I have no comment to make on Greenham Common. As my hon. Friend knows, progress in the withdrawal of cruise missiles is continuing very satisfactorily. By May the last cruise missile will have left. The proposal is that Upper Heyford should go on to a standby basis. One has certainly seen the advantage of that in the totally separate and different arrangements that can come from having facilities that can be available in time of need over RAF Lakenheath.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The "show us the flag" commitment to NATO apart, which I understand, what is the military role of the F15E aircraft?

Mr. King

It is a dual capable aircraft which can carry either conventional or nuclear bombs.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who, for years, have supported our nuclear deterrent capability and have welcomed United States service men and their role in that military activity will be saddened that technical change has meant that they will leave the Holy Loch? We have always recognised that military bases in Scotland were substantial employers and were good for the local economy. We want no crocodile tears from Opposition Members who, for years, have campaigned for the closure of the bases.

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting clearly in the voice of Scotland the dilemma that many Opposition Members face. Some of them have faced it quite genuinely, but others less so.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Secretary of State clarify his answer to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) on the possible future use of Holy Loch, perhaps as a base for SSNs with cruise missiles? Does that exclude the possibility of its being used for United States Trident-type submarines in future? In terms of future possibilities for employment in Scotland, may we take it that the meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland is a clear departure from asking market forces to solve such problems? May we expect similar initiatives in relation to Rosyth?

Mr. King

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is no, but, within the sensible economic approach, my right hon. Friend will be anxious to see what can be done to help in the difficult circumstances. However, on the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am not ruling anything out, but I know of no proposals for a further base in the Holy Loch. I said that it might be used for periodic visits, but not as a base.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that many people will regard this as a disappointingly premature decision? Nevertheless, does he agree that the deployment of Polaris played a triumphant part in keeping the peace since 1945?

Mr. King

The nuclear deterrent has ensured the longest period of peace in Europe this century. It is in no way an abandonment of the deterrent. It is a recognition that the introduction of the Trident submarine means that the United States is able to deploy its deterrent without the need for a forward-operating base in the north-eastern Atlantic.

Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the majority of people in Scotland will be happy about the decision by the American Administration as it marks the end of a 30-year campaign to get rid of the Polaris submarine base? Thirty years ago, my wife and I and my young family took part in the many demonstrations at Dunoon, on the Holy Loch, protesting against the decision to set up the Polaris base, which was supported by Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister of a Conservative Government. Now that we have got rid of one American base in Scotland, when shall we get rid of the rest?

Mr. King

Many people, not only on this side of the House, may reflect that the continuing ability of the hon. Gentleman and his family to demonstrate in peace on such matters owes not a small amount to the continuing deterrence of NATO, which has held the peace in Europe all this time. The changes that I have announced today are not a departure from that policy. They mean that technical change and modernisation will enable the nuclear deterrent that has helped to keep the peace in Europe to help sustain that peace in future.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

As this decision comes hard on the heels of the INF agreement and at a time of great international instability when there is hard evidence of circumvention of arms control agreements by the Soviets, will my right hon. Friend look long and hard at least at the European component of our alliance deterrent? The decision will mean a further reduction in the alliance's intermediate range nuclear capacity and we should look at least to an effective stand-off nuclear weapon for the Tornado.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will recall that at the London summit the NATO leaders agreed that the alliance must maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe and kept up to date where necessary. My announcement today is precisely an implementation of that. I know that my hon. Friend would be the first to agree that modernisation of the deterrent—the submarine and aircraft deployments reflect that clearly—is an important way of ensuring that we maintain the strength of Europe and the NATO defence of Europe.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his announcement today raises enchanting spectres from our youth of our first visits to the Holy Loch when we were arrested on the pier and then acquitted because we had bought tickets? Does he agree that to fit the F15s, which are to be based in the United Kingdom, with TASMs would be a major change in the NATO capability facing the Soviet Union? Will he undertake to ensure that if they are so equipped a statement will be made to the House?

Mr. King

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman raises that. I thought that there was general support across the House for the NATO policy of keeping up to date an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman departs from that, but I believe that it is a sane and sensible policy in the present uncertain state of the world.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

While my right hon. Friend's statement is warmly welcomed on this side of the House and, for that matter, on the other side of the House, may I ask him whether he is aware that there is growing anxiety, particularly among Conservative Members and in the United States, about the difficulties which the United States has experienced in implementing CFE and, indeed, the continuing START nuclear talks? Is he further aware that there is strong evidence of circumvention in the Soviet Union and that there are increasing difficulties with verification? Can he reassure the House that the steps that he has announced have been taken in full knowledge of that deterioration of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union?

Mr. King

I take seriously the point made by my hon. Friend. We are worried about some of the evidence and the need for effective verification. The changes that I have announced will take place over a period. In the case of the submarines, there is an enhancement of capability; there is no reduction of capability. The much greater range of the Trident submarine simply makes unnecessary the use of a forward operating base. The situation in relation to the aircraft applies progressively until 1994 and obviously the United States will want to keep carefully under review its commitment to NATO against the background of the developing situation. But modernisation is important, and that issue is dealt with in the statement.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his statement today may be only the first of many similar announcements to be made in the future under the twin influences of a reduction in east-west tension and technological advance in the sphere of defence procurement? Do not defence decisions of this kind underline the need to maintain and strengthen the political links between Europe and the United States?

Mr. King

People who unwisely thought that somehow NATO could be wound up and that there was no longer any need for United States-stationed forces in Europe have quieter voices now, bearing in mind the importance—including against the worrying background in the Soviet Union—of ensuring that we do not abandon the effective defence of NATO in a premature sense in what could be difficult circumstances. Therefore, I very much agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although it is understandable that the American taxpayer should seek to carry less of NATO's burden and to achieve sensible savings through the modernisation of equipment, the Soviet Union continues to sustain, and in some cases even enlarge, overwhelming superiority in most categories of nuclear weapons and in a number of categories of conventional weapons, including submarines and most types of aircraft?

Mr. King

That is true and it draws out clearly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) concerning worry about verification and about what still remains a very substantial military capability.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

As one who stood on Dunoon pier 30 years ago, may I ask the Secretary of State to accept my unqualified welcome for his announcement today? Will he look forward with me to the Holy Loch being returned to a purpose more consistent with its name? Does he recognise that during those 30 years the economy of the Holy Loch area has been completely skewered by the United States presence there, the area having been used and abused by the American navy for its own purposes? Is he further aware that other employment opportunities there have been neglected because of the false economy that has been created around the American military presence? Will he give an assurance that assistance will be provided by the British and American Governments to restore a proper, stable economy to that part of Scotland?

Mr. King

I much preferred the account that was given by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) of the relationship between the local people and the United States navy in the use of the base—

Mr. Wilson

I come from there.

Mr. King

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman comes from the area, but I still preferred the account given by the hon. Lady. I do not know whether a campaign is starting on the Opposition Benches to prove how utterly futile and pointless it was to demonstrate 30 years ago. It did precisely nothing. How much more sensible it would have been to have left it to a sane and reasonable decision to be taken by the Government 30 years later, when the job had been done.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that I have called hon. Members whose constituencies are directly affected. If not, I shall certainly call those with a constituency interest. I appeal for brief and not repetitious questions.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Lakenheath is on the edge of my constituency and has a widespread effect on many parts of the area. The news he has announced today will be received with mixed feelings—with pleasure that it has been found possible to make the changes, but with concern about the effect on the local economy. Can he give more information about the changes at Lakenheath, particularly about the level of reduction in American personnel, civilian and service, remembering the effect that that will have on the economy of the area?

Mr. King

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. I said that I could not give details today. I can only say that the changes will begin in 1992 and that it is intended that they will be completed by 1994. The present proposals will mean moving from one wing to slightly less than one wing at Lakenheath. Although there will be fewer aircraft there, I cannot advise my hon. Friend of the precise effect that that will have on the numbers involved. Now that the announcement has been made, I appreciate that further discussion will occur and that my hon. Friend will wish to be involved in that process.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the Minister explain in what circumstances the United States may want to send cruise missiles into Holy Loch if the base is closed? Will he describe in what circumstances he would think it fit for cruise missiles to visit Holy Loch—or have not his American partners told him yet?

Mr. King

I am not sure why the hon. Lady asked that question. I may have misunderstood the point made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) but I know of no proposal to base anything in Holy Loch in future. I am unaware whether there may be periodic visits, but that is a possibility.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while his announcement is welcome in general terms, it could have implications for the Government's defence review, "Options for Change"? Does he further agree that, as the review was instigated before the change in the Soviet policy towards the Baltic states and before the outbreak of the Gulf war, Conservative Members are concerned that the Government should seek to reflect that in any changes made?

Mr. King

I can give that assurance. I, of all people, am concerned about that because I saw at first hand some of the problems we faced when making our contribution to the Gulf. Any lessons that we have been, and are, learning will be taken into account when considering "Options for Change".

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I join my colleagues in welcoming the end of the menance in the Clyde, which will also be welcomed by the fishermen, who constantly find submarines bumping into their boats or caught in their nets. We now know that 30 years ago Harold Macmillan and his Cabinet wanted the site to be not at Holy Loch but at Loch Linnhe, in the north of Scotland. However, President Eisenhower successfully insisted that it should be sited at Holy Loch. Will the Secretary of State assure us that the relationship between the two Governments has changed in the past 30 years and that if there were to be a new facility the decision would be made by the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence and not by the United States Secretary of State for Defence?

Mr. King

I certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I am interested in that bit of history, about which I was quite unaware. I am unable to compare the relative relationships between the Eisenhower and Bush Administrations and the British Government. The present relationship between the American and British Governments is extremely close and co-operative and we shall take as constructive an approach as possible.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

My right hon. Friend knows that Portland is occasionally used for rest and recreation by American submarine crews visiting this country. Will the closure of Holy Loch increase the incidence of people coming to visit and the need to use the naval dockyard for emergency repairs to Trident submarines and others?

Mr. King

I cannot comment on that. I note my hon. Friend's interest and I know of his loyal support for Portland. I know that those visiting Portland will receive a warm welcome.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

Does the Secretary of state agree that what are likely to be continuing reductions in the United States force levels underline the case for Europe to seek a closer defence co-operation and not to waste time chasing the moonbeam of a European defence force?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman's question takes us a little wider, but it emphasises that while the changes are being made by the United States, that country is determined to maintain and modernise its contribution of stationed forces in Europe. That element of the announcement will be widely welcomed.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As the F15Es are being based at Lincoln, may we have the clear assurance that the legally significant assurances given by our country in 1978 that a nuclear state would never attack a non-nuclear state are still confirmed? Will the Secretary of State say something about the dual key system that is apparently still in operation, whereby the Americans cannot use nuclear weapons without the clear understanding of No. 10 Downing street?

Mr. King

That is precisely the point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it. On 12 May 1983, my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister said: The effect of the understandings and the arrangements for implementing them is that no nuclear weapon would be fired or launched from British territory without the agreement of the British Prime Minister."—[Official Report, 12 May 1983; Vol. 42, c. 433.]

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Will the Secretary of State advise the House of the estimated loss of jobs arising from the closure? As the American submarines have been the cause of many serious accidents and damage to fishing boats from Northern Ireland in the Irish sea, will the right hon. Gentleman, in the last few months of the operation of the American submarines, make a further request to the authorities to ensure better co-operation with fishing fleet in the Irish sea so that there are no further accidents in the last remaining months?

Mr. King

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the closure of the base at Holy Loch which will result in the loss of 80 full-time United States-employed United Kingdom civilian jobs, 65 part-time jobs and about 20 Ministry of Defence civilian jobs, mainly with the Ministry of Defence police. The serious economic consequences will result from the departure of some 2,000 American employees with some 1,600 dependants. The loss of economic benefits to the local community has been estimate at about $50 million. That is a significant matter. The closure will lead to a reduction of submarine traffic in the Irish sea.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Do the British and United States Treasuries have contingency plans? The Secretary of State has said nothing about finance. What are his plans?

Mr. King

I referred in my statement to the particular interests of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is aware of these matters, to which he is giving particular attention. I also referred to the fact that a number of people involved are United States employees and the United States will wish to treat with them as fairly as possible. The United States is conscious of the good relations that have existed between them and it is grateful for that. It is conscious of the economic consequences that will flow from the decisions and is anxious to see how it can help in that respect.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

My constituency is one of those that faces on to Holy Loch, and I can assure the Secretary of State that there will be much disappointment at the closure of the base and its terrible economic consequences on the surrounding areas. Others will be delighted to see the closure of the base for many reasons, one of which is that the River Clyde was once famous for its holidaymakers, and I am convinced that once the base has closed, and if the Government take an urgent look at the problems of the Clyde, thousands of people may once again return to spend their money in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and the Americans will follow them. Will the Secretary of State urgently meet his colleagues in Scotland to discuss the economic crisis which will follow the closure of the base?

Mr. King

Having lived and worked in that area, and knowing the Clyde well, I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about the beauty of the area and its potential for tourist development. The closure of the base has serious economic implications and I imagine that the people involved will have a lot of sympathy for the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman than with those expressed by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who did not seem to care whether they had a job or not.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) did not say that good relations were built up—she said that people got married? The Secretary of State seems to be confused in his thinking. Can he explain to a simple soul like me, who 30 years ago was too young to stand on the pier, why he feels that it is so important to keep nuclear weapons in Britain to secure the peace in Europe and, conversely, so important to get rid of them in the middle east to secure the peace in the middle east?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the Soviet Union possesses a massive nuclear arsenal. In the judgment of many—and I personally believe this very strongly—peace has been kept for the longest period this century in Europe because of the existence of the nuclear deterrent. No doubt I shall have an opportunity to explain this point at greater length to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

The Secretary of State should come clean. The withdrawal of American forces from Holy Loch has nothing to do with the peaceful intentions of the American ruling class. It is all to do with economics, and with the fact that America is the biggest debtor country in the world. That has been made clear by George Bush's budget. Can we help him along the way? Can we get George Bush on his nuclear bike so that all American forces in Britain are withdrawn? That is the will of the British people and the Secretary of State can put that to the test by holding a referendum. The peace movement is growing throughout the country and it will develop to challenge the Government—and even to challenge the Labour party.

Mr. King

I am interested that the hon. Gentleman invites me to come clean. For all the serious economic problems that America faces—and there is no doubt about its deficit—when it is challenged, and when the American people have a duty and a responsibility to take action, they do not hesitate. That is clear from my statement today. The Americans are not turning their back on Europe. They are not abandoning their NATO commitments. They are modernising their forces and continuing to honour their commitment to NATO and to the defence of Europe.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government have belatedly caught up with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and have accepted their arguments, even if it is rather late in the day? Does he agree that we must move to get rid of other nuclear weapons? As a matter of interest, do the Government have a right of veto over the use of United States nuclear capable planes based at Upper Heyford and Lakenheath? Has the agreement made in October 1951 between President Truman and Prime Minister Attlee—that there would be joint decision-making only in the light of prevailing circumstances—been altered? Is there a specific agreement giving a right of veto? If so, will the Secretary of State direct me to it?

Mr. King

It would be extraordinarily silly of the hon. Gentleman to view my statement today as a victory for those who protested against a nuclear base at Holy Loch. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is the intention of the United States to maintain its missile submarines and nuclear deterrent. It happens that the new Trident submarines have a much bigger range, and do not need a forward operating base in the eastern Atlantic.

The precise statement that I made to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) also answers the hon. Gentleman's question. I will read it again. It confirms that no nuclear weapon would be fired or launched from British territory without the agreement of the British Prime Minister. I trust that the hon. Gentleman does not want to challenge that, and that he thinks it is right. I give that assurance to the House.