HL Deb 01 February 1982 vol 426 cc1115-7
Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will be able to exercise an absolute veto over the firing of any one of the 160 cruise missiles planned for installation at Greenham Common and Moles-worth under US command, and if so, how British operational control is to be exercised in the absence of a "dual key" arrangement.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard)

My Lords, as I have already made clear to the House, the use by the United States in an emergency of bases in the United Kingdom, including those on which cruise missiles will be based, would be a matter for joint decision between the two Governments in the light of circumstances at the time. These arrangements have existed for nearly 30 years and have been supported by successive Governments. It would not be in the public interest to disclose the detailed arrangements.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the Government have surrendered operational control over these weapons and have therefore ensured that in time of international crisis the people of this country could be sacrificed not by their own decision, not even by a decision of Her Majesty's Government, but perhaps by the decision of an ill-informed American President, who would not himself suffer the immediate consequences of his own decision? Will the Government tell the Americans that United States forces on British soil and in British waters must operate under British command or not at all?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I do not agree that the United Kingdom Government have surrendered control, and I shall not repeat my first Answer. We have complete confidence in the working of the NATO Alliance now and in times of emergency or stress. I think that the people of this country are very grateful, or should be very grateful, for the deployment of American missiles to take the place of ageing bombers in exactly the same way as the bombers have operated for the last 30 years. The deterrent power of our alliance has kept the peace.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Minister aware that, so far as I know, we are not at war with any other nation and we have no intention of using cruise missiles against any other nation? If it were our intention to use them, it would be very stupid on the part of Her Majesty's Government to make a public announcement as to when we would use them, how we would use them, and in what particular circumstances we would use them. In fact, is not the Answer to a Question of this kind—if I may say so with great respect—hypothetical?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I agree with the vast majority of the noble Lord's sentiments, and I am sure that the House does, too.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, while I agree with the spirit of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, may I ask whether it is not a fact that Her Majesty's Government already accept dual key arrangements for a number of nuclear weapons on the Continent? Therefore in that case is it not self-evident why there is not a much better case for having dual key where the weapons are stationed in the United Kingdom.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I think the noble Lord will know that the dual key arrangements for some weapons on the Continent relate to those weapons that are jointly paid for between allies, where one ally provides one part of the weapon and has the key, and another ally provides another part. In the case of these missiles the United States are supplying the whole missile and the warhead, just as they did for their bombers before them, and are paying the entire bill. We are entirely satisfied that dual key is not applicable in those circumstances, but that the joint decision arrangements are entirely reliable, particularly since these bases lie within the United Kingdom, so that even those who may wish to conjecture about a very reliable ally perhaps going mad at some future date should recognise that we have the full power to ensure that our agreement is carried out.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that when the bombs begin to fly there will be no time for negotiations and decision about the use of American weapons in this country, and are not these modifications absolutely useless in that kind of emergency situation?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the whole purpose of the alliance and all the arrangements is to ensure that the bombs do not fly, and I am absolutely convinced that they will be successful. Matters such as very fast communications, and steps to be taken in an emergency, have to be worked out so that deterrence shall be credible. They have been worked out, but it is not in the public interest for me to disclose the details of them.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the alliance has worked extremely well over the last 30 years and that we put everything in jeopardy if these Questions are asked so frequently?

Viscount Trenchard

I entirely agree, my Lords.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Minister aware that quite a number of people who do not accept the unilateralist argument are none the less disturbed by the fact that we do not exercise operational control over a weapon to be fired within our own borders? Would he not agree that the decision in this matter should be based not on who pays for the weapon and what is its cost, but on which country it is located in? Since it is located in our country, would not the Minister agree that we ought at least to exercise dual key control?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, for all the reasons that I have stated I do not agree with either proposition, and I think that the Government and most of the House agree that our total security depends upon a close working alliance and confidence between the partners.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, could my noble friend say whether the questioner, Lord Jenkins of Putney, has asked the Government to make representations concerning the 280 USSR SS20 nuclear weapons which are currently deployed in eastern Europe? Are these same questions to be answered by the Soviet Union as well?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who asked the Question has heard the comments of my noble friend, and will press the USSR on this kind of point.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I would be happy to do so if, unfortunately, the SS20s were located in this country.

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