HL Deb 18 January 1983 vol 437 cc1286-9

2.58 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

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, if and when "cruise missiles" are installed in the United Kingdom, firm arrangements will be made with the United States Government whereby the missiles can in no circumstances whatever be launched without the explicit consent of Her Majesty's Government, and if so, whether such arrangements, when concluded, will be laid before Parliament for approval.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Government have made clear many times that we are, like successive Governments before us, satisfied with existing arrangements. Under these, the use by the United States in an emergency of bases in the United Kingdom (including cruise missile bases) will be a matter for joint decision between the British and American Governments in the light of circumstances at the time.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that not unexpected reply, may I ask him, in view of statements which have already appeared in the press, whether he can possibly deny that, unless the Government change their present attitude, we may quite well be committed to nuclear war, with all its appalling consequences, against the will of this country as expressed in Parliament?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords. I would not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in that assumption. The use of United States bases in the United Kingdom in an emergency would be a matter for joint decision by Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government, in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time. The Government are aware that concern has been expressed about the effectiveness of these arrangements, and the Government are satisfied that the arrangements are effective.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to restate the fact that this arrangement was entered into by previous Governments of both kinds, and that therefore we have a bipartisan agreement which it would be very unwise to upset?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lauderdale. It goes back to a communiqué issued in 1952, after discussions between Mr. Churchill and Mr. Truman, which confirmed arrangements reached earlier between Mr. Attlee and Mr. Truman. The arrangements are precisely those which have applied for nearly 30 years and which have been supported by successive Governments.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that yesterday in the other place a Defence Minister said that in the absence of concrete results in the INF negotiations in Geneva the deployment of cruise missiles would start at Greenham in December? Will the Minister say, first, whether the Government are satisfied with the present safeguards which ought to ensure that the British Government have control of any weapons and, secondly, what the Government's aims are at Geneva, in view of the fact that negotiations have gone on since December, 1979?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, so far as the Geneva negotiations are concerned, of course it is our wish that we should achieve the zero option so that the threat of these intermediate range weapons would be removed from either side. So far as control is concerned, I repeat that the use of United States bases in the United Kingdom in an emergency would be a matter for joint decision.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since these arrangements which he mentioned were entered into in 1952 there has emerged in Europe, as the noble Lord told us earlier, an overwhelming superiority directed at us, and that in our case destruction would mean that within 24 hours of these weapons being launched from this country at least 75 per cent. of our nation would be dead? In those new circumstances, is it not reasonable that we should have the say-so as to our nemesis?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have given the basis of the agreement about the use of bases in an emergency. It is a long-standing, well understood arrangement between United States Presidents and British Prime Ministers. I repeat that we are satisfied that these arrangements are effective.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the Minister of State indicate that he knows as well as the rest of us that last time there were American nuclear missiles on British soil a Conservative Government, in which the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, was the Defence Minister, insisted on a physical dual key arrangement? Could the Minister say why he thinks it is unnecessary this time? Lastly, could the Minister say what reason he has to think that people will accept it?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is referring to the Thor missiles which were based in the United Kingdom for only five years. They were the only nuclear missile system ever based in the United Kingdom to have been governed by a true dual key. The reason was that the missiles were owned and manned by the United Kingdom.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the House to understand that the use of the term "the use of bases" includes the launching of cruise missiles?

Lord Belstead

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that the assurance he has given about some arrangement, the details of which are unknown to us, can be guaranteed in the future, and that that assurance has received the consent of either House of Parliament? Would it not be desirable for both Houses of Parliament to be given a definite assurance that we are entitled to retain some measure of independence in a matter of this kind?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I repeat what I have already said: that this is a very long-standing and well understood arrangement between United States Presidents and British Prime Ministers which, as my noble friend Lord Lauderdale reminded the House, goes back over a period of about 30 years.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, if we can believe the press, is it not a fact that the Americans have agreed, in principle, to our having a dual control, or dual key, provided that we agree to purchase the missiles? Would it not therefore be in our interests to spend a few hundred million pounds in order to have control of these missiles, rather than the reverse?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I would not wish to comment upon anything which I have read in the press. A dual key arrangement would entail the United Kingdom purchasing the missiles and supporting equipment, except the warheads, and manning them in the same way as we do the Lance missiles in Germany. Since we are satisfied with the existing arrangements for the control of such weapons, we do not think that this would be a sensible use of defence resources.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, the Minister's answer referred to American bases in this country. Would it be possible to have consultations with the new American Command for Europe which is to be established at High Wycombe, and with the NATO Reserve Command, except for Western Germany? If they are to control the use of weapons in the whole of Europe, how can there be consultations between our Government and them before they are used?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to that final question is that this is a long-standing, well understood arrangement between Presidents and Prime Ministers, and it works.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that in time of war what really counts is not political control but operational control? Will not the Government accept that until they re-establish operational control over the use of the weapons they will not be believed if they claim to be in control of the fate of our own country?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am surprised that the Government are not believed. After all, this is a situation which has been in existence for a very long time. It is right for me to end this exchange by repeating that the Government are aware that concern has been expressed about the effectiveness of these arrangements, but the Government are satisfied that the arrangements are effective.

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