HL Deb 14 February 1985 vol 460 cc306-7

3.9 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are able to reaffirm the answer given last May by Mr. John Stanley (Commons Hansard, 22nd May 1984, col. 818) that cruise missiles deployed in this country can only be fired with the consent of the Prime Minister.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am sorry that he is repeating or reaffirming that answer, which is a convenient fiction rather than being in accordance with the facts? Is he aware that General Meyer, the United States Chief of Staff, has said to Congress that the operational concept for cruise missiles is quick launching at the direction of the theatre commander? It would seem that the statement that has been made and now repeated, that the Prime Minister holds a veto over the firing of these missiles, is once again not in accordance with reality.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the evidence given by General Meyer to the Senate Defence Committee in 1983 has been carefully examined. The words which he used, put in their proper context, do not bear the interpretation which the noble Lord has sought to put on them.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he himself will not look again at the answer? I think he will see that, as has happened in another place, once again his department is carrying out the operation of deceiving this House and the people of this country—

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

—rather than dealing with the reality as it really is.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I am doing no such thing. So far as General Meyer's words are concerned, there is an important distinction to be made between direction or execution of a political decision and the decision itself.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm what is told to visitors by the American officer commanding the base at Greenham Common; namely, that SACEUR is not allowed to give the order to launch the cruise missiles without the prior political agreement of all the West European NATO Governments, and that includes Denmark, Holland and so on?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the details of the NATO arrangements for these matters are confidential and I cannot therefore go into the kind of detail that the noble Lord is asking me to.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, the noble Lord has told us that the plain and obvious meaning of the words of the general bear a different meaning if one looks at the context. Can he tell us what is the meaning in that reverse context?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I have just explained to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, there is an important distinction to be made between the direction or execution of a political decision and the decision itself.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that the position seems to be that this missile cannot be fired without the authority of the Prime Minister? In regard to a recent occasion when it seemed that the Prime Minister might be involved she said that she was on holiday. What will happen then if a serious situation arises?