HC Deb 14 November 1983 vol 48 cc616-28 3.54 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about preparations for the operational deployment of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom.

On 31 October this House reaffirmed by a majority of 144 its support for the NATO 1979 twin-track decision on intermediate range nuclear forces and its backing for the West's efforts to achieve a balanced and verifiable agreement at the Geneva negotiations, and confirmed that, in the absence of agreement on the zero option, cruise missiles must be operationally deployed in the United Kingdom at the end of 1983.

In the course of that debate I indicated that the supporting equipment for the first flight of cruise missiles had been arriving at RAF Greenham common for some time, that further equipment, including the transporter-erector-launchers, would be arriving shortly, and that I would make a further statement when the missiles themselves arrived in this country. In honouring that commitment I should inform the House that, earlier today, the first cruise missiles were delivered by air to RAF Greenham common.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]

The delivery of the missiles is wholly consistent with the Alliance decision to achieve an initial operational capability by the end of 1983 in the absence of agreement on the zero option. Much work remains to be done—including the final assembly and testing of equipments and personnel training—before the missiles are operational.

I wish to emphasise that these continuing preparations for operational deployment do not in any way lessen NATO's commitment to negotiations or reduce the desire of the Alliance to reach agreement on arms control with the Soviet Union. The NATO deployment is planned to be completed over a five-year period; it can be halted, modified or reversed at any time if results in Geneva warrant it.

But the fact remains that since the 1979 decision the Soviet Union has almost trebled—from 126 to 360—the number of SS20 missiles it has deployed. Even since the debate on 31 October we assess that another nine missiles are operationally deployed, compared with the figures I gave the House on that occasion.

In contrast, I remind the House that last month NATO Defence Ministers agreed to the most radical reduction in the number of nuclear warheads deployed in Europe that has ever taken place. The effect of this decision will be to reduce the number of NATO nuclear warheads in Europe to their lowest level in 20 years, even if full deployment of Pershing 2 and cruise missiles takes place. The number of these warheads will be reduced by one third from their December 1979 level, and the number of warheads for shorter-range systems will be reduced by one half. The Government hope that the Soviet Union will now respond positively to the radical proposals put forward by NATO for arms control.

That is our foremost hope. But let me make it clear that this Government will remain resolute in their commitment to take those steps which are essential for the defence of this country and our allies.

Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)

For the Secretary of State to talk of halting, modifying or reversing this American decision is completely unrealistic. The truth is that this American decision remains a watershed. Does the Secretary of State really know what is happening? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes. "] He does? Then why did he have to be called back from Aldershot to make this statement? Does it not show that the Americans had not even told him the date or time that the missiles would be delivered? Secondly, what instructions have been given to British forces in the event of the United States trying to move the missiles into the British countryside without the Prime Minister's permission, as we are told that the American President must have her permission to use them? Thirdly, does not today's American decision effectively end the Geneva talks, and does this not prove that Labour's policy of a British presence at Geneva is absolutely right?

Mr. Heseltine

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman noted that in my statement I made it absolutely clear that we hope the Geneva talks will go on and produce a satisfactory result. That is what we have been trying to achieve for four years and it remains a prime objective of NATO.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of the Americans trying to move cruise missiles out of the base without a joint decision. That will not happen. There is a categoric undertaking—[Interruption.]—which was the undertaking on which the last Labour Government relied—that there will be no use of American weapons on or off British bases witout a joint decision. That was good enough for the then Labour Government and we have accepted it as the basis of our decision.

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that I do not know what is going on and goes on to refer to an American decision, when the whole world knows that it was a NATO decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I ask him to cast his mind back to January 1980 when the Front Bench representative of the Labour party, responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), said in respect of the decision to proceed with the twin-track decision: we accepted the need to move ahead on the proposed timetable. It was the view of the previous Government that theatre nuclear modernisation was essential, and that is our view today."—[Official Report, 24 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 691.] That was the view of the official Opposition in 1980. It is not this Government who have changed but the Labour party.

Mr. Silkin

Instead of reading from prepared speeches, the right hon. Gentleman should answer the questions that are put to him. Why did he have to be called back from Aldershot? Was it because he did not know that the missiles would be deployed earlier today? What instructions have been given to British forces should the missiles be removed without the Prime Minister's permission? The Secretary of State says that they will not be moved and that there are undertakings. But, despite that, contingency instructions must have been given to our forces, should they be moved.

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that there is no possibility of the missiles being removed from Greenham common on deployment unless that is in company with a joint force of American and British personnel. That will not happen unless the British are—[Interruption]—as aware of what is happening in the circumstances.

I was fully aware of the arrival, date and timing of the cruise missiles at every appropriate moment. Indeed, it is fair to say that the dates and timings were in reflection of suggestions from this country rather than the other way round. My decision today was whether to abandon my Aldershot visit or cut it short. In view of the commitment that I felt to the large number of people at Aldershot who were looking forward to my visit—[Interruption]—I thought it more appropriate to honour that obligation.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the steadfastness of the great majority of my constituents in supporting the stationing of cruise missiles at RAF Greenham common—[Interruption]—since the first announcement in 1980 and in the absence of success at the INF talks? Is he further aware that in recognising the defence necessity for deploying the missiles, both for this country and NATO, they want to be assured that the security and safety of those missiles will always receive the highest priority? Will the Government be willing to bear a larger share of the cost of any continued large police presence to maintain the absolute security of RAF Greenham common against any intrusion?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the remarkable support that he has given to the Government throughout this matter and I know that he speaks for the vast majority of his constituents in the views that he expresses. I assure him that security will continue to be given the highest priority appropriate in the circumstances. I must ask him to refer the question of cost apportionment to the Home Secretary.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Although there were hordes of enthusiastic people waiting for the Secretary of State at Aldershot, is he aware that there is less public enthusiasm for this deployment? Does he appreciate that he has the support of only 6 per cent. of the population for the deployment of cruise missiles in the present circumstances, without dual key? Will he repudiate the report on the front page of Friday's edition of the Prime Minister's favourite newspaper, The Sun, which said that in the event of cruise missiles leaving the base without British permission, British service men will have permission to fire on the Americans?

Mr. Heseltine

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the report in The Sun on Friday did not have the high standards of accuracy that we have come to expect from that newspaper. I am aware of the public concern surrounding the whole issue of dual key, and we debated that issue substantially in the House only two weeks ago. The experience of all previous Governments was what persuaded this Government that the arrangements were satisfactory. Public opinion would be a great deal less concerned than it is if Opposition Members had not now so diametrically abandoned the positions that they held when in Government.

Sir Anthony Buck (Colchester, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that perhaps the most important part of his remarks was that in which he reiterated that it has been a NATO and United Kingdom decision and not a United States decision? Will he emphasise yet again that the physical control of the bases is largely in United Kingdom hands, with there being a joint agreement with the United States, and that in the last resort we have control of the bases?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for those remarks. There is the closest relationship between the British authorities involved at Greenham common and the Americans who use that base. My hon. and learned Friend is also right to say that it is a NATO decision. It was discussed as recently as just over two weeks ago in Canada and was reaffirmed by the Governments who took the original decision.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Is it not a fact that these weapons, now being deployed in this country, are under the control of the President of the United States? Is it not also a fact that the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States forces, cannot divest himself of that control without Congressional approval? Is it the case that no attempt has been made, either by the American or British Governments, to try to secure that Congressional approval? Does that not all add up to a shameful surrender of British sovereignty on a matter of absolutely crucial importance?

Mr. Heseltine

I heed what the right hon. Gentleman says about British sovereignty. The whole nation would be interested to know why, when he was a member of a Labour Cabinet, he did so little to change the arrangements.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a general welcome for what he said about the American willingness and intention to remain at the negotiating table? Will he confirm also that the zero option is still available and that, therefore, if the Soviet Union were now to agree to dismantle its intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles, we should be prepared to see the cruise missiles now being deployed withdrawn and any further deployment forgone?

Mr. Heseltine

My right hon. Friend, who understands these matters clearly, is absolutely right. The zero option is available. It is the option that we should welcome if it were possible to achieve it, and it is what we have been seeking for four years, as the House will be aware. During the time that we have deployed not one single weapons system of this sort, the Soviets have nearly tripled the number of systems that they have deployed.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Since the Minister has not answered the important constitutional question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), and as it is abundantly clear that the vast majority of our people are against the siting of these missiles in Britain, will the Government seriously consider holding a referendum on this matter, which is literally one of life and death?

Mr. Heseltine

It was extraordinary of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) to refer to the scandal of the abdication of national sovereignty, considering that he was a member of a Cabinet that was content to rest on precisely the same agreement as have this Government. It is an intolerable abuse for those responsible for these matters when in Government to say one thing and then to abdicate, that position when in Opposition.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Most responsible opinion in Britain will welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Does he agree that it would be too much to hope that the irresponsible antics of the so-called peace women at Greenham Common will cease? Will he assure the House that, given the arduous and frustrating nature of the duties being undertaken by the police and members of the armed services, every thought and care will be given to their accommodation while they are protecting the base, which is vital to Britain's security?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government will do everything that they can to ensure that members of the armed services and the civil police are given adequate support for their difficult job. A small minority are seeking to impose their will, which is unacceptable to the vast majority of British people. 'We cannot tolerate that.

Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)

As the missiles are in Britain, will the Minister tell the House what the American argument against the dual key system is?

Mr. Heseltine

There is no American argument against it. The House will know that we have a dual key system for Lance missiles, and that we had one for Thor missiles. However, previous Labour and Conservative Governments proceeded with other arrangements that were found to be satisfactory. Had Government wished to pursue the dual key option, we could have negotiated to acquire that for the cruise missile system from the Americans at the time but, in the light of the experiences of previous Labour and Conservative Governments, we believed that that would have involved the use of relatively scarce defence funds, which the gain did not justify.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Will the Minister tell the House whether, despite the NATO move that he announced today, Russia retains a marked superiority in intermediate and long-range nuclear weapons?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will have seen the "Statement on Defence Estimates" that we published earlier this year, which shows Russian superiority in the intermediate range of four or five to one. At the higher level, the balance is much closer.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The Minister continues to use terminological inexactitudes when describing the position of previous Governments. He is well aware that all previous precedent is on the side of those who believe that there should be a dual key for cruise missiles. He refuses to come to the Dispatch Box and admit that the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, decided to purchase the Thor missiles in order to have dual control, and that successive Labour and Conservative Governments have had dual contol over Lance missiles. Will he withdraw his allegation about previous Administrations and accept that there is a substantive difference between the agreement applying to submarines sailing out of Holy Loch and F111 aircraft taking off from British airfields, and that applying to cruise, Thor or Lance missiles being launched either from United Kingdom territory or from BAOR territory in the Federal Republic of Germany?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall not respond to the right hon. Gentleman's first allegation, and I do not understand how I can be expected to change what I said about Lance and Thor when only three minutes ago I told the House precisely what the right hon. Gentleman has just repeated. I do not accept his view that one can distinguish in principle between a missile launched from an American submarine based in British waters and an American missile launched from a cruise launcher. The right hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am that the British bought the Thor missile system. We could have bought the cruise missile system, but at a cost that we did not believe to be warranted in view of the other claims on the defence budget. I have made that clear many times. The reason why we did not purchase cruise, at a cost of about £1,000 million, is that there were American F111 bombers and American submarines based in Britain, neither of which have a dual key. When he was Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly content with that arrangement.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

As one who, for 20 years, has represented a constituency containing the headquarters of the United States third air force with some 27,000 American personnel, which is part of the NATO strike force, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make known in such fashion as he can the detailed arrangements made between the RAF Regiment and the United States air force, and the physical controls that exist between the British and American authorities, so that there shall be no more of the nonsense that suggests that the Americans have autonomy in Britian, when they do not?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is corect to stress our long experience of working with the United States armed services. The deployment force that would attend an off-base deployment of cruise missiles would be made up of members of the RAF Regiment and the United States armed services. There would be a substantial presence of RAF representatives in such circumstances, and it would be a joint team. However, there is no way in which they would launch those missiles without the agreement of the British Government. The arrangements are categoric. The decision to use those weapons on or off-base, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), will be a joint one. In the absence of a decision by the British Prime Minister, the weapons could not be used.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

What is the destructive power of one missile, and how will the House learn of a decision to launch it?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will know from his long service in the House and from listening to defence debates that the essence of NATO's defence policy is that those weapons should never be used. As long as we have the weapons, their deterrent potential is such that we shall maintain the peace that we have had for nearly 40 years.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Now that my right hon. Friend has discharged his commitment to the House with his two statements, will he accept that the normal Ministry of Defence policy on the deployment of vital weapons and forces is secret and confidential? Will he return to that policy and not debate across the Floor of the House the deployment of such weapons?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is more than kind in helping me in this matter. There are security issues, and one must always balance the legitimate security interests of the country with one's duty and responsibility to keep the House properly informed. Wherever it is possible to provide information that does not prejudice our national security arrangements, I shall do everything in my power to ensure that it is provided.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that his statement marks a tragic development? As cruise is an offensive first-strike weapon, does he further acknowledge that the deployment of cruise missiles here represents a dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race? Will he urge the Prime Minister, who is not in the Chamber today, to redouble her efforts to persuade the American President to stop war-mongering round the world and to enter into real negotiations in Geneva aimed at ensuring that cruise, Pershing 2 and SS20s are not deployed?

Mr. Heseltine

I do not need to remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that some 360 SS20s have now been deployed by the Soviet Union or to explain to her the threat that that represents. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the deployment of cruise was a sad and tragic development. In a sense, I agree. It is tragic that we need to devote such substantial resources to the defence of peace in the world. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, we are all concerned about the need to keep in touch with the level of deployment against us by our opponents, but that is not the question. The question is whether any responsible Government can avoid the duty to maintain the defensive capability that every British Government since the 1940s have considered necessary. What the country cannot understand is how, when successive Labour Governments supported the policies that I am now continuing, Labour Members can have so absolutely changed the fundamental assumptions on which they conducted our defence policy after the war.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that anyone who has lingering doubts about the wisdom of this policy must have had those doubts at least challenged by the extraordinary performance of the leader of CND on a Communist platform yesterday?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. I could not halp noticing one quotation in a national newspaper today in which Monsignor Kent is reported to have said: We owe a debt of gratitude to the Morning Star which has given steady, honest and generous coverage of the whole disarmament case. I should have thought that that was carrying naiveté to the point of recklessness.

Hon. Members


Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In his opening statement, the Secretary of State referred to testing. Does he recollect my sending him an article published on page 1 of Electronics Times and my putting down written questions on that careful technical journal's allegations that the guidance systems in cruise were defective and had not been properly tested and that there were various other listed technical teething troubles? Has any technical team visited the United States to discover whether those allegations are true or false or are we simply relying on the technical say-so of the American authorities?

Mr. Heseltine

As the hon. Gentleman will realise, in the last resort we should be relying on the technical explanations of the Americans, even if we visited the United States to discuss the matter with them. I can help the hon. Gentleman, however, as the Amercians provide the Department with considerable appraisals of the test arrangements carried out. We have studied them and we consider that the Americans have taken appropriate steps to reach the decisions that they have reached to satisfy their own internal safety requirements.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear once and for all that the cruise missiles are second-strike weapons? Will he now advise the women of Greenham common to move their protest from the wire of that base to that of the iron curtain and to take Monsignor Bruce Kent with them?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the concept of cruise. It is essentially a retaliatory weapon. It is designed to be deployed off-base in times of tension to areas that the opponents cannot identify and thus to make it clear to them that if they indulge in first-strike tactics against us we have a retaliatory capability.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the British people be safer today than they were yesterday?

Mr. Heseltine

I think that they will be as safe. Through the NATO policy of combining conventional strength with nuclear deterrence we have maintained peace in this country and in the Western world for nearly 40 years. There is no equivalent period in contemporary history.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this country and the free world depend on the Russians understanding that we shall keep our word, whether we agree to go for balanced disarmament or whether we state that if they do not stop deploying new missiles we shall deploy some of our own?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that it was Mr. Andropov who made it clear in an early statement that he did not look for one-sided gestures of disarmament from the Western world. He made it clear that the Russians were not a naive people. We believe that the Soviet Union is far more likely to negotiate with a Government who say what they mean and stick to it rather than with anyone in any other capacity.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the vast majority of our people strongly oppose the deployment of cruise and that he is flying in the face of British public opinion? In view of his inability to answer the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin), does he not understand that the deployment of these foreign missiles is an appalling sell-out of British independence and self-government for which the Conservatives will never be forgiven?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that on mature reflection the hon. Gentleman will realise that the Labour Government were perfectly prepared to accept foreign weapon systems based in this country to achieve very much the same purpose as we have in mind with the deployment of cruise. As for the question put by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin), both President Reagan and Defence Secretary Weinberger have confirmed our understanding of the agreement on which we rely in this context.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Did my right hon. Friend see the article in The Sunday Times yesterday in which Jon Connell concluded that the call for a deal key was bogus and that the arrangements under which we are now protected are better than any of our allies have? Does he agree that the country and the House would be better served if the Opposition turned their minds to the proper defence of this country instead of using this and every other opportunity to give free rein to their anti-American paranoia?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has a substantial point. Labour Members would do better to try to defend the country rather than attack one another, but that is a matter for them. I have no doubt at all that our policies carry through and forward the logic of everything that every Government since the war have believed in.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the horrendous implications of his statement, will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question? When the 24-vehicle convoys loaded with cruise missiles try to trundle around the country lanes of the area in question and when the courageous women of Greenham common and others stop them, will the American forces be empowered to shoot, or will that be left to the British?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will know that I made quite clear the position in respect of the defence of the essential defence capability of this country. The rules of engagement of American and British forces are identical to all practical extents.

Mr. Faulds

The British will shoot the Americans. That is what will happen.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Robert Atkins (Ribble, South)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the request for these missiles to be deployed was made by a Socialist German Chancellor, supported by a Socialist French President to a Democratic President of the United States? Will he also confirm that the last occasion on which the United Kingdom unilaterally renounced any weapons was when we renounced chemical weapons in the late 1950s and that the results of that were non-existent but, that if the Warsaw Pact forces were prepared to reduce to the point of the zero option we could take cruise back to America?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes a number of valuable points. Britain made a one-sided gesture on chemical weapons. The Soviet Union continued to advance and develop their offensive capability with chemical weapons. They have deployed these weapons and used them in exercises in ways that are a major threat to the Western Alliance.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Is the Secretary of State aware of the utter contempt of many of us for his McCarthy-type smear on Monsignor Bruce Kent, especially since it comes from the lips of a man who received no mandate from the British people to locate these dangerous American missiles on British territory? Opinion polls show that the majority of British people do not want these weapons. The Secretary of State's failure to stop them from coming will encourage more people to resort to direct action to try to stop the suicidal nuclear arms race. Parliament and the Government have treated public opinion with utter contempt.

Mr. Heseltine

The Government's policies were set out clearly during the election and were accepted by a significant number of British voters, who gave us the size of our majority. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would disagree when I say that if there was a single issue on which the Opposition lost credibility it was defence policy. If the hon. Gentleman feels that I have in some way been excessive in my comments about Monsignor Bruce Kent, I am sorry. I tried to be as moderate as I thought the events made possible.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Will my right hon. Friend again stress that there is no difference in principle between siting American missiles on launchers in Berkshire and in submarines in Holy Loch, which has occurred for years? Does he agree that a deliberate campaign to mislead, misrepresent and frighten the British people about cruise missiles has been started and sustained in Moscow and is maintained by Moscow's acolytes in Britain?

Mr. Heseltine

I agree that there is no difference in principle between missiles launched from a Poseidon submarine and those launched from a cruise trailer. The motives of the protest movements are many and varied. Some protesters are in the mainstream of pacifist thought, which existed long before nuclear weapons; others are politically motivated, often by an extreme idea. Occasionally there are elements that are totally opposed to the country's best interests.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

Is the Secretary of State aware that because of the difficulty of distinguishing between conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles, he has dramatically reduced the opportunity of any negotiated verifiable arms control agreement? What does he intend to do?

Mr. Heseltine

I do not accept the premise for one moment. If the Soviets would accept balanced and verifiable negotiations, they would have no difficulty in making progress at the Geneva talks or other centres where negotiation are proceeding. Far from trying to reach agreement with us, they have dramatically increased the deployment of their weapons system. They have continued to prepare new weapons systems which have not yet been deployed. There are no grounds for assuming that, during the discussions on the twin-track decision during the past four years, the Soviets have somehow been holding back on the deployment plans.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Bearing in mind the fact that there has been a full, continuous and open debate in this country about stationing cruise missiles, and a general election, at which this issue was dealt with, does my right hon. Friend remember any type of consultation with the ordinary people of eastern Europe about the stationing of SS20s on their soil?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes an essential point. We are conducting our defence policies in a democratic framework, whereas our opponents in the Warsaw pact have no accountability. I have no doubt that the British people are mature enough to make the appropriate judgment.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

The House will have noted with interest the Secretary of State's assurance that, despite the absence of dual key, the cruise missiles will not take off from the base at Greenham common without British approval. Is that approval likely to be forthcoming short of an attack upon this country? Should cruise missiles be allowed to trundle through our countryside from place A to place B?

Mr. Heseltine

The Prime Minister set out clearly—this is recorded in Hansard—the precise arrangements that we have with the Americans for the use of missiles that they have based here. The deployment of the system for training purposes, which I believe is what the hon. Gentleman had in mind, can proceed in the time scales that would be appropriate to ensure that the system is properly handled by experienced people who accompany it. Nuclear warheads would not be used during those training exercises.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Will my right hon. Friend explain to a new Member like myself the somewhat surprising fact that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition are much more concerned about missiles deployed for our protection by our friends than about 360 SS20 missiles deployed against our cities and our people by our enemies?

Mr. Heseltine

It is difficult to explain the Labour party's motivations, but one important conclusion can be drawn. It is that questions, such as the one that my hon. Friend has appropriately asked, cannot be answered when the Labour party is in Opposition.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite his many protestations about close communications between himself and the Americans and about that forming the basis of his justification for not having dual key, there are still lingering doubts on the subject? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House on what day and at what time he was definitely informed that the cruise missiles would arrive today?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman has the argument the wrong way round, because the initiative for the arrival of cruise missiles today came from this, and not the other, side of the Atlantic.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

How will the Minister dismiss the views of such people as Robert McNamara, Mr. Paul Warnkey and General Carver, that the stationing of cruise missiles in Britain has no military utility?

Mr. Heseltine

While there are people who have views that the hon. Gentleman might have accurately reported to the House, the NATO Alliance members acting in concert take a diametrically opposed view.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Since Opposition Members are clear about the need for dual key, will my right hon. Friend invite them to suggest what areas of public sector cutbacks should pay for this?

Mr. Heseltine

I have never looked for constructive support from the Opposition.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Since it is well known that the Ministry of Defence provides facilities for Members of Parliament to go on fact-finding tours to various defence establishments, what facilities will be provided for Members of Parliament wishing to inspect this site?

Mr. Heseltine

If I were to suggest to the station commander at Greenham common that the hon. Gentleman should visit it, he would see that as the ultimate deterrent. The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that I shall extend the same facilities for inspection of the site as the Labour Government, of which he was so articulate a supporter, extended in equivalent nuclear conditions.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

Why does the Secretary of State not now admit that he had no idea that cruise missiles were arriving today? Why did he tell the press over the weekend that he was going to Aldershot to be briefed on a force that is being set up? Why did his Department put out a two-page press release if he knew that the missiles were coming today?

Why does the Secretary of State's statement contain the inaccurate information that the missiles ale here consistent with the Alliance's decision that, in the absence of an agreement on zero option, they would be placed here? The 1979 twin-track agreement said nothing about a dual option. It was made against the background of proposed SALT II agreements, which were never reached.

Thirdly, quite apart from the military uselessness and danger of cruise, why does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that cruise will create great political instability, not just in Great Britain but in Europe? Cruise and Pershing missiles in West Germany will succeed in uniting Franz Josef Strauss on the Right and with many of the isolationists on the Left in West Germany. Cruise will creat a political instability in Europe which will outweigh its military irrelavence.

Finally, will the Secretary of State, now that he has cruise here—it is clear that he is happy about it—stop using the nuclear issue and nuclear arms race protesters as his personal punch bag and show the emotional stability and sensitivity that the House expects from the Secretary of State for Defence?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions. He first wanted me to say why I did not know that cruise was coming. The best answer that I can give him is that that would not be true. I knew that it was coming. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] The second question was why the press were briefed over the weekend that I was going to Aldershot. The answer to that is that I was going and did go to Aldershot. The third question was about the zero option. The right hon. Gentleman, who was not a member of the Government at the time, will remember that his party was deeply involved——

Mr. Davies

I was a member.

Mr. Heseltine

In that case, the right hon. Gentleman is even more responsible. I was trying to get him off the difficult hook of being associated with the twin-track decision. He was plainly more supportive of what his then Front Bench spokesman was saying than I realised.

The twin-track decision was essentially about trying to persuade the Soviet Union that it could not introduce a class of weapon system without expecting us to deploy an equivalent modernised system.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I did not think that there was a danger from the political unification of the Left that appeared to be taking place in much of Europe. That matter is entirely for the Left, but it is interesting to note the difference in the message that comes from the parties of the Left when they leave office. This issue appears to have united the British Labour party, which is no mean achievement.

Mr. Davies


Mr. Speaker

Order. I ought to protect the interests of the House. I call the right hon. Gentleman to ask his question briefly.

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman should answer the question about the zero option. There was nothing about the zero option in the 1979 twin-track decision. It was an initiative taken by President Reagan a few years after he was elected. Why does the right hon. Gentleman's statement twice link the zero option to the 1979 twin-track decision? It has nothing to do with it, and I hope that he will admit that.

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman has not thought through which of the twin-tracks he is referring to. There were two. The essence of the twin-track decision was——

Mr. Davies

Nothing to do with zero option.

Mr. Heseltine

—that there were two courses to be pursued. One was the modernisation of the intermediate range classification of weapons systems. The other was the pursuit of arms negotiations. The zero option was the earlier option that the American President put forward to exemplify the second of the twin-tracks.