NATO Council (Ministerial Meeting)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 15th December 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East 7:32 pm, 15th December 1982

I beg leave of the House to speak again very briefly.

This has been a worthwhile debate, and the majority of speeches, reflecting all sections of opinion, have been serious ones. First, I should like to comment on two Back Bench speeches. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Witney) is quite wrong. We accused the Government of using the Falklands crisis to boost defence expenditure, and the White Paper published yesterday shows how right we were. The hon. Gentleman refered to the 1935 "King and Country" motion. I remind him that that motion was moved by one Max Beloff, who is now the most obsequious of all the Prime Minister's advisers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) completely misunderstood what I said. I quoted with approval President Mitterrand's statement that there should be a middle position between the Soviet Union's deployment of its full SS20 force, which is equivalent to all the Pershings deployed by the Americans, and the zero option. I was not talking about a compromise between the zero option and cruise.

The Foreign Secretary gave us some useful information, but far too little specific information about either developments in NATO discussions of defence strategy or the progress of the INF negotiations. It would be helpful if the Government offered time early next year to continue this discussion, which will be of vital importance for at least another 12 months.

On several vital points, the Foreign Secretary completely failed to give the House the required assurances. It is true that we raised the question of establishing British control with American control over any cruise missiles in Britain, but the right hon. Gentleman made it quite clear that he has made no progress whatsoever with the Americans in the last 12 months in reaching such an agreement. That was extremely disturbing. Some of the things that the Foreign Secretary said shook our confidence in the depth of his commitment to disarmament. First, he refused absolutely to take account of British and French nulear forces in any disarmament discussion, whether in the European theatre or at strategic level. That is preposterous at this time, particularly for a Minister in a Government who propose the purchase of Trident, which would give Britain more desructive capacity than the whole of the Soviet planned SS20 force. On reflection the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that that position is not sustainable. I think that he will discover that in the course of the next 12 months.

In speaking against a nuclear weapon freeze, the Foreign Secretary made a statement which he must know is not accurate. He said that a freeze would consolidate an overwhelming Soviet predominance. There is no overwhelming Soviet predominance. In an unchallenged statement of the position a few weeks ago, the International Institute for Strategic Studies pointed out that the West has a preponderance of warheads, although the Soviet Union has a preponderance of megatonnage, and that, broadly speaking, there is already parity at the strategic level. The right hon. Gentleman would be unwise to write off the growing demand for a freeze, which will become irresistible unless progress in multilateral arms reduction talks can be made in the coming months.

The Foreign Secretary was asked by Members on both sides of the House for an assurance that the House of Commons would have the same right to determine the deployment of American missiles in Britain as the United States Congress has to determine the deployment of American missiles in the United States. His refusal to disavow reports of his statement in Brussels last week makes his position unacceptable to the House. Unless the Minister of State can give us an assurance that the Government will seek the approval of the House before making a final decision on this matter, we shall seek to divide the House at the end of the debate.