– in the House of Commons at 11:51 pm on 7th February 1983.
Pleased though I am to be able to raise this subject, I am astonished at the failure of the Secretary of State for Defence to be present, I heard accidentally that he would not be here because he is making a political speech in Berkshire. In view of the importance of the subject, which has been raised many times and will arise again, his absence is a dereliction of duty. I say that in the presence of the Leader of the House and with no disrespect to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces whom I have known for a long time, like personally and would be more than happy to see on every other occasion. It is arrogant behaviour by the Secretary of State, and it is not what the House should expect from a new Secretary of State.
I deplore the absence of the Secretary of State because of the high political importance of the dual key, or the double safety catch as it is sometimes called, on American-owned cruise missiles in Britain if they are deployed here. It will feature increasingly in debates in the House and in public about defence policy. It is a reflection on the procedures in the House that discussion of a subject of this type is dependent on the luck of the ballot on the Consolidated Fund Bill, archaic as it is.
Apart from set-piece confrontations in the House that deal with virtually all aspects of defence policy, there is precious little opportunity to examine detailed subjects seriously. There is a conspiracy between the Government of the day and the official Opposition. Conservative Governments like to make a mystery of defence and treat even trivial matters as though they are highly classified. The Labour party believes that the less said, the better. Bearing in mind the fundamental differences of opinion on defence policy in the Labour party, it is, if anything, even more secretive when in government.
If one wants to learn about defence policy—this has been the experience of hon. Members on both sides of the House—one must go to Washington to talk to the United States Administration, because it will talk more freely. One might also go to an American university, as defence policy is studied seriously there.
The Select Committee on Defence—I say this with regret, as I strongly support our system of Select Committees—has shown much less tenacity in its single-minded pursuit of truth than other Select Committees. Sometimes it has behaved as if it were the Ministry of Defence's poodle. I remember some years ago a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence complaining to me that meeting the requests of the Select Committee involved the employment full time of an assistant secretary. At that time, the Ministry of Defence had over 100 assistant secretaries, but he failed to see the irony of his complaint.
I should like to believe that this short debate, even in the absence of the Secretary of State, will move the House in the right direction. A fuller and more open discussion of defence issues is wholly in the public interest. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for Defence to talk about an advertising campaign, but if the Government's case—or any Government's case—on nuclear matters is good, there is no better way of proving it than through argument in the House.
The deep public concern about defence policy—there is no doubt about it, whatever view one takes about how the matter should be resolved—and the growing demand for unilateral disarmament stem partly from the failure of successive Governments to come clean, face their critics in the House and explain the conclusions that they have reached. The issue of dual key illustrates the point perfectly. Perhaps it is naive of me to suggest it, but I still hope that the Minister of State will be franker with the House than either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State has been so far.
I shall make plain my view and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the deployment of cruise missiles, so that there will be no misunderstanding. We believe that the twin track decision of NATO taken in December 1979 was right. I said as much when the initial statement was made in the House on 13 December 1979 and I said it again in the debate on 24 January 1980. My remarks were made on behalf of the official Opposition, for which I was then the defence spokesman. The Labour party has changed its mind, but I have not.
The account in this week's Sunday Times of the Labour Government's approach to theatre modernisation is substantially correct. It mentioned the so-called Mulley letter of August 1977 and reminded us of what Vice-President Bush has been saying in the past few days, that both the Federal Republic of Germany in the person of Chancellor Schmidt and the British Government wanted new theatre nuclear weapons. The United States Government responded to the wishes of their European allies. We should remember that when the Americans are somehow blamed for now wanting to deploy cruise missiles in Britain in the way in which they were asked to do.
The decision of December 1979 was right. It would have been supported by a Labour Government and I endorsed it in the House on behalf of the Labour Opposition with the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), sitting beside me. Unlike the present Leader of the official Opposition, he was then and remains a robust advocate of the Western Alliance and all that that means.
Neither I nor my right hon. and hon. Friends want cruise missiles deployed here. We still hope that it will never happen. That was the nature of the twin track decision. I made it clear three years ago that the period up to the date fixed for the deployment of cruise should be used for negotiations, which I hoped would succeed. It was a disappointment when events in Afghanistan cast a shadow and a new American President was slow off the mark in seeking serious disarmament negotiations with the Soviet Union.
It was also a disappointment, although not a surprise, that the Soviet Union continued to deploy SS20 missiles and made no serious negotiating proposals. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome signs that such negotiations are at last starting in the Geneva talks. Both sides are now showing flexibility. We want substantial and verifiable reductions of SS20s and Mr. Andropov appears to be willing to move in that direction if the United States does not lock itself into the zero option.
We do not want cruise missiles deployed here, but if the disarmament talks fail eventually, the circumstances in which cruise missiles would be deployed would become an important question. There is a strong case on merit for a dual key on cruise missiles. There is a stronger case for reassuring the public.
It is right to clarify what I mean by a dual key: no cruise missile could be launched, or a warhead armed, without explicit decisions by both the American President and the British Prime Minister, separately conveyed and implemented in the firing system by United States and United Kingdom personnel.
The idea of a dual key originates in the so-called dual lock adopted by the United States strategic air command in the early 1950s to govern the launch of the Minuteman. It is a physical device and the procedure, with some modifications, applies still to all United States nuclear weapons in Europe. It is relatively simple to adapt that procedure to involve two nationalities. There are electronically controlled dual-key arrangements on Lance short-range missiles and on other nuclear weapons, as the Minister knows, which are deployed in Europe and are activated by both American and Western European officers.
At the moment there is far more fog around the precise arrangements for cruise than there was about the deployment of four intermediate range missiles in Great Britain between 1959 and 1963.
In the aftermath of Suez, the newly installed Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, set out to patch up relations with the Americans and establish a new partnership in defence matters. The relevant part of the Bermuda agreement of March was endorsed by the NATO council at its meeting in December, 1957. A bilateral agreement was signed eventually on 22 February, 1957 and published as Cmnd. 366 in 1958.
The White Paper referred to the location and deployment of the four missiles and said that they would be manned and operated by United States personnel and that the warheads would remain in full United States ownership, custody and control, in accordance with United States law. However, paragraph 7 of the relevant part of the agreement states:
The decision to launch these missiles will be a matter for joint decision by the two Governments.
As a result, there was a dual key with an American key activating the warhead and a British key activating the missile.
That system, based on the so-called permissive action link, remains the basis for joint physical arrangements when the United States deploys nuclear weapons in Europe under co-operation programmes.
the nub of my argument is that I do not understand why that system cannot be adopted and, if necessary, adapted for cruise. The Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State for Defence and his predecessors, rest their case on the Attlee-Truman agreement, but so far they have been far from precise and not always consistent.
When the former Secretary of State for Defence, now the Foreign Secretary, made his statement in the House on 13 December 1979 I mentioned a dual key. I asked about the consultation process. When the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East pressed the matter, the Secretary of State said:
The same arrangements for consultation will continue that have existed heretofore."—[Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1552.]
It is fair to say that he seemed less than familiar with the exact arrangements.
The idea of consultation persisted for some time in the replies of Ministers, but the Prime Minister now refers to "joint decision arrangements". As for the new Secretary of State, he said in the House last Tuesday:
The use by United States forces of bases in this country in an emergency … would be a matter for joint decision between the two Governments in the light of circumstances of the time.
We should note the reference to "bases". There is no reference to the firing of missiles. If it means the same thing, the Minister of State should make that clear tonight. Does the reference to the use of bases imply and involve the firing of missiles?
Last Tuesday, the Secretary of State went on to read from the communiqué issued in January 1952 following discussions between Mr. Churchill and President Eisenhower. That also refers to
the use of these bases … in the light of circumstances at the time."—[Official Report, 1 February 1983; Vol. 35, c. 133.]
The Prime Minister and her Ministers now rest simply on those arrangements of more than 30 years ago. but before we know whether they are satisfactory, we should at least know what they are.
I mentioned the Thor agreement, which said that the launch of the missiles would be a matter for joint decision. I stress the word "launch". That agreement was reached in 1958, but the Prime Minister relies on the agreement of 1951. I must assume that there is a difference between the use of bases—the formula for cruise—and the decision to launch the formula for Thor. But there is further confusion. In the fourth volume of his memoirs, "Riding the Storm", Harold Macmillan gives an account of the Bermuda agreement and the agreement on the stationing of Thor. He describes a further visit to the White House on 9 June 1958 for a conference with President Eisenhower, and says:
The President and I initialled an agreement about the use of bombs or war-heads under joint control … This regular agreement replaces the loose arrangements made by Attlee and confirmed by Churchill.
"This regular agreement", as Macmillan called it, referred to bases. Cmnd. 406 of 1958 is relevant here.
Is the Prime Minister relying on what Harold Macmillan called a loose arrangement or on Harold Macmillan's regular agreement? What does she see as the difference between the two, whichever one she may rely upon? The House has a right to be concerned if it is the loose arrangement that Harold Macmillan found inadequate, but if it is Mr. Macmillan's agreement, why has she not said so? The House has a right to know exactly what the present arrangements are, other than by reference to an apparently loose agreement that is more than 30 years old.
We all know that the American Congress and the American people are aware of their chain of command and communications system. If the American Congress and people know, why should not the House of Commons and the British people? Americans know that if the President cannot personally make a decision, it will be made by the Vice-President and, if not by him, by the Speaker of the House. If the Prime Minister for whatever reason, however good, was unable to make the decision—if decision indeed it is—what then? The House of Commons and the British public should know. We should know what "decision" means and who would take it.
In Germany, under the Athens guidelines of 1962, there is a form of joint control over the firing of certain Pershing IA missiles and what I would regard as a dual key
arrangement over other Pershing IA missiles. One involves a veto by the German Chancellor and one does not. Are we to take it that the Government would have an absolute veto in the case of cruise? My assumption is that they would not, because on 25 January 1983, when asked for a straight yes or no about a right of veto on a decision of the American President, the Prime Minister ducked the question and replied:
The position is exactly the same as it has been for the past 30 years."—[Official Report, 25 January 1983; Vol. 35, c. 789.]
If the Government have a good case in defence of the present arrangements, let them make it. I believe that they could easily do so without any security risks. In any case, I would guess that Moscow, like Washington, already knows more than the House of Commons.
I return to what I said about the reassurance of an explicit dual key, either as I defined it or as applied to Thor 20 years ago. It seems obvious that a dual key makes best sense. Why do we not have one? Did the Government forget about it in the negotiations leading up to the decision of December 1979? Have they been so confident since then as to believe that it did not matter in terms of public opinion? The Government may be entirely satisfied with present arrangements, but alternative reasons have been given for their failure to get a dual key.
One reason is that we should have to buy the missiles and man them ourselves at unacceptable cost. Another is that the Germans would not like it because the Russians would not want the Germans to have a finger on the nuclear trigger. It has even been suggested—although, to be fair, not by Ministers—that the American Administration would not want a dual key on American missiles in Britain. My own understanding is that if the Government asked the United States Administration for a dual key, they would still agree. As the Secretary of State has said, the dual key was on offer when the decision to deploy was taken in December 1979.
The United States Administration have always accepted and accept now that there should be different arrangements in different countries. In Britain, the launch of cruise could be on the basis of two separate affirmative decisions with the British Government in sole charge of one of the communications system. There could be British manning of the missile bases and joint crews. All this is open to the Government, unless the Minister of State says otherwise, if they ask.
Cost is not crucial. We would not be obliged to purchase the missiles. Again, if that is not so, I hope that the Minister of State will say so. The cost of the communications system could be managed. In any case, if the present arrangements are as good as the Government claim, the problem of communications must already have been solved.
In his letter to me of 31 December, the predecessor of the present Secretary of State referred to "the additional cost burden" of a dual key. If the new Secretary of State disagrees with what I have said, will the Minister of State spell out exactly what this additional cost burden would be, and say when Washington offered such terms?
As the Minister of State knows, I have a letter dated 25 January to the Secretary of State awaiting reply. Perhaps he will answer my questions tonight and then ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to confirm them in his reply to my letter.
The Vice-President of the United States will be in London this week and some of us will be meeting him on Wednesday. I hope that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence will say clearly that the most positive efforts must be made to get an agreement with the Soviet Union that will avoid the deployment of cruise missiles. I hope also that they will make it clear to the Vice-President that the United States will find real problems with its allies if it fails to negotiate flexibly and in good faith.
I hope that the Prime Minister will say that many of us who are firmly committed to the proper defence of Britain and to the membership of a nuclear-armed NATO are profoundly concerned about the present arrangements for joint control and the absence of a dual key. It is within her capacity to remedy this and it would be wise to tell the Vice-President that she intends to do so.
I wish to support the detailed speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers). I have had some interest in the arguments in favour of the dual key control of cruise for at least four years. I have raised the issue at various party conferences and at public discussions of the party's defence posture. In common with many others, I do not want cruise in Britain. However, I accept that there may be conditions that will make it necessary to have it. My analysis of those conditions would be searching and they would certainly have to go beyond those that presently apply.
There must be discussions with the Soviet Union with a view to mutual arms reductions. If the USSR has the peaceful intent that many believe it to have—I must put a question mark against that intent—then there are offers that it can accept. It can do so without a loss of face and this will give encouragement to those who are worried about the long-term.
It may be that what I consider to be a reasonable offer will eventually be made to the USSR and it will refuse it. I am prepared to say that in that event there are circumstances in which I would be prepared to use my vote in the House to support cruise. One condition is dual control. I cannot understand why this weapon system is about to be imported into our land without the Government having any physical control over it.
The current arrangements were explained by the Secretary of State for Defence at Question Time last week. It seems that if a maverick President of the United States were in office and the missiles were installed in Britain, he would have the capacity to fire them no matter what the British Government might do. That would be the physical position in the short-term. A decision of such significance and importance, should not be made without the Government having the means to say no. That is what we are looking for in the dual key arrangement. If the missiles are on British soil and may be fired from British soil, the Government should have that right.
We do not need to attend many meetings in our constituencies to discuss the general arms build up that is taking place to know just how worried people are. Their worries are manifold.
Some of the worries I feel that I could represent in the House. Some I could not—I am neither a pacifist nor a unilateralist. However, there are many fears that one can comprehend, and feel. People realise that the firing of these weapons can only herald the end of civilisation as we know it. The idea that the odd cruise could be fired without retaliation is ludicrously optimistic.
During question time last week, and in one or two articles that I have read—although I have not studied the subject as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton—the only reason that has been given against dual key control is one of cost. I would be interested to know what those costs are. Perhaps the Government may need some votes to get the extra costs through. If they do, I might be prepared to join such a Lobby. If the Government can find £10,000 million to install the Trident missile system, I cannot believe that the extra cost of a dual key control of cruise does anything other than pale into insignificance.
If the reason is not one of cost, what is it? There seems to be some willingness on the part of the United States to have dual control—why then do the British Government refuse it? I assure the Minister, who might be wishing to persuade his hon. Frinds of a defence policy with which I might not completely concur, that if he could say to the British people that the missiles are to be installed in our country only when the British Prime Minister of the day has a physical "No" at his or her disposal, there would be a great deal more confidence among the British people.
It is an elementary question for the people to demand that, with a weapon system of this sophistication and destructive power the Prime Minister elected by the British people and installed in power for a Parliament, should have an absolute ability to deliver a physical "No" to the firing of cruise. The inquiries I have made reveal that the only constructive reason given against that aspect of the development of nuclear policy is that of cost. That is an extraordinary reason when one understands the size of our total defence budget.
If the Minister announced dual key tonight, he would do much to reassure many of his supporters. Doubts on this subject are not confined to the Opposition Benches. One can meet many Government supporters, as I do in my part of the country, who are worried about the dual key and the physical "No" aspect of the cruise missile system, even if they have confidence about other aspects of the nuclear policy.
I hope that the Minister will reveal what the cost is, and why the Government do not grasp this option. I hope he does not use the old excuse that we agreed something different in 1950. I was six years old in 1950. The world has changed since then. We want reasons as to why, in today's conditions and with today's knowledge, the Government are not prepared to insist upon a physical "No" before the cruise missiles are ever used from our soil, when and if they are installed.
I repudiate at once the spurious complaint made by the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) that I am taking the debate, and not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I do not recall, in 18 years in the House, a case where a Cabinet Minister has taken one of the debates on the Consolidated Fund when that Cabinet Minister has other Ministers in his Department.
None the less, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this subject. It is one that has caused some interest in the House and it is right that we should discuss it in depth. In the course of the debate, I hope to allay some of the concern that has been expressed by explaining the background to the existing arrangements, which the Government believe to be satisfactory and which previous Governments, which have included the right hon. Member for Stockton serving as a Minister of State for Defence in a Labour Government, have likewise accepted.
From 1942 onwards, with a brief post-war break, there has been an American military presence in the United Kingdom. It was during the Berlin blockade by the Soviet Union in 1948 that American aircraft returned here. From that time all successive British Governments have welcomed the stationing of American forces at bases in this country. The deployment of American forces in the United Kingdom, as in other European countries, is a visible proof of the United States readiness to identify its national security with Britain's and Europe's security, and to defend it similarly.
That readiness is a crucial element of the NATO Alliance ability to deter aggression from wherever it may come. It is essential that any potential aggressor should be in no doubt whatever that the United States is fully committed to the defence of Western Europe, and that our defence is a collective one. Without the support of the United States since 1945, including the presence of American forces in Europe, Western Europe would not have survived in freedom. A fundamental principle of the Alliance is to share our defence in the common interest. An attack on one is regarded as an attack on all.
Since the foundation of NATO we have subscribed, with our allies, to the strategy of deterrence. We have sought to maintain forces of a character and on a scale that would deter a potential aggressor by showing that any possible gains were far outweighed by the risks he would incur. That does not necessarily require matching the Russians weapon for weapon, but it does mean having a flexible and significant armoury ourselves at both the conventional and the nuclear level.
NATO's intermediate range nuclear forces have consisted since the 1960s of British and American aircraft stationed in England and no other country—the British Vulcan and the American F111. The Vulcan aircraft are no longer operational. The remaining American aircraft will become increasingly vulnerable to new Soviet weapons and their bases, the location of which is no doubt known to the Soviet Union, are static. They will become less secure against an improving Soviet ability to attack targets far from their homeland. Our forces therefore need to be modernised. That is one of the reasons for the cruise missile decision.
On the other hand, the Soviet Union has over the past six years built up a potent force of SS20 missiles, each very accurate, each with three warheads able to hit separate targets, as well as retaining many of its older SS4 and SS5 missiles. It has about 1,000 warheads on intermediate range nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe. NATO has no equivalent missiles.
Some Opposition Members—particularly Labour Members—claim that there is nevertheless in effect parity of intermediate range nuclear missiles between East and West. Let me quote to them the judgment of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in its latest statement on the military balance:
the balance is distinctly unfavourable to NATO and is becoming more so.
This enormous Soviet build-up, starting in 1977, and following the deployment since 1974 of the Soviet backfire bomber, was the reason why, after two years of careful study, the Alliance took in December 1979 what is known as the twin track decision. It resolved to introduce 464 cruise missiles in five different countries, and 108 Pershing II missiles in the Federal Republic of Germany. Each will have only one warhead. That was the first track. At the same time it offered to negotiate with the Soviet Union to make such a deployment unnecessary. That was the second track. The preparations for this decision started no later than 1977. It was the Europeans, not the Americans, who first pressed for a modernisation of intermediate range nuclear forces in Europe by the Americans to match, in part, the Russian build-up then already under way.
I listened carefully to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). The issue is of great concern to many people in this country. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the number of Russian nuclear targets on Western Europe has increased by no less than 56 per cent. since 1977?
We all want peace, but peace can be guaranteed only by what Winston Churchill once said was the balance of terror. The cruise and Pershing II missiles are a direct response, not to America wanting them, but to West Germany initially and other NATO countries wanting them. If Mr. Andropov were to agree to President Reagan's zero option, whereby we could remove all the targets in east and west Europe, we could make the best possible cause for peace in Europe in our time by removing all these hideous weapons. Until then, the latest remarks by Mr. Andropov for a freeze of nuclear weapons will leave an imbalance, which again will cause insecurity in Europe. Therefore, we must concentrate our attention on multilateral disarmament, rather than unilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says about the implications of Mr. Andropov's offer. Its effect would be to give the Soviet Union a monopoly of intermediate range land-based nuclear missiles. We would be debarred under that proposal—it has not yet been made formally—from having any of the missiles which we propose to deploy in the absence of a sensible, fair and balanced agreement with the Soviet Union, which is what we are seeking.
My hon. Friend rightly said that it was the Europeans who asked the Americans to deploy American weapons to help to redress—at least to some extent—the imbalance that was developing in Europe between the Russians and NATO in intermediate range nuclear missiles. The history of the affair is that the Europeans are requesting the Americans to bring their missiles here.
My hon. Friend asked how many missiles had been installed by the Soviet Union since 1977. It now has 333 of the very accurate and powerful SS20 missiles, each with three nuclear warheads, two thirds of them aimed at western Europe.
My hon. Friend mentioned the balance of terror. Some people say that that is the way peace has been kept in Europe since 1945, and that is true. The balance of terror is much better than an imbalance of terror, and that was the direction in which we were heading until the decision by NATO in 1979, to which I have referred.
This enormous Soviet build-up following the deployment since 1974 of the Soviet backfire bomber, was the reason why, after two years of careful study, the Alliance in December 1979 took what is known as the twin track decision. I have already said how many of the missiles are to be deployed.
The right hon. Member for Stockton said that the account in yesterday's Sunday Times of the involvement of the Labour Government in the preparations for the decision taken in 1979 is substantially correct. That is my impression.
From 1977 until they lost office in May 1979, the Labour Government were fully involved in all the NATO studies and decisions. For example, in May 1978, the North Atlantic Council communiqué said that the NATO representatives
also noted with interest the work under way in the nuclear planning group towards meeting needs for the modernisation of theatre nuclear forces.
The word "theatre" refers to the European theatre and "theatre nuclear forces" are those now known as intermediate range nuclear forces, of which cruise missiles are part.
On 25 April 1979 the NATO nuclear planning group met in Florida. The United Kingdom was represented by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) then Secretary of State for Defence in the Labour Government. The following day The Guardian stated:
NATO's planners have apparently agreed on the need to modernise their nuclear armed aircraft and missiles with the range to strike into the Soviet Union from Western Europe. A decision in principle was taken yesterday by the Alliance's Nuclear Planning Group.
It was also reported by The Guardian that
the ministers have spent the past two days considering how best to match the SS20 and the Backfire with longer-range and equally deadly nuclear weapons within Europe alone. And, as the Russians must undoubtedly have expected, they have on their list a long-range version of the Pershing missile, then the Cruise missile and possibly a purpose-built weapon aimed from Western Europe at the Soviet Union.
The communiqué published at the end of the meeting is consistent with that account, although not so full. It is clear that from the beginning the Labour Government were deeply involved in all the preparations for the installation of intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe to provide some element of deterrence against the Russian build-up. It is true that in April 1979, just before they lost office, no final decision on the choice of weapon was taken, but as the nuclear planning group communiqué makes clear, the decision of principle to modernise theatre nuclear forces was taken. So far as the first track was concerned—deployment of missiles in Europe—the right hon. Gentleman the then Secretary of State for Defence, awake or asleep, was in it up to his neck.
After the twin track decision was announced, the Opposition supported it. As he has said, in the debate on 24 January 1980 the right hon. Member for Stockton, then Labour shadow Secretary of State for Defence, speaking for the official Opposition, said of the 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.]
Later in his speech, the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that he was speaking with the authority of the shadow
Cabinet as a whole. Four days later, in a debate on East-West relations, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), then the shadow Foreign Secretary, said:
NATO made its offer of arms limitation in the context of the decision on theatre nuclear weapons on 12 December and that offer was repeated in NATO's statement last Friday, on 25 January. I believe that that is right."—[Official Report, 28 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 1074.]
The right hon. Gentleman made no criticism of the decision on theatre nuclear weapons. The terms on which they were to be accepted were stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), then Secretary of State for Defence, in the debate on 24 January 1980 in which the right hon. Member for Stockton took part as follows:
There is a domestic aspect of the TNF programme on which the House will expect me to say something. Within the programme, which needs to be looked at as a whole, the Government have agreed to accept the deployment in the United Kingdom of 40 launch vehicles with 160 ground-launched cruise missiles. They are to be owned and operated by the United States within the long-established framework of the agreements between our countries; agreements which cover any use of United Kingdom bases in war, and which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently confirmed to the House. We are now having detailed discussion with the United States about where the new systems might best be located and I shall make a statement about our conclusions on that in due course."—[Official Report, 24 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 676.]
In the light of what I have said, I do not see how it was possible for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to say in the House on 15 December:
The matter was not discussed in NATO circles, and no decision was taken, until the end of 1979".—[Official Report,15 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 314.]
I simply cannot square that with the facts. It is time that the right hon. Gentleman explained exactly what he meant by those remarks.
What were the arrangements to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire referred? The use of the bases from which the American forces operate is governed by an agreement reached by Mr. Attlee and President Truman in 1951 and reaffirmed by Mr. Churchill and President Truman in a joint communiqué in 1952. The text of that communiqué was read to the House on Tuesday 1 February 1983 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I shall do so again because it is fundamental to allaying hon. Members' concern on this issue. It says:
Under arrangements made for the common defence, the United States has the use of certain bases in the United Kingdom. We reaffirm the understanding that the use of these bases in an emergency would be a matter for joint decision by Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government in the light of circumstances at the time.
That arrangement covers the use of bases for all United States forces in the United Kingdom, both conventional and nuclear, including the United States F111s which are already sited in Britain and the cruise missiles which are due to be deployed here from the end of 1983 in the absence of concrete results from the arms control negoiations in Geneva. As the text of the 1952 communiqué makes clear, a joint decision is required. I emphasise that this is not just a matter of consultation, nor one for the United States Government alone. It is a matter for joint decision making.
That that argreement has stood the test of time is, I believe, well illustrated by history. It is reviewed and has been reaffirmed every time a Prime Minister in Britain takes office ad every time a President in the United States takes office. That has been done by successive British and American Administrations since 1951, including that in which the right hon. Member for Stockton served in the Ministry of Defence, and on each occasion Governments of both parties have accepted the arrangement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has recently told the House that the Government are satisfied that the understanding remains effective.
The Minister referred to a joint decision on the use of bases. As this is an important matter, will he explain exactly what he understands by "the use of bases"? Does that explicitly involve the launch of missiles, and if so, does it also involve their arming, which, as he knows, in the case of cruise takes place at a later stage?
I am sure that, as a former Minister in the Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Gentleman knows that no Government since 1952 have been prepared to go into detail about exactly how these arrangements are put into effect. However, I repeat that every new Administration who have taken office in Britain have looked into these matters and have expressed their satisfaction with them, including the Administration in which the right hon. Gentleman served.
As this is an important point, I should make it plain that, as I said, the arrangements for Thor missiles were much more explicit. In 1950–51 there may have been no demand for greater explicitness, as the Minister said, but there is a demand now. If it could be done for Thor, and given the fact that the knowledge of these arrangements exists elsewhere, why cannot the Government lift the veil of secrecy which may have been convenient for 30 years but which is not justified in the present circumstances?
I shall deal with the Thor missile Later, but the brief answer is that we owned the Thor missiles and the United States owned the warheads. There is no precedent for a dual key. There was a dual key in the case of Thor—that is the difference. There is no precedent for a dual key except where the host government owned the missiles or other forms of delivery of the weapons.
With respect, the Minister cannot have it both ways. Either he argues that because this information is and should remain classified he cannot give it to the House or that the Prime Minister is not prepared to give it, which would apply to Thor, or, if it is possible to give the information about Thor because of the dual key, that is no reason why information should not be provided now about the precise arrangements governing cruise. I ask again, does the joint decision affect only the use of the bases, which is a flabby description, or does it affect the launch of missiles and their arming?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that if he had been at the Dispatch Box he would not have been able to go further than I, except that in the case of Thor it is not true that we can explain all the details. I will say more about Thor and other dual key systems in a moment. I certainly would not dream of explaining how the system works.
The hon. Gentleman said that no one has gone further in the House. He must know what Mr. Harold Macmillan said:
United States aircraft carrying nuclear weapons also carry the apparatus for arming them. I have the assurance of the United
States Government that the pilots have specific instructions not to arm weapons until they are directly ordered to do so in order to carry out an operation of war, and that in that event the arming would not take place until the latest moment necessary for the execution of the operation. I must repeat that such an order could be given only after agreement between the two Governments".—[Official Report, 12 December 1957; Vol. 579, c. 1421.]
Mr. Harold Macmillan was able to go further in 1957, so why can the Minister not do so?
That is an example of a joint decision.
The right hon. Member for Stockton drew attention to the arguments in favour of a dual key system of control for cruise missiles. I am now coming to how Thor and other dual key systems have operated. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are dual key systems in Germany at the moment. There are a number of ways in which they can operate. In essence they all depend on the fact that one country owns, mans and operates the means of delivery—whether it is a missile, an aircraft or an artillery piece—while the second country owns and controls the nuclear warhead. This arrangement has been described as "dual key", although physical locking mechanisms are not necessarily involved.
This is the arrangement under which the United Kingdom-owned Lance missiles and nuclear-capable artillery in BAOR operate with US warheads, and many of our NATO allies also operate similar dual key systems. The Thor missiles, which I have already explained, were an example of a system of this kind. Those missiles were owned by the United Kingdom and operated by the RAF, although the warheads remained under United States ownership and control.
The United States Government made it clear to the United Kingdom and to the other European countries that are accepting basing of the Pershing II and cruise missiles that they were prepared to make the missiles available on a dual key basis. There is no point of principle here. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear recently, the option of having a dual key was open to the United Kingdom if we had purchased the missile and supporting equipment and provided British service men to man them, with the United States providing only the nuclear warheads. This would have cost hundreds of millions of pounds and required well over 1,000 additional British service men.
I emphasise again that the Government were, as they are now, fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the existing arrangements under the terms of the 1952 communiqúe, that has stood the test of time over a significant period under Governments of both parties.
The hon. Gentleman said "now". It is a question of principle whether cruise missiles should be dual key. He said that at the time of the decision in December 1979 the United States Government made it clear that to have a dual key system we would have to purchase the missile. Can he say, categorically, that that is still the view of the United States Government, and that they are now saying that we would have to purchase the missile in order to have a dual key?
We have not discussed this matter with the United States Government. We have no reason to expect that their position would be any different. The reason why we have not discussed it with them is that we are satisfied with the present arrangements.
Against the background of the cost that would have to be incurred if we were to purchase the missiles, we came to the conclusion that there was no requirement to incur the additional strain on the defence budget that that would have involved.
There will, however, be an element of British responsibility for the cruise missile force of which hon. Members may not be sufficiently aware. I say this because the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) asked a question last Tuesday which implied that he was not aware of it. He asked what would be the position when the cruise missile, which, of course, will be mobile, travels by road. The answer is that the missiles, whether on their bases or outside them, will be guarded by a joint and integrated security force, a substantial proportion of which will consist of members of the RAF. Indeed, the bases at Greenham Common and at Molesworth are and will remain RAF bases, with a substantial RAF presence, commanded by a senior RAF officer.
Disarmament is the second of the twin tracks. NATO would prefer that it should not have to introduce cruise or Pershing II at all. That is why the United States, with full support from NATO, has put forward the zero option. This would involve the Soviet Union dismantling its intermediate range nuclear missiles targeted against Western Europe in exchange for NATO abandoning its plans to introduce cruise and Pershing II. It would mean the Soviet Union dismantling missiles which already exist, but this is simply a reflection of the superiority that it possesses.
It is a radical proposal for real disarmament—as opposed to the proposals of the one-sided disarmers who seem unconcerned at the formidable capability of the Soviet arsenal and unwilling to seek to reduce it. I cannot see why anyone in the West should prefer a situation in which there should be no cruise missiles, no Pershing IIs but some SS20s.
One thing that is not sufficiently recognised is that the introduction of cruise and Pershing II missiles into western Europe will not increase the number of nuclear warheads in Europe. For every warhead introduced, one will be removed. Moreover, when the twin track decision was announced, the United States promised to withdraw 1,000 nuclear warheads from Europe. This it has done, regrettably without any reciprocal action by the Soviet Union. Our policy will not, therefore, increase the number of nuclear weapons in Europe—quite the contrary.
The zero option must surely be the best solution, involving as it does the abolition of an entire category of nuclear weapon. We recognise that this may not in the final analysis be possible and are ready to consider seriously any fair and sensible proposals from the Soviet Union for achieving a balanced reduction of forces. But Soviet proposals must be fair and sensible. We remain deeply sceptical of packages designed for propaganda purposes rather than for serious discussion.
The onus is on the Opposition to explain why they have now decided to reject the policies in which they have believed for 37 years—policies which in that time have successfully kept the peace in Europe. They should explain why, having supported NATO's decision of 1979 to deploy cruise missiles in this country but at the same time to negotiate with the Russians for an agreement which would make such deployment unnecessary, they have now changed course by 180 degrees and resolved to reject NATO's policy.
The Government believe that if we were to waiver in our resolve to carry through the NATO decision, still more so if we were to reject it, the pressure on the Soviet Union to agree to reductions in its own forces would be lifted and the prospects of arms limitation by both sides would be seriously damaged. As Aneurin Bevan would have put it, we would be going naked into the conference chamber.
It is only the West's resolute approach—preserving peace by maintaining adequate defence forces—which includes modernising them when necessary, coupled with consistent support for disarmament by both sides, which offers any prospect of ensuring our security and persuading the Soviet Union to engage in meaningful negotiations on arms control. It has brought the Russians to the negotiating table. It has persuaded them to offer some concessions, even if they seem at present not to go far enough. It has begun to work. If we pursue it, it can go on working.
We are grateful for the Minister's comments, but, as I said in an earlier intervention, he has been a good deal less forthcoming than others have been in the past on this important subject. It is not a new subject, and a great deal of general discussion on the need for the dual track decision of December 1979 took place on previous occasions. The purpose of today's debate is to probe as far as we can and as far as occurred on previous occasions the nature of the control of nuclear weapons based in this country. Despite the Minister's remarks today and the Secretary of State's answers last week, one of which the Minister has quoted, the position is not clear.
The House is still somewhat confused about the significance of the Secretary of State's reply on 1 February when his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) pressed for the introduction of a dual key. The Secretary of State said:
It might help my hon. Friend to understand that the arrangements governing the use of the bases would come into effect much sooner than the decisions to use weapons in the context in which my hon. Friend describes the rather delicate electronic machinery for firing the weapons.
The decisions to use the bases would be at a much earlier and therefore much more important stage of the process in that context."—[Official Report, 1 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 134.]
Presumably, the decision for the Americans to use the bases has already been taken. Is that what the Secretary of State meant? That is clearly an important decision and it has been taken at a much earlier stage than the decision to use the weapons. It was certainly a curious reply to say that the decision to use the bases was a much more important and a much earlier decision than the decision to use the weapons and it contrasts with the comments of Mr. Harold Macmillan, one of which I have already quoted.
In the winter of 1957–58 there was also some confusion following the extraordinary remarks of Colonel Zinc, an eagle colonel of the United States air force, who on 27 February 1958 claimed that he was about to take over operational command of the rockets and rocket bases in England. Mr. Macmillan noted in his diary:
As this is in direct contradiction to
It is all very well for the Colonel Zincs of this world to put their foot in it on a grand scale, but many people are worried lest they put their finger on the button on a grand scale.
Colonel Zinc has put his foot in it on the grand scale!
That ambiguity in regard to an American colonel in operational command may have been acceptable at that time because, in contrast with the Minister today and the Secretary of State last week, Mr. Macmillan had been a great deal more explicit. I have already given a quotation from Hansard of 12 December 1957. In a broadcast reported in The Times of 6 January 1958, Mr. Macmillan had gone further. Referring to bombing from aircraft based in the United Kingdom, Mr. Macmillan said:
None of these bombs could be, or would be, used except by deliberate military order, given under the instruction of the British and American Governments acting in agreement. We ourselves have an absolute veto on the dropping of these bombs from any plane based in this country.
The hon. Gentleman, as much as any hon. Member, desperately wishes for peace with security. Whatever a former Prime Minister may have said 25 years ago, is it not true that during the past five years the Russians have increased the nuclear warheads targeted on Western Europe by 56 per cent? As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the West has reduced the number of nuclear warheads by 1,000. The simple proposition is that if the Russians agree to dismantle their SS20s—never mind the SS5s and SS4s, although they are important—NATO will not introduce the cruise missile and the Pershing II. If Russia, in good faith, is interested in reducing tension and removing the threat of nuclear warfare in Europe, all it has to do is reduce the weapons and we will not introduce cruise and Pershing II. That is the best step forward for peace in Europe in our time.
The hon. Gentleman is right. If an agreement can be reached at Geneva it will not be necessary to deploy the weapons. We devoutly hope that that will be the case. However, it is clear that a large number of our fellow citizens are concerned, as was Harold Macmillan in 1957 and 1958, about the control of the weapons if an agreement is not reached. At the end of the year we are bound to deploy the weapons under a decision taken in 1979.
Neither the Minister nor the Secretary of State has aswered the point made by Harold Macmillan, who said in 1958:
We ourselves have an absolute veto on the dropping of these bombs from any plane based in this country. There is no doubt about this whatever … And we will have exactly the same veto upon the use of rockets as we have on the use of bombs from aeroplanes.
That was his clear statement. It is a much clearer statement than we heard last week from the Secretary of State for Defence or from the Minister today, who said that he had gone as far as possible for reasons of security. If it was possible for that degree of clarification and reassurance to be given to the House and the country by Harold Macmillan in 1957 and 1958, why is it not possible for it to be given by the Secretary of State and the Minister today? That question has puzzled my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), and it certainly puzzles me.
The Minister mentioned one possibility that was considered and discussed by the NATO allies in the high level group in 1978–79, when the arrangements for the deployment of the intermediate nuclear forces were made. The Minister said today, as has been said before, that the option was then available for the host countries to have a dual key system. He suggested that it was probable that the United States would have required the host countries to cover the costs of acquiring the missiles, which would probably have run into hundreds of millions of pounds. I hope that I do not misrepresent him.
I am grateful for that clarification. Two questions arise from that. Were the Lance missiles—which are based in West Germany and operated by the British Army of the Rhine, and which have American nuclear warheads but are controlled under a dual key arrangement by British and American officers—bought by the British armed forces before the dual key came into operation?
I am grateful for that reply. The Minister said that in 1978–79 the United States required host countries to purchase their cruise missiles outright. He quoted a figure of hundreds of millions of pounds. The figures are diminutive compared with the billions of pounds that the Government are contemplating for the Trident missile system.
It would be interesting to know whether we are in the lower range of hundreds of millions of pounds or in the higher range. Whichever it is, the Minister had to admit under pressure from my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockport that the Government have not returned to the subject in their discussions with the United States since 1979. That is odd when a large proportion of the British public, Conservative Members and other hon. Members, believe that a solution by which there was a dual key would give such reassurance to the British people and reduce some of the opposition to the installation of cruise missiles.
It does not seem necessary that the United States should require payment in full for cruise missiles. They may need no payment at all. The Minister is unable to tell us, because the Government have not had recent discussions with the United States. That is rather surprising. All that is required is an additional communications line between where the Prime Minister or the British political authority is and the base. That would not represent a significant additional cost.
The Minister has given a disappointing response. We ought to know whether that option is now on offer, how much it will cost and if, as I suspect may be the case, it will not cost much, whether the Government will consider introducing a dual key system. If we need to deploy the missiles by the end of the year, the vast majority of our fellow citizens would prefer it if they were deployed under a dual key system.
The implication of some of what the Minister has said was just what we have come to expect of the party that he represents. It was the usual claim that Labour is somehow determined to leave the country defenceless and that, by rejecting the deployment of cruise missiles here, Labour will ensure that the country is represented naked at the conference table.
We are used to such complaints from the Tory party. They are being intensified. The chairman of the Conservative party is travelling around the country. He has been told to blame the Labour party for world war two. Apparently the Labour party made the country weak, unarmed and unable to cope with Germany.
It is good to choose someone who regards himself as young and dynamic but who was only four in 1935 when the Tory party won the general election with a majority of 247. Yet with that majority, and the power and ability to re-arm the country and face the threat that Germany posed, the Tories claimed that they could do nothing and that the very existence of the Labour party ensured that the country was unprepared for the war. All the while, they followed a policy of appeasement.
Precisely the same sort of complaint is being made now that, although we are in Opposition, our opposition to the possession of a so-called independent nuclear weapon and to the deployment of cruise missiles here is somehow weakening this country in relation to Russia. That is in no way part of our intention or plans. In its opposition to nuclear weapons, particularly to the possession of an independent nuclear weapon, our party is trying to clear the way to building up strong conventional forces. Just as this party neglected the nation's defences in the 1930s, so the Tory Government are now neglecting the nation's defences in the 1980s. Shortly after the Tories leave office the number of ships in the Navy will have fallen to about 40 and the Air Force will not have been properly built up—
What possible justification has the hon. Lady for giving that figure of 40 ships? Where did she get it from because it is totally untrue?
From the British Maritime League, in its analysis of the number of ships, their age, and the refits that have been carried out. That is one among many reasonable and respectable sources on which to rely for such a figure.
It was said about the sending of the fleet to the Falkland Islands that a year later that could not have taken place. Once again the Tories will leave the country weak. Its conventional forces will be weak. When we return to office we shall have to devote some of our energies to building up the conventional forces, for we believe that those conventional forces provide us with our real strength and that they are the best contribution that we can make to NATO's defences. That is why we put our emphasis there. When we take office, by abandoning the Trident missile project, we shall be able to put our money where our mouth is.
Expenditure on cruise missiles is not in any way such as to prevent the proper build-up of conventional arms. Our opposition to them has a different basis. We believe that the deployment of cruise missiles here will render this country not stronger in relation to Russia but more vulnerable. The argument is extraordinary that we should accept cruise missiles to aid us to negotiate their disappearance. More extraordinary is the argument and the quotation from Aneurin Bevan that we should not enter the conference chamber naked but rather with our nuclear weapons, either American or British-owned, in tow.
The fact is that we are not in the conference chamber. The present talks in Geneva are between America and Russia. We are not included. From time to time, when she remembers the need to refer to peace, the Prime Minister echoes but faintly what President Reagan has to say. We want to see the disarmament talks succeed. It is surprising that once again the Minister referred only to the zero option. Other proposals have been put on the table by Russia. I am not saying that those proposals should necessarily be accepted at face value, but I am saying that the Government should not be too inflexible in their support for America in the progress of disarmament talks. After all, some of the signs from America are that other possibilities could be considered at Geneva. The Prime Minister should not only echo that but she should be using all her energies in a push forward for peace and for the progress of the disarmament talks at Geneva. We hear little enough from her on that topic.
The Minister likes to take silence as support for his arguments because he has little else with which to support them.
I return to the question posed by the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) about the dual key system for the cruise missiles based in this country. He has expressed it as a matter of grave anxiety and has been supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), and his party has taken up the issue. I am surprised by the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety. In a pamphlet entitled "Defence, Disarmament and Peace" which was published in July 1980—a long time ago in politics, perhaps, for the right hon. Gentleman—in a paragraph headed "No new principle" he states:
As for a change in policy, there is certainly nothing new about nuclear weapons assigned to NATO being located in the United Kingdom … The United States has operated with nuclear weapons from bases in the United Kingdom since the early 1950s".
He then lists some of them. He continues:
In each case, the weapons have been controlled by the Americans subject to agreement on their use. There have also been facilities for American submarines armed with nuclear missiles at Holy Loch in Scotland, There has been no secret about these arrangements and they have been openly debated from time to time.
The right hon. Gentleman then continues with a series of questions and answers. He poses the question:
Couldn't some mad general press the button and launch the missiles at the wrong time or by mistake?
He answers his own question by saying:
Very elaborate procedures exist for consultation within NATO about the use of nuclear weapons. Here again, precisely
the same safeguards will apply to cruise missiles as to manned aircraft. A joint decision between HMG and the United States will be required.
In July 1980 the answer was straightforward and simple. There were no problems or anxieties.
The hon. Lady is reading from my pamphlet, from which I have also read. There is nothing in the pamphlet from which I wish to dissent now. What I said about elaborate procedures to avoid a mad general pressing the button is as true now as it was then, and I am satisfied with the arrangements. The hon. Lady will know, and if she does not I must remind her, that on 13 December 1979 I raised the subject of the dual key from the Bench on which she is now sitting. I raised it on a number of occasions in the following year, in particular on 2 December 1980. I was far more persistent in seeking a dual key than anyone sitting behind me.
I have read this pamphlet through carefully and I detect no sign of such anxiety or reference to a dual key system. I believe that the anxieties have arisen for a different reason. It is because the Social Democratic party leadership has had to disappoint so many of its new members who are opposed to nuclear weapons here. In order to divert attention from the discrepancy between its members' views and those of the leadership it has brought up the dual key issue. It is a popular issue but not as popular as opposition to cruise missiles. Perhaps it would be sufficient to divert attention from the fact that the SDP is not opposed to cruise missiles.
We also heard a Liberal voice this evening, but that, too, was raised to divert attention in the same way. The leader of the Liberal party is also disappointing his membership by going back on the Liberal party assembly decision to oppose cruise missiles. The leader of the Liberal party wishes instead to concentrate on the best way of getting rid of cruise missiles, which is to push forward the disarmament talks in Geneva. He is not prepared to lead his party into an election on the grounds of opposition to cruise missiles. That choice for the electorate during an election campaign will be presented solely by the Labour party, which is the only party that is clearly and unequivocally committed to the removal of cruise missiles and is opposed to their deployment in Britain should they be installed here.
The Liberal party and the SDP are raising an issue—not unimportant—that is intended entirely to divert attention from the fact that they, too, support cruise and that their policies on defence are no different from those of the party in Government.