Second Day's Debate

Part of Defence – in the House of Commons at 4:51 pm on 28th October 1987.

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Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East 4:51 pm, 28th October 1987

No, and I explained that during my swan song — well, not really my swan song, because I am singing again today. During my last speech from the Labour Front Bench in July, I explained why I had changed my position on this matter. The hon. Gentleman has let the Government's cat out of the bag. The case for a British independent deterrent is the belief that the American deterrent is not reliable. Obviously, the Prime Minister clearly believes that. That is why she said what she did to the viewers of Moscow television. However, the Government are going, not for an independent deterrent, but for one that is bought from the United States over a 20-year period and must be in service for 30 years, during which period the missiles must be returned to the United States once every seven years, and the warheads of which, although they are British, have to be tested on American test sites.

If we take the Prime Minister's view, there is a case for following the French—and I suspect that that is what the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), the ex-leader of the SDP, would like to do. However, that is not what the Government are doing, and it is not even what the SDP is openly proposing today—I mean the ex-SDP. Indeed, I am not aware of anyone in this country in any political area who is proposing that, with the possible exception of my noble Friend on the Front Bench—I refer to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), and I use the term "noble" not in the class sense but as an expression of personal esteem — who is about the only chap who will move at a rate of knots towards the Gaullist position on nuclear weapons.

As I was saying before I was so pleasantly interrupted, we have become wholly dependent on the vagaries of American policy. Of course, sometimes it has good effects. The Prime Minister was clearly deeply suspicious—indeed, hostile—to the INF agreement when it was first put forward, and she made that clear in some unguarded remarks. However, once she became aware that the American Administration were determined to pursue it, she fell into line. The Secretary of State for Defence told us in July that he thought that he would have to consider putting cruise missiles on submarines and having more B52 bombers in Britain to replace the capability given up by NATO in the INF agreement. I shall make a prediction: it is now clear that the Americans do not want to follow that route, so we will not hear a peep out of the right hon. Gentleman along those lines from now on.

However, in some ways more serious, because it is a continuing process, is the extent to which the Government's dependence on the United States for a strategic nuclear force is corrupting areas of our foreign policy to which it is not strictly relevant in any way. We were the only ally of the United States to give it facilities for the raiding of Tripoli last year. The reason, obviously, was the nuclear dependency. We have had pusillanimous pussy-footing from the British Government about Nicaragua, El Salvador and the possibility of a settlement in Latin America. Why? It is because they are frightened of offending the American President in case it backfires on his readiness to supply us with Trident.

There is also the inexplicable behaviour of the Government towards the crisis in the Gulf. A few moments ago I asked the Minister about Mr. John Connell's report in The Sunday Times on 1 May that the continuation of the Armilla patrol in the Gulf was a condition of the Trident agreement in 1982. He did not know, but perhaps when he——