Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 9th July 1992.

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Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 6:25 pm, 9th July 1992

I shall not give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East because we are so short of time.

It is not a good sign when there is consensus between the two Front Benches, as there is about the date of the Adjournment. We have a three-hour debate because there was a consensus in 1981 that the Adjournment debate should be so limited. If the same rules applied now as applied in 1980, the debate would be open-ended and everyone who has been here today, hoping to participate, would have had the opportunity to do so. However, several hon. Members have now left the Chamber because they would have been unable to speak due to the three-hour time limit. I hope that they will vote for my amendment.

If the Government are short of subjects for debate, I can give them a string of subjects that we could debate in the extra fortnight between 16 July and 30 July. I shall be brief, because other hon. Members want to speak, but I shall mention two of those subjects, which are linked.

First, I hope that we have the opportunity—hence my amendment—to debate the vexed question of Menwith Hill near Harrogate where there was a demonstration last Saturday. About 150 people turned up to demonstrate against the listening base—or spy base—of the National Security Agency of the United States. I have here a copy of the New Statesman dated 16 July 1980. It contains an article headed "Phone tapping—America's big ear on Europe." The article reads as follows: 'Tinkerbell'—the national phone-tap centre which the New Statesman revealed in February—is only one part of a massive exercise in spying on civil and commercial communications. A much bigger role is played by America's highly secretive National Security Agency … operating from a remarkable base at Menwith Hill, eight miles west of Harrogate in Yorkshire.Menwith Hill—unless the KGB has something even bigger —appears to be the biggest tapping centre in the world. From its heavily guarded operations room a special high-capacity cable runs underground to the Post Office microwave tower at Hunters Stones five miles away: this provides an umbilical cord link into the national telephone and telex system running through Britain. A direct tap which is placed on lines to France and elsewhere in Europe has been in operation for more than 15 years. Phone tapping is being carried out in this country by the National Security Agency of a foreign power without any authority. Indeed, the agency does not even have Home Office warrants for tapping.

It can be argued—the Government advance the argument when they choose to release a few closely guarded words about Menwith Hill—that the facility can be used to tap into potential terrorist activity or other potential illegal activity. It may be that the Government had information about the Maxwell scandal through eavesdropping in this way, but they never used it.

The demonstrators at Menwith Hill found on Saturday that the station has grown instead of being reduced at the end of the cold war. It is becoming larger. There are eight radons instead of the two that were there when Duncan Campbell's article was written. Duncan Campbell was at the spy station addressing the demonstrators, as I was, and we intend to maintain the vigil against a foreign presence that is breaking United Kingdom law by tapping into the British Telecom network. There is a cable linking Hunters Stones tower and Menwith Hill that can carry 24,000 conversations simultaneously. It does not go into Menwith Hill to serve the telephone kiosks and the telephones of the 1,000 or more people who live there. Instead, its purpose is to ensure that the station at Menwith Hill can spy.

It is part of a system of intelligence eavesdropping. It is maintained by the National Security Agency of the United States, which was carrying out illegal activities in the United States. It was revealed to have been doing so in the immediate post-war period by the United States Congress. It is acting with impunity and the Government do not exercise control. That is why we should have some time over the next fortnight to go into all the details. There are not many opportunities to go into the sort of detail that is necessary and to put the facts on the Hansard record so that those outside know what is going on.

It is a scandal that the House is proposing to wrap up on 16 July when there are so many issues to be debated. It is in a lacklustre position because the Government have abandoned, thank God, the Maastricht Bill. They are short of material to put before the House, but there are many issues that need to be discussed. That is why my amendment is necessary.

Secondly, there has been a parliamentary question and a written answer about the extraordinary decision to order a fourth Trident. There should have been a statement followed by a debate. I am all for keeping people's jobs going, but surely we should investigate the lack of a diversification programme as we move from the cold war to peace. There are many things that people need and there are many in manufacturing industry who could undertake the necessary activity to meet their needs. We do not have to go to war; we do not have to spend the huge amount of money on the programme that the Government have decided to embark upon.

Why is it so difficult to obtain £30 million for the rolling stock for the electrification scheme from Leeds to Bradford, with crazy arrangements for leasing this, that and the other? The Industrial Bank of Scotland says that it cannot grant the leasing money because it is frightened of privatisation and the Toms, Dicks and Harrys are dubious organisations who will take over railway services. When it comes to mass extermination, however, by means of Trident nuclear warheads, the money is available. There is no question of going to the Industrial Bank of Scotland and asking for a leasing arrangement to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement—that is what it is all about.

How much money is involved? Greenpeace has produced a document entitled "The Rising Cost of Trident". I do not have time to go into it in great detail, but I shall refer to a few salient points. The Government's estimate is slightly more than £10 billion while Greenpeace claims that that is an underestimate by £22 billion. It states that only £52 million of a £1 billion construction programme at the atomic weapons research establishment at Aldermaston is officially attributed to Trident. Yet under the construction programme it will not be possible, unless it is completed, to produce the full complement of warheads for Trident.

If we did not go ahead with the fourth submarine, we would save £1·3 billion. According to Greenpeace, if we cancelled the entire Trident programme, we would save £16 billion. We are, of course, crying out for money for the national health service, for local authority housing and for other vital needs. Against that background we should be aware of the money that could be saved if we cancelled the Trident programme.

I am a long-standing member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and I shall not leave it. It is a principled campaign and we should sustain the argument. I say that Trident is a waste of money; it is a costly exercise in futility. That is why I want to deploy the relative arguments, but unfortunately there is not sufficient time to do so because other Members want to speak. The debate demonstrates the great need for Parliament to extend its sitting by a fortnight so that we can debate important issues before we get our buckets and spades and go on holiday.