asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects to complete the withdrawal of the strategic strike force stationed in Cyprus which was announced in his statement of 3rd December.
The Vulcans previously stationed in Cyprus have now been replaced by a detachment from the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear in his speech on 16th December last, this move has been undertaken solely to ease the accommodation problem and is without prejudice to the outcome of the defence review.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House what function he hopes to find for the Vulcan bomber squadrons that have been withdrawn from Cyprus, and whether it is intended that they will continue to retain a nuclear capability?
As my hon. Friend will know, it is not the practice to give information about nuclear capability. We are satisfied that the Vulcan aircraft perform a useful rôole in the Royal Air Force today.
Will the Minister confirm that the operational squadrons that have been or are being withdrawn from Cyprus are being withdrawn because of lack of accommodation? In doing so, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have jumped the gun, in view of the White Paper that is to be published?
No, because the considerations which prompted the two matters are entirely different. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the squadrons have been replaced by detachments. The negotiations leading up to the White Paper on the long-term rôle in Cyprus still have to be completed.
Is it not crazy at this time, in the No. 1 danger spot in the world, to withdraw a strategic peacekeeping force such as the Vulcan squadron? Will it not encourage other countries which want to do so to proliferate nuclear weapons now with a reason for doing so?
Long-term policy matters must await the Defence White Paper. Given present conditions we believe it would be much more difficult if we were to retain an overcrowded presence in Cyprus. That would demoralise our Service men there quicker than anything else.