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United States Polaris Bases

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he anticipates that the United States Polaris bases will be closed.

As I stated in my answer to my hon. Friend on 11th March—[Vol. 888, c. 255.]—we may be able to initiate multilateral disarmament negotiations once the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions are concluded. It may then be possible to seek the removal of the United States Polaris base as a first step in such multilateral negotiations.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the trade union and labour movement is concerned that these weapons represent a grave threat to the safety and peace of the country? As he is devoted to carrying out the terms of the election manifesto, as I am, will he use his best endeavours to ensure that, starting from the basis of the multilateral negotiations he has mentioned, we shall get rid of these Polaris bases as soon as we possibly can?

Yes. My hon. Friend should not propagandise on the first point. If there were a conflict between East and West, even if there were no nuclear weapons based on English soil—

—or in the United Kingdom, we should not be able to escape any launching of nuclear weapons from abroad. The country would be a vast base, a feeder to the Continent, full of conventional weapons, and irrespective of whether there was a nuclear base here we would be hit. My hon. Friend and I, as well as my other hon. Friends, fought the election on a manifesto commitment which I am honestly carrying out. Starting from the basis of the multilateral disarmament negotiations, we shall seek the removal of American Polaris bases from Britain. That is the commitment, and that is what we are empowered to do.

Are not these bases in part an element of our alliance with our friends of the United States? If they were moved, would not the only people to rejoice be Russia and Labour supporters below the Gangway?

The bases certainly form part of the alliance, yes, and it is right that until we have concluded the other two major negotiations in Europe we should maintain them. Only thereafter, in alliance with our American friends, shall we be prepared to start multilateral talks on their removal.

As the Minister is under the impression that there are some nuclear bases on English soil and he does not seem to mind that, may we offer him the Polaris base for transfer to the River Thames, if he has no moral objection, as the Scottish National Party has? Is not the Polaris deterrent simply old scrap iron now? It is nothing but a danger, particularly to the industrial belt of central Scotland.

I do not think that the countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union regard it as scrap. They regard it as a real deterrent, and because of it we have managed to maintain between East and West 30 years of peace.