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Rapier Missiles

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will report on the results of his talks with the United States Government as to the use of British-made Rapier missiles to defend the United States Air Force airfields in Great Britain.

During my recent visit to the United States of America I discussed with the United States authorities many topics of mutual interest, including the possible purchase of the Rapier surface-to-air missile system by the United States Air Force for use at its bases in this country. I made clear my disapointment that it had not yet taken a decision to purchase Rapier. In an effort to make further progress I offered that if the USAF would procure Rapier and fund it operationally, we would examine constructively the possibility of the RAF manning the system, on repayment, at seven USAF bases in the United Kingdom. A detailed proposal, giving indicative costs, is being sent to the United States this week. I hope that this initiative will lead to a procurement decision.

Did my hon. Friend point out to the United States Air Force that the Soviet Air Force capability now enables it to attack airfields in this country on a scale which has not previously been possible? Did he point out the advantages to the United States Air Force of using RAF manpower rather than its own? Did he also express the opinion that the two-way street should be implemented and not just talked of by the Americans?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I drew the attention of the United States Air Force to the potential vulnerability of its bases in the United Kingdom. I hope that if this purchase proceeds more reality will be brought into the present imbalance in the two-way street.

Is an inter-Service quarrel in the United States preventing the use of British weapons on British soil?

Yes. The hon. Gentleman is obviously aware that the main problem is what is known in American circles as a "roles and missions" argument. I made the proposal in an attempt to assist in breaking the deadlock.