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Cruise Missile Sites

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable persons living within the area of proposed cruise missile sites to vote on their acceptability; and for connected purposes.
The purpose of the Bill is to remedy a serious defect in our democratic system that was created by the Secretary of State for Defence agreeing to the installation of cruise missiles in this country, without troubling first to consult Parliament. Several Labour Members pressed for a debate, as did the Opposition Front Bench—even though somewhat belatedly. A debate took place well after the decision was reached.

However, on the proposed Olympic Games boycott, the Leader of the House adopted a different view. He said on 13 March:
"The debate must be arranged before the conference that is to be held on 17 and 18 March…However, it is important that the will of the House should be expressed before the conference takes place."—[Official Report, 13 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 1558–9.]
That was said in the context of a suggested debate around midnight, before the Geneva fiasco, on which we have just heard a report.

The installation of 160 cruise missiles is a far more serious matter, and the view of the House was not heard until after the decision had been reached. Even when the House debated the matter, the consensus view of politics that afflicts the Labour leadership from time to time meant that some Labour Whips urged some Labour Members to abstain in the Division. Happily, a healthy number did not, but the closed door conspiracy that exists over nuclear weapons must be broken. My Bill will provide a means of doing that.

The Government are extremely anxious to provide the trade unions with opportunities for ballots. Clause 1(3) of the Employment Bill provides a wide range of opportunities for ballots. But the issue of cruise missiles is immensely more important than the internal arrangements of trade unions. I propose to give the people of the areas in which it is intended to install cruise missiles an opportunity to vote on their acceptability. That is especially important in view of the fact that the missiles are parked on our shores and will be owned and controlled by the Americans with a single key, with consultation only, and with no right of veto over their use by the Government.

Since, on the admission of the Secretary of State, nuclear conflict would involve only a matter of minutes warning, consultation seems a somewhat academic right, and since the cruise missile areas will be prime targets the people affected should have a voice in and a vote on their future.

My Bill will use as a guide part of clause 6 of the Government's Employment Bill. The acceptance of cruise missiles for an area will recognise that
"not less than 80 per cent. of those entitled to vote in the ballot voted in favour"
of the siting of the cruise missile or missiles in the relevant area. Connoisseurs of the Employment Bill will recognise an adaptation of a provision of that Bill.

The Bill will also define the relevant area. In a nuclear conflict the United Kingdom would be completely affected, but the cruise missile sites would be more vulnerable in an accidental strike. It is conceivable that an isolated freak incident could arise accidentally. Hence, the relevant area in my Bill would be the area affected by a retaliatory strike of a 5 megaton warhead. All the figures used to define the relevant areas are taken from the Home Office handbook "Nuclear Weapons". Figures in the handbook range up to 20 megaton weapons. Hence, a 5 megaton definition is by no means the most widespread devastation that could apply.

I have also taken figures for ground-burst weapons only. Airburst weapons would result in greater devastation and death.

All people living within three miles of the site would be eligible to vote, as would persons likely to suffer from the heat effects. That would be the main area of fire zone and general destruction of houses and buildings. The area in which heat effects would be felt would be wider. Table 5 on page 24 of the handbook "Nuclear Weapons" gives a diameter of 18½ miles where skin would be charred, 24 miles where skin would be blistered, and 32 miles where skin would be reddened. The effects of 5 megaton bombs on sites at Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds would overlap. Up to a total diameter of 32 miles there would also be damage—from total destruction at the centre to light damage at the periphery. In addition, there would be radioactivity over the whole area, varying from lethal to damaging, producing later death.

The total area affected by dangerous, and in many cases lethal, residual radiation would be as large as 2,000 square miles. In view of the potential sacrifice of life, limb and future generations that the people in the areas around those missile sites would be asked to contemplate, the least that the House should do is to ask them whether they want to make that potential contribution.

My Bill will define the relevant areas, taking all the factors that I have indicated into account. However, a secret ballot must be fair. A returning officer would be appointed to conduct a ballot, and the Bill would give powers to the Home Secretary to issue regulations, subject to affirmative approval of the House, governing the conduct of the ballot. The rules would include registration of organisations conducting a campaign, and allocation of a spending limit to such organisations as part of a total limitation on expenditure. Those hon. Members who campaigned in the EEC referendum well remember how the absence of a spending limit helped to warp that result. Fair allocation of space and time by the press and the media to varying points of view would also be allocated in the regulations. The vote would, in general, be conducted on the lines of a general election campaign, but with the same standards of balance that apply to television and radio applying to newspapers.

A limited period of no more than one month would be allowed for campaign purposes. In the past there has been a suppression of information regarding the possible consequences of nuclear war, either by design or by accident. I refer particularly to the BBC production of "The War Game" which was based entirely on Home Office material and guidance portrayed in a dramatised manner. That production has never been shown on television. My Bill will provide that, if a formal request is made by a campaigning organisation for a regional television showing of "The War Game", such a request should be granted.

I believe that with information provided on the horrific consequences of nuclear war there would be a massive vote against cruise missiles wherever the Government attempted to locate them. The campaign would bring out into the open the fact that both sides—not just the Warsaw Pact—are armed to the teeth and that the position is worsening.

Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass murder. If the Government genuinely believe in choice, they should support the Bill which will enable people to reject outright the tactics of mass extermination which underpin the deployment of nuclear weapons. If people are given the opportunity that my Bill envisages, that may well start an irresistible movement here, in America and Russia towards diminishing our dependence on these terrible weapons. It will take us one step back from the nuclear brink and from the possibility of the people of this country being turned into a radioactive cinder heap, for a cause for which they were never considered and to which they never gave their consent.

The only certain defence against nuclear weapons is to get rid of them. The certain way of getting them used is to keep insisting on their installation on these shores and elsewhere. It is no chance that questions are being raised about civil defence in the wake of the bellicose comments by the Prime Minister and President Carter. It is becoming transparently clear to more and more people that there is no civil defence. If we are truly serious about freedom and democracy, we should give people in the potential cruise missile areas the democratic right to live free from fear in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Frank Allaun, Dr. Oonagh McDonald, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. David Stoddart, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Thomas Torney, Mr. Jim Marshall, Mr. David Winnick, Mr. Russell Kerr, and myself.

Cruise Missile Sites

Mr. Bob Cryer accordingly presented a Bill to enable persons living within the area of proposed cruise missile sites to vote on their acceptability; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 April and to be printed. [Bill 172.]