HC Deb 19 January 1954 vol 522 cc832-3
46. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister why he agreed that the new British rifle should be superseded by the Belgian FN .300.

The Prime Minister

The reason why I agreed was that after prolonged examination and discussion the Belgian rifle is considered by our military and expert authorities to be more suitable. It has proved itself to be equal in performance to the latest British pattern, and the fact that it is simpler in design makes it quicker and easier to make and maintain. Moreover, there is a greater prospect of the Belgian pattern being adopted by a number of N.A.T.O. countries than is the case with the latest British type. Thus we are promoting standardisation. I may also remind the House that a uniform round has been achieved and accepted by all N.A.T.O. countries. Any delay which has occurred has been well worth while especially in the lessening tension which has marked the last two years. I may also say that arrangements will be made, if desired, for Members of Parliament to see the rife.

Mr. Wyatt

Is the Prime Minister aware that this announcement will prove a great discouragement to the brilliant British inventors who, over a long period, carefully invented and designed this new British rifle which, as the Prime Minister well knows, is undoubtedly the best that has ever been devised in the world? Is he aware that it is absolute nonsense to say that the Belgian rifle is equal to ours, since the weight of the round alone means that every rifleman will have to carry a greater burden into battle to be able to fire the same number of rounds? Is not this decision entirely due to the weakness of the Prime Minister in not standing up to the Americans for something which he knew was right?

The Prime Minister

I am quite ready that it should be attributed to me, and whether it is attributed by the hon. Gentleman to weakness or to wisdom I am entirely indifferent.

Mr. Shinwell

But on the question of whether this is a better rifle than the proposed British rifle, is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the discussions which took place in Washington by military experts, and in the presence of representatives of the United Kingdom, Canadian and other Governments, the British military experts declared—and would not give way on this point—that the British rifle was far superior both to the Belgian rifle and to the new American rifle? Is he not aware of this?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of the date which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, but these events are continually moving forward.