HC Deb 20 November 1957 vol 578 cc367-8
10. Mr. Beswick

asked the Minister of Defence what consultations he has had with the United States authorities regarding the implementation by United States aircraft based in the United Kingdom of the readiness of long-range nuclear bombers to take off within a fifteen-minute warning; and to what extent our other defence arrangements have been geared to this new situation.

14. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Defence in what circumstances his approval was obtained for United States aircraft from British bases carrying hydrogen bombs to be in the air twenty-four hours a day.

Mr. Sandys

This is a matter for the United States Strategic Air Command. It does not involve any change in our own defence arrangements.

Mr. Beswick

Does the Minister of Defence, responsible for the defence of this country, mean to say that it is not of concern to the people here that there are in this country long-range bombers ready to take off within fifteen minutes to deliver the nuclear deterrent? Are these long-range nuclear bombers to be placed upon this knife-edge of readiness without any other precautions being taken to protect our civilian population?

Mr. Sandys

We agreed—that is to say, the Labour Government agreed—that these American air bases should be set up in Great Britain. If they are to be there, and if they are to serve a purpose, I should have thought that the higher their state of readiness the better for all concerned. As for the second part of the supplementary question, as the hon. Gentleman knows quite well, there is a firm undertaking by the United States Government that these bases will not be used for military operations except in agreement with the British Government.

Mr. Allaun

Does not this mean that an American general could signal his planes which were already in the air, and Russian and British cities could be devastated even before the British Cabinet had had time to meet? Who controls the fate of our country? If someone misinterprets a situation or a signal, will it not then be too late?

Mr. Sandys

What I have already said is that we have a firm promise from the United States that they will not use these bases for military operations except in agreement with the British Government, and we trust them.

Mr. P. Williams

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be valuable if the Royal Air Force could be at the same state of readiness?

Mr. Sandys

It would, no doubt, cause alarm among hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Shinwell

Does the right hon. Gentleman say that, in face of a changing situation and new statements made by those responsible for U.S. aircraft in this country, there is no consultation between the U.S. military authorities and his Department? Can they do what they please, apart from the assurances given about the future?

Mr. Sandys

They can do what they please about their state of readiness, their training and their flying, but if it comes to the thing which really matters, which is active operations from bases in Great Britain, there is the agreement which ensures that we and they have to come to a joint decision.

Mr. Beswick

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that when joint agreement was reached in 1948 the situation was entirely different? This type of aircraft just had not been built. This type of deterrent was not in existence. The kind of agreement valid in 1948 surely does not apply to a situation in which we have these machines ready at fifteen minutes' notice to take off to wipe out whole countries.

Mr. Sandys

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the nuclear bomb did not exist when the agreement was made. Of course it did.

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