HC Deb 18 March 1958 vol 584 cc1087-8
47. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister if he will reconstitute the Committee of Imperial Defence.

The Prime Minister

This is too large a subject to be treated adequately within the limits of an answer to a Parliamentary Question. I can only say that, while I think there may well be value in consultation between Government and Opposition on national defence policy, I doubt whether this could best be secured in the conditions of today by reconstituting an advisory Committee of Imperial Defence.

Mr. Fletcher

Now that we are engaged in an arms race in the manufacture of thermonuclear weapons, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that far more momentous decisions for the future of the nation are involved than was ever the case when the Committee of Imperial Defence ceased to function?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure that I would accept the premise, but I see the importance of the idea which lies behind the hon. Member's question. I have been in touch with the Leader of the Opposition and I hope to have a talk with him about the possibility of such discussions.

Mr. Shinwell

Is there not a report in one of the newspapers this morning to the effect that the Prime Minister is going to consult the official Opposition? If that is so, could it be arranged so that those who do not belong to the hierarchy could occasionally have the privilege of having a few words with the Minister of Defence?

The Prime Minister

I want to be scrupulously correct about this. I do not think the Leader of the Opposition would mind me saying—in fact, I made some reference to it before, thinking that this supplementary question would be asked—that I asked him if we could have a talk, without any commitment on his side, on the possibility of any arrangements such as were discussed in the defence debate. That is as the matter rests now.

Mr. S. Silverman

In view of the admitted fact that defence policies must be related to and must to some extent depend upon foreign policy, and of the further fact that differences in foreign policy have their background in differences in domestic policy, will the right hon. Gentleman say what are the limits of the discussions which he is inviting?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not think the House would expect me to say that. It would be very wrong of me, at any rate until we have had these discussions and have agreed with the Leader of the Opposition whether he wants anything further said or not. These are private discussions, and I have only referred to them after consultation with the right hon. Gentleman.