HC Deb 08 July 1959 vol 608 cc1361-7
The Minister of Defence (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

As the House is aware, the redeployment of certain United States' Air Force squadrons assigned to SACEUR has been under consideration for some weeks. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and I answered Questions on this subject in the House on 17th June.

At that time, we had received no formal request that any of these squadrons should be stationed in this country. During the last few days, SACEUR, has decided that this redeployment is necessary and Her Majesty's Government have now received a formal request from the United States Government to receive some additional squadrons in this country. Her Majesty's Government have agreed.

These squadrons will be composed in part of reconnaissance aircraft and in part of fighter bombers. They will be stationed at airfields which are already in use by the United States Air Force. The detailed plans for the move will be worked out between the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force.

The United States Government have reaffirmed once more that the arrangements between the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom regarding the use of air bases in Britain in time of emergency will, of course, apply to these additional squadrons. As the House will recall, these arrangements provide that the use of these bases in an emergency will be subject to the joint decision of the two Governments in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time.

Mr. G. Brown

It will be very satisfactory to the House that the last paragraph which the right hon. Gentleman read is as clear as it is and provides as firmly as it does for the joint decision of the two Governments on any future occasions on which the use of these bases or these aircraft is called into question. The fact that these moves have to be made at all is not a cause for complacency, much less for congratulation, but is evidence of the considerable difficulty and weakness within N.A.T.O.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps are being taken and what discussions are being held to try to overcome the problem which gave rise to this? Secondly, can he tell us what it was that the French objected to which has given rise to this request? Thirdly, will he confirm, if he can, particularly in the light of the statement which is now on the tape, alleged to be emanating from N.A.T.O. sources in Paris, that this move is wholly an internal N.A.T.O. matter and is in no way related to any other international question at this moment?

Mr. Sandys

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will expect me to go into any detail about what passed between SACEUR and the French Government in obviously confidential and delicate discussions which they have had on this subject, in the light of which the decision was taken to make these moves.

Dealing with the last point, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that these moves arise solely from the difficulties which have occurred to which he referrred and have nothing to do with the general international situation.

Mr. Brown

Without wanting to raise delicate matters which might be difficult from the security point of view, may I, nevertheless, press the right hon. Gentleman on the first point which I put to him? Obviously, these issues could arise about any weapons in N.A.T.O. and could lead to a progressive breaking-up of this organisation. In any case, they are political issues of the very first order. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, for exemple, were the French, to his knowledge, offered the same terms as those on which we have accepted the aircraft?

Mr. Sandys

Naturally, I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in his anxiety about any differences which occur at any time within the alliance to which we all attach so much importance. I do not think that it is for one Government, one member of an alliance, to give their own version of differences which may have occurred between another Government and N.A.T.O.

Mr. Bevan

In that case, as these are political issues and cannot relate precisely to security issues, from where are we to get the information? We are to have more American planes established here as a consequence of the French refusal to have them in France. That refusal is based upon certain political grounds. If we cannot have it unilaterally from one Government, from where can we have an explanation?

Mr. Sandys

I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman will get this confidential information at all, for the time being.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will have noted the phrases which he has used, which were that SACEUR. "has decided" and, secondly, that there has been a "formal request from the United States Government"? Would he also take account of the fact that this decision appears to savour of a sanction against French policy? If this is so, is it not a regrettable fact, for surely the basis of our policy should be friendship with the French?

Mr. Sandys

We can all agree with my hon. Friend that we want the closest collaboration, understanding and friendship with France and the French people, but nobody will suggest that this is a sanction against the French. Some people do not welcome foreign aircraft in their country though that may not be the attitude of all of us here. In this case, all that has happened is that the Supreme Commander has decided, not dictated, as I think my hon. Friend suggests, that the move is necessary for the sake of the effectiveness of the forces under his command, and the move is being made with the consent of the Governments of the countries into which the aircraft are being transferred.

Mr. Brown

Does not the right hon. Gentleman 6ee that unless something more is said, this is precisely the view which will more and more be taken outside? Before the Government agreed to this move, surely they must have in quired what was the basis of the difficulty. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman at least say that they did? Did they not further take the view that difficult questions of political control such as this must be and are being the subject of political discussions within N.A.T.O. at the moment?

Mr. Sandys

Of course, we are well aware of the general substance of the difficulties which have arisen. Earlier, I said that I shared the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about anything which might weaken the unity and strength of the alliance. If I were to go into great detail about differences between the French Government and the Supreme Allied Commander on this, I do not think that I should be contributing towards better understanding within the alliance.

Mr. Grimond

Does not this show the unfortunate result of individual countries going their own way in defence policy? As the Government's policy is said to be based on interdependence, shall we not at some point have a statement from a Minister on how we stand about interdependence and the political consequences of this sort of move?

Mr. Sandys

That is a much wider issue and no doubt some opportunity will arise for it to be raised.

Mr. Fell

While not asking my right hon. Friend for details as to our position with France, may I at least ask him whether we have been having conversations with the French Government about where we stand in all this? Secondly, may I have an assurance that we do not think it likely that this will worsen our relationship with the French people?

Mr. Sandys

I think that is a broader issue which my hon. Friend should raise either by means of another question, or in the course of a debate.

Mr. Beswick

Can the Minister tell us how he can square this assurance that there will be discussions between the two Governments on the operational use of these aircraft, with the claim of the Americans that these machines are at fifteen minutes' state of readiness? Surely, it is impossible to have discussions between the two Governments when we are dealing with machines of this kind. Are not these assurances worthless and a sort of smokescreen?

Mr. Sandys

No, we are quite satisfied that they are of extreme value. I will not go into the wider issues raised by the hon. Member.

Mr. Healey

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the total number of American aircraft based in Britain after these arrangements have been carried out will be greater than have been stationed in Britain at any previous time under earlier arrangements?

Mr. Sandys

Quite a number of aircraft have been moved at different times. The number of American aircraft in this country has fluctuated greatly at different times, and when the move that is now proposed is completed the total number will not be very different from what it has been at various times in the past.

Mr. Wigg

Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the aircraft which are to be stationed in this country are very powerful weapons of war indeed, far superior to anything which we possess? While this appears to strengthen the situation at the moment, have the Government taken into account what may happen if, with a change of policy, we were suddenly left without these aircraft and with nothing to take their place?

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Gentleman should argue with some of his hon. Friends. These aircraft are not replacing any R.A.F. aircraft. They are in addition to the aircraft which we have in this country.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Would my right hon. Friend say whether this is a temporary arrangement pending the adjustment of whatever difficulties there may be within the alliance?

Mr. Sandys

All those possibilities were explored.

Mr. Warbey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the nature of the message to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) referred? It says: American N.A.T.O. sources said the decision was aimed at keeping tactical weapons sharp at a time of East-West strain. Asked if the timing of the transfer was connected with the Berlin problem and the resumption next Monday of the East-West Foreign Ministers' Conference in Geneva, the source said: 'The timing is all too obvious.' Will not the right hon. Gentleman repudiate in the most emphatic words these provocative sentiments?

Mr. Sandys

We are not increasing the air forces available to N.A.T.O. All that is being done is to make sure that the air forces which are available are in a place where they can be used effectively.

Mr. Bevan

That does not answer my hon. Friend's question. Does not the right hon. Gentleman find it possible to repudiate the association between the resumption of the discussions at Geneva next Monday and the sending of these additional aircraft to Britain today?

Mr. Sandys

I have already said in reply to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that there is no connection between the international situation and this move.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Earlier, my right hon. Friend said that these movements were being taken with the permission of the Governments concerned. Does that mean movements of aircraft into territories other than our own?

Mr. Sandys

Certain squadrons will be moving into Germany and certain of the American squadrons which are coming here will be coming from Germany.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Minister aware that there is a considerable and growing feeling in this country that these bases do not add to our security at all, but add to our dangers? They put this country in greater potential danger in the event of war, and France is now in less danger than we are. A good many of us hope that the time will come when we will get rid of these bases altogether.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the Minister's statement that some of these forces will be sent to Germany, is it not a very serious danger that Germany is to be rearmed in this fashion? May not Germany constitute a greater danger than having these forces in this country? Surely it would be better to have them under our control, even if it means joint control, than under the individual control of the Germans.

Mr. Sandys

Nobody has suggested that these American squadrons in Germany are to be under the individual control of the Germans, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. This change has involved movements of squadrons in various directions: from France to Germany, from Germany to here and from France to here. The number of American squadrons in Germany at the end of this reshuffle will, I believe, although I have not got the precise detail, be substantially what it is today.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's reply—in fact, there was no answer to my question—I give notice that I shall raise this matter at the earliest possible moment on the Adjournment.