HC Deb 06 December 1960 vol 631 cc1066-8
44. Mr. Grimond

asked the Prime Minister what undertaking Her Majesty's Government have given to their allies as to previous consultation before threatening or using the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent.

The Prime Minister

Consultation is of course desirable and, in many circumstances, practicable. But, as I said in the House on 8th November, it is the absolute certainty of retaliation which deters aggression. We have therefore given no specific undertakings of the kind mentioned in the Question.

Mr. Grimond

Is it not rather curious that we should continually demand from the Americans specific undertakings? Did not the Prime Minister assure us that we have specific undertakings about Polaris and other matters, for instance? Does not the uncertainty about this whole question make it very urgent that we should make some proposal to the Western allies for some machinery to deal with the circumstances in which this weapon may be used and the control of weapons in general?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Member slightly misunderstands the position. We have specific arrangements with the Americans in respect of the bomber bases becaues they are in this country. I explained when we were discussing Polaris, and the degree to which we had specific arrangements for submarines when they were in our country or the territorial waters, that we could not have quite the same specific arrangements if they were thousands of miles away, and that we must then rely on the general understanding which of course exists that nobody will fire this weapon without consultation with our allies—except that the aggressor must note that if he starts an attack of this kind it will have an immediate response from anybody who is in a position to make it.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Prime Minister aware that while it is indeed necessary to be sure that the deterrent is effective, there is certain danger and apprehension that in certain circumstances nuclear weapons might be used by one member of the alliance without the others being consulted? If he says, as he did, that in the ordinary way of course there would be consultation, will he please tell us what arrangements have been made to that end?

The Prime Minister

They are known to exist, because the circumstances we are trying to cover are of two quite separate kinds. One is the development of a bad position, possibly involving military action of a minor kind or even of a major kind, where there is time for consultation. The other is a sudden aggressive attack, and it must be absolutely clear to anyone contemplating such an attack that the reply to it would be immediate.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Emrys Hughes.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Question No. 45.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but it is after half-past three. I called the hon. Gentleman to ask a supplementary question and not Question No. 45.

Mr. Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman quite convinced that we have any control at all over the Polaris submarine when it gets out of territorial waters? Is he aware that there is a strong opinion in Scotland that we have no control, that this has brought this country into very grave danger, and that the idea that we have control over Polaris is an absolute delusion?

The Prime Minister

On several occasions in the House I have explained the exact position in great detail. I hardly think that it is possible for me to state again at this hour all the points which I have previously made. I have tried again today to remind the House of the different types of situation which exist in regard to the Polaris submarine.