HC Deb 20 December 1960 vol 632 cc1076-84
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a short statement on the N.A.T.O. Council Meeting.

This was the regular December meeting of the Council, and the communiqué which was issued and which I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT shows the wide range of subjects discussed.

The main business of this year's meeting was to discuss the long-range planning of the Alliance, in all its aspects, and particularly on the military side. As the House is aware, the United States Government have been giving thought to the need to strengthen the N.A.T.O. Alliance and to the problem of keeping up to date the deterrent and defensive forces of N.A.T.O. in the coming years. With these objectives in mind, the United States Secretary of State outlined to the Council the concept of a multilateral M.R.B.M. force for N.A.T.O. He put this forward for discussion and consideration, and not for immediate decisions.

At the same time, and as a first step towards the objectives he has in mind, Mr. Herter announced his Government's intention to commit to N.A.T.O. five Polaris submarines before the end of 1963. It was made clear that these five submarines would operate in accordance with existing procedures. Thus no change in the control arrangements for nuclear forces is involved. He also gave an assurance that the United States intended not to withdraw from the N.A.T.O. area American nuclear weapons allotted to N.A.T.O.

The Permanent Representatives will now study the whole problem of the N.A.T.O. defence capability in the light of the United States suggestions. The study will include an examination of the purposes, control and development of N.A.T.O.'s nuclear armoury. This is a point to which my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence drew particular attention.

As regards non-military matters, it was agreed that the North Atlantic Treaty itself requires no amendment but that fuller use should be made of the machinery we now have, especially with a view to improving political consultation between member countries. This, too, will be worked out by the Permanent Representatives on the basis of a report by the Secretary-General and other suggestions made during the meeting. It will be further considered at the Ministerial meeting in Oslo next May.

Mr. G. Brown

First, is the Lord Privy Seal aware that we are still without any indication of what are the Government's views on a multilateral M.R.B.M. force for N.A.T.O. which he says the Americans put forward for discussion? If we put forward views during the discussion, will he tell the House what they were? Secondly, on the question of the American proposal to commit five Polaris submarines before the end of 1963, the right hon. Gentleman specifically made it clear that this will be in accordance with existing procedures—that is, for deployment and for control. In other words, they would seem to remain part of the American forces under American control. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what this means from the point of view of the alliance? Is it anything other than a proposal, a device, for spreading in Europe part of the cost which would otherwise fall on the Americans?

Concerning the proposed study of the purposes, control and deployment of the N.A.T.O. nuclear armoury, I think I speak for the whole House in saying that we welcome that very much. As this is the season of good will, perhaps I might be permitted to welcome the partial conversion of the Minister of Defence to the point of view put forward from this bench, particularly when he told his N.A.T.O. colleagues that weapons should fit strategy and not strategy be made to fit weapons.

Arising from that, however, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the inquiry, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to press for the raising of the nuclear threshold to a higher level than that at present envisaged? If that is true, why did we oppose the American Government's proposals for drawing back nuclear weapons from the forward line, which we and the Germans were the only ones to oppose?

Mr. Heath

At the meeting, Her Majesty's Government's representative did not express any firm view concerning the multilateral force for N.A.T.O. because the Americans put this forward as a concept later to be examined by the permanent representatives. We will play our full part in examining this proposal, but it would have been premature to put forward firm and clear views at the discussion in Paris.

Secondly, on the question of status, as announced by Mr. Herter, these submarines are committed to N.A.T.O. and, therefore, under the present arrangements the thermonuclear element remains under American control. In that way, it is exactly similar to the other thermonuclear elements. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether this was a matter of putting the cost on to Europe. That is not as we understand it. The cost of this is borne by the American Administration—that is, the cost of the Polaris submarines.

Mr. Callaghan

And the missiles?

Mr. Heath

And of the missiles. That is the position as I understand it. The question of raising the threshold is a matter which will have to be discussed in the whole examination of the project which I have just announced.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

May I ask my right hon. Friend exactly what is meant by the expression "multilateral force"? Does it mean an integrated force? Who will have custody of the nuclear warheads? Have Her Majesty's Government reason to think that the incoming American Administration is in any way committed by these proposals?

Mr. Heath

Mr. Herter put forward the proposal as an American concept, the details of which still have to be examined. The points which my hon. and gallant Friend has raised are matters which must be sorted out by the permanent representatives. It remains to be seen what will be the attitude of the next Administration as expressed through its permanent representative after taking power.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the Minister telling the House that the United States Government have made an offer of five Polaris submarines with missiles at their expense while, at the same time, they have approached N.A.T.O. and the countries associated with N.A.T.O. asking that those countries should bear a larger proportion of defence costs? How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile those two statements? Can we understand from what the Minister has said that any further obligation which is imposed upon the United Kingdom as a result of any agreement reached by N.A.T.O. will not be accepted until hon. Members have had an opportunity of debating the matter?

Mr. Heath

The American Government have put forward this as an earnest of their intention of strengthening the defence of N.A.T.O. in Europe. Concerning the question of a debate in the House, obviously it will take time for the permanent representatives to examine these detailed and complicated proposals. I am certain that there will be further opportunities of debating the matter.

Mr. W. Yates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, both in this House and outside, we are not in the least interested in the proposals made by the Republican Government of the United States and that we look forward to the arrival of the new Government, when more sensible proposals will be made?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Manuel.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman at least answer the question of what Mr. Herter meant by "multilateral force"?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but I called the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) before the Leader of the Opposition rose.

Mr. Manuel

Thank you for that honour, Mr. Speaker. With regard to this American concept which has now been offered for consideration by the N.A.T.O. Powers and the concept of five new Polaris submarines with missiles plus, I think, another 100 missiles, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a firm pledge that we shall not advocate more Polaris bases in this country until the House has an opportunity to debate the question?

Mr. Heath

The question of further Polaris bases in this country was not raised at the N.A.T.O. conference. That is an entirely separate question.

Mr. Speaker

We are getting into an even worse situation. No answer has yet been given to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Gaitskell

I was asking for more information from the Lord Privy Seal, since he seemed unable to answer the question of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) about a multilateral force. Did not the right hon. Gentleman question Mr. Herter about the meaning of this, and could he not tell us what the answer was?

Mr. Heath

Mr. Herter put forward the information with his concept that this would be a force over which the countries of Europe would have a greater degree of control than under the present arrangements. At the same time, he pointed out that this would need a change in American legislation. He was quite clear and plain about that, as, indeed, Ministers speaking from this Box were quite plain in the debate at the beginning of last week.

As for the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates), it is a matter for commendation that the present American Administration and its President, who had given an undertaking to N.A.T.O. earlier to examine the project and put forward proposals, should have done so at this meeting.

Mr. Kershaw

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us have great difficulty in understanding in what sense the Polaris is a tactical weapon? Will he bear in mind that the methods of control hitherto in use have worked extremely well for ten years and that we should be slow to change them except for something very much better?

Mr. Heath

This proposal by the American Secretary of State was put forward within the present terms of reference of the Supreme Commander. As the Supreme Commander himself has stated and as this House knows, there is no strategic element in the terms of reference.

Mr. G. Brown

As on each of these important issues the Minister has said that Her Majesty's Government have no views, how is the British permanent representative to play any part in the examination by the permanent representatives?

Mr. Heath

I have not said that the Government have no views. I have said that we shall play our full part in the examination of this study. We can do that when those who are putting forward the proposals describe the details to the Council of Permanent Representatives. We shall then examine them carefully and put forward our own views on each proposal.

Mr. Grimond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us feel that one of the most serious things about the present situation in N.A.T.O. is the situation of its conventional forces? Does the total absence of any reference to conventional forces in the Minister's statement mean that they were not discussed? Secondly, as to the rather cryptic phrase that Mr. Herter announced his intention to commit five Polaris submarines to N.A.T.O., are we to understand that the meeting accepted this intention and accepted the submarines? If so, the first step appears to have been taken towards creating a strategic N.A.T.O. nuclear deterrent. This is an extremely important matter.

Mr. Heath

The reference to conventional weapons is in paragraph 6 of the communiqué. I did not include all the matters from the communiqué in the brief statement which I have made. Concerning the Secretary of State's announcement about commitments, no decisions of any kind were taken at the N.A.T.O. meeting about any of these matters.

Mr. Wigg

Will the right hon. Gentleman turn his mind from conceptions which have not yet been conceived—and even if they are, may yet be abortive—to the annual review of N.A.T.O., which was not in the least bit impressed by the matters to which he has referred, but was very concerned to evaluate the British Forces in the Rhine Army? Is it not the case that it came to the conclusion that our seven brigade groups are so lacking in hitting power and in services that they do not equal three divisions, and that 75 per cent. of them are below establishment?

Mr. Heath

This matter was raised in the debate on defence on Tuesday of last week. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and I pointed out that the object of the British Government is to bring the British Forces up to the standards of equipment and mobility required by the Supreme Commander for conventional forces.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot pursue this matter further now, with no Question before the House.

The following is the text of the final communiqué of the N.A.T.O. Ministerial Meeting:

"The regular Ministerial session of the North Atlantic Council was held in Paris from December 16 to 18, 1960.

2. The Ministers engaged in an extensive review of the international situation—political, military and economic. In pursuance of decisions previously taken, they also considered the question of long-term planning on the basis of a progress report from the Secretary-General and suggestions put forward by Governments.


3. The Council reaffirmed the solidarity of the Alliance and their dedication to the principle of the settlement of all disputes by peaceful means, without recourse to the use of force or threats. They declared their determination to work for a lasting improvement in international relations, in which freedom, national independence and law would be respected. This would be true peaceful co-existence free from all idea of world domination.

4. The Council deplored the lack of progress during the past year on disarmament, resulting from the Communist States withdrawal from the Ten-Power Conference before even examining the Western proposals, the Council reaffirmed their support for the principles expressed in those proposals as a basis for attaining their common objective of general and complete disarmament by stages under effective international control. They expressed their hope for the early resumption of negotiations.

5. The Council regretted the lack of progress on the reunification of Germany on the basis of self-determination. With regard to Berlin, the Council reaffirmed their declaration of December 16, 1958. In face of the recent Soviet threats and harassing tactics, they once again declared their determination to protect the freedom of the people of West Berlin.


6. In order that the Atlantic Alliance may pursue its constructive purposes in peace and without fear, confronted as it is by the menace of growing Communist military strength, the North Atlantic nations must be able to respond to any attack with whatever force might be appropriate. There must be a proper balance in the force of the Alliance of nuclear and conventional strength to provide the required flexibility. The Ministers, in the light of the annual review, took note of the progress which had been made, and expressed their determination to continue their efforts to improve the deterrent and defensive strength of the Alliance.

7. In this connexion, the United States Government suggested the concept of an MRBM multilateral force for consideration by the Alliance. The Council took note of the United States suggestion with great interest and instructed the permanent representatives to study the suggestion and related matters in detail.

The Council welcomed the assurance of the United States to maintain in the N.A.T.O. area United States nuclear weapons made available to N.A.T.O.

8. At the same time, the Council agreed on the equal importance of strengthening the shield forces of N.A.T.O. in other respects so that there can be not possibility of miscalculation or misunderstanding of the Alliances' determination and ability to resist aggression by whatever means are appropriate and necessary.

9. The Ministers noted with satisfaction the steps so far taken in response to the proposals made by Defence Ministers in Spring, 1960, in the field of logistics and for co-operation in research, development and production of military equipment. They urged all parties concerned to press on with the projects already selected, and to study what further projects are suitable for co-operative action.


10. The Ministers examined the report submitted to them on long-term planning, in particular with regard to political consultation and economic problems.

11. They reaffirmed their determination to pursue within the Alliance comprehensive political consultation designed to achieve the closest possible co-ordination of their views and unity of action. They studied ways and means of achieving this result.

12. In the economic field, they welcomed the creation of the O.E.C.D. which, by promoting balanced economic growth and the expansion of world trade, will benefit all the nations of the free world.

13. They emphasised the importance they attach to the development of the less-favoured countries of the Alliance.

14. Comprising as they do many of the more industrially developed countries, the Atlantic nations recognise their special responsibility in the field of aid to underdeveloped countries.

15. The Ministers instructed the permanent representatives to follow up previous studies to enable the countries of the Alliance to watch the development of the Communist economic offensive and to concert the necessary defensive measures.

16. The Secretary-General was invited to draw up a report on these various questions which will be examined at the spring ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

17. This meeting will take place, at the invitation of the Norwegian Government, in Oslo, in May, 1961."