HC Deb 12 July 1960 vol 626 cc1170-80
40. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the difficulties that have arisen over the use of United States aircraft operating from bases in the United Kingdom, since the agreement to allow such United States bases, if he will now consider ending this agreement.

41. Mr. Grimond

asked the Prime Minister if the permission of Her Majesty's Government must be obtained before any U2 flights take place from this country.

42. Mr. Healey

asked the Prime Minister what consultations he has had with the United States administration regarding the flight of United States aircraft on reconnaissance missions from Lakenheath airfield.

43. Mr. Warbey

asked the Prime Minister on how many occasions in the past six months the use of the United States bases in this country has been the subject of a joint decision by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States in accordance with the understanding reached in October, 1951, and confirmed in January, 1952.

48. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consult with President Eisenhower with a view to securing the closest degree of prior consultation and information on all reconnaissance missions of United States aircraft from the United Kingdom.

50. Mr. P. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister whether reconnaissance flights over Soviet territory or Eastern Europe have been made by United States aircraft operating from bases in Great Britain; and whether he had given his approval before such flights were made.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, I will answer Question No. 40 with Questions Nos. 41, 42, 43, 44, 48 and 50.

Mr. de Freitas

On a point of order. Before I can decide whether I should like my Question No. 44 to be answered with the others, and since my Question deals particularly with Brize Norton and was put down to the Secretary of State for Air and has been gathered up by the Prime Minister, I should like to know from the Prime Minister how far he is going to treat U2 flights and RB-47 flights in the same way.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member asks about Question No. 44. There is a Private Notice Question down by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, so that perhaps I ought to leave that Question until then. Had I considered this previously, perhaps I should have left out that Question.

I have given these matters careful consideration, as I promised. These Questions have a bearing on either the scope of Intelligence activities or the way in which they are conducted and controlled. It has never been the practice to discuss such matters in the House, and I have come to the conclusion that it would be contrary to the public interest for me to depart from precedent on this occasion.

Nevertheless, on the matter of consultation raised by several of these Questions, I feel able to say this. Ever since the Attlee-Truman agreement with regard to the use of bases in this country, we have had good working arrangements between ourselves and the Americans. But I am taking up with the President the question whether there should be any modification or improvement of these arrangements.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does the Prime Minister recollect that ten years ago the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) uttered a very historic warning about the dangers to this country caused by creating American bomber bases in East Anglia saying, … we have made ourselves the target and perhaps the bull's eye of a Soviet attack".[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 630.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the latest incidents have burned this into the minds of the people of this country and that they expect the Prime Minister to speak for the people of this country and not to be a mere puppet of the Pentagon?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether the hon. Member gave notice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) that he proposed to quote from his speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] These are very grave issues in which my right hon. Friend is known to have taken a great part and, without seeing the whole of the speech, I would hazard a venture that this quotation is taken out of a speech in which my right hon. Friend draws the whole picture of our problem as regards air defence and the working of the deterrent. There are, of course, those who feel—and I have every sympathy with the hon. Member; we know his views—that the presence of the United States bases in this country, is, as he says, a threat to our national security. But I am bound to say that I think that there are many more of us who feel that their absence would be an even greater threat.

Mr. Healey

While welcoming the news that the Prime Minister has decided to approach the American President to improve consultations, may I ask whether this is not an admission that Her Majesty's Government were not fully in control of the activities which have been going on until now? Secondly, is the Prime Minister aware that the American Senate has already been given details of flights by American reconnaissance planes from British airfields? Is it not quite improper that Her Majesty's Government should refuse similar information to this House, because surely the penetration of foreign air space by reconnaissance aircraft is not only a violation of international law which carries peculiar dangers, which have previously been stressed by my right hon. Friends, but has recently been the subject of threats which it would be unwise entirely to ignore?

The Prime Minister

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, it is perfectly fair to say that everything is capable of improvement. I think that perhaps the second part of the question is that to which the hon. Member attached the greater importance. I have seen the text of the evidence given to United States Senate Committee about the U2 flights from Lakenheath, and I am bound to say that it does not seem to refer at all to the anxieties which are disturbing some hon. Members, for it is quite clear—I will have the papers put in the Library—that it refers to flights not over Soviet territory.

Mr. Healey

The Prime Minister cannot get away with that. Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Air refused to answer my Question referring to this evidence on the ground that these flights concerned Intelligence activities? It is no good now pretending that they did not.

The Prime Minister

It is not very easy to please the hon. Member. We do our best, and we have many links. When it is my duty to refuse to answer Questions, as far as possible, on Intelligence matters, then we are accused of not giving information. When we try to relax the strictness of that rule a little, we are told that we are inconsistent. All I can say is that we have tried to give as much information as we can—it is quite a heavy burden upon all Administrations in these matters—but to preserve what we believe to be the interests of the country.

Mr. Grimond

May we take it from the Prime Minister's original answer that the Attlee-Truman agreement applies to these reconnaissance flights and that therefore we were consulted before they took place?

The Prime Minister

Of course, consultations took place—ever since that agreement was made—as to the flights which may take place from this territory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Since that agreement. Before that agreement was made there could not have been any necessity for such consultations because there were no American bombers in this country.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

I venture to ask the Prime Minister to answer the question which last week he invited me to put down: since it is universally admitted that reconnaissance flights by spy aircraft are illegal under international law, is it not desirable that the House of Commons should know whether the Prime Minister is consulted before such flights are made from British bases and whether he has given his approval?

The Prime Minister

As for the flights referred to, I should have thought that it is not a matter which exercised anxiety in this country now, for it was made clear on 16th May in Paris by President Eisenhower that these flights were suspended and would not be resumed.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In view of the very welcome announcement which the Prime Minister has made that he proposes to take up this matter with the President, may I ask him whether he will consider putting this point to the President: that one of the greatest anxieties which people in this country have is lest the military machine should become the dictator of political policy. In the interests of a continuing amicable and successful alliance in N.A.T.O., will he ask the President to do all that he can to make it abundantly clear that the military instrument is within the control of the politician?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is so. There are occasionally mistakes; of course, there must be. But, broadly speaking, we have consultations and arrangements for operations which we regard, and I think that those opposite who know most about these matters would regard, as essential if there is to be a deterrent and if its value and strength is to be maintained.

Mr. Warbey

Does the Prime Minister's silence in reply to my Question No. 43 mean that during this period. when there have been U2 flights, combat readiness alert and now the RB47 flight, the Attlee-Truman agreement has been quite ineffective and that the British Government have been a silent accomplice in these provocative actions?

The Prime Minister

While I try to meet legitimate and very proper questions from those who, I think, share the broad views of the House that we should have a common defence and play our part in it in one way or another, I honestly feel, while I understand the hon. Member's views, that I am entitled to give the kind of reply which I gave because we know that he does not share that view as to what our country ought to do and as to the role that we should play in the world.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Longden.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

Does my right hon. Friend agree—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is difficult to make sufficient noise over the noise which is being made by the House, but I called Mr. Longden.

Mr. Longden

While I agree with what was suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will make it clear in his reply to Mr. Khrushchev that our relations with our allies in N.A.T.O. are not to be dictated by the Kremlin and that, as an employer of more spies than anyone else in the world, Mr. Khrushchev had better put his own glass house in order before threatening to send us a rocket?

The Prime Minister

There is a Private Notice Question on that issue and I think that it would be more courteous if I waited to answer that, but the point made by my hon. Friend will certainly be borne in mind.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the Prime Minister's statement that reconnaissance flights are not to be resumed over Russia by aeroplanes based in this country, and in view of the impossibility of establishing where a plane is when it is shot down by the Soviet Union, would he consider discussing with President Eisenhower the possibility of notifying the Soviet Government of all scientific survey flights which may be made from American bases?

The Prime Minister

These are of course possible courses which might be taken. I must remind the House that a great number of activities of this kind are carried on by the Soviet Government, some of them very near our shores. These are the symptoms, not the causes, of the tension. What I regret is that such efforts as I tried to make to reduce the tension have temporarily been halted, but I do not intend to give up that purpose. If we can do that, then some of these things which are really the grievous symptoms of the state of the world will become easier to deal with.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not clear that the circumstances in which the original agreements were made differ considerably from those which obtain today? The original agreements spoke of the use of these bases in an emergency, whereas it is quite clear from the Prime Minister's answers to Questions today and on other occasions that these bases are in fact being continually used for various expeditions of one kind or another. Is it not, therefore, perfectly clear that we must have another agreement on these bases? In welcoming the Prime Minister's announcement that he intends to take this up with the President of the United States, may I ask him if he will inform the House of the outcome of these talks with the President and publish the terms of the new agreement?

The Prime Minister

No. I do not think that it is a question of a written formal agreement. There was not one before. All kinds of activities went on from 1948 onwards under all Governments. I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I know how much he cares for effective defence, and I would be very willing to consult with him as to the result of any of our discussions. I cannot undertake—I am sure that he would not wish me to undertake and would not himself in my place today undertake—to publish the results of some private communications which might pass between us and the American authorities. I said that I would discuss with the President, but it would be a question of going through a whole series of procedures and looking at them again with a view to making them more effective and more secure.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not clear that a distinction should be drawn between matters which can properly be treated as coming under the head of security—for instance, any particular individual flight —and the terms of an agreement regarding consultation? Why should the way in which we consult our allies involve security aspects at all? Does the Prime Minister realise that it is in some sense the absence of precision in the previous agreement that has led to so much public concern over this matter? Will he, therefore, reconsider the question of giving the House and the country as much information as possible about the outcome of his talks with the President of the United States?

The Prime Minister

I will, of course, consider what we can say and how much we can say.

Mr. Shinwell

References were made several times by the Prime Minister and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to the terms of the Attlee-Truman agreement, as it has been described. Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us what are the terms of that agreement? [HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Gentleman was in the Cabinet."] Would it not help to clarify this matter if we knew the terms of the agreement? In fact, was there any written agreement? Since there has been some scepticism from hon. Gentlemen opposite about my knowledge of the matter when Minister of Defence, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that as a member of the Cabinet at that time I am not aware of any written agreement?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I have said that there was a written agreement. As the House knows, an understanding was reached between the United Kingdom and the United States Governments in October, 1951, under Mr. Attlee's Premiership, under which the use in an emergency of bases in this country by United States forces was accepted to be a matter for joint decision between the two Governments in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time.

As I told the House on 12th December, 1957, this understanding depended on no formal document. It was accepted as a mutually satisfactory arrangement. It was subsequently confirmed in the joint statement issued on 9th January by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) and President Truman in Washington.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever we may think about the desirability, to say nothing of the efficiency, of certain aspects of American intelligence work, we should not play the Russian game by saying anything in this House which is calculated to encourage a climate of opinion towards the discontinuance of American bases in N.A.T.O. and other allied countries?

The Prime Minister

I very much welcome what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. The fundamental basic thing is to continue, to make more effective, and to make perhaps more precise, the close association between Britain and America in this matter, as with all our N.A.T.O. allies.

Mr. Harold Davies

Is the Prime Minister aware that none of us on this side either wants to play either the Russian game or the American game? We want to play the game with the British people, whose lives are at stake. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as he and his Ministers themselves have said, there is no such thing as a written agreement and the position today is not the same as it was when that understanding was made? The word "emergency" has been inserted by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to cover up a situation which neither he nor any Member in any part of the House can justify at this serious moment.

The Prime Minister

I understand the hon. Gentleman's views, but I do not think that they carry the broad approval of the House.

Mr. Dugdale

I quite appreciate the Prime Minister's reticence on these matters, but can he not tell us at what level these decisions are taken? Are they taken at Prime Minister level, or are they taken at the level of the man commanding the station from which the planes are sent?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman will reflect, he will see that it is the duty of subordinate commanders to carry out the general arrangements reached by their superiors.

Mr. Wigg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in this House on 30th May the Secretary of State for Air gave an assurance that United States military aircraft entering or leaving the United Kingdom filed a flight plan? Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us whether that undertaking is being carried out? If it is, does it not mean that every aircraft, whatever its enterprise may be, is carrying out its object with the full knowledge of Her Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

I will look up that reply. I have not got it in my mind at the moment.

Mr. Shinwell

May I revert to the matter of the so-called Attlee-Truman agreement and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in fact this so-called agreement was not an agreement as between the United Kingdom and the United States Government at all? A verbal understanding may have been reached as between the Prime Minister in a Labour Government and President Truman, but there was no actual agreement reached as between Governments.

The Prime Minister

I do not want to go over all this past history, but the Attlee-Truman agreement to cover the situation was made in October, 1951. The decisive moment was when the bases were put here two or three years before.

Mr. S. Silverman

In order to reduce this difficult problem to its simplest terms, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he agrees that for this country to permit a military aircraft, no matter to whom it belongs, to fly without permission over the territory of another State is a clear breach of international law? If that is so, will he further say whether we are bound by any agreement or any understanding or in any other way to permit such a breach of international law from our territory?

The Prime Minister

When this matter arose in Paris I tried my best to enable us to go on with the Conference by pointing out in the discussion that every form of espionage is a breach of international law, a breach of sovereignty. It is. The President having given his undertaking that this particular form of it would cease, I hoped that that would be accepted and we would proceed with our work. At any rate, from the point of view of the people of this country we can surely rest upon the undertaking of the Government of the United States that these flights over Soviet territory will not be resumed.