HC Deb 11 May 1960 vol 623 cc398-400
23 and 24. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Air (1) if he will give instructions to the Royal Air Force that no reconnaissance aircraft shall fly over Russian territory;

(2) to what extent there is cooperation between the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force for the purpose of obtaining photographic information about Russian air and military bases.

25. Mr. Swingler

asked the Secretary of State for Air what consultations he has had with the United States Strategic Command concerning flights by aeroplanes based in the United Kingdom over Soviet territory for purposes of espionage.

Mr. Ward

As the House knows, it has never been the practice to disclose either the nature or the scope of Intelligence activities. In my judgment, it would be contrary to the public interest for me to make any exception to this practice.

Mr. Hughes

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most important thing today is to relieve world tension? Is he aware of reports that the Governments of Norway, Japan and Pakistan are submitting to the United States Government their view of the importance that these reconnaisance flights should not be carried out from their territories? Does he not think that the public interest would be better served if the public were assured that these matters will not have very grave implications for the safety of the people of this country against attacks by bombers or bombs against which there is no defence?

Mr. Ward

If the hon. Member thinks that we should discuss matters of military intelligence in the House, I do not agree with him.

Mr. Swingler

In view of what has been revealed by this incident and the dangers contained therein, are not the people of this country entitled to know about something which might be very much contrary to the public interest, because it might involve the people of this country being blown up? Surely the public is entitled to know, for example, whether the reports in today's Press are accurate, that the R.A.F. was participating in these activities until twelve months ago, when the Prime Minister is said to have countermanded the order and stopped them. Are we not entitled to know what consultations there are about the uses of American bases on British soil, which might involve retaliatory action against those American bases on British soil—activities for which the Americans take responsibility?

Mr. Ward

It has long been the accepted practice of successive Governments from both sides of the House that matters of this kind are not discussed in public, and I see no reason for departing from that practice.

Mr. Kershaw

Is my right hon. Friend able to assure the House that, in conjunction with the other Services, the R.A.F. will continue to discharge the responsibilities laid upon it to make sure that this country is not surprised by any untoward attack?

Mr. Hilton

Will the Minister agree that this is a matter of very grave concern, especially to those of us who live in areas near American air bases in view of the report that Mr. Khrushchev has said that Russia may retaliate against the bases from which these planes fly? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that no planes from bases in this country will be used for spying on Russia or any other country?

Mr. Ward

I am not confirming or denying anything. All I am doing, with great respect, is refusing to answer these questions.

Mr. Harold Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in reply to a similar Question yesterday, his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that the Government did not think that they would suspend patrol flights, even during the Summit Conference? As a token of Britain's earnest hope for the success of the Summit Conference, could not the Government cease these silly flights now and during the Conference?

Mr. Ward

I have made my position perfectly clear and I have nothing to add.

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