HC Deb 09 May 1962 vol 659 cc435-9
30. Mr. Wigg

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement on the Athens meeting of the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

33. Sir A. V. Harvey

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement about the defence aspects of the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Athens.

Mr. Watkinson

We had an excellent meeting of N.A.T.O. Defence Ministers in Athens, at which many decisions were taken which should greatly strengthen the Alliance. The more important of these in the defence field were:

First, Ministers decided to adopt the British proposal to establish a committee comprising all members of the Alliance to receive and exchange information about the nuclear defences of N.A.T.O.

Secondly, Ministers adopted a report from the N.A.T.O. Armaments Committee which made a number of recommendations for speeding up co-operation in researeh, development and production. It was further agreed that special efforts would be made to take final decisions on projects ripe for joint development.

Thirdly, Ministers were agreed on the circumstances in which nuclear weapons might have to be used in defence of the Alliance. At no time was it suggested by any Government that the authority to initiate the use of nuclear weapons should be delegated to the military commanders in N.A.T.O.

Finally, the non-nuclear members of the Alliance have been reassured that adequate nuclear weapons will continue to remain available for their defence. In addition, both the United Kingdom and the United States Governments have given firm asurances that their strategic forces will continue to provide defence against threats to the Alliance beyond the ability of N.A.T.O. forces to deal with.

Mr. Wigg

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it a matter of profound regret that the full Athens communiqué has not been published in any organ of the British Press? Is it not a fact that the statement issued by the White House on the eve of the Athens conference has also escaped notice, whereas, on the other hand, last week the Minister's Department ceaselessly put out one story after another, presenting the defence policy of this country in a light which had little or no relevance to the facts? Is it not now clear, as a result of the Athens conference, that the President of the United States has put forward a courageous and intelligent policy, and that the Western world has to thank God that he is leading our defence and foreign policy, and that it is not left in the pusillanimous and misleading hands of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Watkinson

The hon. Member may have his own views about our defence policy. He has usually been proved wrong, and in this case he is certainly wrong.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Can my right hon. Friend confirm or deny some of the Press reports referring to disagreements between this country and the United States? Secondly, can he say whether he has made any progress in getting an assurance that Britain will receive her fair share of N.A.T.O. orders?

Mr. Speaker

It is not part of a Minister's duty to confirm or deny Press reports.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I will put the question another way. My right hon. Friend has referred to the discussions that have taken place in Athens. Can he give us an assurance that there were no disagreements between him and his opposite number from the United States?

Mr. Watkinson

As for our getting a reasonable share of N.A.T.O. orders, the arrangements which were unanimously agreed in Athens will result in a considerable speeding up of N.A.T.O. procedures, and in getting joint weapons systems. I hope that as a result Britain will get her fair share. As for reports of disagreements between either the American Government and the British Government, or the American Secretary of Defence and myself, they are completely and utterly unfounded. We found ourselves in general agreement on the whole range of questions which faced us.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Minister tell us a little more about the new arrangements for the control of nuclear weapons? In particular, is it not the position that Polaris remains under American control—or are the reports that it is to be handed over to N.A.T.O. to be taken to mean that N.A.T.O. can fire it? Can N.A.T.O. fire it, or has it to be consulted only on occasions, and in respect of the targets at which it may be fired?

Mr. Watkinson

If I answer the right hon. Gentleman as I should wish, I must not be taken as dealing with very difficult and detailed matters in a general answer. It was to deal with this kind of problem that we wanted the N.A.T.O. Nuclear Committee set up, in order that all nations belonging to N.A.T.O. might be able to discuss these difficult and complicated problems and know what they really mean and try to come to an agreed conclusion.

Mr. Shinwell

Were not there discussions at Athens about the desirability, expressed by some Government representatives, of increasing conventional forces? Did not the right hon. Gentleman say himself, in a statement which appeared in the newspapers, that this country would carry out its Treaty commitments, whatever they may be, and he hoped that some of the other N.A.T.O. countries would increase their conventional forces? What happened in Athens about this?

Mr. Watkinson

The right hon. Gentleman, who has knowledge of these problems extending over a long period, is perfectly correct. The only thing is that it did not fall to the Athens con- ference to discuss it. The triennial review which deals with the level of conventional forces will shortly be doing this complicated work. That is where the level of conventional forces will be discussed. I have said to the House that, when they fall to be discussed, so far as I can honestly see there will be no difference of policy between the Americans and ourselves on the question of the level of conventional forces.

Mr. Kershaw

Was there any consultation, or were decisions taken, about increasing co-operation between N.A.T.O. and the C.E.N.T.O. and S.E.A.T.O. alliances?

Mr. Watkinson

Not specifically but I believe there have been some unofficial talks which I very much welcome.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentleman seeking to say that Mr. McNamara told him that the American Administration regards B.A.O.R. as being an adequate contribution from this country to N.A.T.O. commitments and a proper performance of our Treaty obligations?

Mr. Watkinson

That is a different question. I was saying that we are agreed with the Americans on general strategy, for example on the central N.A.T.O. front, which no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind. We shall do our best to fulfil the strategy when it is worked out in agreement.

Mr. Paget

The strategy, but not our contribution to it.

31. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Minister of Defence whether he agreed to plans involving an increase in defence expenditure at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation conference at Athens.

Mr. Watkinson

So far as it is possible to estimate at the moment, none of the decisions reached in Athens will involve increased defence expenditure for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister consider the possibility of reducing our expenditure in connection with N.A.T.O.? Has his attention been drawn to a rather startling article by Mr. Chapman Pincher in today's Daily Express in which it is suggested that Dr. Adenauer may be planning the withdrawal of German troops from N.A.T.O.? Would not he agree that it might be a good thing to tell the Germans to make their peace with the Russians, as that could result not only in ending N.A.T.O. but in ending the Warsaw Pact and changing the whole direction of expenditure?

Mr. Watkinson

I think that the simple answer to the hon. Gentleman is, "No."

32. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Minister of Defence what decisions affecting the Polaris base in Scotland were made at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation conference at Athens.

Mr. Watkinson

Her Majesty's Government very much welcome the decision of the American Government to allocate Polaris nuclear submarines to N.A.T.O. No doubt some of these submarines will be based on Holy Loch.

Mr. Hughes

If the Americans are to leave the Holy Loch—a decision which would be greatly welcomed by the people of Scotland—is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this increase of Polaris weapons and the development of the Polaris strategy is being matched by the increased activity of the Russians in inventing megaton rockets and exploding them? Is not it a fact that the result of this Polaris strategy will be that we shall enter into and continue in an arms race when there is no sign that we shall win?

Mr. Watkinson

I am aware that the very generous allocation of Polaris submarines to N.A.T.O. greatly increases the power of that force to keep the peace. I should be surprised if the majority of the people of Scotland did not support this.

Mr. Rankin

Is it not the case that there is no real change; that despite the allocation of the extra Polaris submarines to the Holy Loch and to N.A.T.O., politically the control still remains in the hands of America?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not believe that there is any fundamental change at this moment. This will be one of the problems which the N.A.T.O. Nuclear Committee will be looking at.

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