§ The Minister of Aviation (Mr Julian Amery)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about 1606 my talk with President Kennedy on 8th January, 1952, and my speech to the House on 12th March, 1962.
These matters were the subject of a Question by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and were raised by him and by the Leader of the Opposition on the business statement yesterday Strictly speaking, these matters fall within the Ministerial responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, which is why the Question was passed to him In view of what was said yesterday, however, I am personally concerned to put the record straight.
I would, therefore, say my talk with President Kennedy was private I know of nothing, however, in that talk which would lead me, on further reflection, to vary what I said to the House on 12th March, 1962.
§ Mr. Wigg
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his talks with President Kennedy were so private that, as reported in col. 915 of Hansard of 12th March, 1962, the right hon. Gentleman said:I, too, have had the privilege of being in Washington recently I consulted the same political authorities as did the Leader of the Opposition…Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in consequence of those words he gave notice to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he would refer to a speech made by my right hon. Friend on 6th March, when my right hon. Friend said:When I was in Washington, a few weeks ago, I heard some of the discussions about the prospects of Skybolt, and I doubt whether the Minister can say, with his hand on his heart, that there is any certainty that it will arrive."—[Official Report, 6th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c 224.]Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he said that there could be no possible doubt that the reference was made to Skybolt? The Minister said:I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about Skybolt."—[Official Report, 12th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c 912.]There is no possible doubt that he was talking about Skybolt He gave notice to my right hon. Friend that he would point out that the statements were inaccurate, and the right hon. Gentleman relied for his evidence on 1607 the fact that he had talked to President Kennedy Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the statements have now been flatly contradicted by a great British newspaper with a great reputation? Is he now saying that what he said on 12th March, 1962, is right and that the statement in the Sunday Times of the meeting, including direct quotations, is wrong?
§ Mr Amery
At the risk of trespassing on the time of the House, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to let me take him through the speech of his right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition If he will begin by looking at col. 224 of the Official Report of 6th March, 1962, he will see that his right hon. Friend then said:What about Skybolt? There we have delays, and heavy increases in costs When I was in Washington, a few weeks ago, I heard some of the discussions about the prospects of Skybolt, and I doubt whether the Minister can say, with his hand on his heart, that there is any certainty that it will arrive But even if it does, the argument is the same Instead of bombs for delivery over the target we shall have stand-off bombs, which will be released some distance away from the target If the target is Moscow, for instance, the bombs will be released over Smolensk or the Pripet Marshes."—[Official Report, 6th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c 224.]Later in his speech the right hon. Gentleman, having dealt with the weapons system of Skybolt, turned to the question of the British independent deterrent, and there he said:I say this quite frankly to the Minister of Defence Like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I have spent some time recently in Washington There is not one person in authority there who thinks that our nuclear deterrent adds one iota to the strength and credibility of the Western deterrent Let the Minister get up and tell us of anyone who has said publicly, or will say privately, that it adds anything to the Western Alliance."—[Official Report, 6th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c 228.]In the earlier passage he was dealing with the Skybolt weapons system and in the second, after discussing a number of other aspects, including N.A.T.O., he said that the British deterrent does not addone iota to the strength and credibility of the Western deterrentand that nobody in Washington favoured it 1608 When I spoke a week later—I would now ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn to col. 913—
§ Mr. Amery
Col. 913 of the Official Report for 12th March—I dealt, first, with the problem of the weapons system Perhaps I may invite hon. Members, first, to look at col. 912, where I said:The right hon. Member for Huyton told us that to attack Moscow"—this is the subject of the Skybolt system—we would have to fly over Smolensk, or at least the Pripet Marshes I am glad to have the opportunity to correct him on this subject There is no need to penetrate the Soviet defences at all to reach the target which he had in mind.Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr H Wilson) interrupted, asking,With Blue Steel?To which I replied:No With Skybolt. Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to submit to correction on this point? I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about Skybolt Does he wish to press the point? I have the answer here It may take a moment I am sorry to delay the Committee in this way.Then I quoted from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, the bit I quoted just now, where he said:When I was in Washington, a few weeks ago, I heard some of the discussions about the prospects of Skybolt, and I doubt whether the Minister can say, with his hand on his heart, that there is any certainty that it will arrive.I went on reading, as hon. Members can see, what the right hon. Gentleman had said earlier.
Skipping some interjections on the way, I turn to what I said as reported in col 913:The hon. Gentleman, in the reference which I have just quoted—which I think I have established to the Committee was inaccurate—cast doubts on the future of Skybolt. So has the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr G Brown) I am sorry that he is not present in the Chamber Both right hon. Gentlemen intimated that Skybolt might not reach us That is not the view in the Pentagon, or in the United States Air Force at present No doubt hon. Members will have seen reports of the American President's Press conference"—five days before I spoke—in which he explained that very large sums are being voted The President said: 'We are going to spend a billion dollars to equip our present force of B.52s with Skybolt'.1609 I went on to explain that I had been in the United States to look into the Skybolt question, and I went on to say:I was myself in Los Angeles recently and I had the opportunity to go over the Douglas works and discuss with American experts the preparation of Skybolt. I am no expert, but I had with me experts from the Ministry of Aviation, the Ministry of Defence and the Air Ministry I can tell the Committee that we came away convinced that Skybolt will be in service on time."—[Official Report, 12th March, 1962; Vol 655, c 812–914.]Indeed, as hon. Members will remember, the Skybolt programme, till it was cancelled, was not very seriously behind.
After talking about the independent ballistic missile defence I turned to the broader issue of the British deterrent, and here I would invite hon. Members to look at col 915 This is not talking about the Skybolt weapons system, but about the concept of the independent British deterrent:The right hon. Member for Huyton—I am sorry that he has left the Chamber, but he gave me notice that he would have to go—told us that the British deterrent would not add one iota to the strength and credibility of the Western deterrent He had just come back from Washington The Leader of the Opposition was sitting beside the right hon. Gentleman at that time"—the late Mr Gaitskell had seen the President and I think that the present Leader of the Opposition had not—and he also had just come back from Washington I, too, have had the privilege of being in Washington recently I consulted the same political authorities—I had in mind particularly both the President and Mr McNamara.Nothing was ever said to me to suggest that there was any change in the United States' attitude to the British deterrent".I went on to say:I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and other colleagues since the defence debate, and they all confirm that nothing of this kind has ever been said to them Therefore, I think that the Government are justified in telling the Committee that, so far as we know, the United States Administration still attaches the greatest importance to Bomber Command and regards it as a valuable contribution to the overall Western deterrent This is certainly the view of the Pentagon and the United States Air Force After all, they are the experts on the question of deterrence."—[Official Report, 12th March, 1962: Vol 655, c 915–6.)I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of the hon. Member that I sought in my speech on 12th March to deal with two points raised by the 1610 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton, the point which he made about the Skybolt weapons system, and the point he made about the value of the British deterrent.
§ Mr Gordon Walker
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are very grateful to him for reading out so much of the debate, because it is clear, is it not, that he was saying that Skybolt, according to all the information he had, was going to arrive and no doubts had been cast upon it at all? In the light not only of what he said in the debate, but in the letter that he sent to my right hon. Friend, telling him that he intended to raise the matter, there is no doubt that he was, on 12th March, conveying to the House that there was no truth whatsoever in any reports on the doubts which had been cast in the highest quarters in Washington about the delivery of Skybolt. That was the impression that he gave.
Mr Henry Brandon, in the Sunday Times, had an article on the basis of Professor Neustadt's report President Kennedy asked Professor Neustadt to go into the whole question of what had gone wrong with Skybolt. The right hon Gentleman made his speech to the House on 12th March Mr Henry Brandon wrote in the Sunday Times of 8th December, 1963:By January, 1962, reports reached the British Cabinet that Skybolt's unpopularity at the Pentagon was rising That same month, over what was assumed would be a quiet lunch at the White House for Julian Amery, Britain's Minister of Aviation, sparks began to fly when President Kennedy casually wondered out loud whether Skybolt would ever work, and he added cautiously, 'One should not bank on it too much.'If, in fact, such a conversation took place in January, 1962, the right hon. Gentleman had no right whatsoever to come to the House and say that he had no information whatsoever and challenge my right hon. Friends, the late Mr Gaitskell and the present Leader of the Opposition—in effect, challenge the truth of what they had said The truth of what they said is borne out unless Mr Henry Brandon is not giving a true account and is not making an account based on Professor Neustadt's report It was not my right hon. Friend who was misleading the House, but the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr Amery
This is a very serious charge for the right hon. Gentleman to make without being a little more certain about it I think that it would have been happier if he had kept his remarks to the interrogative rather than to an assertion.
What is the position? I went to the United States to see how the Skybolt programme was getting on. I discussed it with military, political and industrial leaders at every level The right hon. Gentleman, who knows a lot about the development of weapons systems, will realise that there is never total certainty in any weapons system at any time Naturally, my discussions with the different military and political leaders bore on reliability, technical feasibility, cost effectiveness and all the other points.
In answer to the doubts of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr H Wilson) whether we would ever get the Skybolt I said, and I repeat it again:Both right hon. Gentlemen—that is, the right hon. Member for Huyton and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr G Brown)—intimated that Skybolt might not reach us That is not the view in the Pentagon, or in the United States Air Force at present No doubt hon. Members will have seen reports of the American President's Press conference, in which he explained that very large sums are being voted The President said: 'We are going to spend a billion dollars to equip our present force of B.52s with Skybolt'."—[Official Report, 12th March, 1962; Vol 655, c 913.]Mr Brandon and Professor Neustadt were not present at the luncheon, which was attended by President Kennedy and the Ambassador There were no other Americans present All I can say is that our discussion, which must remain confidential, was on the pros and cons of the weapons system, and that nothing took place in that discussion which would lead me to change the reply which I gave to the right hon. Member for Huyton and the right hon. Member for Belper as to the likelihood of our securing the Skybolt system. What I said about the view of the Pentagon and the United States Air Force and of the President is in Hansard, col 913, and, so far as I am concerned, that stands.
The other part of my speech related to the question, which the right hon. Member for Huyton had raised, whether the 1612 Americans thought that there was any value in the British deterrent irrespective of weapons systems. He said that nobody in high places at Washington attached any importance to it, and I went out of my way to say—and, indeed, to challenge him—that my conversations with the same authorities that he and the late Mr Gaitskell had consulted led me to take a different view.
§ Mr Grimond
As this matter has been opened up, and as the historical record may be important, could the Minister answer two short questions; first, is he prepared to say whether he was or was not warned when he was in America at that time that Skybolt might not be available? Secondly, is he now saying that he did not intend to deny to the House that he might have had such warning?
§ Mr Amery
As I have said, I went to Washington to discuss the feasibility, cost effectiveness and other aspects of the military value of the Skybolt system. When one has a discussion on matters of this kind, one naturally discusses the pros and cons [Hon Members: "Oh."] But, of course, on every weapons system, all the time, in all discussions.
What I deny is that there was any warning as such, as distinct from argument about the pros and cons of the system When I finished my tour, I told the House of my final conclusion on the matter and that the programme would go forward Events proved me wrong. But I gave my account in good faith That at different levels in the course of the conversation cons were advanced as well as pros is something that happens to any weapons system at any time both in this country and in interdependence agreements.
§ Sir J Eden
Is it not clear that, at the time of my right hon. Friend's visit to Washington, this weapons system was under review by the American authorities and that, as my right hon. Friend has said, any weapons system of similar complexity is constantly under review? Is it not clear that no firm decision had been made one way or the other by the American authorities and that they had intended to continue the development programme? Was not this underlined by their continuing to devote a large sum of money for the development of the weapons system? 1613 Whatever may have taken place in private conversation, surely, as long as the official public spokesmen of the American State Department and the Defence Department were backing this weapons system, we could not have a British Minister backing down on this.
This was part of the contractual agreement in which the Polaris missile bases were one other component part. The Americans were still determined to back this system. They had made this clear to us, and surely, under those circumstances, it would have been extremely wrong for a Minister of this country to cast doubt upon it.
May I ask, Mr Speaker, whether we have not had a very clear and full exposition from my right hon. Friend—[Hon Members: "No."]—in which he has assured the House that he gave the information which he was then able to give and which, within his absolute rightful duty, he was bound to give to the House, and that there is no question of trying to press Ministers to divulge what later took place at private meetings? We have had a perfectly clear exposition from my right hon. Friend—[Hon Members: "No."]—and under these circumstances the attempts of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to make political capital out of this are wholly to the detriment of and of no advantage whatsoever to Anglo-American relations and the defence of this country.
§ Mr Speaker
This is a most extraordinary occasion It has never become the duty of any Minister to pronounce upon the political advantage or disadvantage of the activities of the Opposition. May I remind the House that in view of the exchanges which took place yesterday, I thought it perfectly right to allow some questions on this statement, but we cannot, with any stretching of my generosity, make it into an irregular debate.
§ Mr Wigg
Mr Speaker, any fair-minded man knows perfectly well that in discussing any weapons system there are pros and cons. But the right hon. Gentleman challenged the veracity of my right hon. Friends when they drew attention to the cons. The right hon. Gentleman came here and put the pros. Now it is established beyond any 1614 shadow of doubt that it was not the veracity of my right hon. Friends which was in doubt but his own. The right hon. Gentleman must now "come clean" and tell the House the truth.
§ Mr. Amery
I have been telling the House the truth throughout There is no possible challenge to my veracity here It was a matter of judgment, if hon. Members like. The right hon. Member for Huyton said that he did not think that the system would reach us I gave my view as a result of the studies that I had made and said I thought it would.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J Eden) was perfectly right when he said that the status of the programme at the time I spoke was fully supported by the President, by Mr. McNamara and by the United States Air Force, and it was funded up to a level of 1 billion dollars, and was going forward, relatively speaking, on schedule.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Mr. Speaker, I merely want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are not satisfied and simply will have to take the matter further.
§ Mr. Speaker: I heard what the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, and I now see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister rising, but I still think that we ought to conclude this matter now.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Redmayne.]