HC Deb 26 March 1963 vol 674 cc1126-32
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the visit of my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary to the N.A.T.O. Council last week.

The purpose of this visit was to present to the Council the thoughts about a N.A.T.O. nuclear force already put forward in the debate in this House on 30th and 31st January.

The proposals for such a force arise from the Nassau Agreement. My noble Friend analysed before the Council the two stages envisaged in the reorganisation of the nuclear capability of the alliance. First, that dealing with the immediate problem relating to weapons already in existence; and, secondly, that concerned with the problem of possible developments later.

As far as the first was concerned, my noble Friend developed the idea put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Nassau, of the multinational force to which member countries would contribute weapons now at their disposal. This part of the programme, which is essentially a question of organisation within N.A.T.O., does not involve any new expenditure.

The main British contribution is the assignment of the V-bomber force, subject to the negotiation of satisfactory terms. Discussions are now proceeding in N.A.T.O. as to precisely how this assignment and those of the United States and other countries would operate. The Council felt that the organisation of this stage should be taken a step forward at the N.A.T.O. Ministerial meeting at Ottawa in May.

As regards the second stage of this development, when our Polaris submarines have been built they will be assigned in a similar manner. In addition, the American Administration have put forward a proposal for the possible creation of a mixed-manned element. This is now being discussed by the United States Government with a number of member countries.

While Her Majesty's Government will already be a major participant in the N.A.T.O. nuclear force, through the assignment both of the V-bomber force and of the Polaris submarines, my noble Friend, in giving a general welcome to such a mixed-manned force, if it proved to be militarily practicable, undertook to consider ways and means by which we might give practical support. The idea is now being examined in detail by Her Majesty's Government.

Meanwhile, as my noble Friend made plain, there are no commitments. Mr. Merchant, the United States representative, has not yet completed his round of visits to N.A.T.O. countries interested in this and a clearer picture of the nature and prospects of this proposal is not likely to emerge until he has done so.

Apart from these defence matters, my noble Friend also emphasised the need for further political and, where possible, economic consultation both within N.A.T.O. for the Western Alliance and in the Western European Union from the European point of view. To this end, the North Atlantic Council meeting which he attended was very valuable for the widespread support it secured in reaffirming the essential unity of the alliance.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Would it be a fair summary of what the Lord Privy Seal said that we have now expressed ourselves as extremely cool in our attitude towards the American proposal for a multilateral or mixed-manned European deterrent, and if not that, that we are against it?

Secondly, would the right hon. Gentleman clarify further what he said about the assignment of the V-bomber force? As I understood it, during the defence debate the Prime Minister said that we had already assigned the whole of our V-bomber force to N.A.T.O. We are now told that it is to be assigned subject to the negotiation of satisfactory terms. May we be told a little more about what that means? Does it mean that the terms will be such that this will be a purely verbal change, with no significant alteration? If I am wrong about that, what would be the alteration between the present position and the assignment of our V-bomber force to N.A.T.O.?

Mr. Heath

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would be correct to describe the attitude towards the mixed-manned force in the way that he has done. My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary recognised that such a force, from a political point of view, would have considerable advantages in giving greater cohesiveness to the N.A.T.O. alliance. At the same time, as all the member countries recognise, it needs most detailed technical examination from the military point of view, and, therefore, my noble Friend gave general support to the idea that it deserved deep examination; and all the member countries are now carrying that out.

From the point of view of the V-bomber force, I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during the recent debate that the Government were offering to assign the V-bomber force and that the details of that assignment had to be worked out with N.A.T.O. At the moment, neither our V-bomber force nor any of the United States strategic forces have any relationship to SACEUR.

Mr. Eden

While agreeing with my right hon. Friend that the creation of an effective N.A.T.O. nuclear force is a desirable objective, would he agree with me that, first and foremost, we should seek to bring closer together the member countries in their political association, and that it is on the political association that an effective military alliance will be constructed?

Mr. Heath

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. One of the main purposes of my noble Friend going to.N.A.T.O. was to emphasise the indivisibility of the defence of the N.A.T.O. Alliance and to create greater political harmony between the members concerned.

Mr. Grimond

As the right hon. Gentleman has told us that this proposal for a multinational nuclear N.A.T.O. force comes from the Government, have they proposals for how it is to be controlled? Suppose it is necessary for the nuclear weapons to be fired. Will the decision to fire be taken by the Government who supplied the weapons, or by N.A.T.O., and will it be subject to any veto by anyone?

Mr. Heath

A number of suggestions have been put forward as to how this might be arranged. There have been discussions in N.A.T.O. in earlier periods about this. My noble Friend mentioned two of these in his speech to the N.A.T.O. Council. One was that there might be a small group of countries, some permanently members and some revolving members. There might also be an arrangement of the staff section of the Supreme Commander which would deal with these nuclear forces. These are matters which the countries are discussing in the N.A.T.O. Council.

The right of veto remains in N.A.T.O. as at the moment.

Mr. John Hall

In view of the fact that under the Nassau Agreement this country has retained the right to withdraw her Polaris submarines in the event of a national emergency, would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that we would not accept mixed manning for Polaris submarines?

Mr. Heath

There is no question of mixed manning for our own Polaris submarines.

Mr. Healey

Presumably, when Her Majesty's Government put forward the proposal at Nassau for assigning national nuclear forces to N.A.T.O. command they had some objective, some political concept, in mind. Can the right hon. Gentleman be a little more definite about this? He has said that we are to assign them subject to satisfactory conditions being arranged. What sort of conditions will these be, and what does assigning mean if it is not simply a verbal formula?

Mr. Heath

The question of assignment was discussed in the Polaris debate. In any case, it involves a considerable amount of military detail being worked out, and that is what the military advisers are doing in N.A.T.O. at the moment. But beyond that there is the political significance of this, that it gives to those countries taking part in a nuclear N.A.T.O. force greater information about the means of ensuring their own security and greater participation in some of the arrangements concerning it.

Captain Litchfield

I appreciate that there may be political arguments in favour of the multi-manned naval force, but may I ask the Government to take a decision on a matter of this kind strictly on military grounds? May I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence that this proposal does not make any kind of naval sense?

Mr. Heath

I have said that each of the countries which has been discussing this with the American Administration has said that it now wishes to examine this proposal most carefully from the military point of view.

Mr. Shinwell

How is it possible to create a satisfactory and effective multilateral N.A.T.O. force so long as General de Gaulle and the French Government are intransigent? If assignments have to be made by the various N.A.T.O. countries, can any reliance be placed on France? In particular, will the right hon. Gentleman look up the history of what has happened since N.A.T.O. was originally conceived and the difficulties experienced in persuading the various N.A.T.O. countries, apart from the United States and the United Kingdom, to make the normal assignments to N.A.T.O.?

In these circumstances, can we have an assurance that we shall not make any definite assignment beyond what we have already committed ourselves to until we are satisfied that the other N.A.T.O. countries make their effective contribution?

Mr. Heath

I fully recognise the difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, but the multinational force gives an opportunity to those countries which wish to contribute to it. It is of great importance that this proposal received such a wide welcome in the N.A.T.O. Council when my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to it.

Mr. Kershaw

I recognise the political value of this scheme, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that its military value is likely to be fairly small, although it is likely to be very expensive? Will he ensure that the expense involved will not stop this country investing in other military means which are more necessary for its survival?

Mr. Heath

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the mixed manned proposals. I have explained that the very large contribution which this country is making to N.A.T.O. through the assignment of its normal forces, the assignment of the V-bomber force, and the Polaris force is already recognised. Nevertheless, we will examine whether there are ways and means in which we can help them.

Mr. G. Brown

Is it not a fact that the more words which are used about this the greater grows the confusion? Is not the present position this, that our strategic bomber forces are, in fact, already assigned to N.A.T.O., are already targeted in accordance with—[Interruption.] I am asking whether it is not the fact.

If the Lord Privy Seal now wants to deny it, perhaps he will turn up the previous statement by the Minister of Defence. Is it not a fact that our present V-bomber force is targeted in with S.A.C. and, therefore, is already assigned to N.A.T.O.?

Secondly, is it not a fact that our tactical bomber forces in Europe are already armed only with American weapons and are already under the command of S.A.C.E.U.R.? Therefore, is it not a fact that all our bomber forces are already, in one way or another, assigned to N.A.T.O. and that all these words do not change the situation at all?

Mr. Heath

With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the first part of his statement was not correct. The second part of his statement, about the tactical forces assigned to N.A.T.O. at the moment, is different. The difference in this arrangement, leaving aside the assignment point to which I have already referred, is the political arrangement within N.A.T.O. in regard to this force. This political arrangement is of the greatest importance, and that is why my noble Friend went to the Council in order to emphasise this point.

Mr. Brown

On the assumption that I am wrong on the first part, is the Minister now saying that the V-bombers are not targeted in with S.A.C. and, therefore, are not part of the N.A.T.O. forces?

Mr. Heath

As I understand the position, the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that they are targeted with S.A.C. That is perfectly true.

Mr. Brown

I said so.

Mr. Heath

It is a separate arrangement. Naturally, it is related, but it is not the same thing.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Brown

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. We are confusing terms here and getting the House into confusion. N.A.T.O. is the wide Atlantic organisation under which the air forces of all our nations come. SACEUR is a different matter. I asked the Lord Privy Seal whether we are targeted with the Strategic Air Command. Both are part of N.A.T.O. I did not ask the Lord Privy Seal whether we were targeted in with Europe, but with N.A.T.O. Is not S.A.C. a part of N.A.T.O.?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful for the fact that these problems of nomenclature do not raise points of order for me. What was in my mind—I know that the House will understand the fact—was that we have a great deal to do and that we really cannot debate this statement now.

Mr. Warbey

On a point of order. I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, would be kind enough to say how hon. Members on this side of the House who are not Privy Councillors may be enabled to catch your eye when Ministerial statements are made?

Mr. Speaker

Since I am allowed to permit only a few questions on these occasions, perhaps by persuading the Front Benches to remain seated; but I do not know.

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