HC Deb 29 May 1963 vol 678 cc1311-4
31. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Lord Privy Seal why the Government have now decided to become a party to the German-United States agreement about setting up a mixed-manned multilateral surface fleet armed with Polaris missiles.

36. Mr. Rankin

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the proposed mixed-manned seaborne Polaris fleet, it is the intention that the supporting members will have the right of veto in the same way as the active members.

38. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement about the announcement made by the Foreign Secretary at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation conference at Ottawa that the United Kingdom accepts the principle of a mixed-manned force

Mr. Heath

The policy of Her Majesty's Government towards a mixed-manned North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nuclear force remains as previously stated to the House, namely we have given a general welcome to the concept but no agreement has been reached to establish such a force. No decisions have therefore been taken on particular questions such as its political control.

Mr. Zilliacus

Why have the Government, who originally took the same view of the military merits of this proposal as that so forcefully expressed by Lord Montgomery in another place, gone half way to yield to American political pressure exerted in order to appease the German desire for nuclear weapons? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Bonn this concession is regarded as a first step to the achievement of equal rights in nuclear weapons? In view of what happened last time when we encouraged and connived at the rearmament and territorial ambitions of German nationalism and militarism in order to use Germany as a bulwark against Communism, will he please reconsider his position?

Mr. Heath

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of history, either ancient or modern. When this proposal was first put forward, my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement saying that we welcomed the concept, which enables the countries of the alliance to work more closely together; but the whole concept must be examined for its military, financial and economic implications. That is the Government's position.

Mr. Rankin

The right hon. Gentleman will have noted that in my Question I ask what is his intention. Does he approve of the idea of a crew on board a vessel, which will, in the event, continually be in danger, not having equal rights? Should not the supporting members on the vessel have the same rights of decision as the active members, since they will be engaged in the same venture and their lives will be at the same hazard?

Mr. Heath

I answered the hon. Gentleman's Question by saying that, as no agreement has yet been reached to establish such a force, no decisions have been taken about particular points regarding control such as he raises.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that his reference to the N.A.T.O. countries working more closely together in the military sphere is quite irrelevant to this new concept which has been welcomed by the Foreign Secretary? The N.A.T.O. countries work together at present. This concept is something quite different. Did the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, before accepting this new concept in principle, consider its practicability and the expense which is likely to be entailed? May we have an assurance that, before the principle is adopted in practice, the House will be fully consulted?

Mr. Heath

The form in which statements were made at the time not only in the other place but to this House expressed our views about the concept. I still maintain that it is a concept which allows these countries to work more closely together. We have said specifically that the next step is for all the implications to be examined, and this process is going on. The House will, of course, be kept informed about it.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend note that some of us on this side of the House are highly alarmed at the prospects of this arrangement? Will he take into account that in any discussions there must be no question of paying lip-service but we must be absolutely frank on this unpractical proposition?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir; I am sure that my hon. Friend, as he always does, will wish to consider the matter fully and carefully and form a balanced judgment when all the information is available.

Mr. Mayhew

In view of the great concern on both sides of the House about this and the fact that no decisions have been taken on almost all the important questions of control, cost and practicability, is it not a little early to invite over here a naval mission headed by the United States vice-chief of naval operations?

Mr. Heath

No, Sir; I should have thought that that was exactly what was required at this moment so that the details of the matter could be discussed. It is, after all, an American proposal on which the American Administration have been working. It is, therefore, natural that we should wish to discuss all the details with them before any decisions can possibly be reached.

Mr. Shinwell

I do as I did the other day, Mr. Speaker, that is, I announce that, failing an official debate on this subject, I intend to raise the matter at the earliest opportunity on the Adjournment.