HC Deb 15 February 1965 vol 706 cc835-7
30. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what effects the withdrawal of the Valiant bomber aircraft will have on the effectiveness of the British nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Healey

None, Sir. As I made quite clear to the House on 1st February, the British nuclear strategic force was in no way dependent on the Valiants; nor is our strategic force of Victors and Vulcans in any way affected by fatigue.

Mr. Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this assumption is based on the fact that neither the Victors nor the Vulcans will suffer from the metal fatigue from which the Valiants suffered? Can he give us that undertaking, and can he tell us whether regular inspection of the Victors and Vulcans is undertaken?

Mr. Healey

Yes, Sir. The Victors and the Vulcans carry fatigue meters at all times, unlike the Valiants, which came into service earlier when very much less was known about metal fatigue than is known today—though I must tell the House that we have still a great deal to learn on this question, which sometimes appears to be more worrying than we previously thought. I should also say that this particular defect has been found in all versions of the Valiant—those used for reconnaissance and tanking as well as for bombing—and has appeared in no version of the Victors or Vulcans, so there is absolutely no reason to think that they are affected by it.

Mr. Thomeycroft

Would the right hon. Gentleman call his Answer to the Question to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to assist him in future television performances?

Mr. Healey

As far as I have been able to observe, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, requires no assistance in television performances.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Does my right hon. Friend recall the statement in the Labour Party's election manifesto concerning the British independent nuclear deterrent—that it will not be independent, that it will not be British and will not deter, and that its possession will impress neither friend nor potential foe? And will he inform the House that he adheres to that statement?

Mr. Healey

I have made it clear, both before and since the election, that the nuclear deterrent possessed by this country can only be operated as part of an allied force, and the proposals put forward by Her Majesty's Government for an Atlantic Nuclear Force implement all the statements we made before the election.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Would not the Minister agree that the effectiveness of the V-bomber force—that is to say, the capacity for "bomb-on-target", which is the vital way of describing how strong the force is—is greater this year than it was last?

Mr. Healey

I should not like to make a judgment on that Question as so framed without notice, but the right hon. Gentleman will know, as a previous Secretary of State for Air, that the withdrawal of the whole of the Valiant force from its bomber role has caused considerable embarrassment for us with our N.A.T.O. allies, and it is something we must all deplore and regret.

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