HL Deb 03 May 1960 vol 223 cc223-89

2.43 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON rose to call attention to the decision of Her Majesty's Government to discontinue the development of the Blue Streak Missile, to the considerable expenditure of public funds, and to the new situation created in the national defence plans; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is scarcely necessary to call attention to this decision. I doubt whether any single item of defence news, other perhaps than those items relating to the making of the atom bomb, and later the fusion bomb, has attracted so much attention or received so much publicity from the Press. Nor, for that matter, have there been, in my recollection, such firmly and clearly expressed statements in the newspapers of what the Government's decision was before Parliament was informed of the decision. This may not be a disaster: Members of both Houses can read. But I think it is a pity that someone, perhaps an official Government spokesman, explaining, so far as possible, in advance this difficult decision, has chosen to talk so freely on such vital matters without giving us the opportunity to discuss them first.

I must say first, however, in regard to the First Lord's statement, that I owe him an apology for saying that he had not discussed it and that it was a new situation. It is a new situation, but on reading the speech which he delivered in the Defence debate I realise that he was already then preparing, and preparing with some skill, for the storm that was about to break when the decision was duly announced. I do not think that in my recollection there has ever been a course which has been so unanimously and so continuously urged on the Government by experts of all kinds, by Parliamentarians of both the Conservative and the Labour Parties, and possibly by those on the Liberal Benches. This is a decision that has been urged on the Government now for two years or more.

The charge the Opposition make is not, of course, that the Government have now taken a wrong decision, but that it has been taken far too late: that there has been hesitation and vacillation beyond any reasonable degree, and that, us a consequence, a very large amount of public money and of the British national defence effort has been wasted. Furthermore, I do not think it an exaggeration to say that we have suffered a blow to our national prestige which we ought to take with great seriousness. Indeed, I go so far as to say that the consequences of the ministerial collapse, as it was called in another place, and of the ultimate cancellation of Blue Streak, are a disaster for us; and it will do no harm—indeed, it will do good—if we now recognise that fact. It is perhaps the most spectacular decision in the way of the cancellation of a particular investment in a weapon that has occurred in our British military history; and that is one reason, perhaps, why almost the whole of the Press has been so very critical of the Government's defence policy as a result. I shall not waste your Lordships' time in quoting the many very quotable statements that have been made in the Press with regard to Blue Streak. Today we have to examine this situation, to decide whether the decision that has been taken is in fact the right one, and to try to work out what our present position really is and what our position will be in the next few years and all the factors on which our future policy should be based.

In considering this we are not helped by the Government's insistence—and it is theirs; one reads the speeches of the Minister of Defence, both in another place and over the week-end—that there is no basic change in our policy; that we are still sticking to an independent British deterrent, and, furthermore, that no gap has occurred or is likely to occur in our deterrent defence time-scale. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, pointed out in your Lordships' House last February, the use of the word "deterrent", and indeed of all these phrases, produces a certain amount of confusion. I am sure he will have noted the degree of confusion that was shown by the Minister of Defence in another place when he started talking, not about "an independent deterrent" but about "a contribution to the independent Western deterrent", and a little later got up to say that he had made a mistake and that what he meant was "an independent British contribution to the Western deterrent".

My Lords, this is very revealing of the almost neurotic state of mind of the Government in regard to this matter. For so long have they pinned our defence policy's main hope on the independent deterrent that they now shrink from facing the consequences of the collapse of the Blue Streak device. The words the Government used in their statement were that they do not intend to give up this independent deterrent and therefore some other vehicle will be needed to carry British manufactured warheads. Commenting on this—and this is the one quotation I shall make from the Press—the Economist said that what the Government spokesman really meant was Blue Streak will not give us an independent power of retaliation; there is nothing really to take its place, but we must have independence, so somehow or other we will buy or make something that will do the trick. That is the position we are in to-day, and that is the position, so far as their official statements are concerned, which the Government have reached.

The cancellation of Blue Streak (I said this in the Defence debate, and many others have said it also) is likely to mean (it may not; we shall want to know; we shall want to have the facts on which we can judge), the end, in due course, of the independent British deterrent; and if that is the case, it is no good our blinking our eyes to this fact. I personally received with mixed feelings this information which the Government gave. Interdependence to-day—and we all acknowledge this—is a necessity; and it carries its own advantages. But the fact remains that our policy—and it has been broadly supported on both sides of the political fence—has been based on the concept that in this very dangerous world it is necessary that we should have complete control over an independent British deterrent. Now, my Lords, we do not know where we are, and I doubt whether the Government know where they are.

We have been told that they are considering other possibilities. We have been told that we shall probably receive a new airborne weapon called "Skybolt." We have been told that we shall receive it, and shall be allowed to use it, provided that it is for our own defence. My Lords, what weapon have we received from anyone at any time which was not primarily intended for our own defence? The Thors that are deployed now in this country, which are operated by the R.A.F., are not wholly under our control. We have not full operational control over them, yet they are for our defence. At least, that is the theory behind it.

The Government point to the fact that we have a programme by which we shall be able to make more advanced and more sophisticated atomic and fusion bomb warheads, and that the delivery instrument alone will not be British made. My Lords, this is an almost childish argument. It cannot really be suggested that in the great naval battles of the past this country would have been able to exercise the influence it did if we had provided merely the shells or the cannon balls without the guns or the ships to deliver them. It is pure sophistry to suggest that when we no longer have the power to make and to order completely the carrying vehicle for these weapons it is possible to claim that it is wholly a British deterrent.

My Lords, on the last occasion the noble Viscount said that he hoped we should not conduct our discussions on this crucial matter in a spirit of Party rancour, and I shall try to avoid doing so: but at least there should be willingness to face facts, and a determination (which we have not yet seen) not to conceal them in order to save the face of a Minister or Ministers who have bungled in this matter. It is against this background that we continue to detect a certain complacency, which I hope will be absent to-day on the part of Government spokesmen—a complacency which has certainly not been reflected in the speeches made by some of their supporters in another place and in the country.

The decision to cancel Blue Streak has not, of course, been taken as a result of a deliberate choice, or because something which promised better than we had originally hoped for has become available. It has been taken for the simple reason that the original concept of Blue Streak as a first-strike weapon is no longer credible or acceptable, and because it is no longer believed to be a practical contribution to the deterrent and to our defence. The question we have to ask is: was it right to have persevered with a weapon which, by so many people for so long, has been regarded as largely valueless?

In another place, the Government spokesman said that there was nothing better, and that we might have been without a satisfactory defence if we had not gone on with Blue Streak. But, my Lords, we are without that satisfactory defence now. We have not yet any certainty (and I shall await with interest what the Government spokesman has to say about this to-day) of a replacement for the particular rôle that Blue Streak was intended to fulfil. The reason is that the Government have at last decided what they have been told by so many people for so long: that the fixed-site, static, liquid-fuel missile is too vulnerable as a second-strike weapon. It is not any new discovery of the accuracy of Russian weapons that has led to this decision. We have known, and the Government must have known, the degree of accuracy which the Americans were hoping to achieve with their missiles, and must have known that this particular weapon was no longer a possible one for use in this country.

Apart from those who are supporters of unilateral disarmament, I do not think any of us complains about the Government's decision at least to initiate Blue Streak. Our charge is that they have persevered far too long, against every sort of advice and evidence, in sticking to a weapon which we now have to abandon, and which therefore is apt to become a total loss and a total waste of our defence effort, unless, for purely fortuitous reasons which have nothing to do with the original decision for Blue Streak, we can find a place for it in space research. The Government reply has not so far been very convincing. Mr. Sandys, the Minister of Aviation, complained that the Labour Government had not done much work on ballistic rockets in its time, but at least the V-bombers, which were set in hand in those days, are still effective as part of our independent British deterrent: and it is, and must be, the Party of the Government in power for the last nine years who must take the responsibility for this.

It is no use arguing, as the Minister for Defence did, that Blue Streak was an insurance against our needing (as we might well have needed, he said, until recent months) a liquid-fuelled static missile as a vital part of our Western deterrent. Nothing has altered to make us not need it; and the unfortunate tragedy of the matter is that we have persevered in something for far too long, and at a very heavy price of materials and resources which might have gone into strengthening our defences in other directions. Finally, the argument that at least we now have a missile-manufacturing capacity for dealing with missiles in the future, whether acquired or built, seems to me to be quite irrelevant. If we are to acquire missiles—and that appears to be the likely policy of the Government—then we do not need the manufacturing capacity for producing them. And this is part of the confusion that is being shown.

Curiously enough, we have not been told much about the reasons that have prompted the Government to abandon Blue Streak. They have told us that it depended on a very fine balance of argument, and I fully accept that the arguments were very hotly debated and that there was much to be said on both sides. In the Defence White Paper we were told: It may be decided not to rely exclusively on fixed-site missiles as the successor to the medium bomber armed with the stand-off powered bomb. But, my Lords, a decision not to rely exclusively on something is very different from a decision to scrap it. There was no statement in the White Paper that it might be decided to scrap Blue Streak: it was merely a decision that we might not rely on it exclusively. Now we know that we are not going to rely on it at all; that it is being dropped. We should like to have some further explanation as to why this enormous national investment is to be wasted; why all the skill that has gone into this development, into the Spadeadam testing centre, the Woomera range and all the rest of it, is now largely to be scrapped; and why we have to throw away something—and I am sure your Lordships will all agree—into which so much devotion, skill and brain have gone.

The decision really means that the intermediate-range ballistic missile is no longer acceptable unless it can be mobile. But we were told that Blue Streak could be put underground, and that it should be safe against a counter-attack from hostile missiles. We should like to know what is the objection to putting it underground, and what is the reason for the secrecy. Is it that it would be possible in an attack to pick out its site completely, or the fact that for technical reasons it cannot be put underground? Or is it because the Government estimate that, even now, from £500 million to £600 million would be inadequate to bring this project to fruition and the cost might well be not less than £1,000 million? One appreciates how difficult it is to establish in advance what these projects are going to cost, but this has really proved such a wildly disastrous decision that we ought to have some more facts.

We should like to know what the Government intend to do in the consideration they are now giving to it—and they have suggested that they have a little time to think about it. If Skybolt were to prove a failure or be not available would they have continued to press on with Blue Streak (for that is one inference of the Government statement) or would they have decided to scrap it anyhow? It is implied that it was only when news was received that the United States Government were putting a large sum of money into the development of Skybolt that they decided to cancel the Blue Streak.

I should like to look again at the time-scale. According to the statement made, both here and in another place, V-bombers armed with weapons reasonably in sight, like the powered bomb Blue Steel—the flying bomb—will be useful until the latter half of this decade, and it is in the latter half of this decade when this gap may occur. We have been told (again I quote Sir Frederick Brundrett) that "Neither Skybolt nor Polaris can possibly be available before 1970." Are we understand that in fact Skybolt will be available? The Government may say they cannot answer this question now; that they are only looking into the situation. But if there is any doubt, then there is a real possibility that a missile gap may occur; because there is little doubt that the V-bombers will become a wasting asset. Anti-aircraft devices, whether medium missiles or Mig. fighters, with their 2 to 2½ mach. performance, armed with weapons similar to the Fire Streak, will make it very doubtful whether we shall be getting more than a small, if any, part of our attacking force through to their targets.

I should like to ask the Government what has happened to the improved Blue Streak. We have been told, not in a very public way, that it is to be cancelled and I should like to know on what grounds that decision has been taken and how much money the Government hope to save by that cancellation. Unless the Skybolt or Polaris is a reality, then we shall fall back under the shelter—it may be inevitable anyway—of the American inter-continental missiles. We are in a serious position, if we are no longer independent. It is true that we shall have to rely on the Americans to help us out of our difficulties and, with the best will in the world, they may let us down. Recently we have heard of the serious position in which, the Canadian defence situation finds itself. About two years ago they came to a bold decision, rather like the decision Mr. Sandys took, to dispense with the new fighter they were building, in favour of the Bowmark anti-aircraft missile. The Canadian Government put all their money on the Bowmark, only to find that it is likely to be cancelled. They are in a difficult position as a result.

It is difficult to judge these matters and we must look to the Government to give us some further information, so that we can assess how sound their policy is. I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty what he hopes will come about with regard to Polaris. Is there really the possibility that we shall build some of these expensive atomic submarines? We have been told by the Government that there are arguments against them. Not only are they expensive, but they are noisy and easily detectable. I should like to make just one suggestion. If we are to achieve mobility with the Polaris, I am sure the First Lord will consider the possibility of putting them, one at a time, on ships or submarines, and not wait for the £40 million atomic submarine.

The more we get into this subject, the more it becomes almost a game of make-believe. We sympathise with the Government in their difficulties, as I am sure all noble Lords do, but they would make it much easier for us to sympathise with them if they told us a little more frankly and strove a little less desperately to keep up with "the nuclear Joneses". In this country, for a long time, we have been critical of General de Gaulle and his determination to explode his atom bomb, and now we find ourselves doing almost exactly the same thing. That is doing nothing for the credit or prestige of this country. The Blue Streak is not the end of it. We know that the Americans are proposing to put a satellite into orbit, the Midas, designed to detect and to give early warning, up to 30 minutes, of the possibility of ballistic missile attack. If this is so, what is the use of going on with Fylingdales? Are we going to have another inquiry as to why Fylingdales is going to be scrapped and what we are going to do with those vast structures in the middle of Yorkshire?

There are so many other deficiencies in our defence programme that it would be possible to condemn the Government in a number of ways, but I intend to try to keep the debate as narrow as possible. The kernel of our condemnation is that their obsession with the deterrent has led to a decline in the strength of our conventional forces. Most of us have friends who have served in the Army in Germany. Not long ago I was talking to men who had commanded there and they told me of the stratagems and devices which they have to use in order to get even part of their units fully on parade up to strength and able to take part in exercises. It was a courageous decision on the part of the Government to abolish National Service, but they did it largely on the basis that the Blue Streak was going to come off—and it has not come off. We heard recently in debate that the Army is to-day without the transport aircraft it needs. It is five years before the Britannic will come along and we are not in the position that we ought to be in to discharge our fire brigade rôle in the world to-day.

I should like to say a little about the effort that has gone into making Blue Streak. I am sure the Government will agree with me that it is a tragedy for men who have worked so brilliantly on what is generally acknowledged to have been a most promising development. We should like to know what the Government have in mind about trying to save something not only of an establishment like Spadeadam but also of the teams who have been working together in solving the problems. I should like briefly to look at one possible advantage that may be derived from the making of Blue Streak—that is, the possibility of using it for space research. This is not the occasion to go fully into the possibility of space research, but in the last year or two a change has come over scientists in their attitude to space research. Some of your Lordships may have attended a remarkable meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, where a number of scientists, including Government scientists, stated their categorical opinion that there was real value to be obtained, economically, scientifically and in other ways, by undertaking a space research programme. Blue Streak is well suited for that. The Government cannot take credit for that, because they never intended it. But if we have decided how to dispose of it, I hope that the Minister for Science will give careful consideration to the opinions that have been expressed.

Already some extremely important discoveries have been made. There has been the discovery of the large area of charged particles which surround the earth, which is of great importance scientifically and from a communications point of view. There are many other scientific gains. There is the prospect of putting into orbit a satellite which would be of real importance, indeed of revolutionary importance, in the field of communications. The limitations on communications to-day—the shortage of wave bands, the interference from magnetic storms—are, I understand, not likely to affect such a satellite. To those of your Lordships who say that we cannot afford it, I would point out that this country plays a leading part in the field of intercommunication in the world to-day. The recent transatlantic cable, for instance, cost something like 36 million dollars, and the cost of putting space vehicles up into orbit would be something of that order, or possibly slightly less.

There is an even more important reason which has been given by scientists and engineers—namely, the enormous technical stimulus that will come from the development in this field. I will quote just a few words of what Professor Hawthorne said the other day at the conference. He said: The consequence is that if we blanket off a new technology or let it filter slowly through from some foreign country we shall reduce the resources of skill and experience upon which our designers can draw. There are prospects of a major breakthrough, both scientifically and economically, in this field. This in no way releases Her Majesty's Government from their responsibility for the Blue Streak failure. It does not make it possible for them to say: "Well, at least we have given you space research", because they never intended to do so. It is difficult for us to judge how heavy their responsibility is, because they have refused the independent inquiry which was asked for in another place. We know that there has been great obstinacy. It is over a year ago since the military correspondent of The Times said in an article that somebody seemed determined to have a Blue Streak. What we should like to know—in actual fact, we think we do know—is the "somebody" who has pressed on against all advice in this unfortunate course.

The Government say that they have been justified in taking this risk. Obviously, anyone who has made a mistake of this kind has done so in good faith. The Labour Government were severely attacked for their decision over groundnuts; but the Opposition of the day showed no mercy on that occasion. That was a decision well-meant, well intended, designed to serve mankind. I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, would be the first to agree that faith alone is not enough to provide either good government or the safety of our country. Blunders have been made, and we ought to judge them. If, in fact, the whole of our independent deterrent defence arrangements have gone—and I think they become less and less credible; they really become almost out of this world, so far as any ordinary man in the street is able to judge—then I think the Government ought to explain a little more about the thinking that goes on. I suspect that we are in really grave danger, both in Parliament and in the Government, of deceiving ourselves in this matter. I doubt whether we are prepared now to go ahead independently. And if we are not, then there is grave disadvantage in maintaining our present posture. It confuses the country, and it confuses those in all Parties whose wish it is to support the Government in perhaps unpopular decisions, such as in resisting the call for unilateral disarmament. I hope we shall all stand strong in our resistance to a course which I and most of my noble friends and my friends in another place agree would be fatal to the peace and security of this country. But it would be much better if we knew what our position is in this matter.

My Lords, I have been critical of the Government's part in this matter, and I think it is right that we should criticise the Government so that they can make their reply. I hope I have not done so in a captious way, because we all know the tremendous difficulties of these decisions. But I beg the Government in their agonising reappraisal—and it is an agonising one—or whatever it may be, that we should think in terms of our strength and within our capacity. If we cannot have an independent deterrent, let us face it, and not play about with words like an "independent contribution to the deterrent". I do not know what that means. Surely any contribution, in so far as it is contributed by somebody, must be independent by that person. Although the scene to-day internationally is more encouraging than it was in those days immediately after the war during the Stalin régime, none the less we must be agreed that until disarmament and peace can become a reality we must maintain our strength to make our contribution to sustaining the peace of the world.

I hope that a rather calmer wisdom than the feverish hunt for an explanation will prevail in this matter. I think it is likely that for some time we shall see megaton weapons in existence. They are, after all, the ultimate horror of the ultimate throat to survival which I think has kept mankind from the irresponsibilities of war. But if we ourselves cannot find the means to deliver them in this pursuit of independence, then we must endeavour to play our part as best we can. We must play it, and the Government will have to help us all on how to do it, in a rôle adjusted to our ability, our power and our capacities for keeping the peace; the fire brigade rôle; a willingness to face trouble, wherever it may occur in the world, and to deal with it promptly, and to continue to work with our American and Western Allies, not only in sustaining the Western position but in the struggle and the battle which I am sure will be pursued by the Government with great vigour and will be supported by us all for a final settlement of the disarmament problem. I beg to move for Papers.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the decision of Her Majesty's Government to discontinue the development of the Blue Streak Missile, to the considerable expenditure of public funds, and to the new situation created in the national defence plans.—(Lord Shackleton.)

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to add many words to this debate, largely because a Motion such as that now before your Lordships' House cannot be dealt with in a very constructive way. It calls, unfortunately, for recrimination and reproach, neither of which appeals to members of the Liberal Party on these Benches. The fact remains, however, that it is a public duty to call attention to the obstinacy, as I would call it, of Her Majesty's present Government in adhering to a plan which, from its outset, seemed to many of us—and, in my opinion, to most people in this country—to be misconceived, unrealistic and tremendously wasteful, both in money and in the expenditure of precious time, at a juncture when time is of paramount importance. The basis upon which this misjudgment took place and on which it was maintained seems to me to be the old divergence of opinion between those who see this country in the continuing historic rôle of a great individual and insular sovereignty, and those who, less romantically but more realistically, see that the present world and the future world can exist only on reciprocity and on the considerable abandonment of old barriers, and of old exclusions, and of old prides and vanities and prejudices, and prestige.

The dream of this country continuing to enjoy the sort of position which it enjoyed in the last century is a nostalgic dream and, therefore, a very dangerous one. For its realisation, I think it should be faced at once that the present defence expenditure of £1,600 million a year (which is already crippling us, both nationally and internationally) is a fantastically inadequate figure for the vast target which is being aimed at. To be of some sort of military parity with nations whose company we wish to keep and whose decisions we would wish to influence by our own display of power, it should be made abundantly clear to every citizen that a more appropriate sum for the defence Budget would be not £1,600 million a year but something possibly like £16,000 million a year—that is, of course, more than three times the whole Budget figure for running the whole of the country. As such, of course, that is fantastic and wholly unrealisable. As for the loss of some £60 million on the abandonment of the Blue Streak, that is a very serious matter. But if Blue Streak was expected to be more than a very small contribution to Western armaments, or more than a token of British prestige, then a more realistic figure to have spent on it—and now to have lost on it—would surely be much higher than £60 million. I am not advocating that that would have been a good thing; it would have been a very bad thing. But it would have made some consistency in the madness, as I consider it, of postponing the decision to abandon a national, individual nuclear weapon; a weapon that we cannot afford and shall never be able to afford.

The noble Lord who opened this debate mentioned that advice had been given to the Government by people on their side, by experts, by people on the official Opposition and, he added, possibly also the Liberal Benches, too. I should like to make it clear that the Liberal Party has been the only one of the three Parties which consistently for the last four or five years has advocated this abandonment of an individual nuclear weapon. In my view, most people of this country, as they realise increasingly the implications of it, are becoming more and more of the same opinion. The Liberal Party, though small in Parliament, owing to an odd electoral system, is no longer very small in the country at large. It is therefore with gratification that I find that this Liberal line, inevitably, if a little slowly, is persistently and consistently being accepted as desirable. Of course, it is with similar gratification that I shall welcome the, I hope, imminent following of the official Labour Party along the same path, urged by strong but not quite such consistent pressure from the rear, instead of from the front. I would urge the Government not to let the word "conservatism" become such a shibboleth that conservation is rigidly applied far too long to what has been proved to have been wrong, as well as to what has been found to be right.

The history of the present Government (I say this in no partisan spirit), and indeed of the official Opposition lately, is too much bespattered with words which have to be eaten, with faces that have to be saved, and with the fragmentations of discarded advice now pieced together again in tardy and even humiliating recognition of its original soundness. But humiliations and reversals of unsound policies do not weigh at all in the balance against the country's solvency and prosperity and survival, with which the Government of the day are solemnly charged. All Governments can make mistakes, and all Governments can rectify at least a proportion of their mistakes. We who sit in Opposition to this Government are very ready to try to forgive them their mistakes, particularly those which they do not make, and those which they have the moral courage to admit and set right. That is the real essence of the Motion to-day. We urge those in power to accelerate their tardy alignment towards the international world of the latter twentieth century and away from the nationalistic world of a hundred years ago. When they do that we shall support them. When they do otherwise we shall oppose and criticise.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships may remember that when the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition asked to have this debate the other day, I was not too keen about it. Not because the Government have anything to hide or wish to withhold any of the facts—far from it. We have been frank and informative the whole way through, and this afternoon I shall give the House as much information as I possibly can. My reluctance was due to a feeling—shared, I think, by some of your Lordships—that, in the two-day Defence debate of a few weeks ago, nearly every speaker concentrated on the problem of Blue Streak, its possible cancellation and the various alternatives which might be put in its place. I felt that in many ways a further debate might be rather repetitive. However, we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, a very moderate, lively and interesting speech, and also from the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party. I welcome the opportunity of setting out the facts and putting the Blue Streak story into perspective.

The line of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, was not entirely unexpected. He has pursued it before. We have debated it on several occasions, and I am sure that it will not come as much of a surprise to him to learn that the Government do not agree with him. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will forgive me if I do not at this moment answer all his questions. My noble friend Lord Hailsham will be speaking at the end of the debate and no doubt he will answer him then. I thought it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if I gave a brief account of the story of the development of Blue Streak.

The suggestion has been made that the Government have been following a Rake's Progress, pressing on with Blue Streak, at a great cost, in the face of facts so obvious that they should have stopped the project very much earlier; and, indeed, some say that they should never have begun it. I believe that this attitude is wholly unjustified, although perhaps in some quarters politically convenient. The fact is, as many noble Lords with their wealth of experience in government will know, the Blue Streak story demonstrates most vividly some of the major problems and difficulties that confront the Government, and would confront any Government in the circumstances of to-day.

The story starts about six or seven years ago. About that time it was apparent that by the mid-'sixties the manned bomber would no longer be able to deliver even propelled bombs, such as Blue Steel, in the face of the accurate surface-to-air guided weapons which would have been developed by then. It was clear that we should have to have some form of ballistic rocket if we were to have any hope in the long term of penetrating the defences. Of course the Government considered whether it might not be better to obtain a suitable weapon from the United States, rather than to undertake the enormous effort of developing a rocket of our own. But the McMahon Act had not yet been amended, and it was impracticable for the Americans to go further than provide technical assistance. Although we approached them on the matter, they had to rule out the possibility of supplying actual missiles, even without the nuclear warheads. The Government therefore decided to go ahead with the project for the long-range ballistic rocket, which was later christened Blue Streak.

Those noble Lords who have had responsibility for matters of this kind can imagine very easily the sort of scrutiny to which the programme was subjected—not once but several times. At the same time, Parliament was informed of what we were doing in successive White Papers. In 1955, for example, it was stated: The manned bomber may eventually be supplemented by the ballistic rocket, and we are therefore working on the development of such a rocket as an addition to our deterrent strength. The programme of the missile was continued until 1958. In that year, the Government said in the Defence White Paper: A British ballistic rocket of the more advanced type is being developed on the highest priority in close co-operation with the United States. So far as I can remember—and I have made some researches—only one noble Lord voiced any serious doubts about this development; and that was in 1958. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who I am glad to see will be speaking this afternoon, had, as usual, some interesting things to say. The line he took then—and I have no doubt that he will shortly remind us of it—was that if we are to have ballistic rockets they ought to be on mobile sites. That was easy enough to say, but not so easy to do. In defence matters mobility always has obvious attractions; but the frank answer to the noble Earl is this—and I will quote what my right honourabe friend the Minister of Aviation said in another place. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons) Vol. 622 (No. 101), col. 336]: Of course, it would have been better if we could have developed a mobile weapon ourselves, but my answer to that is that we didn't know how.…. We have to learn to launch rockets from the ground before we can launch them from fast-moving aeroplanes or from submarines. However, it was not planned at that stage, or at any other stage, that the Blue Streak sites should be at all comparable to the flying-bomb launching sites about which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spoke two years ago. The sites would have been underground, as was made clear in the Defence White Paper, and as well protected as we could make them.

The noble Earl made another significant point on the same occasion. "Perhaps", he said, "we can get rid of the McMahon Act". But that was also what the Government thought; and in July, 1958, this Act was amended and at once we took steps to consult the Americans again. It was then evident that there were only two alternative possibilities which we could seriously consider: Thor, which would not serve our purpose, as it neither had the full range nor could be sited underground; and Polaris, which had some obvious strategic attractions but at that stage was untried. After the most searching consideration the Government came to the conclusion that the best course in the circumstances was to go ahead with developing Blue Streak. Even then, other developments were in the offing; but when in the defence sphere are there not "other developments in the offing"? At the end of 1958 and the beginning of 1959, when the usual annual review of the defence effort was taking place, the balance of advantage was clearly in favour of continuing with Blue Streak.

Certain things followed from that, and they cost money—as they always do. If we were to have Blue Streak by the time when we expected to need it, we had to devote the necessary resources to the project. There had to be the scientists and other staffs heavily engaged on new technical problems of the greatest complexity; there had to be the contracts with the firms concerned; there had to be new and expensive facilities. Here I should like to mention from my own personal experience the outstanding help which the Australian Government have given as partners at Woomera. They have carried the lion's share of the cost of establishing that range. As those of your Lordships who have been there will know, it is a most impressive technical achievement to have established this range, this complicated and difficult project, in the out-back of Australia, with the consequent difficulties of communication, water and the amenities of life. It has been a triumph for those concerned and I am glad to think that Woomera, with its tradition of Anglo-Australian co-operation, will continue to have much important work for many years to come. The Government have very much appreciated the understanding readiness with which the Australians have accepted the changed situation of to-day during the consultations we have had with them.

One of the most striking features of the development of Blue Streak has been the way in which our scientific and technical staffs succeeded in surmounting the many problems. Blue Streak has certainly not been stopped because of any technical failure. If it had been carried through to completion, it would have worked as well as any medium-range ballistic missile of the Americans or Russians. What came to stop it were developments during 1959 and early this year which gathered momentum and shifted the balance against continuing the project any longer. From our continuing and close contacts with the Americans it became clear that they had made considerable progress with solid-fuel, as distinct from liquid-fuel, missiles. The U.S. Navy had launched their first Polaris submarine and had carried out a successful series of test firings of the Polaris missile. The air-launched missile Skybolt, which we had known about for some time, had been adopted by the United States Government for inclusion in their development programme for the U.S. Air Force. For the first time it became possible to obtain from America an effective substitute for Blue Streak which would cost us much less money and had the additional advantages of mobility and solid fuel propulsion. These developments were most significant—and attractive in the light of the threat presented to this island by the increasing power and accuracy of Soviet long-range missiles.

In this situation the Government courageously faced the issue and cancelled the Blue Streak project. That is the story. It shows that we were right to start Blue Streak because we had to begin the development of ballistic missiles, and none could be made available from the U.S.A. if we had wanted them; it shows that we were right to continue with Blue Streak so long as there was no alternative; and it shows that we were right to cancel Blue Streak when a cheaper and more mobile weapon from America became possible. Can noble Lords opposite really criticise this policy? They have accepted it over the years: if they think now that Blue Streak should not have gone on, why did they not say so? When would they have stopped the project themselves? The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, should not be critical on this score. I was surprised that he should say in the course of his speech that everyone had been telling the Government to stop it for years. He certainly was not. He said as recently as March this year, two months ago, during the Defence debate [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221 (No. 51), col. 1006] that the arguments for and against Blue Streak were a good deal more finely balanced than some noble Lords and some critics will admit". He was quite right: the arguments were finely balanced—as they so often are in big issues of this character.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has suggested in his Motion that a new situation has been created by the cancellation of Blue Streak. This is not so. I made the position of the Government quite clear in winding up the Defence debate. At present we are making a substantial, and independent, contribution to the nuclear deterrent of the West by means of the V-bombers. The Mark II Vulcans and Victors are beginning to come into service, and the Blue Steel stand-off bomb will extend their capability. We also have a programme by which we can ensure that nuclear warheads of the most advanced design are manufactured by ourselves and available under our own control.

The main problem is one of delivery. How can we best deliver the nuclear warheads when the Blue Steel bomb will no longer be adequate? That is the question which we are in the process of answering. It is exactly the same question as the one which a number of noble Lords, as well as myself, discussed during the Defence debate. I said then [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221, col. 1058]: It would be nonsense for us to try to base an effective deterrent system upon weapons and means of delivery which have become obsolete and ineffective. Everything said then pointed clearly to the fundamental review which we were making of the Blue Streak project in the light of the developments which were taking place. A good deal was also said about the alternative possibilities of Skybolt and Polaris which the Government are considering. What has happened since then? We have been able to discuss these matters again with the U.S. Government, and they have made clear the extent to which they will be ready to help us.

As to Skybolt, it is obviously an attractive choice and we have British teams in the United States studying the detailed problems of installing it in our V-bombers; and the United States Government have just sent a team here to explain at first hand the operational and technical aspects of their Skybolt programme. We are taking all possible practical steps to ensure that our V-bomber forces would be able to carry them; and a programme for fitting this missile to the Mark II V-bombers is being worked out. The United States Government has made it clear that they will be prepared to sell Skybolt to the United Kingdom when it has been developed.

There would be no question of subjecting the launching of these missiles to a joint decision by the two Governments, on the lines of the agreement covering the supply of Thor missiles to this country, which have American-produced nuclear warheads. Skybolt missiles, bought from the U.S.A., with our own nuclear warheads and carried by the V-bombers, would be a British-controlled contribution to the deterrent.

As to Polaris, we have for some time had a liaison representative from the Royal Navy in the U.S. Navy Special Projects Office, which has been responsible for bringing the Polaris system from the sketch design stage to operational status in less than four years. We are therefore kept very well informed of the progress of both the submarines and the missiles. The submarine is simply—if simply is the right word to use—a very big nuclear-propelled submarine fitted to carry, aim and fire the Polaris missiles, which it can launch from under the sea. In that rôle it is the nearest thing to an invulnerable mobile base that can be imagined. I should certainly not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that it will be easy to detect; indeed, it is likely to be very difficult for an enemy to know where these submarines are. The Polaris missile is at an advanced stage of development as a result of highly successful test firings, though it has not yet been fired from a submarine. The first two United States Polaris submarines, the "George Washington" and the "Patrick Henry" are in commission and will become fully operational this year. We are urgently studying in the Admiralty what would be involved in building Polaris submarines ourselves, but it would be unrealistic to think that it would be possible to have them built here by the mid-1960s. The Government have been as forthcoming as possible about what is in their minds, but nobody could reasonably expect us to say any more at present than we have done about these possible forms for our future contribution to the deterrent. I do not think that noble Lords opposite will disagree with that.

What then are the points of criticism which are left? If it is accepted, as this House has accepted, that the Blue Streak programme was the right one during recent years, it does not make sense to claim that the £65 million spent on it has been wasted. £65 million spread over four or five years does not itself seem excessive—even if cancellation charges have to be added—when account is taken of all the new techniques and facilities involved. In any event, can we regard resources and effort as being wasted simply because the project on which they have been directed has not: come to fruition? The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has frequently pressed the Government to make greater efforts to bring new weapons and equipment into service. He knows from his own experience that the worst situation is one in which ships, aircraft or weapons are needed for the defence of this country and are not there.

He would be the last to suggest that any Defence Minister should hesitate to put in hand a project which might play a vital part in the security of Britain simply because of the possibility—a possibility that must always be there—that strategic or technical circumstances might change and cause the project's cancellation. He put his position very clearly in 1958 in a speech that he then made. He said: I would not, from my own experience of defence, ever want to allow my country to become in a position in which she was not in possession of equal weapons with other countries. At the present time, we are examining with the firms concerned the full implications of using Blue Streak as a satellite launcher for a space research programme; and no doubt my noble friend will elaborate later on that matter.

The charge against the Government boils down to this: why did we not discontinue the development of the Blue Streak missile earlier? This is a matter on which the Government had to make its own judgment. Only this Spring did we reach a situation in which we could clearly decide that the balance of advantage lay in stopping Blue Streak. The Government cannot accept that a new situation now exists. The situation is fundamentally the same as it was at the time of the Defence debate. The differences are these. Blue Streak, instead of being in great doubt, has been cancelled. Other alternative forms of missile, instead of being only names to play with, have become real possibilities Which we have discussed across the table with the United States Government. We have told the House our policy in the past as it is developed: and we shall continue to do that. This is not a sphere in which anybody should try and be dogmatic or risk his neck with precise forecasts. There have been uncertainties in the past, and there will be plenty in future; but one certain thing has emerged from all the discussions we have had in this House and in another place: it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government to maintain an independent British contribution to the nuclear deterrent of the West. It is the Government's determination to implement this policy that has led to the winding up of the Blue Streak project—


My Lords, would the noble Lord answer this particular question, which I am sure concerns us all: what is the difference between an independent contribution and the independent deterrent? Are they the same? This is important.


The United States has a very large deterrent and we are contributing towards it. It is really as simple as that. It is the Government's determination to implement this policy; and as a result of that Blue Streak has been cancelled, and we must now closely and urgently study what we must do to have the most effective vehicle for our nuclear warheads.

It is, of course, the duty of an Opposition to enquire most closely into such matters as we have been discussing this afternoon. As I said at the beginning, I welcome the opportunity of explaining as fully as I can what has led to the decision to cancel Blue Streak. I hope that what I have had to say will have done something to dispel the confusion which seems to have existed over this subject. The Government have nothing to be ashamed of. They have been open and straightforward and consistent about their problems and their policy, both in the Defence White Papers and in the Defence debates in Parliament. In matters of such complexity, with so many imponderables, we must naturally expect some criticism, but it should be responsible criticism. I think we are entitled to ask where the Opposition stand in all this. After all, they have put themselves forward as the alternative Government responsible for handling these grave issues of national security. What would they have done? When would they have cancelled Blue Streak? Do they still believe in an independent British contribution to the nuclear deterrent? If not, what, other than convenience, has made them change decisions so firmly and cogently stated? My Lords, the Government have shown where they stand and where they are going. Your Lordships are no less entitled to know where the Opposition stands. The responsibility for letting the House know lies with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down said at the beginning of his speech that he wondered whether there was any justification for a debate on this subject this afternoon. But if such a justification had been wanted, surely it was provided by that most clear factual statement from him to which we have just listened. To my mind he has quite plainly gone as far as any Minister possibly could have gone in explaining the factors which have to be assessed in making a decision of this sort. Even so, I would judge that there must be certain matters which cannot at this moment be made public, in the House or anywhere else. This is a difficulty which we in Parliament are always under in discussing matters of this sort. Few people in this House could ever know the full facts of the case when a decision has to be made. Those who know cannot tell, and those who do not know cannot tell either. From that point of view we find ourselves much happier when we are dealing with something like road accidents or, of course, rabbits. None the less, it is our business to try to weigh up the factors affecting a most important decision of this sort, and we can probably do it in this House just as well as some people can who discuss these high matters—for example, the Women's Institute, or, if you like, some trade union meeting at Blackpool, or those who go the hard way, from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square. So we must try to debate these matters.

Reading the debates in another place it struck me most forcefully, and it struck me again this afternoon, listening to the speeches which we have already had, that possibly not enough account was taken of the vital importance of timing. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton mentioned timing much, though he did refer to it. Here, I should like to join with my noble friend Lord Carrington in saying how much I appreciated the moderate way in which the noble Lord approached the problem. This being a Royal Academy season, one might perhaps say that he painted his picture of Blue Streak without too many purple patches. I am sure that we on this side appreciate that. But, my Lords, this matter of timing is very important indeed; and the time factor has been with us ever since the Government, whichever one it was, had to give its attention to nuclear or atomic defence. The 1957 White Paper is usually, I think, regarded as the start of our present policy, but if your Lordships look back, as I have done, to the 1946 White Paper you will find the seeds of the atomic defensive effort are sown there, even though we now describe it as "nuclear". There they are. These problems have been with us from that day to this, and they will go on being with us for the rest of foreseeable time.

Moreover, whether we like it or not, we have to get used to the very big money involved in these problems. It is going to be big money; that is inescapable. It is no good, I suggest, getting frightened of the size of the money; nor is it much good trying to think what else those particular sums of money could have been used for, had other things been equal. They are not equal, and I doubt very much if that is the point. Had we not spent money of that sort I do not see how we could have possibly stayed where we are in the consideration of these problems. Let me go back once again to the time factor and say that, of course, in these matters, unlike so many other matters with which Parliament has to deal, we are having to work five, ten or maybe fifteen years or longer ahead, dealing with imponderables, in a way, as my noble friend explained just now, which does not exist, or hardly exists, in any other field of government.

Now we come to another point which I think has been perhaps rather under-stressed, though the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned it in his peroration, and that is the relationship of our efforts in the defence field, and particularly in the nuclear field, to our membership of N.A.T.O. and our obligations to N.A.T.O. I would say (I hope I am not wrong over this) that the size of these weapons, their range, and their destructive power, indicate that, whatever one may say in theory, in practice it is most unlikely that they can ever be let off or made use of except as part of a N.A.T.O. operation. Therefore, when we are considering these matters—leaving apart the tactical weapons on the battlefield, which are another matter and I think belong more to the Army Estimates debate—we must surely relate our use of these weapons, our development of these weapons and the share of the global development of these weapons, to what is required of us in N.A.T.O. and what our contribution should be. I think that was the point which was made by my noble friend, and we should also bear in mind that unless we make a proper contribution to the N.A.T.O. nuclear effort it is most unlikely that we shall be listened to in N.A.T.O. or anywhere else. Those things seem to form quite a part of the background behind the statement which my noble friend has just made.

Then, of course, there was the other point which he made, and which was made, I think, in another place, though only once: that in our early stages of the development of Blue Streak, whenever it was, five, six or seven years ago, the McMahon Act was in force. I can imagine that those who had responsibility for these things at that time must have prayed for the day and worked for the day when the McMahon Act could be amended in the way it has been. But they were working at a time when it had not been amended, and therefore they had to deal with the realities of the situation at that time. They had also to deal with the state of affairs where the inventions which led to Skybolt and Polaris had not then materialised.

So, my Lords, we were faced, were we not, with meeting our obligations to N.A.T.O under conditions where the McMahon Act was in force and doing the best we could. If, in the light of present experience, that best, namely, Blue Streak, turns out to have been second best, it may be regrettable, but it is surely not surprising. Still less does it mean that it would have been right for the Government at that time to do what has been suggested, I think, from the Benches opposite and abandon Blue Streak. To my mind, that would have been doing something very much the same as, when you are climbing up a ladder, to let go with both hands at the same time. They did not do that, and I am quite sure—and even more sure after listening to what my noble friend had to say just now—that that was the right course to pursue. Even if, in the end, it turned out that Blue Streak did not fulfil everything that was required of it, or, to put it in another way, if it turned out that the cost of "going it alone" with Blue Streak was so great that it would have been much better to rely on Skybolt and Polaris, nevertheless that seems to me to have been the sort of decision any Government might have been expected to take when they are working under these conditions and playing for these stakes. That, I think, is really part of the answer to the point made by the noble Lord opposite.

As everybody has pointed out, no one has said that it was wrong to abandon Blue Streak at all; but it is said that we should have done it a few years ago, before this expense, which I would suggest is not very great in the circumstances, mounted up, when Skybolt and Polaris were not there, and when it was not known, I imagine, exactly what the results of the amendment of the McMahon Act would be. That seems to me, fairly shortly (because after my noble friend there is no need to make a long speech), to be the gist of the matter. As my noble friend Lord Carrington has said, we are in N.A.T.O.; if we use this weapon at all I am quite certain we shall use it only in N.A.T.O., and we must go on making our contribution to the N.A.T.O. nuclear effort. If it is not to be a Blue Streak, then it must be something else, and that will be a matter for the Government.

So, my Lords, I am not prepared to criticise the decision to drop Blue Streak when we dropped it and not before. Equally, I should like to bring force to what I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said: that the fact that we have now abandoned Blue Streak certainly does not mean that all the experimenting, the scientific research and the development which went into Blue Streak have been lost. I am absolutely certain that they have not been, because that is not the sort of thing that happens. Whether or not we shall use it in the future in our plans to reach the moon (that I think might be quite expensive, too, and then no doubt noble Lords opposite will tell us so), I do not, of course, know. But whether we use it for space work or not, I am quite certain that my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Hailsham will, between them, find a way to beat Blue Streak into a ploughshare.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I have little to say this afternoon because the matter has been fully covered by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, who is far more competent in these matters than I am, but it strikes one that here was a matter in which, certainly, there was perhaps a reason for starting the project; the question is when you should have stopped it. It seems to me that there has been avoidable delay. It would appear that the Government had come to the conclusion that Blue Streak was not the answer, but, because there were no alternative answers ready, they continued with something which they knew was not the answer. That seems to me to be the condemnation.

Now what we have always to consider in this matter is the geographical position of the British Isles: our extraordinary vulnerability. I made the point formerly: that was the chief objection to having a static position for launching these weapons. It might be possible, as was said, to have alternative sites. Alternative sites might be possible in Russia or in the United States, but they are not going to be very far apart in this country of ours. What strikes me to-day (and I must say rather appals me) is that we go on considering what is going to be done about this nuclear weapon, and we contemplate spending millions and millions—not only five years ahead, but ten years ahead. I think the best thing that was said in the debate in the other place was said by the Minister of Aviation: that the only way out is total disarmament. To my mind, the corollary to total disarmament is a World Order, and making U.N.O. effective. I hope that some steps may be taken by our Government in the immediate future towards making a reality of U.N.O. N.A.T.O. we started as a prop to U.N.O.: never as a substitute, but as a prop. But U.N.O. has remained undeveloped; and I believe that the greatest service that our country could do at the present time would be to take a lead, not just for a total abolition of nuclear weapons, but for total disarmament—because I have never believed in the policy that disarmament tends only to exalt one Power and depress another.

I must say that there has been an enormous waste of money here. It is odd to think how things change. Fifty years ago one would have thought the waste of a few thousand pounds a terrible thing, and the Government would have stood in the dock. We got it "pretty hot" for losing some millions on the groundnuts scheme. The Government to-day waste far more, and we are asked to say nothing about it: to have no examination whatever. I do not think the world can go on recklessly like this, and I believe the time is ripe for a new lead. Almost every speaker has emphasised the fact that, if you have a world war, there will be nothing left to talk about after that; but now some people seem to think that you can have a minor war, or a restricted war, even if you are using nuclear weapons. I do not believe it. I believe that if the efforts we have put into Blue Streak could be put into bringing the nations to reality, we might make a greater advance. I think that at this time (not expecting that there has been a wonderful change of heart anywhere in the world, but on matters of strict realism) the United States of America, the U.S.S.R. and other nations are now getting into a frame of mind in which they realise that it is time we gave up this folly.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, as the First Lord of the Admiralty has said, this subject has already been fully debated, both in the Defence debate and in the Air debate a few weeks ago. But the subject is so important—and not only is the subject so important, but I think it is so important that there should be clear thinking and clear understanding of it—that I do not think anybody would complain that we are, as it were, giving the matter a Third Reading. Certainly I think that nobody on the Government side could complain if we are to have what is in the nature of a very modest vote of censure introduced with the great charm and very faint damns with which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, introduced his Motion.

Frankly, I am a little surprised at the attitude of the Opposition in this matter. I should have thought that what the Government were entitled to from the Opposition was a vote of thanks rather than a vote of censure. As they have said, they have been continually saying that Blue Streak ought to be abandoned. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, says that it ought to have been abandoned two years ago; the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, says, I think, that it ought to have been abandoned a year ago. What they all agree—and I am at one with them on this—is that it ought to be abandoned. Well, it has been abandoned, and that decision cannot be criticised. The only subject for debate, or dispute between us, it seems to me, is: ought it to have been stopped earlier?

Now, my Lords, I think that anybody who has served with a Government will agree that the Government—any Government—have special responsibility in these matters of defence, and are entitled to a special measure of consideration. I say that for two reasons. First of all, only the Government can have full knowledge, and much of that knowledge—about our own defence work, our Allies' defences, and the defences of those who are not our Allies—is information which they cannot fully divulge; and much of it, indeed, they cannot divulge at all. The second reason is that the Government have a duty and a responsibility to ensure our effective defence over many years ahead. I do not think that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was quite serious when he complained that they were thinking ten years ahead. I am entirely with him, and I think everybody is, that there is only one solution ultimately, and that is disarmament: not just nuclear disarmament, but complete disarmament. But, my Lords, while we must work for that all the time, yet, certainly when he was Prime Minister, he thought it wise to plan ahead, and to plan ten years ahead at least—because that is what you have to do. That does not mean that, if things go better and it is possible to reach effective disarmament, then not only Blue Streak but masses of defence effort, whether it be nuclear or conventional, cannot, the nuclear be abolished and the other greatly reduced.

My Lords, it was in the light of the knowledge which the Government had that they developed Blue Streak and that they stopped Blue Streak. I think we should also agree that the fact that it was right to stop it does not mean that it was not right to begin, and the fact that it was right to begin does not mean that it was wrong to stop. If I may say so—this does not apply to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, but does apply to some of his friends, and particularly some in another place and out of doors—it is the unwillingness of a number of members of the Labour Party to learn to change that accounts for their electoral failure and their lack of appeal, not least to the younger generation. I believe that we should all accept that Blue Streak would be a very effective and accurate weapon for discharging nuclear missiles. I think there is no doubt about that—as good a weapon for discharge as any which either America or Russia is likely to have. I think it is also accepted that after 1965, or thereabouts, we must have a successor to our V-bombers armed with Blue Steel. I think it is only fair to accept that it is only recently that we have been able to count with any certainty on an effective air complement and component for our new V-bombers which will be available after 1965. We must take a gamble in these matters, and I suppose it is a bit of a gamble whether Skybolt is going to do all we hope and expect of it. It is always a gamble whether these novel weapons will be ready on time. But I think that it is a right decision.

Last year and this year I have been a critic of Blue Streak, never on the ground that it was a bad weapon, but entirely, like my noble friend Lord Attlee, if I may say so, on the ground of the vulnerability of the static sites. Do not the Government as it is to their critics, let us forget that that vulnerability has enormously intensified in the course of the last year and even in the last six months. And, of course, the risk to the static sites must have been as obvious to the But what the Government had to do— and here I come to the special responsibility of the Government—was to make a decision about the fact that in 1965 or thereabouts there was going to be a gap in the effective deterrent. That gap had to be filled, and they had to plan to fill it. At the time the decision to make Blue Streak was taken; at the time it was decided to carry on with it; and, indeed, at the time when they decided to intensify the work on it, I am bound to admit that Blue Streak was the only hope of an alternative to fill the gap, as facts were known at those times. That was the justification. For my part, I am prepared to accept that the Government decided to change as soon as they felt reasonably sure of a mobile alternative.

Apparently some of the Labour Party seem to have thought, and still think (though there has been nothing of that kind said here to-day), that the decision of the Government gives them an opportunity to unite in some undefined defence policy in opposition to their leader—a very odd way of getting unity. But if this were true, then people who think like that ought to be grateful to the Government, and not censorious. It has been clear from the debate here, and from the very fair speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the fundamental conflict in the Labour Party still remains. I am certain that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would not for a moment agree that the United Kingdom should unilaterally abandon all nuclear weapons and stand naked and defenceless in a cold world, in which the wind of change might be very bitter; and I welcome the courageous repudiation which Mr. Gaitskell, on his return, has given of any such proposal. Incidentally, it seems an odd idea that what are called "conventional weapons" are not only moral but apparently rather agreeable. Many of us, like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who have been at the receiving end of conventional weapons, would not treat them as quite so agreeable. And, of course, that would be a completely ineffective defence for us in the world as it is to-day and would be no deterrent at all.

It is possible, of course, to criticise the Government's timing—and that is about all that has been criticised to-day—particularly if you do not share the Government's responsibility. But what is wrong with the policy which the Government are now following? I am bound to say that I think it is entirely right. And, having in the past criticised the Blue Streak, I wanted to speak today to say that. We have our own deterrent up to 1965. It is an effective deterrent, an independent deterrent, and it is a sound contribution. That deterrent is our V-bombers, with Blue Steel stand-off bombs. After 1965, we shall have our new bombers, and we shall have, we trust—certainly there are no difficulties of the McMahon kind—the Skybolt and our own nuclear warhead. I am very glad that the First Lord of the Admiralty has to-day made it perfectly plain that the deterrent will be under our control. It is an independent deterrent and it is a very potent contribution.

We could hardly have closer or better co-operation with our chief Ally and partner. We have all been advocating the closest co-operation with the United States in nuclear development and production, and in what we are doing now there is no abandonment of our policy, our duty and our contribution, whether it be to N.A.T.O. or to any other part of the grand Alliance. There is no exclusive dependence on the United States. I am perfectly certain that everybody in the country, including a great many of those who voted Liberal at the last Election, would repudiate the suggestion made by the noble Lord who leads the Liberal Party to-day, that we should merely shelter behind the United States. All of us, or nearly all of us, have been advocating the closest co-operation with the United States; and so far from this being an abandonment of the policy which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, initiated, and which we carried on, the policy which has now been enunciated by the Government is, on the contrary, the consummation of our policy of closer co-operation and interdependence with the United States. For my part, I say without hesitation that that policy commands my full support and, I believe, commands the full support of the great majority of people in this country.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the speeches which have already been made. My criticism of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is that he seemed to be finding the weather after the race was over. I want us to face together our future troubles in this very complicated world; and in the short speech I am going to make I should like to give the reasons for the importance of this suggestion. I hope that the Liberal Party—I see that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has gone—will take the same line as I hope the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will take.

There is always a lot of talk about total disarmament. We are all in favour of it. But we cannot do it by ourselves. We must have other nations who will come with us and really do something about working to that end, and not just talk about it. The question seems to me to be a perfectly simple one. It is that should war cone the people in the country want to be properly defended. That is what they are thinking and worrying about. Therefore I support the Government in their endeavours to that end. I was greatly impressed by the speech made by my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty.

I do not want to annoy the Opposition, but I can go back a long way in their policy on this subject. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Stansgate laughing, but he is old enough to know what I am talking about and to know how true it is. I can go back to the days before the First World War when Lord Roberts was begging both Houses of Parliament to prepare for the dangers that he foresaw were going to come from war. I do not know that there are so many Lords opposite who remember it, or who were here at the time, but I am afraid that their Party on every occasion did not vote for preparation for the possible danger of war. We all know that. No doubt the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition will remember it, if he was here at the time, and I rather fancy that he was. Lord Roberts made the strongest appeal. I remember speaking in various parts of the country in support of his ideas that we should equip our Forces in such a way that they would be able adequately to defend our people.

To-day, when I talk about the defence of our people, it is a far bigger question than it was in those days. Then there were soldiers and sailors, but no airmen; and the ordinary civilians in the country were not dragged into war and did not find bombs descending upon them in various parts of the world; they were far from the actual realities of war. But, as I say, to-day it is quite a different proposition. What did those who supported what Lord Roberts and, indeed, many other Ministers afterwards were advocating, get? They were called "warmongers" and were accused of trying to prepare for something that did not exist. "Warmongers" was shouted from every platform in the country; I know, because I was there and had it shouted at me. A noble Lord laughs, but it is no laughing matter. I want to see that to-day what is said from those Benches shall not give that impression, because, in my opinion, it caused a very serious war. Whether preparedness would have stopped the Second World War, or not, I do not know, but I just mention to your Lordships what I saw happen and what was said here. We all know about it; it is nothing new. Therefore, I beg noble Lords opposite and the Labour Party to bear in mind that these two wars have happened. I am afraid that I see an indication of the same spirit—not, I may say, with a great many of noble Lords on that side of the House—behind their policy generally.

We must realise that weapons of the present day, with the enormous activities of the scientists, are often superseded and here we have the Blue Streak which has been so affected. Another of their great inventions has come into the atmosphere which we realise supersedes Blue Streak. The Government would not have been doing their duty if they had not realised that and made all the preparations they could in most difficult circumstances. Abuse of the Government on the subject is no good. They are responsible; they know the whole situation, which is not known to us in this House, with the possible exception of those sitting on the Front Bench before me. If the Government are going to take the responsibility, they must do everything they can to prevent the people of this country from suffering more than is absolutely necessary. That is their duty. We must have the best weapons available to defend ourselves against the aggressor. If the Opposition were in office and responsible, as was asked by my noble friend Lord Swinton, what would they do now in the present difficult situation? It is frightfully difficult. As we do not know the situation behind the scenes, we must have the greatest sympathy for the Government in their difficulties and do everything we can to help; we must not abuse and make no suggestions. Would the Opposition dare take a chance on this question? I do not think for one moment they would if they were in the responsible position. As my noble friend Lord Swinton said, we might be weak and naked; and naked we have nothing with which to fight.

We must remember that certain things happened in the days gone by. Noble Lords will remember that prior to the Second World War Hitler and his Ambassador here, Von Ribbentrop, were saying: "It's all right; England will never fight." They said that because we were not united. I believe that if we had then all been united, the Labour Party and some of my erstwhile colleagues, that would have been the best deterrent we could have had against Hitler's going on and doing the outrageous things that he did do. Our Government to-day know the situation, and we do not know it. I am prepared to support them up to the hilt in doing what they can to put right a very difficult situation that has arisen, not through their fault; they could not do anything else. Tommy Atkins is a great fellow, and those of us who have fought with him are determined to see that every effort is made to equip him so that he is able to face any aggressor on equal, if not on better, terms. Our people to-day want us to do that.

I find that throughout the country the one worry our people have is, "Are we in a position to do it?" We on the Conservative and the National Liberal Benches—I do not think there are any here to-day except myself—are determined to see that on land, sea and air everything possible is done, without interfering with the Government in their difficulties, so that our men are properly equipped and able to do all that is possible against a possible aggressor. We are a very courageous and determined people, but we must take advantage of this. We must see to it that they are ready to go into the ring, with their gloves off if necessary, and protect the country in their great responsibilities in looking after the Commonwealth. We must see to it, in both Houses and by all Parties, that they are properly looked after and properly equipped for anything that may happen.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that every Member of this House is fully conscious of the difficulties under which a debate of this kind takes place. I do not think members of the Opposition have the least desire unnecessarily to embarrass the Government, but I am equally sure that they do not require any reminders from any quarter as to their responsibilities in initiating a debate of this kind. We know perfectly well that such difficulties are inherent in any kind of debate on defence matters. Many of us on this side of the House are even more familiar with the fact that, in certain of the dictator countries in particular, a debate of this kind could not possibly take place. We are quite aware how complicated it can be for a Government adequately to express its policy and its actions in a democratic assembly, with the Press carefully reporting what is said, and with our potential enemies listening very carefully to what is being stated.

I should like to ask what an Opposition is to do in these circumstances. Is it just to sit back and trust implicity in the actions of the Government of the day, without any kind of questioning or any kind of criticism? I am quite sure that that would not be put forward as a reasonable course for an Opposition to pursue. Some of us remember some of the events preceding the last war. Sir Winston Churchill was not the only person who was receiving information concerning the efforts that Hitler was making to arm his country for a conflict which some of us in 1934 saw was quite inevitable. But the Government of the day, hard pressed as it was by statements and questioning of Sir Winston in the House of Commons, was always ready to give firm assurances that our defences were sufficiently well equipped to meet any potential danger that might come from Hitler and his activities.

I do not want to be uncharitable, but I think that many of us drew the inference, when the war actually started—and some of us had some experience behind the scenes of the so-called preparations, and knew how inadequate they were—that Sir Winston Churchill was right, and that the Government of the day was wrong. But the assurances which were so blandly given in the House of Commons as to our preparedness to meet a contingency, if it arose, were not in fact the whole truth, although they may have been partly true.

I myself had some contacts with Sir Winston and with organisations which were concerned at the apparent unwillingness of the Government of the day to face the fact that a much more strenuous effort would be needed by this country to meet the challenge if it came. Some of us wonder whether, in the first eight months of the war, if the German forces had been thrown into the struggle right away with the intensity which later developed, we could have withstood the attacks which were made at that time. From that rather grim precedent we must draw the logical inference that it is the duty of an Opposition to criticise the Government of the day in its defence operations, just as in any other sphere of its activities. Naturally, there is some tempering of what has to be said, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, and because of the limitations which are necessarily imposed. I know how easy it is to have hindsight, and I have sometimes thought that it was grossly unfair in Party politics for criticisms to be made of actions which were taken under the stress of circumstances and great pressures, those criticisms being made in the light of events perhaps five years afterwards.

I well remember a discussion with Sir Winston Churchill when he was Prime Minister. I was approached by a number of contractors who had been given the job of building a line of pillboxes on the South Coast. I was then Secretary of the Trades Union Congress. They came to me, a person quite unconnected with any responsibility in the matter, to see whether it was possible for me to bring any pressure to bear by which decisions which were then being held up because of differences between the War Office and others could be expedited so that they could get on with their job. I went to see Sir Winston Churchill, and, after telling him of the circumstances, and subsequently seeing Sir Anthony Eden, who was then Secretary of State for War, Sir Winston said, "We must I have a financial structure." I had been pointing out that there was an attempt to get tenders for contracts for doing that work, and how absurd it was to try to apply that principle in days when we expected to be invaded at an early date. With all his experience, Sir Winston said, "We must have a financial structure, or we shall find some Committee coming along some years after the war criticising us for what we are doing now." I say that without any desire to be unduly critical, and with the knowledge that hindsight is a much easier thing to acquire than foresight.

With all that, my Lords, we on this side cannot help being rather perturbed at the development of this weapon, the Blue Streak. I should be the last to deny that the embarking on a project of this kind is a matter of technical and military judgment. I do not profess as an individual—and I should think there are few Members of this House who would—to have access to sufficiently detailed information about matters of this kind to be able to say whether the Government's decision at that moment was right or wrong. I do not think that has been firmly contended from this side of the House in this discussion. But it seems to be the case, from what has been said here, that what has been criticised is not so much the embarking upon the weapon as the late realisation that subsequent developments had taken place which would have rendered Blue Streak in effect obsolete. I may have misheard, but I thought I heard the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, say that the Blue Streak had been superseded by developments which took place in 1959. I gathered that the factor which caused that decision were the developments in regard to other weapons in the United States. If I am right in that premise, I have some justification for asking when the discovery took place. When did the Government find that out—in 1959? If they found it out only in 1959, then, so far as I can now see, there was some delinquency somewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in referring to some of the arguments put earlier, used language to the effect extenuating delays: contracts had to be placed, designs had to be gone into. Was that in regard to our own Blue Streak?


May I interrupt? What I was saying was that once the decision had been taken to embark on Blue Streak all these things followed: there had to be contracts and designs and so on.


But surely the point of the noble Lord's argument was that time was required for these things to take place after the original decision had been taken?


I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord again. What I was really trying to point out was that inevitably, once we took the decision to go on with Blue Streak, it was going to cost money.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I thought he was referring to the time element. It cannot be wrong, surely, that a great deal of time passes between the initiation of an idea or conception or project, whatever it may be called, and the actual coming into operation of that project. I know from experience that in power-station erecting it took several years from the time of initiation to see the completed station. If it took several years to develop American weapons to the point they have now reached, what has our Intelligence Service been doing? Had our Government no prior information of what was going on until 1959? That seems to me to be rather a curious situation.

I remember during the war how Sir Winston Churchill told me, many months before the V2s arrived, a great deal about them and when they might be expected; and that was in time of war, when the opportunities of securing information were very much more hedged around with greater difficulties. Yet now in peace time, in the time when we have been working in quite close harmony for years with the Government of the United States as our principal Ally, apparently we did not know very much about it until 1959. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, shakes his head. I wonder where I have gone wrong. Surely the Government must have had prior information before 1959 as to the qualities of the weapons they were making. I understand all about the McMahon Act.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord once more, perhaps he would be good enough to read tomorrow what I said. I was trying to say that developments took place in 1959. Of course we were aware all along of what was happening in the United States; we have been in close contact all the way through. In 1959 developments took place in the United States which made Blue Streak very much more doubtful than it had been before.


Technical developments?




Technical developments took place in 1959. That explains to a very considerable extent the point I had in my mind, because I could not for the life of me understand how it was that our Government was not better informed on this subject prior to 1959. I would only hope that, whatever the circumstances which restricted the imparting of information to us, such as the McMahon Act, they are not likely to recur, and that in the future we shall not find that in fact, with a grave contingency always lying ahead of us, with the possibility of conflict, our two Governments can be working in such separate ways.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I want first of all to make an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I was not here to hear his speech; I was very late in coming to your Lordships' House. My excuse for that is quite genuine. I was at an international gathering; the Ministry of Agriculture were vouching for it and it was a Council of Europe Agriculture Committee luncheon. Unfortunately, I could not get here before.

Having said that, I should like to make a few brief remarks on the subject of Blue Streak, and if it has been said before merely to underline it. The first point I would make is that Blue Streak is a rocket, and a rocket is a means of propulsion and a means of delivering an atomic warhead or any other kind of warhead. But it is only part of the weapon system, and in developing a weapon system you do not develop only the rocket. When one is considering whether a large sum of money has been wasted or not one must consider not only the actual abandonment of that particular rocket but also whether there has been gained valuable information in the control and guidance systems, in the early warning part and various other sections of the weapon system, of which Blue Streak forms a part. That point should be considered.

The other point which ought to be considered is the fact that our resources in this country allow us to go in for only a limited number of developments. We have not available the vast resources that America has, and therefore someone must take the decision, granted that we have to develop something, what it is we are going to develop. Whether it was right or wrong I do not know, but I would emphasise the fact that Blue Streak as a rocket is a jolly good rocket; it is not a second best as far as rockets are concerned. It may be second best as far as the type that is desired to do the job is concerned. But it takes a very long time to develop these rockets; the Americans take round about ten years; we have done it a great deal quicker. It is not until a rocket is fired several times and has hit the target that you can say that that rocket is a success. I think any Government would be very foolhardy, with the record of the failure of Atlas and what I think the Americans call Pioneer and the Russians call Sputnik, to take any other steps than hope for the best of what might come from America.

Assuming that there was nothing at that time, and that a long period was necessary to develop any weapon at all, we probably knew more about the Blue Streak type of rocket, and it appeared quicker to develop that rocket. Within the limits, that rocket was developed extremely quickly, and I think a word of encouragement to the devoted teams of scientists who developed it and did all the research work should go out from your Lordships' House to-day. I think we should all sympathise with them in the great disappointment which they must feel that the rocket is now scrapped. Because these teams are devoted men who do a great job of work. The fact that the rocket does not lit the pattern of events—not that it is not a good rocket, because it is—is just unfortunate from their point of view.

One could put a proportion of whatever money has been spent to valuable development in a weapons system, as opposed to the actual rocket. One could also say that that is the sum of money necessary to overcome the thoroughness of, not the Americans themselves, but (so it appears to us at times) the unwieldy American political system which takes quite a while to overcome. One may say that Blue Streak is not the best. On the other hand, it is good. Surely it is right when, for one reason or another, the best is probably not available to you, that you should plump for something that is jolly good. It is only now that, luckily, we happen to have the opportunity of obtaining the best without strings. Whatever you like to call the money, I say that you can put it against that achievement. I think that any money spent on the deterrent can be said to be money spent in preventing a world war. However much money one has spent, I do not think one can say that that is not an object of which we should all approve.

I should like to make one other small point—it is a fact in which I think we can take pride. In this atomic age the only nation that has had the guts to drop an H-bomb out of an aeroplane is Great Britain. People have exploded them from towers, from balloons, in mines and in various other ways, but, so far as I am aware—and I think I am right—we are the only people who have had the guts to drop it out of an aeroplane. I happened to have been at Martham shortly afterwards, and I was speaking to one of the pilots who showed me some of the aeroplanes that were used and told the story of the pilot who actually dropped the bomb. I cannot verify the story; I have no other information about it; but I believe the story is quite true and that it is worth repeating. When the pilot who was to drop the bomb made his final run in, his machmeter failed so that he had to go in and try his best. The procedure for dropping a bomb is to go in and to drop the bomb, and then to turn completely round and come back again—one has to turn 360 degrees. This the pilot did. He turned too rapidly, got into a high speed stall and dropped 5,000 feet. Nevertheless, he got away with it. That man had the guts to do that. As far as I know no other nation has done anything of that sort.

We should remember that we in this country still have those chaps behind us. I think it is worth while remarking that "that is that", and that we are now in the lucky position of having a better weapon than we, with our resources, have managed to develop. Therefore I think the decision to scrap the weapon now was courageous and completely right. I am afraid I do not always back the Government 100 per cent., as I ought to do. In this case I do, and I am proud indeed to be able to do so.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I think we have had a most interesting debate this afternoon, and that the speeches which have been made have shown clearly that the Opposition were quite justified in putting their Motion upon the Paper. The speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the First Lord of the Admiralty, was interesting, and I am certain that I shall read it with great interest to-morrow because it will be worth going through again. On the other hand, I felt that there were blanks in his explanation of the course of events which certainly need to be filled in. Because of the way in which the Government in another place failed to answer certain facts, I found it difficult to accept as being practically unchallengeable his presentation of the case as to whether or not the Government should have been able to take their decision earlier in regard to the abolition of Blue Streak.

According to a speech made by Mr. George Brown in another place, on two separate occasions in 1958, at the beginning of the year and in the middle of the year, strong warnings were given about the dangers of going on with this weapon because of its vulnerability. The First Lord will know that, as was pointed out in another place, a Committee was set up to advise the Government about it, I think under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Powell—a man for whom I have a great respect, and one who did a great deal of work for us in the war. Like many other fine civil servants, he graduated from the Admiralty. I know him very well. It seemed that nothing came from that inquiry; there was a slowing up of progress at that time with Blue Streak, but afterwards it was resumed and pushed on with.

It seems that we had no answer in another place as to the reason for suspending Sir Robert Powell's Committee and then bringing them back into service again on this matter. It points to the fact that there were real opportunities for the Government then to take decisions which would have avoided what is the subject of our charge today—namely, that in this business the Government have had to spend a much larger sum of money than they might have done had they taken earlier decisions as to the vulnerability of the sites for what was a developing new carrier for a rocket. We have had no answer to that. In my rather long political life I have seen in various Governments' histories instances where Ministerial resignations have taken place on far less difficult financial situations than this one. That, too, has been pointed out in another place. But in the official statements made there seems to be no sense of guilt in regard to any person in this matter.

As I look back over the last year or two I feel that we have been perfectly correct in following closely what was to happen as the result of the 1957 White Paper. There, as I said in the debate a few months ago, it was perfectly clear that the move towards the development of this kind of ballistic missile was part of the new plan which was presented to the country, in the belief, so firmly expressed by Mr. Duncan Sandys, at that time the Minister of Defence, that this was going to mean an economy—a saving of money. In the first year there was going to be a saving of about £100 million plus, and there was to be a continuing saving of money afterwards. We therefore watched carefully to see whether that would be so, because it would be one of the justifications for the policy outlined in the 1957 White Paper. But, of course, nothing of the kind has happened. The costs of defence go up and up, and security grows less and less. In our Motion before the House to-day we point out this fact. Not only do we call attention to the decision to discontinue the development of the Blue Streak missile and to the considerable expenditure of public funds, but to the new situation created in the national defence plans. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says that there is no new situation. That is what he clearly tried to argue this afternoon. Is that so? At the time of the development of the 1957 White Paper policy we certainly had something in the making which was going to fill the gap in our nuclear defences in the 'sixties. And that has gone; that is discontinued. I am not quarrelling with the decision to discontinue, because I think the Government have been absolutely right to discontinue. My only complaint is that it was not done before; it should have been dropped before.

What have we now in its place? We have, of course, the temporary expedient—and it is a very temporary one—of using the bombers with the present standoff weapon. But it seems to me that with our present bases, before we get any further development of the V-bombers and Blue Steel, we should have to go within quite a limited distance of the target we are aiming at, so that at the present time our bombers thus conveying that weapon will be in grave risk of being shot down, and widely shot down. It will be only when we get the new type of weapon and the latest V-bombers that we shall be able to dispatch our rocket missile from a much longer range, and therefore, though they still will not be absolutely safe, there will be less liability to heavy casualties in that direction.

What have we now? It is proposed to use, when the time comes, the Skybolt. Where is the Skybolt? What is its development? I listened carefully this afternoon to see if the First Lord of the Admiralty would tell us when he expects it. There was no date. We listened carefully for any sort of firm details as to the contract. I want to read again carefully the conditions to which he referred and the assurances about the contract, from which some noble Lords seem to think that all strings are detached. I should like to reassure myself about that once more. It wants very careful reading, and I will do that. But at the present time in place of Blue Streak, which of course it had become quite hopeless to go on with, because of its vulnerability and its ground site, we have a promise that at some time, somewhere, this other weapon, not yet developed, will be supplied, and that because it will be delivered by aircraft it will be less vulnerable than the Blue Streak.

My Lords, I feel very convinced in my own mind that we have been right to bring this question to the notice of the House. The question I ask the Government is: what are you going to do now about your general plan? I rather sensed the feeling in the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty that he had at least an affectionate regard for the Polaris. We could see a sort of feeling, too, that the time when we could produce submarines equipped to dispatch the Polaris missile was a very long way off. We did not hear anything from him about the possible range at which the Polaris could be fired, and whether or not there would be a great deal of vulnerability in the submarine itself. I rather gathered that he feels that the submarine would be much more difficult to detect than some people imagine in those circumstances but certainly the range from which the Polaris missile would be fired from the submarine would be very much less than the kind of range at which, apparently, a Russian missile can be, and would be in the event of warfare, dispatched. So we have no really great answer in the proposal in that connection.

However, in considering the point made not only on this occasion but on the previous occasion by my noble friend Lord Attlee, about the advisability of having mobile bases for the dispatch of these weapons, I hope that a great deal of attention will be paid not only to the possibility of developing dispatch by aircraft, if the Government have a weapon available, but also to continuing examination of the possibility of having mobile bases at sea. If that were done, it might be of very great assistance to us. Certainly we are going to have another debate upon the Navy Estimates later on, and perhaps we can on that occasion ask some more questions on those matters. We may have something more to say then.

In the meantime, the Press of the country have been very anxious to turn upon the Labour Party—and this was referred to, and I thought quite fairly referred to, by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton—and to make it an occasion for saying, "Well, the Labour Party have no leadership; they have departed from all their ordinary tenets in connection with the general defence problem and the like". Of course, that is not true. There is one thing about the Labour Party which is slightly different from the Conservative Party: they have a very important and large annual Party Conference. The Conservative policy decisions very often do not seem to be exactly what is decided in their Party Conference. But in the case of the Labour Party we have to act in these matters upon the actual decisions taken at the Labour Party Conference.

If one casts one's mind back to the Brighton Conference, two years ago, one recalls that Mr. Aneurin Bevan himself made perfectly plain his attitude against any possibility of turning to unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was Mr. Bevan himself who made it perfectly clear. He, quite rightly, was already foreseeing the problems that would face not only the Defence Minister but any Foreign Minister who came to the table where we want to discuss urgently, and I hope effectively, the problem of general disarmament, provided that it is under proper control and inspection. He stated his attitude if he himself, for his country, had to go into the Conference naked—that was the actual word, I think, that he used in his speech at Brighton. So there is no dubiety at all as to where the actual Labour policy stands in this matter until some Labour Conference, having threshed it out in the meantime, come to a further decision.

We have the position into which we have been led since 1957, since the White Paper policy of 1957, and which has now culminated in the essential cancellation—I agree the quite essential cancellation—of the Blue Streak project, which means that we have to think again of what shall be the details of the defence policy of the country in future; and that is as far as we can go upon that. In the meantime, I think we are entitled to register our protest at the manner in which this development of the Blue Streak has proceeded for so long. There were the warnings; there was an opportunity on at least two occasions for revising the project, and for saving a great deal of money. By the way, the First Lord of the Admiralty will agree, I think, that this afternoon he assessed the total cost as £65 million. That was the figure. I put it down carefully as he said it.


My Lords, I said that £65 million had been spent, and that even if you took the £65 million plus the cancellation costs it would not be more than about £100 million.


My Lords, I would say that that is probably right. It seemed to me that the Minister of Defence himself, in another place, accepted pretty well that it was £100 million; and I have seen other estimates of between £120 million and £130 million. I do not say the Minister accepted the latter figure, but it was certainly over £100 million. So we are entitled to register our protest, in those circumstances, when we have many urgent things to do in the financial sphere, and when we ought to be exceedingly careful.

We should also like the Government to consider how this volume of expenditure reacts upon us when we see how our defences have been cut and cut in relation to what is, at least as a money figure, a Budget larger than any we have had since 1947 or 1948, after we got rid of the war expenditure and came down to a peace-time basis. Certainly when I left the Ministry of Defence in 1950 the figure was slightly over £800 million for the year—about £830 million: and when you think of £100 million which goes just like that, and which could very largely have been saved, then I think we are entitled to register our protest at the fact that it was not discovered much earlier that the site for the weapon would be much too vulnerable and that therefore something else had to be done and thought out.

I should like to say two further things. I appreciated what the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, said about the technicians, the scientists and their staffs who have engaged upon these works. And, believe me, my Lords, on this matter of research for defence I do not think that in peace time any Government have made the kind of allocation for this purpose that we decided upon (I think my noble friend Lord Attlee will remember this) in 1946, before we introduced our first White Paper. We decided that we would set aside in the Budget every year a very considerable sum (I think the first sum we set aside was £150 million) for defence research and development; and that total has been constantly increasing since. I have no desire to avoid anything in the way of payment for proper research and development in regard to defence. It is very important that we should be always increasing and improving our technical knowledge, so long as other countries in the world go on rearming. If they go on rearming, we must rearm, too. But I am certain that, at the stage of world history which we have to-day reached, as my noble friend Lord Attlee has said to-night, we need more than ever to go for general disarmament—a general disarmament which is controlled, and which is, for security and safety purposes, subject to inspection. But I think that, however quietly and carefully we have conducted this debate on both sides of the House to-day, it would be only right, in view of this question of expenditure and of what we think has been inefficiency in control of this project, that we should go into the Lobby to vote on this Motion.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat, I personally welcome this debate. It enables us to think, and I hope think logically, under the discipline of a specific decision, about some of the general aspects of our defence policy, and I think we have done so in an atmosphere of complete candour. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, reminded us, that no one who approaches a subject of the extraordinary complexity of defence policy at the present time can do so without a consciousness of oversimplifying the issue. Equally, it remains true, as I think more than one noble Lord has said, that a Government spokesman, in approaching this question, has to be very careful not to compromise security in any way in what he says.

As I ventured to point out when I proposed the adoption of the Defence White Paper at the beginning of March, my own conviction (it is not, I believe, universally shared, but I still adhere to it) is that we all know enough about this subject to be able to debate it in what really amounts to an atmosphere of complete candour. I will not go over again a great deal of what I said then. Both the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, have referred, in terms which I think would have commanded at any rate their general acceptance, to the underlying policy of disarmament and world organisation which I think they will themselves agree I was the first to set forward in my own speech at the beginning of March. But, without in any way going back on any of that, I should think that probably the desire of the House would be that I should confine myself more specifically to the kind of topic revolving around the decision about Blue Streak, which is the subject of the debate that we have before us this afternoon.

Now there have been, both inside the House and outside it, a number of criticisms. No one has suggested in this debate that we were wrong to scrap Blue Streak; I believe I am right in saying that no criticism has been uttered on that score. But I think it is right to remind the House that, for reasons which I will give, this has not been universally true outside it. Sir Frederick Brundrett, before the decision was announced, made it very plain that he would regard the scrapping of Blue Streak as a mistake; and in the other place, if it is not out of order to refer to it (and I think I am in order), the late Minister of Supply, Mr. Aubrey Jones, made it very plain that he, for his part, regretted our decision. I thought I detected in one Labour speaker, Mr. Woodrow Wyatt, a rather similar point of view, less distinctly expressed.

My Lords, I am convinced that our decision to scrap Blue Streak was right; but, if I may say so, I think we have been given rather an easy ride about it in this House to-day, because I would say, with the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, in his speech in March, although not in his speech this afternoon, that the decision to scrap Blue Streak was a matter of highly marginal arguments, for and against. It is perfectly true, as noble Lords have said, that one, at any rate, of the factors which influenced the Government in their desire to do so was the vulnerability of the fixed-site missile. We have said so: and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has rightly said that he drew attention to the weakness of a fixed-site missile as long ago as March, 1958. But I think one can over-estimate the vulnerability of such a missile; because, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, it derives from the vulnerability of this Island, and not from the vulnerability of the missile. Both the Americans and the Russians have gone into fixed-site missiles on a very big scale, and one would think that, in the general context of N.A.T.O. defence, they have a very valuable part to play.

It is true, of course, that this Island is highly vulnerable. What is also true—and I think I can say it without in any way compromising security—is that long before the Blue Streaks in their holes were destroyed by a forestalling attack, this Island would have been virtually uninhabitable—and, for the vast majority of us, after a very much lighter scale of attack. And although one may draw one political or strategic moral or another from that fact, one would have to contemplate a concentration of attack on this Island, before Blue Streak was actually destroyed as a retaliatory weapon, of a far greater order than one would normally think at all likely, even in the worst set of circumstances available. Therefore, I think that one has to face the fact, and one starts from the fact, that the decision to scrap Blue Streak was only a marginal one, and was one which was undertaken because, on balance—after the amendment of the McMahon Act, and after we had subsequently ascertained by a special visit of my right honourable friend to America the availability of Skybolt, at any rate as soon as the Americans had made it effective—it was marginally desirable that Blue Streak should be abandoned in favour of what we considered to be a better alternative.

If I may endorse what my noble friend Lord Teviot said, I would say that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has conducted this debate in the best spirit and in the most moderate manner. He very fairly agreed, although the noble Lord, Lord Rea, did not, that we were right to start the Blue Streak as a project. Apart from the noble Lord, Lord Rea (whose criticism really proceeds from a general view about the position of this country in the world, with which I partly agree but which, I shall hope to show in the course of my argument, is in this context mistaken), there has been no voice raised to suggest that we ought not to have started Blue Streak. On the whole, I think that we were given a fairly easy ride on that.

The decision to start it, like the decision to stop it, was a carefully balanced affair, in which a practical judgment had to take place as between two sets of very evenly balanced arguments. The alternative might have been to go on with the supersonic bomber instead of Blue Streak. In that case we should have spent a great deal more money. The argument against the supersonic bomber was that it would have been most vulnerable at the time it came into production. Incidentally, in order to answer at this juncture, the logically right point, the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that is the objection against the second version of Blue Steel. Its vulnerability, considered on balance—but only on balance—is excessive at the point of time at which it would be likely to come into operation.

We decided that we must go into the ballistic missile field. Again, nobody in the course of the debate has suggested that if, in 1955, we were going into the ballistic missile field, the Blue Streak was other than the only kind of missile which at that time was available for us to go for. I know it is said that we stuck to it a great deal too long. I cannot see at what point of time the Opposition claim it would have been a reasonable decision to scrap Blue Streak, on the argument which I have tried to indicate, anterior to the point at which we actually did scrap it. Of course, the decision to do so has cost money. Clearly, the earlier you scrap a weapon which is not ultimately going to be used, the less money you spend. But, in these matters of terrific moment, clearly we ought not to have scrapped it until after my right honourable friend had gone to America and received the assurances which he did receive relating to the Skybolt, which was possible because the American Congress, within their own sovereign rights, had earlier decided to amend the McMahon Act. I should have thought that we would have laid ourselves open to a wide charge of irresponsibility if we had decided to scrap Blue Streak, although of course we knew, as the Opposition knew, that it had this vice of vulnerability, before we had worked out some kind of alternative which would take the place of the present combination of V-Bomber and stand off bomb at the time when that combination became unduly vulnerable.

I should say, with respect, that if my argument has been valid up to this point, so far from being given over to criticism, what this debate has established is that the right decision was taken at the right time.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount saying that if the Skybolt was not now to be available, we should continue to persevere with the Blue Streak?


My Lords, I am not quite sure that I understand that question. What I was saying was that it would have been irresponsible to scrap the Blue Streak until we had received the degree of assurance which we have now received about Skybolt. That, at any rate, is not hypothetical. I cannot see anything which has happened in this debate which has in any way detracted from the validity of the argument I now put forward.


My Lords, if we had not received that assurance about the American Skybolt, would the Government have still gone on with the Blue Streak?


My Lords, the decision to scrap the Blue Streak was deliberately not taken until after we had received that assurance. Of course, I am quite unable to say what would have happened, in the hypothetical event, had we not received it. The point is that we did receive it and we took a decision, which I am now defending as right. And I do not understand that that decision is in question before any of your Lordships to-day. What the charge (as the Opposition are pleased to call it) is alleged to be is that we ought to have done it a long time before. Therefore, I feel that I have presented an argument which deserves attention in this connection—namely, that the debate really establishes that we did what we did rightly and at the right time.

This leads me back to one or two more general questions. Perhaps I should start with this point, which was very well made by my noble and gallant friend Lord Bridgeman. We start with the same kind of technological background to all our decisions, whatever they may be. An industrialist wrote to me the other day in connection with quite a different matter. He was not writing about either the Blue Streak or any specific strategic project. He said that in any great industrial undertaking to-day, once a decision to proceed is taken, a project team of scientists has to be put on it and in about seven years you may get something which works, and about five years later (that was his figure, three would be the figure in relation to the Blue Streak) you might begin commercial production of what had been planned twelve years before. It is perfectly obvious that, when dealing with modern technology, you are bound to come to a certain number of decisions to proceed.

If we want this country to be in the field at all, and I am sure the great majority of people of this Island do have that wish, we have to come to a great number of decisions which, by the time production is arrived at, will mean production in a world totally different from that which saw their conception. Therefore, surely, what has to be done is what we are trying to do in this debate, on both sides of the House: to come to a decision knowing that large sums of money are going to be spent on absolutely pioneering technologies, but keeping these projects under review year after year in order to see that money is not thrown away and that the situation which gave rise to the need has not disappeared. I have tried to indicate the reasons why the first moment at which it could logically be said that the situation which had given rise to the need had disappeared is exactly the moment at which the decision has been taken.

But this leads me to another set of reflections which affords yet another reason for welcoming this debate this afternoon. There has been in this House, in another place and out of doors, a great deal of legitimate inquiry about the phrase "an independent deterrent"—and, of course, I have my own interpretation of these words. I think that nothing but good can come out of a close scrutiny of the ideas underlying those words, and I will endeavour to give the House my own feelings about them. If by "an independent deterrent" were meant a deterrent of such size and destructive power that by the use of it alone we could hope to engage one of the great Powers in the world on our own with a hope of victory, then I would say that we have never had, and are not likely to have, in my judgment, an independent deterrent in that sense. But I do not think anybody supposes that that is the true objective. What we have at the moment is a significant part of the Western deterrent under our own control; something, that is to say, which could in theory and in law, although perhaps not in practice, be used without any other nation exercising control over us. The bombers are British developed, British designed, British equipped with a British bomb, British controlled and British paid for; and in that sense the deterrent is independent now.

When those bombs become obsolete, what then? At this point the noble Lord, Lord Rea, says: "We, the Liberal Party, have a grand policy". What the policy is I have listened on many occasions with a view to trying to find out, and I have never been wholly able to understand it; and nor, I think, have the Party opposite. But the charge which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, makes against up is that we ought never to have considered Blue Streak; it was, to use his own phrase, lapsing for once from his usual moderation, "madness to do so". The reason, I am told by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that we were mad to do so was not the kind of technical reason which I have been discussing hitherto, but the broad proposition that we have to realise that in the modern world the position of this country is something different from in the nationalistic past. With the general premise of that argument I wholly agree. Nobody who belongs to the Party of Sir Winston Churchill or the present Prime Minister—and believe me, I am not trying to make a Party speech in any way—could possibly put forward any other view than that, in the context of the modern world, the great countries, our own and other people's, are absolutely interdependent upon one another. They are interdependent in peace to an extent probably greater than they yet realise, and would be interdependent in war if there were to be a conflict between East and West.

But the question which then arises is: what are the acceptable moral, political and economic conditions of the alliance? This is where I think, with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and his friends, have not really worked out the implications. In the first place, I imagine that the noble Lord would agree with me absolutely that it was quite morally unacceptable to say to our Allies, the Americans: "We know that there are a lot of people who find moral difficulty about the nuclear weapon; there are a lot of people who think with their feet rather than with their heads and march from one spot to another. The thing is difficult for us. Therefore you have got to do it." Quite clearly, if any part of the West is morally going to rely on the deterrent, we, as part of the West, must face our own moral responsibility. I start from that proposition. It is not a way out of moral or political difficulties to say to the Americans: "You do it instead of us." That would be disgraceful and quite unworthy of a country of the dignity and pride of ours.

The second thing I would say to the noble Lord, with all humility, is this. What are the political consequences of an alliance between ourselves—that is to say, Europe; and we are part of Europe—and the Americans? Is it ultimately to the advantage of either side that although the rest of our forces should be, at any rate in law, as they are, under our own control for the purpose of giving to or taking away from the Alliance, or using or not using (of course, we know that in practice they are not, because consultation is the rule and we should desire to keep that so; but in law they are under our control—Her Majesty's Brigade of Guards is under her control), the Alliance as between ourselves and the Americans should be classified in two grades, and that in certain conditions the Americans should have a veto and should control weapons which our forces should use? Is that an ultimately healthy political condition in which the Alliance can continue indefinitely?

I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Rea, to consider another question which is closely allied to it. What are the economic conditions in which the Alliance is to continue? Is it going to be said that every time there is a novel piece of technology—and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has reminded us of how many novel pieces of technology revolve round this particular weapon—the Americans are going to make it and we are not? If that is the proposition, then the noble Lord must realise what the consequences are going to be. The consequences will be that over a whole range of technologies, which will have their peaceful applications no less than their strategic ones, America will be streets ahead of every other industrial country in the world, and we shall ultimately take our place in the backwater, manufacturing Scotch whisky and motor cars. Maybe that is what the noble Lord desires; but I doubt it. If there are novel technologies, they must be shared between the Allies, and the burden of making them must be shared in some proportion. I say that it is wholly irresponsible to put forward a general point which disputes that kind of position.

This, therefore, is what I would say about the independent deterrent. When the V-bombers as at present equipped become obsolescent we shall have a deterrent which, although not British-made, will be under British control; and we are not, I hope, out of business technologically in the industrial world of the future. It would be, I think, wholly repugnant to the position of this country, and probably fatal to its economic future, if we continued, as many people do, to over-estimate the wealth of the Americans. The Americans are, unless I am mistaken—and I am speaking now after the debate without the exact figures at my control—spending at this moment about 11 per cent. of their gross national product either upon foreign aid or upon defence, which for this purpose must be regarded in the same part. Our own figure is about 8 per cent. That is more than any other of the Western Allies, except the French, whose position is not really comparable because of the situation in Algeria.

I would say to the noble Lord and his friends—and I know how moderate and statesmanlike he is in his approaches to this question—that the kind of opinion which the less responsible among them are constantly putting forward, that if there is anything rather expensive or rather difficult or rather disagreeable to be done the Americans should do it and not we ourselves, is one which would be ultimately disastrous for this country.


Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount. As always, and like other Members of your Lordships' House, I am glad to hear his logical reasoning, but while he has been speaking I have been looking at what was said by the Minister of Aviation in the debate in another place. He said: [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 622 (No. 101), col. 336]: I have, in fact, from the very start been consistently trying to substitute an American weapon for Blue Streak so as to save money. For the reasons which I have explained, this has now become feasible for the first time. If the noble Viscount is correct we are turning our backs on certainly our independent development of that technology which he so prizes.


No, my Lords: I do not think so. I do not want to go back on to what was said in another place, but as the noble Lord sees the way in which my argument is developing I think he will see that I am not liable to that charge of inconsistency.

It is, of course, true—and I want to say this absolutely plainly—that if, for good strategic reasons, an American weapon which is available to us comes into operation at any given point of time, it would not be a respectable argument to say that we should not get that American weapon because we wanted to move in the world of technology, because this would defeat the whole purpose of defence. I moved from that line of technical argument, upon which I had hoped to carry the noble Lord with me, to the more general conception which was given from the Liberal Benches, which have consistently in this House represented in some form or another what they call the abandonment of the individual deterrent. I was asking them to think again a little more closely through their kind of general approach to the matter, and I was not addressing myself to the particular subject of Sky-bolt and Polaris, of which the noble Lord quite rightly reminded me.

This has been a lengthy debate, and there is only one other topic I would wish to handle at all. Again I must apologise for any logical or oratorical deficiencies in this speech, because I deliberately set myself to listen to the debate, and to the many interesting contributions which have been made to it, before I prepared any kind of reply. I thought that in this particular case, at any rate, it would probably be more appreciated if I did so. If I do not mention all the excellent speeches from either side, I hope that the noble Lords will forgive me, although I am sure the House would like to join me in congratulating my noble friend Lord Teviot on his 86th birthday. I hope that when I am 86 I shall be able to make as vigorous and forceful a contribution to a debate. Perhaps in about 25 years' time I shall be telling the House how I enjoyed the debate on Blue Streak in 1960. Whether it will be as vigorous or as relevant as that pungent reference to Lord Roberts, I can only speculate.

The other subject upon which I wish to touch is in response to what was an invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I know he will forgive me if I point out that there was, I think, a fundamental inconsistency in some of his arguments. He committed himself, as the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition committed himself, to the view that the only charge against the Government was that we had abandoned the project too late; not that we had abandoned it, and not that we ought not to have started it, but that we had abandoned it too late, and that, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition alleged, we had spent too much money. That may or may not be a valid charge. I have answered it as best I can, and the House must judge between the Government and the Opposition on that view. But there is one thing which certainly cannot be said about it. The charge that we ought to have abandoned Blue Streak some years before at some unspecified date—which is the present charge—cannot live with the criticism the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, made: that its abandonment was in fact a disaster and a blow to national prestige.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, not content with that went on to tell a pitiful tale of the good scientists whose technology was going to be thrown away. The noble Lord cannot have it both ways. If we ought to have abandoned it before, the technology would have been lost before; and so far from having saved any money, if I were to respond to the noble Lord's invitation to spend some money on space research with this same vehicle, what becomes of the argument of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that so much money has been spent in vain? Because, whatever may be in dispute, one thing is abundantly certain; and that is that almost every penny spent so far, apart from the guidance system, would have been incurred anyway if we were going to shoot the Blue Streak up into space to send a satellite revolving round the world. The truth of the matter is that there is a fundamental schizophrenia in the Opposition at the present time. They are very keen to criticise what they believe to have been a mistake, but the arguments by which they seek to support their criticism are really mutually destructive.

I therefore turn to the more congenial and constructive theme of whether this vehicle might be of some use in space research. I cannot tell your Lordships a great deal about it this evening, but there are one or two fundamental things which I think I can usefully say now which may assist noble Lords, when the time comes, to discuss it at greater length. When the optical telescope was invented we reached a stage in science when a whole new world became available to our eyes. The discoveries of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries really stemmed from the discovery of that instrument. They have slowed up since, although there are certain developments, into which I will not enter, which may indicate a new era of discovery even for the optical telescope.

But now that, for the first time, partly by the radio telescope and partly by the possibility of satellites, we can get outside the earth's atmosphere by instruments (and it may be, in due course, by man), we may be in an exactly similar position as regards fundamental physical and astronomical knowledge as the position in which our ancestors were in the days of Kepler and Newton. Therefore, it is wrong to say that there is no useful work to be done in the way of space research; and it is quite wrong to think that if we go in for space research we are necessarily making an unnecessary duplication or imitation of what American or Russian scientists may do. That might be true one day, but there may be 200 or 300 years of work to be done first, and it may well be that some of the hitherto unknown secrets of the universe, and even perhaps of life, might be the result of such work. Of course, one cannot say for sure that this will all have a practical application. One cannot say that about any form of absolute or pure research. But, if experience is any guide, experience would indicate that there will be undreamed of practical applications which I could not be called upon to specify.

Of course, such work has to be approached with extreme cautiousness. It is something hitherto unthought of that a Government speaker at the Despatch Box should solemnly discuss the spending of what might be millions of pounds of public money, at a time when there are many urgent human calls upon the public purse, and upon the taxpayers' private purse, in sending a piece of metal into space to revolve round the planet. If it were done, it would be something we should have to justify in relation to other calls upon our expenditure. But it is a great mistake to think that there is no work which could be done, even though scientific opinion in general would not at present support, from the point of view of pure science, a vastly disproportionate expenditure on space experiments.

There is also the question, on which I should like to say a word, as to whether anything we may do should be based on a national or an international effort, and to what extent—although this is, of course, not a fundamentally scientific, but a fundamentally political and general question. Our present space experiments, as your Lordships will remember, have been concerned with British Skylark rockets, with Australian help in certain experiments. Our next part of the programme is tied to international co-operation with the Americans based on the Scout rocket. Of course, if, for reasons which I would indicate, it became advisable or desirable to institute further and bigger experiments with the Blue Streak or the Blue Streak-Black Knight combination, one of the first things that would be in our minds would be whether this might not be one of the more co-operative enterprises which would achieve in peace, and by peaceful means, exactly the same kind of integration between great countries, that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, was advocating in his speech.

I know that my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation made some statement about this in another place yesterday. I was myself in Brussels last week, and I had some informal contacts there in the course of a meeting with some of the officials of the O.E.E.C. Noble Lords may like to know that only last Friday some of the scientists (including Professor Auger, known to same) were over here discussing matters with the Royal Society. I know that they have had informal discussions and that the feeling of the scientists, although I understood they did not commit their Government, was that they would strongly welcome a European co-operative project in space research, which could obviously be coupled with the activity of this country and of the Commonwealth, particularly of Australia, if the Woomera Range were used.

All these things need very careful consideration, because to my mind the question of the use of Blue Streak on space research is based not so much on the pure science which might emerge from it as upon the technology; and the technology is, I would say, far more difficult to assess—the technology of having our own or a European rocket vehicle. If we give up Blue Streak for this purpose we shall indeed be out of business in the design and development of large rockets. This, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would have important secondary effects on the rate of progress in other fields of technology—for example, electronics, metallurgy and telecommunications. How serious those secondary effects would be is, I think, extremely difficult to assess. At present it is not apparent that the results would be serious, and this is certainly so in the short term. Our scientific effort at the moment is fully deployed, and a switch would not necessarily be disastrous. But it would be foolish to take the short-term view of such a matter. In 1900, the short term would have shown no immediate advantage from public expenditure on aircraft. But if experience is any guide there are almost always important commercial and military applications of any new discovery, and they are always followed by technological discoveries of much wider and more flexible use than otherwise thought.

Many other things have to be taken into account before we can abandon this project. Clearly, the decision cannot be one of first impression; it must depend on careful appreciation of the scientific and technological factors involved. That is why we are undertaking close dis- cussions with the industries and scientists concerned before we make up our mind. I added these comments to my speech rather out of consideration to that part of Lord Shackleton's speech which dealt with the possibilities of Blue Streak in space research, and I do not think the House would desire that I should say any more on that topic to-day.

My Lords, I would close by saying this. Nobody can complain at all of the spirit in which this Motion has been moved, or of the tone of the speeches. Whether the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition is wise to take it to a Division at the end it is perhaps not for me to say. The noble Viscount is old enough to be my grandmother, and far be it from me to instruct him in those operations in which grandmothers are traditionally supposed to be proficient. I would only say that if one were trying to take Party advantage in this debate, which we are not, the noble Viscount renders himself open to devastating retort in this respect, because there has never been a Party in quite such disarray about these complex and difficult matters as the Party of which he is a noble ornament.

Nor do I think many noble Lords will be impressed by his plea that, before we can have anything from the Oracle of Delphi, we must wait for another Labour Party Conference. It is true, of course, that all great Parties are influenced by, perhaps governed by, Party Conferences; but Members of Parliament, leaders of Parties in Parliament, leaders of Parties in the House of Lords and in the House of Commons, cannot abdicate the duty of leadership and guidance simply by relying on their Party Conferences. The noble Viscount can, of course, press this Motion to a Division at this moment; he is well entitled to do so. I hope that my arguments, however, will have had some effect upon him. They were designed to have a certain logical impact, and I hope he will consider them before he actually makes up his mind. But if he does make up his mind in favour of dividing the House, I can only say I think it is a very great pity that somebody who lives in a house composed so obviously of brittle crystal should endeavour to throw stones at the Government on a matter of this kind.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, the House is grateful that at least the noble Viscount has "gone off", even if Blue Streak is not to explode in similar fashion. I shall not detain your Lordships. Nor shall I allow the noble Viscount to ride off into space and escape the consequences of the folly of the Government on earth. I personally am grateful for the words used by the noble Viscount with regard to the possibilities of space research. But it will not be as a result of the wisdom of the Government but by sheer chance that we have a weapon, an instrument, which is so useless that we are able to turn it into another purpose. That is not due to the foresight of the Government.


The noble Lord really must not mis-state the case. No country on earth, neither the Russians nor the Americans nor ourselves, could put a satellite into orbit except by using the technology and development which they have got from what they have spent on their Defence Budgets.


The noble Viscount is perfectly correct. The only thing is that the Government never intended this instrument for this purpose. This would be the occasion on which I would withdraw my Motion if my noble friends and I had been convinced by the Government spokesmen. May I give two reasons why in fact I think it is right to press this matter to a Division? We have still had no clear explanation as to the time and the reason why this cancellation has been made now. The noble Viscount rode off on the question of Skybolt. Even at this late stage we should have liked to know whether, if Skybolt had not come along, the Government would have persevered with Blue Streak. We should also like to know what the independent contribution to the deterrent is. The noble Viscount said he could explain what he thought the independent deterrent was, but whether his explanation would remove the semantic confusion which was shown by the noble Lord, the First Lord of the Admiralty—and I apologise for interrupting him as I did—I do not know. All we know from the noble Viscount is that the independent deterrent is something which you have under your control and which you can use in theory and in law, but not in practice; and for that reason we shall vote against the Government to-day.