HL Deb 25 October 1962 vol 243 cc517-24

11.5 a.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a statement which is being made by the Prime Minister in another place, and I will say it in his own words.

"On Monday, October 22, President Kennedy, in a personal message and through the United States Ambassador in London, made clear to me his deep concern about the Soviet development of Cuba as a formidable base for offensive ballistic missiles. It is, of course, true that the United States authorities had known for some time of the location of a number of surface-to-air missile sites in Cuba: but these missiles, even though carrying nuclear warheads, may be regarded as of a defensive nature.

"Very recently, however, a number of medium range ballistic—or ground-to-ground—missile sites have been definitely identified in Cuba. Reports from all American intelligence sources confirm that at least 30 missiles are already present in Cuba. Such missiles, with their range of over a thousand miles, could reach a large area of the United States, including Washington and nearly the whole of Central America and the Caribbean, including the Panama Canal. In addition, sites for intermediate range ballistic missiles with an operational range of 2,200 nautical miles have been identified. Further sites for both types of missiles are being constructed. All these missiles are designed to carry, and must be presumed to carry, nuclear bombs. In addition, Russia has supplied Cuba with IL 28 aircraft, of which over twenty have been definitely identified. These bombers are of course offensive and not defensive weapons.

"Neither the Soviet Union nor the Cuban Government appear to have denied these facts. In addition it is believed that there are at least 5,000 Soviet military technicians already on the island. These facts, which are fully established on the basis of the evidence provided, serious though they are in themselves, took on a more sinister character because of the previous history of this affair. The House may recall that, on September 4 and 14, President Kennedy issued solemn warnings about the build-up of offensive weapons in Cuba and that, on September 11, the Official Soviet News Agency, Tass, said, and I quote: 'the armaments and military equipment sent to Cuba are designed exclusively for defensive purposes ' and that 'there is no need for the Soviet Union to shift its weapons…for a retaliatory blow to any other country, for instance, Cuba.' "That amounted to an official disclaimer by the Soviet Government. In addition, as recently as October 18, Mr. Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister, explicitly speaking on the instructions of his Government, assured President Kennedy in person that Soviet assistance to Cuba was of a purely defensive character. At that very moment, circumstantial evidence to the contrary was accumulating.

"In view of the President's pledge that the United States would take measures to oppose the creation of offensive military power in Cuba, the Russian action, contrary to their categorical assurances, to develop this power can only be regarded as a deliberate adventure designed to test the ability and determination of the United States. The President no doubt formed the view, and in my judgment rightly, that to have accepted this would throw doubt on America's pledges in all parts of the world and expose the entire free world to a new series of perils.

"The House is well aware of the action so far taken by the President of the United States in this situation, both in the area of Cuba itself and in the Security Council of the United Nations. As regards the area of Cuba, the measures announced in the President's proclamation are designed to meet a situation that is without precedent. Moreover, it cannot be said that these measures are extreme; indeed, they are studiously moderate in that the President has only declared certain limited types of war material, not even all armaments, to be prohibited. The armaments specified are: surface-to-surface missiles, bomber aircraft, bombs, air-to-surface rockets, and guided missiles, together with their warheads and equipment. None of the categories specified in the President's proclamation could honestly be described as defensive.

"In the Security Council, the United States representative has made a strong appeal for a resolution which calls for the dismantling and withdrawal from Cuba of all nuclear missiles and offensive weapons and for international supervision of this process by a United Nations Observer Corps. The resolution also urgently recommends that the United States and the Soviet Union should confer promptly on measures to remove the existing threat to the security of the Western Hemisphere and the peace of the world, and to report thereon to the Security Council.

"As the House knows, Sir Patrick Dean, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, gave his support to this resolution. I understand that the discussion in the Security Council has been adjourned until today.

"Meanwhile, as the House will have heard, the Acting Secretary-General, U Thant, has addressed a message in identical terms to President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev. He has also sent, I am informed, a message to the Cuban Government. U Thant's proposal is that there should be a voluntary suspension on behalf of the Russians of all arms shipments to Cuba, and at the same time a suspension of the quarantine measures involving the search of ships. His appeal to the Cuban Government adds the suggestion that the construction and development of the military facilities and installations should toe suspended, all these measures to last for a period of two to three weeks in order to give time for the parties concerned to meet and discuss with a view to finding a peaceful solution of the problem.

"I am not yet in a position to inform the House of any replies from any of the three Governments to whom the Acting Secretary-General has addressed his messages. The British Government are of course concerned that this new threat to security should toe dealt with as rapidly as possible and will add their support to any measures genuinely leading to that end. They trust also that based upon some alleviation of the present state of tension it might be possible to move into a wider field of negotiation. Nevertheless, I think what has happened in the last few weeks must confirm our view that in these grave matters we cannot rest upon mere words and promises. These need, if they are to restore confidence, to be independently verified and confirmed."

11.16 a.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the Foreign Secretary for at this stage, and following the example of the Prime Minister, giving us this comprehensive statement. It is as well for all of us to remember on such occasions as this how vastly important it is to choose our words. The repercussions from such a grave occurrence in international affairs might be so very serious that I am hopeful we shall all be very careful indeed. I think that in the statement the Foreign Secretary has been careful this morning not to do anything which would make the situation more immediately dangerous than otherwise would be the case.

The action which clearly seems to have been taken over recent months by the Russian Government has led to a discovery by Mr. Kennedy and his Government of facts which one can well understand would bring very grave anxiety not only to the President but to the whole of the United States population and, indeed, to many other American countries with whom the United States of America have long been in close association by treaty and practice. Therefore, whereas in some cases a good deal has been made of what has been fairly spasmodic criticism of the President's action by groups in this country and elsewhere, I think we must all clearly understand the gravity with which the whole of the American hemisphere would regard the increased danger to them of any aggressive act in nuclear power in that area. So it is while thinking of those facts that one looks to try to form some judgment.

And yet the whole earth must be very concerned as to what would be the position if a break came officially between these two great Powers, the United States of America and the U.S.S.R., at this time and in view of the kind of position which was claimed by the U.S.S.R. in the message of September: that there was no need for them, from their point of view, to have to put missiles of this kind into Cuba because they could cover all their own defence from the provisions which they have made from Russia itself.

I am sure that everybody is anxious that we should have such understanding created as will enable a halt to be made and restraint to be exercised and give time for an independent inquiry as to the facts which have been outlined to the world so far only by the President and his Government—facts which I have no reason to dispute at all. But the line taken in the United Nations and by a certain large and important group of neutralist countries, of having direct inspection upon the spot, is one which we can surely accept as being reasonable; and we can go on and say, as my own Party did in a statement made yesterday after a full national executive meeting, that we hope on both sides, in the interests of peace—and perhaps using words which came towards the end of the Foreign Secretary's statement this morning—to have a situation created in which we can move on from the very threatening and grave crisis we have been in this week to further, more progressive and foundational steps towards general disarmament. There may be an opportunity at this time of making greater progress in this direction than one could possibly tell.

There will, of course, be all kinds of criticisms upon this and other points at the present time. I myself would prefer to concentrate upon doing what we can as a nation, while I hope influencing our Commonwealth to do the same, to get the kind of pause and inquiry which was asked for by the Acting Secretary- General of the United Nations Organisation yesterday and which I gather from the Foreign Secretary is to be further discussed in the United Nations Organisation. What I am absolutely certain about is that if this goes too far in the present state of the world, there can be no adequate prophecy as to what the disaster would reach.

11.20 a.m.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to agree with what the noble Viscount has said. It is early and I think it would be perhaps injudicious to try to analyse too far what has happened. Things are not yet clear, but we are clear that there has been a sad set-back and blow to our faith and confidence in what we all hoped was more idealism than has been shown to be existing. I agree with the noble Viscount that surely our duty now is to back up the peaceful negotiation in every way we possibly can through the United Nations, and to ascertain that there should in future, if possible, be more conferences before any action.


My Lords, since British ships may be involved, may I ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether he could give us an indication as to the legality in International Law of the proposed quarantine or blockade?


My Lords, questions in this House are directed to Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will induce the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to reply or, if he is not prepared to do so at this moment, whether any of them can do so?


My Lords, if I may say so, it was very characteristic of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that he should have treated (these issues in a very broad and statesmanlike way. He has recognised the grave anxiety of the people of the United States, as I think we all recognise what a new threat to that continent this is. It is the concern of many nations far outside the United States of America. I would say, on the facts, that the photographs have been examined by our own experts, who are satisfied that the interpretation put upon them by the Americans is right. But, of course, the noble Viscount is also quite right that it would be far better if there were international inspection on the spot of what was actually going on; and not only that, of course, but a guarantee that the construction of the offensive sites for these missiles would also be halted. I hope that this kind of proposal will be taken account of in the United Nations when the discussions are resumed and by the Secretary-General. As I have said, there has been no reply from Mr. Khrushchev or the President or from the Prime Minister of Cuba to U Thant.

I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, the Leader of the Liberal Party in this House. I will, of course, keep the House informed next week as to what is happening. As to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, I think I should be right in prophesying that there will be endless arguments between all the lawyers as to whether this action of the United States is illegal or not. Indeed, I should doubt whether there has been an exact precedent to this, because I do not know that there is any code of international law which can deal with a massive act of duplicity which brings to bear on a country a grave threat to its security. But we may debate these matters no doubt at more leisure on the Queen's Speech. In the meantime, on the question of British shipping, we know that British ships will not carry arms and, therefore, I anticipate no difficulties so far as British shipping is concerned, after the American action.


My Lords, as the Foreign Secretary's statement has been awaited anxiously by the whole of the country, I think he would agree with me that it would be wrong at this stage not to answer certain questions which are in the minds of many people and that the utmost frankness is needed now. As he has emphasised the importance of sites and the nature of missiles, would he not at this stage tell the whole country what is the nature and the potentialities of the missiles which the Soviet Union have put here—I am sorry, which the United States have placed here? Do not let us here ignore the fact that this is a question which is being asked all over the country; and not to answer it is, of course, inviting confusion and unhappiness at this very critical time.


My Lords, I thought I had given an account of the number of missiles and the range of the missiles. If I can add anything on the explosive power of the missiles then, of course, any further details I can give I will certainly do so. Normally each of these sites has, I understand, four launchers, and this means an initial salvo capacity of 32 missiles—have I misunderstood the noble Lady?


The noble Earl has misunderstood me. The question that is being asked everywhere is how does this action of the Soviet Union in Cuba compare with the action of the United States here? As the Foreign Secretary dealt in detail with the potentiality of the missiles in Cuba, would he tell the country what are the missiles, and their potentialities, placed here by the United States?


My Lords, I think we can go into all these matters when we come to debate these things more widely. What the noble Lady is really raising is the question of the comparability of bases.




The Warsaw Pact and the N.A.T.O. Pact have for many years been lined up against each other on a recognised front. I think the point about this is that this is deliberately opening up a new area of instability and putting nuclear weapons of great power into a new part of the world, threatening not only the United States, but the Caribbean and South America as well. I think we had better leave this. I will bear in mind what the noble Lady has said and when we come to debate these matters next week perhaps I can say something more on this subject.

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