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Thermo-Nuclear Weapons (Control)

Volume 531: debated on Thursday 28 October 1954

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asked the Prime Minister what action Her Majesty's Government propose to take in view of the fact that, under the official policy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, control of the atom and hydrogen bomb has now been transferred from political to military control.

The right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. There is no basis for the assumption that control of the atom and hydrogen bomb has been transferred from political to military control. There has been no change in the arrangements for political consultation on the use of these weapons between Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government either directly or through N.A.T.O., to which I referred in my statement on 23rd March this year.

I am sure that the whole House will be delighted to know that political control of these weapons will be maintained. Do I then understand from the answer which the Prime Minister has given that the statement recently made by Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, in which he indicated that it was not a question that these weapons might be used but that they would definitely be used if we were attacked, was an irresponsible one; that it did not reflect the policy of S.H.A.P.E., of which he is a servant; and, if that is the case, will the Prime Minister make the proper representations to S.H.A.P.E. to make sure that its servants—whom we cannot question in this House—indicate the policy of S.H.A.P.E. as determined by the political heads of States?

I do not think I will add to the answer I have given at this moment. I think the House should be kept informed of the various aspects of this overwhelming question as they arise, and what I have said indicates correctly the position at this moment.

Can we take it that the Prime Minister's assurance applies also to tactical atomic weapons, such as the atomic artillery now in Germany and Okinawa? Can the Prime Minister indicate how the political control will work, since the whole organisation of the Army has been founded on the use of these tactical weapons?

Yes, it is quite true that these tactical weapons have been issued, and that amongst these tactical weapons is included the control of the Tactical Air Force, but that is in a different position from the general control of the strategic employment of nuclear weapons. But I really would not feel inclined to go into these definitions by way of a supplementary answer. I will do my best at some future time to explain the position to the House, but it presently stands exactly as in the answer I gave to the Question of the right hon. Gentleman.

In his consideration of the matter, will the right hon. Gentleman pay particular attention to the words used by Viscount Montgomery, as reported in "The Times," that they were basing all their operational planning on using atomic and thermo-nuclear weapons in their defence, and that this called for a certain reorganisation of their forces and in their strategy? Will the right hon. Gentleman give particular study to those words?

Yes, Sir. I thought that they had been rather carefully chosen. They were:

"I want to make it absolutely clear that we at S.HA.P.E. are basing all our operational planning on using atomic and thermonuclear weapons in our defence."
That might justify the planning, but it would not imply a claim for the authority, although I could not at all say what would happen if a surprise and treacherous attack were suddenly to break out upon us.

Are we to take it from the questions which have been raised by the Opposition that their policy is to announce to would-be aggressors—in advance of aggression taking place—that we would not hit back with all that we possess?

I do not want to develop any differences that may possibly arise about this matter. I think that we are all in the same boat.