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Nuclear Weapons

Volume 641: debated on Sunday 7 May 1961

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20.

asked the Minister of Defence, in view of his speech to Western European Union on 1st June, if he will say in what circumstances Her Majesty's Government would decide to use the nuclear weapon first.

I have been asked to reply.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has made clear on a number of occasions, we do not think it in the best interests of defence to disclose to a possible aggressor the circumstances in which nuclear weapons might be used.

Did not the Minister of Defence say at Western European Union that in the event of an attack by an aggressor with superior conventional forces we should retaliate with a nuclear weapon? The Minister has mentioned the statement made by the Deputy Defence Minister of the United States. Has he not said that if conventional forces of a superior character are used against them they intend to unleash the nuclear weapon? Do I understand that that is the policy? Does it indicate a change?

I will answer the last part of the supplementary question first There is no change in the Government's policy. If the right hon. Gentleman studies my reply, I am sure that he of all people would agree with it. I am not willing to discuss hypothetical matters nor to disclose information which might be of value to a potential enemy.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be the height of folly, having possessed ourselves of a deterrent, to say that we would not use it until that event which we seek to deter had taken place?

Why does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that I am asking him to disclose information when, if the Press reports are correct—and as far as I know they have not been challenged—his right hon. Friend said categorically at Western European Union that in the event of an attack by an aggressor with superior conventional forces we should unleash the nuclear weapon?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would read my right hon. Friend's speech.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has one, I imagine. If not, I will send the right hon. Gentleman a copy. My right hon. Friend made no mention of this at all in his speech. In answer to a question after his speech, my right hon. Friend gave a reply which was purely a repetition and similar to many previous statements which he has made on this subject.

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that we could defend Berlin by conventional weapons? What would be left of Berlin if we tried to defend it with nuclear weapons?

I do not think that this was a question of defending Berlin. We are here discussing the Western European Union and the speech which my right hon. Friend made in the context of N.A.T.O. strategy. That does not affect Berlin.

According to the Press, what the right hon. Gentleman said is fairly clear. But does it matter in these days what one says, because nobody will believe what is said one way or the other? What seems to be important is the posture taken. We have forces which are being trained, disposed and organised to operate with atomic artillery, and have not adequate artillery for any other purpose, and which are quite inadequate in numbers for a conventional rôle. By that are we not saying very much more emphatically what my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) suggested was said by the Minister of Defence?

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it does not matter what one says because no one is going to believe it. But it does matter that I shall say nothing, and I am not going to say anything.