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Fighter Command

Volume 640: debated on Wednesday 10 May 1961

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asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement on the arrangements which have now been made to implement the decision placing Royal Air Force Fighter Command under the direct orders of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence explained the general position to the House on 12th April. Staff discussions are proceeding on the detailed arrangements which flow from the assignment.

Is it now the position that a foreign commander, from his headquarters in France, can order British fighter aircraft to intercept other aircraft in the vicinity of British territory and therefore commit an act of war, without consulting Her Majesty's Government?

This is part of a general N.A.T.O. decision and it is in the general interest of the West that the defence of N.A.T.O. in Europe should be as efficient as possible. A unified system in needed to achieve this. As for our purely national position, closer co-ordination with the European warning system is bound to be of value, and this fact must not be left out of the thoughts of the hon. Member.

Will the Minister answer my question? It is of vital importance to know whether a foreign commander can commit British forces to hostile acts.

S.A.C.E.U.R. has the responsibility of deciding what orders shall be given under certain circumstances. The main point is that we still maintain the right to control our Fighter Command force in this country, and only in the context of the general requirement of S.A.C.E.U.R. would it be brought into action.