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United States Secretary For Defence (Discussions)

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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25 and 31.

asked the Minister of Defence (1) if he will make a statement on his conversations with Mr. McNamara, the United States Defence Secretary;

(2) what representations he has received from the United States Government to increase expenditure on the United Kingdom Armed Forces.


asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with the United States Defence Secretary concerning military planning in preparation for a crisis over Berlin.


asked the Minister of Defence whether, in his talks with the United States Secretary of Defence, an increase in the number of troops and other forces at the disposal of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was under consideration; and if he will make a statement.

My meeting with the United States Secretary for Defence was one in a series of informal meetings between N.A.T.O. Defence Ministers for exchanging views on mutual defence problems. We discussed interdependence and N.A.T.O. long-term planning and Mr. McNamara took the opportunity which I welcomed of giving me the views of the United States Government on the military aspects of the Berlin situation.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether Mr. McNamara made certain proposals which would greatly increase the defence expenditure of this country and whether he told Mr. McNamara that we are facing a financial crisis and that he did not want the same percentage of unemployed as America has?

Mr. McNamara and I found ourselves in general agreement about the military measures which might become desirable, but only when Foreign Secretaries have met and decided the general policy.

While I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to confide details in us, for that would be asking too much, might I ask whether we can have his assurance that he is not going to yield to the United States—to Mr. McNamara, President Kennedy, or anybody else—and increase our defence commitments, which we cannot afford?

The right hon. Gentleman can have my assurance—he knows this already—that I hope that I shall behave to the United States as a good ally of very long standing and recognise that it is in our mutual interest to strengthen N.A.T.O. at this time against the possibility of difficulties over Berlin.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that The Times today reports Mr. McNamara as saying when he got back to Washington that he could find no feeling of opposition in Britain against dramatic moves over Berlin? Does he confirm that that is a correct statement?

I am not responsible for what appears in The Times, but Mr. McNamara and I discussed no dramatic moves over Berlin so far as I am aware.

While I am not a consistent advocate of excessive deference to the United States, might I ask my right hon. Friend, with reference to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), whether our defence commitments ought not really to be determined by what is necessary for the safety of the Realm?

That seems to me to be a very good yardstick and I agree with my hon. Friend.

Is there any significance in the fact that in his original reply the Minister listed some questions which he and Mr. McNamara had discussed and that be then said that Mr. McNamara took the opportunity, to quote the Minister, "which I welcomed, to give me the American Government's views about Berlin"? Does that phraseology mean that our Minister of Defence did not take the opportunity which, no doubt, Mr. McNamara would have welcomed, to give the United States Defence Secretary the British Government's views about Berlin?

No, Sir. I certainly gave Mr. McNamara my views about Berlin and the general situation with which we are faced, and we found the mutual interchange of great value.