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Ministry Of Defence

Volume 648: debated on Wednesday 8 November 1961

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Kuwait

1.

asked the Minister of Defence what British troops are left in Kuwait;and what was the total cost of this operation.

The withdrawal of British forces from Kuwait has been completed. The extra cost falling on United Kingdom Defence Votes as a result of the operation is provisionally estimated at about £900,000. There were in addition some local costs which were met by the Kuwait Government.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he is satisfied that British troops are available if the independence of Kuwait should be again threatened, and how much of this very satisfactory operation has been paid for by the Kuwait Government?

As to the first part of the supplementary question, I would say that, of course, we intend to keep our obligations to the Ruler of Kuwait. As to the second part, the Kuwait Government were generous in paying a lot of the local costs, but I do not think that I can give an accurate figure.

Was it not stated earlier that the Kuwait Government were to pay the whole cost of this operation? Does that mean that £900,000 will now fall on the British taxpayer?

I said in a previous Answer to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that the cost of the operation would be about £1 million, and the revised figure, which is the nearest that we can get at the moment, is about £900,000.

There may be some point in that, but, on the other hand, we did what we thought we should do to fulfil a treaty obligation. I do not think that one always sends in a bill for doing that.

Armed Forces (Recruitment Overseas)

2.

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement on the proposals to recruit outside these islands for the Armed Forces.

Arrangements already exist under which recruits from overseas can, under certain conditions, join the Armed Forces. Special arrangements have been made for recruitment to the Army in Fiji, the Seychelles and in Jamaica.

Why has this taken so long? We have been asking for this for the last seven or eight years. Why do we have to run into a very foreseeable recruiting crisis before we take what seems to some of us a rather obvious measure?

I do not disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that this a good thing to do, and we welcome these men. As to why this was not done before, I would say that this has been in preparation for some time and some of this recruiting has been going on for quite a long time.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that these men can join any arm of the Service?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to put down a Question. I believe that they can, but if he wants a detailed answer, perhaps he will put down a Question.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that there was little point in asking these people to join the Army while we still had conscription, and that it is only now that we have not conscription that their coming in is so valuable?

Nuclear Tests

3.

asked the Minister of Defence if he will undertake no more nuclear test explosions for at least twelve months.

I have nothing to add to the full statement by the Prime Minister on this subject during the debate on the Address.

Would not the declaration of such a halt help towards the agreement which the Prime Minister said that he desired? Secondly, would not the Minister agree that there is a growing danger of more countries beginning to make the bomb, and how can the British Government ask others not to join the club if they continue to make and test the bomb?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described in detail the considerations which govern our policy in this field, and I have nothing to add.

In view of our relations in this matter with the United States and the exchange of information, what useful purpose would a British series of tests serve now? Has the right hon. Gentleman's Department made any estimate of what would be gained of military value from 30 megaton and 50 megaton explosions?

14.

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent he has studied the recent Russian megaton bomb tests and the effect of megaton bombs upon the operation of Polaris submarines.

The implications of these tests are, of course, being studied, but it would not be in the public interest to disclose any conclusions of a military character that we may draw.

But is the Minister aware of an article in the Economiston this question in which it was pointed out that the megaton bomb could affect a Polaris submarine and result in the cracking of its hull? Is it not time now that we realised that this Polaris strategy has also become obsolete?

United States Deputy Secretary For Defence (Conversation)

4.

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement on his recent consultations with the United States Deputy Secretary for Defence.

11.

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a statement on his recent conversations with Mr. Gilpatric, United States Deputy Secretary of Defence, regarding a common policy on the supply of nuclear weapons to the West German army.

My meeting with the United States Deputy Secretary for Defence was one of the series of informal meetings between N.A.T.O. Ministers dealing with the defence field in which we exchange views on questions of common interest. On this occasion the main item of our conversation was interdependence in the weapons and equipment field.

The question of the supply of nuclear weapons to the West German army did not arise.

In the course of his conversations with Mr. Gilpatric did the right hon. Gentleman tell him that Great Britain was bearing a disproportionately high share of the total burden of Western defence, as pointed out in the White Paper of 1957? If the right hon. Gentleman still believes that, why is he going to call up those conscripts who are the youngest and the least able to resist conscription?

That is quite a different question. Mr. Gilpatric. no doubt, had taken note of the recent statement by N.A.T.O. that this country's foreign exchange burden, as a result of our fulfilling our N.A.T.O. commitments, is a very heavy one indeed.

The right hon. Gentleman says that his conversation with Mr. Gilpatric was informal, but is he not aware that the week before conversations had taken place between Mr. Gilpatric and the West German Government and that announcements were made about agreements reached about the supply of nuclear weapons to the West German Government? The right hon. Gentleman says that this matter did not arise in the conversations, but does he not think it was his duty to raise such an important matter and to report to this House what proposals the Government agreed to about the supply of nuclear weapons to Germany? Does he not realise that the peace of the whole world may depend on this subject?

I do not accept at all the hon. Gentleman's view of what arrangements have been made between the American Government and the West German Government as necessarily the correct one. Anyway, my Answer was perfectly correct;that is to say, this matter was not discussed.

Nato (Aircraft)

6.

asked the Minister of Defence whether there is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation requirement for the development of a vertical take-off and landing fighter and/or strike aircraft;and whether such an aircraft would be equipped to deliver conventional, or tactical nuclear, weapons in the first instance.

The N.A.T.O. authorities, and a number of N.A.T.O. countries, are considering the application of the vertical take-off and landing principle of future aircraft. The details of any such aircraft are classified N.A.T.O. information which I am not able to divulge.

But would not the Minister agree that the development of this type of aircraft is of critical importance for the supply of our forces in a conventional role, and that if we are going to take the doctrine of the pause seriously, then tactical aircraft of this type and others would become the most critical arm?

I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman at all on this. N.A.T.O. does need conventional backing in aircraft as in other things, but what I cannot say is the actual detailed specifications which N.A.T.O. is discussing. What I can say is that our own vertical take-off aircraft, the Hawker, I hope, is one of the ones N.A.T.O. will consider very seriously.

Would my right hon. Friend, having mentioned the Hawker 1127, take into account the fact that this aircraft is flying now? Would it not be advantageous, not only to the British aircraft industry but also to the Royal Air Force, if a limited number at least of them could be supplied now to the Royal Air Force to give operational experience? Is it not possible that an improved version of the 1127 could well fit the bill for N.A.T.O., far better than any new and alternative aircraft?

No. I think there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. As he knows, the West German Government have already joined us in the development of this aircraft. I take careful note of what he says about the support for this project which would arise from a reasonably early order from the Royal Air Force.

As there is a general feeling that the claims of the British aircraft industry have been by-passed in relation to supplies to N.A.T.O., can the right hon. Gentleman push not only the claims of the Hawker aircraft but of Short's, too, on the question of V.T.O.L. aircraft?

Certainly. I mentioned that aircraft only for the very reason that it is the first one flying, but the lift-engine type to which the hon. Gentleman refers is just as important and will be pushed just as hard.

7.

asked the Minister of Defence whether Valiant aircraft allocated to the support of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces are equipped to deliver conventional weapons while Canberra aircraft allocated to the support of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Europe are equipped to deliver tactical nuclear weapons, and while there is no North Atlantic Treaty Organisation requirement to equip them for any other role;and whether he is satisfied with this arrangement.

All the Valiant and Canberra aircraft in the bomber force assigned to SA.C.E.U.R. can carry either nuclear or conventional weapons. Most of this force is held immediately available to use nuclear weapons as required by NA.T.O. but, as circumstances require, elements of it are equipped for conventional weapons. I am satisfied with this arrangement.

Does not this arrangement suggest that we are doing very little more than paying lip-service to the doctrine of the pause? After all, the Canberra aircraft is the immediate strike aircraft and, even if there is no requirement, would it not be possible to use this initially in a conventional role? Is that not a very serious situation and does it not show that the NA.T.O. doctrine has not been revised at all? Surely this is something which ought to be given very serious attention?

I quite agree, and perhaps I may just add that at the present moment there is an element of the Canberra force—not a very large one, but an element—which is in fact equipped for the conventional rôle.

British Forces, Germany

8.

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent the cost of maintaining British forces in Germany will increase during the coming year.

Does that take into account the application which the right hon. Gentleman has made to the N.A.T.O. assistance board for a supplementary grant, and does not the fact of this application having been made show that we have bitten off more than we can chew? Large bites without teeth seem to be a permanent feature of our defence policy.

I do not think I follow the hon. Member's views of our defence policy. I would only say that after a fair and impartial examination NA.T.O. has accepted what is true, and that is, that we play our full part in the alliance and that it is a very heavy burden on our foreign exchange.

9.

asked the Minister of Defence if he will now withdraw British forces from Western Germany, in view of the refusal of Britain's allies to begin negotiations with a view to coming to a reasonable settlement of the Berlin crisis.

I do not accept the implication in the second part of the hon. Member's Question. The answer to the first part is "No, Sir."

Is it not a fact that the West German Government refuse to accept any recognition of Eastern Germany or of the Polish frontier or any form of disengagement, or to change the status quoin West Berlin? Are we really to be dragged into war by allies who do not agree with us on how to make peace?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. In any case, that type of question should be put down to the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, not to me.

Neutron Bomb

10.

asked the Minister of Defence what plans Her Majesty's Government have for the manufacture of a neutron bomb.

It would not be in the public interest to make any statement on plans for the manufacture of specific types of nuclear weapons.

Has the Minister seen the report which came from Washington on 2nd November, that rays from the neutron bomb can penetrate through three feet of concrete? What is he going to do to strengthen 10, Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence?

That is quite another question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put it down.

Does what the right hon. Gentleman has just said apply also to preparations for the manufacture of chemical and bacteriological weapons?

18.

asked the Minister of Defence what proposals have been submitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by the United States Government concerning the testing of a large neutron bomb whose principal new contribution to nuclear strategy is its alleged capacity to kill people without damaging property.

Has not the right hon. Gentleman seen frequent and quite authoritative statements that the United States is preparing at this moment to test such a bomb? Does he not think it worth while to make some inquiry to see whether this is so? Does he realise that, if such a test were made, this would be represented in many parts of the world as the final triumph of capitalist priorities? Will he undertake that the United Kingdom would never undertake itself, or be associated, with genocidal mania of this kind? Will he inform the United States, or ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to do so, that we would not regard such a weapon as compatible with the maintenance of our alliance with any Power that tested or used it?

I have no knowledge of all the allegations the hon. Gentleman is making, and our general position on tests was clearly set out by the Prime Minister the other day.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the terrifyingly unsatisfactory Answer given by the Defence Minister, who seems quite unable to appreciate the importance—

Order. I have had repeatedly to ask the House to confine notice to the traditional phraseology. We experience great difficulty in getting on with Questions, and I need the help of the House in these matters.

I apologise, Sir, if I was improperly disturbed by the Minister's callousness, but what I want to do is to give notice to raise this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

Strategic Mobility

12.

asked the Minister of Defence what plans he has for increasing the strategic mobility of United Kingdom forces.

This is one of the factors which is being examined in the preparation of next year's Defence White Paper.

Is the Minister of Defence not yet aware of the chronic shortage of suitable transport aircraft of all kinds, and, in particular, of the lack of suitable strategic air freighters for use now? Is that something about which he will do nothing while waiting for the Estimates next year?

I think that the hon. Member knows of the Government's decision to place an order for five new transport jet aircraft.

Nato Strategy

13.

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent paragraph 12 of the White Paper on Defence, 1958, remains the basis of Her Majesty's Government's defence policy.

The paragraph to which the hon. Member refers accurately describes N.A.T.O. strategy at the time the White Paper was written. Since then N.A.T.O. strategy has been under review but so far no changes have been agreed.

Does the Minister say that this is still the policy, or is it not? As I understand the statements of the President of the United States and of leading N.A.T.O. statesmen and generals, they cannot square the present N.A.T.O. policy and never could square it with the terms of this paragraph.

That is quite a different matter. What I have said is that there has been, of course, a long and detailed discussion of N.A.T.O. policy to seek to bring it up to date with current strategic and technical considerations. We joined in that and I said in the House the other day that, as I understand General Norstad's new plans which are not yet approved, they are very close to current British thinking.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a serious statement which must be interpreted as meaning that the old ultra-nuclear strategy is still in force. There has been discussion on it but no revision of it whatsoever. Surely this is the gravest possible statement. Cannot the right hon. Gentlemen tell us that the British Government are now pressing very hard indeed for a revision of this? Is he not aware that the strategy of paragraph 12 of the 1958 White Paper does not square at all with all the statements of President Kennedy and Ministers here and many other public statements? Surely it is high time that there was a revision of this strategy.

I quite agree that discussions in N.A.T.O. ought to be concluded as quickly as possible, and we are certainly not holding them up.

Does the right hon. Gentleman thus confirm that the present strategy of N.A.T.O. is that in certain circumstances we should use the H-bomb first? Does he really mean to say that this is also one of the subjects which perhaps he did not discuss with Mr. Gilpatric when he was in this country? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government should do something about it instead of committing themselves to this absurd proposition?

The Government have made plain on many occasions that we will never be the aggressors. That is perfectly clear to everybody. The Government have also made it perfectly plain, and I must make it so now, that the degree of retaliation to aggression is a matter which must be settled in the circumstances of the time, and we are not going to announce beforehand any particular degree of retaliation.

Nato (British Forces)

15.

asked the Minister of Defence what further redeployment of the air, sea and land forces of the Crown he is proposing in order to strengthen Great Britain's contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware, from measures already announced, that a carefully prepared plan for reinforcing our N.A.T.O. forces is in hand. I have no statement to make at present about further redeployment.

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "in hand"? The only thing that we could discover was in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday which seemed to indicate that it was weaker still.

There has been a clear announcement of the various reinforcing measures that we are taking. For example, we have already sent our first guided missile regiment to Germany to reinforce B.A.O.R. It is being followed by two of our most modern anti-aircraft regiments and there are a good many other measures as well.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the antiaircraft regiments that went to Germany were fully equipped with the most modern equipment?

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that both regiments were equipped with"Yellow Fever"?

That is quite a different question and I have no intention of answering it off the cuff.

Royal Air Force (Transport Aircraft)

16.

asked the Minister of Defence what consultations he had with the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air before approval was given to the order for five Vickers VC 10 aircraft for the Royal Air Force Transport Force, having regard to the present limited ability of this Force to move heavy equipment for the Army over long distances.

There were full consultations before the order was placed. The VC 10 is required primarily to transport men. The Belfast has been ordered to transport heavy equipment over long distances.

Has the right hon. Gentleman not sufficient authority to prevent air marshals from ordering luxury jet aircraft to transport themselves round the world when the desperate need of the transport force is for freight-carrying long-distance aircraft such as the Belfast and the Lockheed CI 30? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that freight-carrying aircraft can also carry passengers, though not in luxury?

I agree with the hon. Member's last point. The VC 10 is not ordered to carry senior officers about but to carry a very large number of men very quickly, which is exactly in accordance with need.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the country requires both types of aircraft as soon as it can get them, and with particular emphasis on freight-carrying?

I agree, but the VC 10 is ordered as a quick and massive transporter of large numbers of armed men quickly about the world.

Has the right hon. Gentleman not a sense of priority? While all additional transport aircraft are welcome, we are reaching the point when we can carry men but not arms. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his present policy will mean that the men will find that they have neither the weapons with which to fight nor the additional support and that their transport will move men only?

I do not agree. The Britannia is valuable as a long-haul heavy aircraft.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it has far too small a cargo cross-section?

Personnel (Hong Kong)

17.

asked the Minister of Defence what consideration he has given to reducing the number of Service personnel stationed in Hong Kong.

As the House knows, the deployment of our forces overseas is at present under review as part of the re-examination of the defence programme.

Will the Minister bear In mind that Hong Kong is probably indefensible by any number of troops that employ conventional weapons against determined Chinese aggression, and that a large part of that very large garrison kept in Hong Kong could be used more profitably in defending Western Europe against Russian or East German aggression?

That is the hon. Member's view, but we have no intention of scuttling out of any bases.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that any withdrawal of our troops from Hong Kong would have a very grave effect on the morale of our people out there? Would he not agree also that our friends in Australia and New Zealand would be very upset if that took place?

The answer to the Hong Kong question is that there is a very serious internal security problem there, as the House knows, and we must make sure that we keep forces there to deal with that problem. I agree that we cannot hope to keep enough forces there to fight the whole Chinese Army.

Apart from internal security, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether these forces have an operational role, and if so, what it is?

I am not going to say in the House exactly what role any forces have anywhere. I have given the general indication that we must certainly keep forces in Hong Kong to handle the internal security problem efficiently, and that is all I intend to say.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the maintenance of forces there is a most valuable guarantee of security and stability there? At the same time, while maintaining a constant force, would he give consideration to the possibility of requiring a shorter length of stay for most Service men in the territory?

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the primary purpose of troops in Hong Kong is solely for internal security and that there are far too many there merely for that purpose? What is the purpose of the surplus in Hong Kong?

Will the right hon. Gentleman resist pressure from his hon. Friends to keep British forces in places for purely prestige reasons where there is no operational role for them and maintain only those forces for which there is a rational role for internal security?

What I hope to do is —having taken the best military and political advice I can get—to take what I think are the right decisions.