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Commons Chamber

Volume 649: debated on Friday 17 November 1961

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House Of Commons

Friday, 17th November, 1961

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Bill Presented

Coal Industry

Bill to make provision until the end of the year nineteen hundred and sixty-two for financing any accumulated revenue deficit of the National Coal Board presented by Mr. Richard Wood; supported by Sir Edward Boyle and Mr. George; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Monday next and to be printed. [Bill 17.]

Orders Of The Day

Export Guarantees Money

Resolution reported,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to increase the limit imposed by section two of the Export Guarantees Act, 1949, as amended by any subsequent enactment, on the liabilities which may be undertaken by the Board of Trade in respect of guarantees under that section and certain other transactions under the Export Guarantees Acts, 1949 to 1959, it is expedient to authorise any increase in the sums which, under section three or section four of the said Act of 1949, are to be or may be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament, charged on or issued out of the Consolidated Fund, raised by borrowing or paid into the Exchequer, being an increase attributable to the provisions of the said Act of the present Session raising the said limit to eight hundred million pounds.

Resolution agreed to.

Export Guarantees Bill

[Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]

Considered in Committee.

Clause 1—(Raising Of Limit On Guaran Tees Under S 2 Of Export Guaran Tees Act, 1949, And Related Transactions)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.7 a.m.

Before we leave the Bill and this increase of the sums available under its provisions, is the Minister of State in a position to tell us what action he or his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade now propose to take on the various suggestions that were made from both sides of the House during the Second Reading debate?

A great deal was said then. Are we to have the fuller report and fuller information for which we asked? Are we to have working parties in connection with this matter, or what other investigations are to be made? What are we to be told about the way in which this money is to be used? There were general complaints that information was insufficient and, in those circumstances, since some time has elapsed since the Second Reading, perhaps we could now have the answer to those questions.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). The Committee will remember that during the Second Reading debate hon. Members ranged very wide into the whole export field. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was delighted to have this general and constructive interest, but the only large outstanding issue that emerged clearly was one of general interest in the whole export field as it touched export credits, or the availability and rate of interest of export finance. As I explained then, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is actively studying this aspect now and I am certainly not in a position to add to that information today.

I am not aware that during the Second Reading debate any points emerged on the narrower issues of export credit insurance itself which needed further reply, though, of course, there were one or two suggestions made by the hon. and learned Gentleman himself about accounts, and these are being considered. I have by letter to certain hon. Members answered individual points that they raised and, with their permission, perhaps I could send the hon. and learned Gentleman copies of those letters. There were not, however, any large outstanding issues on the export credit insurance side that occur to me.

I do not wish to delay the Committee, but can the hon. Gentleman say a little more about one or two matters I specifically mentioned? Is there any reason why a fuller report should not be issued and more understandable figures presented about the disposal of the money with which we are now concerned?

I made a suggestion about working parties in industries to examine the possibilities of the further and better use of these funds, since we all recognise that some industries do not make sufficient use of them. These questions clearly fall within the more restricted scope of this debate, and while I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer to send me a bundle of letters such as those which he has been distributing among my hon. Friends, and of which, unfortunately, I have not hitherto been a recipient, I am bound to say that the speech I made did not deserve that treatment.

During the Second Reading debate I raised the question of ensuring a wider range of individual transactions. Can my hon. Friend deal further with this point? I also referred to the second part of the Bill and the giving of wider credit and cover in the case of large single items, such as ships and aircraft, which we export. Has the hon. Gentleman anything to say about matching terms which are offered abroad on such agreements?

I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for not having made reference to working parties. Our methods of reaching industries and firms to ensure that they are fully aware of the facilities available are under constant review and this is something that must continue to be reconsidered.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) I reluctantly repeat what I said on Second Reading: these subjects are best not discussed in general. As I pointed out in that debate, if my hon. Friend will send me details of any cases where it is suggested that we have not given sufficient help, the matter will be considered.

At the moment I am advised that industry generally recognises that E.C.G.D. gives, with the extensions provided earlier this year in connection with matching cover, as good as any competitor. The grievance of exporters is more focussed on the availability and interest rates of money, and this is a question which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now has under serious consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.

Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.13 am.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This interesting and important Measure arises from an Agreement between the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and the German Federal Republic. The object of the Agreement is to make provision for the future safety of aircraft.

We live in an age when the speed, height and numbers of civil transports are continually on the increase. Twenty-five years ago the normal speed would have been 150 miles an hour at a height of 10,000 feet. Today, that speed would be 550 miles an hour at a height of 40,000 feet, and before we are very much older I suppose that we shall be travelling beyond the sound barrier. We have, therefore, to consider not only the position as it is today, but how it will develop and what it will look like in five, ten or fifteen years from now.

In this country we have been doing quite a lot of work on a national basis. We have a vigorous programme of new radar stations linked to traffic control centres, in which I am hoping to see joint civil and military controllers sitting and working side by side and looking at new methods of display. As techniques improve we will be relying less on the word of the pilot and more on the actual vision of what we see. Indeed, the programme might be called "From Voice to Vision," on a civil and military basis.

The aim of this is twofold: first, greater safety in the air; and, secondly, but also important, the greater use of controlled air space. The Bill provides a further step which is the national counterpart necessary to give effect to the international Agreement. It provides the basis upon which future air traffic control in this country and in Europe will be conducted.

The Bill is, in the main, concerned with the international aspects of these matters. The House will, I am sure, think that this is right in an age in which national frontiers can be crossed by aircraft in the space of a few minutes. It is also concerned with such problems as how one finances complicated and expensive navigational equipment such as is required both nationally and internationally, and how one establishes by evidence events of which the only record is on a tape or within the calculations of a computer.

The Agreement to which I have referred is in the form of a Convention. It is the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as Eurocontrol. There are two parts of this organisation as defined in Clause 1 of the Bill. There is a permanent commission for the safety of air navigation—which is called the Commission—and the air traffic services agency—called the Agency—which, so to speak, does the work and its seat is to be in Brussels.

This organisation is still in the process of being born and the object of the Bill is to help this process. It must be created, make its plans and acquire the necessary equipment or arrange for the use of national equipment that is or will be there. A provisional association has already been formed to start the planning and preparatory work. The Organisation itself will probably come into effective operation between, say, 1963 and 1966.

It will, perhaps, be for the convenience of the House if I seek to describe in simple terms the kind of air traffic control system which it will seek to operate. It will be concerned initially with the upper air space, because it is in that space that jets will increasingly travel and will seek to stay for as long as possible. There is no unanimity yet even as to what the upper air space is, but in this country it is over 25,000 ft. The job of the Agency which will be doing this work will be to capture these aircraft on its radar screens, to identify them, to obtain knowledge of their speed, their height and their bearing, and to enable them to proceed on their lawful occasions without danger to eacl other.

I need hardly remind the House that this is a very formidable task which will require increasingly complex and sophisticated machinery—modern forms of secondary radar, automatic data recording, and increasingly powerful computers. This apparatus will need to be directed at convenient blocks of upper air space, which may or may not coincide with national frontiers, and it will need to be located in various parts of the territories concerned. For this difficult task the Bill provides the skeleton on which the body of the organisation can grow.

The first and obvious step is to give the organisation a legal entity and this, in effect, is what Clause 2 does. It enables the organisation to enter into contracts and also, on the other hand, to be liable in contract or tort or otherwise. A legal entity is also given to the Commission and the Agency as essential working parts of the organisation.

Clause 2 (2) deals with the problem of exemptions and reliefs and gives only selective immunities from the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Act, 1950. It covers the rates and taxes and import duties of the organisation as such, but it excludes giving relief from civil suits or personal taxation to individual members. I think that this course may commend itself to the House, because we do not want to increase the number of these diplomatic immunities.

The House will wish to consider two important matters. What control are we to exercise over this organisation, or, for that matter, what control will it exercise over us? Secondly, how is it to be financed? One cannot read the control from the Bill. One has to read behind the Bill and look at the Convention. This matter is included in Article 6 of the Convention. Decisions about the configuration of the air space or about treaties with other States must be unanimous, that is to say, we shall have a veto. Directives about financial matters, such as tariffs, require a majority weighted in accordance with the gross national product, that is, a sort of qualified majority arrangement. Recommendations on such matters as common policy or navigational equipment require a simple majority of the members.

As to what it will cost, and how the money will be raised, we must first recognise that we are to spend money on air traffic control anyway—in part on airport technical services and in part on en route services. In total, we are now spending about £7 million a year. Clause 3 provides that the Minister of Aviation should pay to the organisation
"such sums on account of its expenses as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine, being sums for the payment of which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are liable under the Convention."
Subsection (2) enables him to provide the premises, the installations and the equipment.

I should like to make two comments about these provisions. The costs are not easy to estimate. The picture is continually changing. The estimated cost on capital account is £3 million and the present estimated cost on current account is £2 million. The object of the organisation is to use, wherever possible, national technical services. In that way, we can make some payment in kind.

This, therefore, is to be said on the financing of the organisation. We would need to spend the money on this work and it will be greatly to our advantage technically to share these costs on an international basis. How do we raise the capital? At present, by airport charges and rents, we are raising annually £9 million to £10 million, to pay for the non-technical airport services, including depreciation. We have already announced, however, a change in airport policy. International airports, at present owned by the Government, will be set up under an independent authority.

The setting up of an independent authority would require a Bill and, of course, it is not included in the programme for this Session.

The other airports will be increasingly municipalised. That can go on without a Bill, because there is nothing to prevent the selling of an airport to a municipal authority at any time. Special provision may have to be made for subsidy for some other airports in the remoter places. The technical services will be retained under the Government. Thus it will be necessary for us when setting up Eurocontrol to find a new method of financing navigational equipment. For this purpose, Clause 4 enables the Minister to raise money and make regulations, to have effect by Statutory Instrument, requiring payment to the Minister or the organisation of charges for navigational services provided for aircraft, being services provided either by the Minister or the organisation.

There are some people who think that these services ought to be "for free". This has never been my view. The rate at which airlines can be asked to pay the full cost is, I agree, a matter for discussion and argument, but the idea that they are an adolescent industry or should require some permanent subsidy from the general body of taxpayers, in my judgment, cannot be sustained. These charges, when approved, could be made directly on the operators or indirectly through the airports. The present intention is that they should be imposed as a levy on the companies which use these services.

I should like to mention the proposed use of records as evidence. No man should be condemned on the record of a computer accepted as conclusive. Nor is that in any way suggested here. Nevertheless, in this rather complicated field, much evidence will depend on mechanical recording. Clause 5 permits these records to be used, though not, I emphasise, conclusively in evidence. Clause 6 properly provides a swingeing penalty on anyone attempting to make a faked record in these matters.

I have now covered the main provisions of the Bill. The Measure is aimed at dealing with a very fast developing situation. It provides, inevitably, the framework only for what is quite a complicated matter. However, the principles are clear. First, we need to do this on an international basis because of the size and scale of air transport and the speed with which aircraft will be travelling. From the technical point of view, it is more sensible to pool our resources with others who are our neighbours and are facing precisely the same kind of problems.

Secondly, for this purpose the first step is to put ourselves in a position to ratify the convention and carry out our obligations under it. Thirdly, to do a job of this kind inevitably costs money, and we should, therefore, face, and face now, the problems of what money will be required, how the amounts are to be fixed and how that money should be raised.

Those are the main purposes of the Bill, which, I hope, will commend itself to the House.

11.31 a.m.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his very careful and comprehensive introduction of the Bill. My hon. Friends and I welcome anything which is designed to improve air safety. We all recognise that if we are to achieve an ever-increasing growth of air traffic, safety will be of paramount importance, because that will be the determining factor when people make up their minds how they will travel.

The Minister referred to the Bill as something going from voice to vision. I would rather call it "Let us face the future" or perhaps "Air signposts for the sixties and seventies," which seems to me to be a much more appropriate title.

The continued expansion of air transport has obviously brought with it some very serious problems of traffic control. Very soon we shall be reaching more or less saturation point with the present equipment for handling air traffic. I am told that it is expected that by 1975 no fewer than 4,000 aircraft will be airborne over the United States every hour. Taking the new territorial configuration of Eurocontrol, I expect that by that time our figures will be of the same order. That presents an enormous problem for those who are responsible for getting the aircraft up and down and keeping them on their course during flight.

The difficulties of handling this growing volume of traffic may lead to a situation in which the aircraft will be flying ever faster and faster through the air and queuing up in stacks over airports for an ever-increasing length of time, We must watch this aspect. Nothing is more frustrating to the traveller who arrives more quickly over his destination than to find that he is kept hanging around in the air for an inordinate length of time. Such problems must be solved.

We may think that there is plenty of room in the air and wonder how aircraft can ever get in each other's way when we visualise the amount of space that there is. Nevertheless, aerial collisions occur. There have been a number of instances recently where jet aircraft have collided with private biplanes and where fighter aircraft have been in collision, and there was the dreadful accident over New York when a DC8 and a Super Constellation collided. There are also many recorded and, I gather, unrecorded instances of near-misses. I am told that every week perhaps as many as three potential collisions are averted at the last moment.

We must be on our guard against this danger. We should not regard an increase in accidents in the air as inevitable but should do everything we can to improve the situation and make air travel as safe as it is humanly possible to make it. Therefore, we welcome the Bill; there is certainly a need for it.

I think that the most important point made by the Minister was that unified control in the upper air space is essential under modern conditions of flying. After all, when we are flying at the frequency and speed that we are today and a pilot has to pass over perhaps six countries in Europe in a short space of time, it is nonsense for him to have to report every few minutes to a different organisation. Therefore, in creating this body we are building up a unified area where all aircraft flying at more than 25,000 feet will be under a single control. Under modern conditions of air travel, national boundaries have no significance. At the moment, a pilot on a flight across Europe may have to contact six air traffic control authorities. The Bill will mean that there will now be one.

Turning to ordinary landing and takeoff procedures, what steps will be taken to ensure co-ordination of policies? I am reminded of my experience last week when travelling from my constituency to London. When we were two miles from King's Cross an attendant came along announcing to all, with very great and proper pride, that the train was 25 minutes early. I was very hopeful that I should get to the House of Commons in time for questions. But we had to wait outside King's Cross for 20 minutes because there was no platform to take us. That kind of situation must be avoided in air travel. It is like dashing down the M.1 at a tremendous speed and getting more quickly to London but then being held up by roadworks on the outskirts.

There is the serious problem here of ensuring co-ordination between the national units which are in existence. I can say from my experience that they are exceedingly good and competent at our own airports. We must make sure that there is integration between national control and Eurocontrol.

On the ground of economy—a strong point made by the Minister—there is everything to be said for having one organisation. It will, I hope, save money, though that is not the primary purpose. It will certainly avoid duplication of effort, training and equipment. Also, it is bound to be much more efficient than the present piecemeal system.

Eurocontrol will have to bring about—it is stated in the Convention that it will bring it about—standardisation of regulations and equipment for navigation and air traffic control so that we can ensure a much more orderly and rapid flow of air traffic and secure the maximum use of the air space available. As I have said, one would imagine that there was plenty of space and that aircraft could come and go as they please, but we all know that that is not so, and it will be increasingly difficult for aircraft to go about in that way. We must ensure that aircraft can follow one another at closer intervals and that more aircraft can fly along the same horizontal level, so that we may have more aircraft flying at peak periods. If the Bill will help to bring that about, it will be worth while.

At the moment membership of Euro-control is confined to the Common Market countries, with the exception of Italy, and to ourselves. Eurocontrol is being brought about on a functional basis. I suppose there is also an economic basis and perhaps a political basis. It will lead to greater co-ordination and greater integration of our activities. But Italy is left out at the moment, and I wonder why that is. There have been air control difficulties arising from military operations in Italy, and it seems to be very important that Italy should be included so that aircraft flying over Italian air space may be subjected to the same procedures as over the rest of Western Europe. Is it because there is this conflict with the military in Italy that that country has not been able to join? I understand that Italy is interested and will watch what happens. She will, I hope, eventually join.

Switzerland obviously ought to be a member. Much of our traffic over Europe passes over Switzerland, which is a difficult country to overfly. It is also essential that Eire should join. The Atlantic traffic goes that way, and her membership again would produce a safer system. There is also the problem of the Scandinavian countries.

The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that there is provision in the Convention for other countries to join. It would strengthen the organisation if some non-N.A.T.O. countries came in, otherwise it is possible that difficulties may arise out of the organisation being associated in people's minds with N.A.T.O. and, perhaps, the European Economic Community.

We have some indication of the relationship between Eurocontrol and I.C.A.O., which is the parent body. We must try to bring about co-operation and participation of non-N.A.T.O. States. I mention this link with N.A.T.O. as being perhaps a deterrent in some ways, but perhaps it should be made clear that this new organisation does net replace the existing N.A.T.O. committee for European space control. That body is for military control, and the activities of the two organisations should be dovetailed so that there is no clash of policy.

We must also watch the question of the accountability of the Commission. This document is very continental in the way in which it is set out. It is similar to those produced in the Council of Europe, and we are not used to them. The way in which they are set out is alien to our procedure. As far as I can see, there is nothing in the document by which our representatives on the Commission can be made accountable to Parliament. Apparently there is no obligation on the Minister to report to the House, of Commons on the activities of his nominees on this Board. I hope that, as we have done with other Measures, we shall insert a provision that the Minister must lay before the House an annual report from this body, explaining its decisions and the directives he has given to our representatives during the year.

There is the danger, otherwise, of this organisation smacking somewhat of a supra-national body of commissioners, about which we in this country have strong reservations. It should not be difficult to insert such a provision. Perhaps the Minister might even welcome pressure in that direction. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we must treat these people right, but that we do not want to make privileges for them, otherwise there are bound to be bad feeling and complaints.

One of the most important tasks for the future is co-operation between the civil and military. We have argued this matter before when there have been accidents, and steps have been taken. Closer co-operation is possible by having the civil and military side by side. Segregation of the two is becoming more and more difficult and undesirable.

I understand, although I am not clear about this, for it is difficult to understand the technical details, that our civil control operates with different aids from some of the N.A.T.O. controls in Europe. Here again is something which the new organisation should investigate in order to bring about simplification and rationalisation of the different controls of the civil and military systems.

At the moment, it is understood that military personnel will be attached to each control centre to maintain liaison between the military and the civil. Perhaps in certain cases a clear priority must be laid down, giving the civil traffic, if it is heavy, the decisive say over the military. However, defence requirements come into this as well, and it is a matter for careful study.

The question of equipment is exceedingly complex and is virtually impossible for a layman to understand. We know that in an aircraft there is some kind of box with lots of instruments in it, and that all sorts of things can happen as a result. I do not pretend to know what happens, but I do know that we must have more research into this and much more training for skilled operators using this equipment. The purpose of the Convention is to establish research and training centres in different parts of Europe.

There will be tremendous dependence upon mechanical computers, but the natural, built-in computer—the human mind—will still play an essential part in these decisions. Although one might apply automation to almost 99 per cent, of these cases, we will still depend upon individuals at some stage. I want to see the status of the air traffic controller raised to a position commensurate with his responsibilities in the jet age.

When we consider what aid is to be used, we come across matters of prestige. One recalls the sorry story at Montreal, which led to the adoption of the American VOR/DME system instead of the British Decca system. We have had experience of the political and financial pressures which can be brought to bear in order to get a particular method adopted. I hope that this will not happen with the Harco. I hope that the Eurocontrol transitional body will evaluate the Harco and that the device will be treated on its merits. If it is, it will have a considerable chance of being adopted as the recommended aid.

We want a common policy on these things. The organisation producing this new aid consists of British, French and German firms working together, and it is only sensible that they should get proper treatment and that there should be none of the sordid squabbling over navigation aids which has gone on in the past. So much depends upon getting the right aid as quickly as possible. Nothing should stand in the way but technical merits.

The apparatus must enable the pilot to know where he is at any given moment and to inform ground control accordingly so that ground control can have the overall picture and know where every aircraft is, and be able to take speedy action to avert any possibility of a collision.

I am not clear about the cost of all this. I believe the right hon. Gentleman said that the cost would be about £7 million. Does that mean the overall cost of Eurocontrol or merely our share? I understand from the figures in the Bill that it is expected that in the beginning there will be a capital cost of £3 million, followed by an annual recurrent cost of £2 million. From my experience on the Public Accounts Committee in examining the Estimates of the Ministry of Aviation, I think that we must treat these figures with tremendous caution.

In the past, we have all sorts of bills from the Ministry of Aviation. In the beginning their Estimates have been comparatively small, but in the event they have turned out to be astronomical. This is a difficult subject in which to assess costs and I would have thought that the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave were rather on the low side and that we may have to accept something much more in the end if we are to get the kind of equipment which we need.

I do not think that we would quarrel with the Minister's overall policy of reimbursement, so that in the long run airports are self-sufficient, but there will be cases, as he said, when it will be almost impossible and when some subvention will be necessary. However, I ask him to go a little carefully on this. The air operating companies are now going through a fairly thin time and have complained bitterly about the increase in charges at London and other airports. Although it may be said that that is special pleading, because the operators obviously do not like to pay more than they need, if we try too quickly to impose a large sum in respect of navigational aids, that may be the last straw which breaks the camel's back. Bearing that in mind, over a period we want to work up to the position where the aids will be paid for one way or another by the users. It is true that air traffic control is a complex and expensive undertaking, but if it produces more orderly and safer travel, this will be money well worth spending.

I am not sure that I follow this highly complicated arrangement for assessing our contribution. One needs to be a mathematical genius to work out what our share is to be. I hope that we will be given the figure in simple proportions and that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say what on present figures we will have to pay whether a quarter or one-fifth of the total cost. That would be much more satisfactory than having to work out gross national products and so on. Any information which we can be given in that respect will be welcome.

As the Minister has told us, there is an interim commission now sitting in Paris and on which we have representatives. We should like to know what the Commission has been doing and what contributions we have been making, possibly on an ad hoc basis. Five member-nation regions have been set up, based on London, Prestwick, Paris, Luxembourg and Rome, which seems to indicate that at least Rome is working with us in practice, even though Italy is not a member.

I should like to be clear about how the provisions of Eurocontrol will apply to third parties flying over its space, but which are not members of it and not members of I.C.A.O. I am referring especially to the Russians. I gather that Russian planes now flying over this air space accept and obey our normal operating procedures. But how will we arrange for their contributions, or will they fly over for nothing? If this arrangement is to be made to work, everyone flying over the air space must be made to pay his whack. What are the provisions for dealing with countries which are not members of international organisations?

I have spoken to a number of experienced air pilots and navigators about the Bill and have found that they welcome it. I have found it to have the complete support of all those concerned with navigation and landing. The Minister said that it would probably come into full force between 1963 and 1966. Is it intended that in the interim between now and then we are to continue with our own individual systems for upper space, or would it be possible, gradually over that period, to work into the new system so that there is not a great gap between one date and the other?

In all these matters of air safety we have to look ahead, and I wonder how far the interim body is giving attention to the problems of supersonic flight. After all, military aircraft are already capable of supersonic flight and, by the late 1960s, we may have passenger services flying at supersonic speeds. That will revolutionise the whole concept of air traffic control and we want to ensure that the new organisation being set up will have all that in mind, so that technical developments in aircraft are not jeopardised by lack of appropriate aids for landing and taking off.

We support the Bill because it carries interest in air safety beyond the boundaries of national frontiers. If the Minister will consider the question of Parliamentary accountability and control, I think that we will have very little trouble with the Bill in its later stages.

11.56 a.m.

I welcome the Bill on behalf of an aircraft manufacturing constituency. We, the Ulster Unionists, probably use the air channels in Britain more than any other hon. Members. Flying is something which we experience every week and we are considerably concerned to see that planes should be able to fly regularly and fast and that we should be able to get to our destinations as quickly as possible. It may be significant that the Bill is being given a Second Reading the day after the Hammersmith flyover was opened, so that some of the difficulty mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), about the blockage and delays which occur between the airport and cities, has been cleared up within the last day.

The Bill is filled with references to the 1960s and 1970s. In its preparation, what account has been taken of the likelihood of vertical take-off developments being adopted by civil airlines? This is very much a development for the 1970s, and I am proud to say that part of it has taken place in Belfast. Vertical take-off may well be adopted for civil airliners and freighters so that it will no longer be necessary to have large airfields right outside the centres of cities. How will control arrangements be affected by such a development?

The Minister said that he wanted airports in this country to pay for themselves, and we all agree that it is extremely desirable that they should. However, what steps has he taken to ensure that the same precautions are taken abroad? Will the airports in other countries which are signatories to the Eurocontrol system pay for themselves, or will they be State-assisted? If they are to be State-assisted, our independent airlines and our national airways corporations will be at a disadvantage. This is a matter which should receive special attention.

As my right hon. Friend said, the equipment will be very complex and very expensive. He said that two of the questions which had been raised were where and how the money was to be raised. Another question vital to this country is where it is to be spent. In other words, what research and developments are being promoted in the United Kingdom in anticipation of the great development which my right hon. Friend has outlined today? What developments are being promoted for the computers and other vital control equipment of which he spoke? Tremendous development lies ahead and it is right and proper that British manufacturers should play their full part in developing this equipment for the 1970s.

As the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said, it is essential that we have the right aid as quickly as possible, and to some extent it ought to be possible to anticipate the future by promoting research and development into these complex machines for the benefit of our industry as well as that in Europe. With those comments, I join with others in welcoming the Bill.

12.1 p.m.

It seems almost surprising that such a commonsense organisation should be coming into force so soon, actually in time to meet the need for it. There are many large-scale beneficial things which we would like to see come about, but there are always so many difficulties, not least the Parliamentary time-table. I am more than delighted that this highly important matter has succeeded in being brought to the House so soon. It is obviously the epitome of common sense to have such an arrangement.

I have been flying for many years and I have had enough recent experiences to make my hair stand on end; and we have all seen enough reports from various parts of the world of terrible accidents when the control of air traffic has failed. I trust that this Measure, in time, will help in the management of the upper air. This is a vast problem and I endorse the view of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) on the subject of suitable and adequate navigational aids.

Last summer, just before the House rose, I was sitting in the front of a fairly small, twin-engined aeroplane and flying towards the Channel, with a colleague who was formerly an hon. Member, but who has since been called up to another place. I was listening to the patter on the radio and from time to time we were getting our instructions. We were told to proceed at certain heights and as we approached the London control zone, London Airport, we were told to take the height of 7,000 feet.

The interesting thing was that visibility was perfectly good in amongst the thunder-heads, but we were being treated as if there were blind-flying conditions. Thus, though controlled, we could see other aircraft. As we passed one large cumulo-nimbus, we saw a large Air France Constellation which was lurking ahead, and which we had been told we should be approaching to pass 1,000 feet below it. It was not a near-miss and would certainly not be considered so, but it was fascinating to see how close we were to that aeroplane although we were both at our proper heights. Although aeroplanes can be left separated vertically by 1,000 feet they cannot be so separated laterally or horizontally at anything like such a margin, and, as velocities increase enormously, so there will be a much more rigorous need for more exact navigational aids.

I must confess my interest. I have an interest in the Decca navigator firm and its products, and I am very proud to have it, because it is an admirable invention. It is not so much an aid to those on the ground, so that the pilot can inform ground control where he is, but it seems to me that its main advantage is that it allows the pilot to see whether he is wavering in any way off the track. He can see it there before him all the time on the chart, and it is a great help when conditions are murky, or bumpy, or when there are cross-winds. I have used this myself. If one is blown off the centre line of the track, one can correct it very quickly and it is, therefore, possible for controllers on the ground to route aircraft on parallel courses, but much closer together than otherwise.

As we all know, the apparatus which the Americans have foisted on the world means that the aeroplanes are all pinpointed over beacons at intervals, but have divergent courses so that they are miles apart in the middle and then come together again as they converge on the next beacon, which means that the pilots cannot be laterally separated by any constant distance. They are too far apart in the middle of the leg and too close together at the end. This Euro-control will certainly find use over Europe at least for this kind of navigational system which will mean a much more economic use of the air space as it becomes so tremendously overcrowded. This is a point which I feel strongly about.

On the other point, that of charges and outlay, which is of great interest, I imagine that we may hope to supply services to Eurocontrol on very nearly the same scale as the subscription demanded of us. Apart from the central overheads, therefore, I trust that this will not cost very much more in navigational costs. I give the Bill a very warm welcome because it is timely and it will be most precious.

12.6 p.m.

This is a short but complex Bill and the debate on it has, naturally, ranged over a fairly wide number of subjects. I noticed with interest that the Bill, which the hon. Member, for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) described with such a warmth of Socialist welcome as one which might be called air signposts for the 1960s and 1970s, has had more speakers in support of it on this side of the House than on his. I take that as an indication of its non-controversial character.

The fact that it is a Friday also produces the usual result that I have a good deal more time to reply than I would normally expect to have, but I assure the House that I do not intend to repeat the performance that I made last week.

The range of subjects which have been raised in the debate can, I think, be classified under a few simple heads. There have been technical points raised about methods of control, the nature of the equipment that will be used, the services that will be provided, and the integration, and in some cases the separation, of military and civil aircraft. There have been financial questions such as how we shall pay for the organisation, how the cost will be calculated, and alternative ways in which the expenses can be met.

There have been legal questions relating to the rights of the Organisation and its members vis-à-vis the member countries and individuals in the member countries, and constitutional questions concerning the responsibility of the Commission, the supranational character of the organisation, what it involves, its powers over us and our powers over it.

The complexity, I think, is quite simply due to two facts which are brought together in the Bill. One is that this is the first occasion in which this country has joined a purely European institution as a founder member. It therefore involves some adjustment of our habits and, consequently, of our domestic legislation.

The second fact is that this is also a relevant and convenient occasion for taking one step in implementing a policy which Her Majesty's Government have declared more than once before—that of making our own civil aviation industry as far as possible self-supporting rather than dependent on the taxpayer. This involves changes of a character which are parallel and closely related to the changes necessitated by Eurocontrol, which is the reason why they are brought together in one Bill. The Bill, though short, covers a wide field, because, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, in every case we have made the minimum necessary changes to give effect to it.

May I answer, first, the questions which have been asked under the technical heading? My right hon. Friend mentioned that the interim association is already in being under the protocol set out at the back of the Convention. It is already at work on technical matters. It is still at a very early stage of its work, and there are many problems for it to work out, some of which were mentioned earlier. There is, for instance, the problem of the difference in the level at which upper air space begins in this country and on the Continent.

There is the problem of the coordination of military and civil aircraft. There is the problem of movement from upper to lower air space. There is the problem of unidentified foreign aircraft flying over our air space for nothing—a problem which I may say, in parenthesis, I met in another form when I used to be a publisher, and we never found any solution to it there. There is the problem of supersonic and vertical take-off aircraft in future, and the problem of the adherence to the Convention by non-N.A.T.O. countries.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Gentleman opposite to read newspapers during our proceedings?

I take it that the newspapers are connected with the subject matter of the Adjournment debate, otherwise the hon. Member would not be reading them.

Further to that pont of order, Mr. Speaker. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not reading a newspaper in order not to follow this debate, but to prepare for the next one. If he does me the kindness of remaining in his place, I will read some of the newspapers to him in due course.

On the last question of the adherence of other countries, particularly non-N.A.T.O. countries, to the Convention, I only say at this point that the Convention is open to them. They will be welcome as members. I think I am right in saying that they will require a unanimous vote of the present members to be admitted. In the case of one N.A.T.O. member to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which is not at present a member, namely, Italy, that is purely a matter for the Italian Government to decide in the light of their national interests. I believe I am right in saying that their decision to drop out—they were in the original negotiations—arose from the problem of relating civil and military aircraft requirements. I hope that these problems will eventually be overcome, but that must be left as a matter for them.

As regards the purely technical questions, it is not possible at the moment to give detailed answers because of the very early stage at which the organisation now stands. It is the function of the organisation to solve precisely these problems, and we believe that this is the only way in which they can be solved.

We can say one or two important things on the technical side. First, the United Kingdom in particular already has a very advanced system of air traffic control and equipment. We have plans for integrating and developing it both for military and civilian control, and this is a particularly timely moment for us to marry up our system with that of neighbouring countries.

The second important thing which we can say in this context is that the United Kingdom undoubtedly has a leading place in the development of all kinds of electronic equipment of the sort which Eurocontrol will need to use. Although I have been in the Ministry for only a short time, I have seen plenty of evidence of this in visits I have paid to firms and installations in different parts of the country.

It follows from those two things that in the initial stages Eurocontrol can be expected to use, and to use against reimbursement, which is an important factor on the financial side, the existing British system over the United Kingdom, though this will be responsible to the international organisation and integrated with the systems of other countries.

Secondly, it follows from what I have said that the British electronics industry will have a quite exceptional chance to play a leading part in supplying not only this country but the whole Euro-control area with equipment throughout Europe in all the countries which now belong, and which will adhere, to the Convention.

Without going into details of particular types of equipment, it seems that our electronics industry is faced with an exciting prospect and a stimulating challenge, that of a new and growing market for its products in which its experience and resources will enable it to make an important and perhaps decisive contribution, and I am convinced that that opportunity will not be missed.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees raised a number of financial points, and I think that he was right in drawing attention to the extreme complexity of the financial provisions in the Convention. I will try to simplify them. It can be done, though it has taken a lot of hard work to extract the details.

In all references to gross national product, what it comes to in effect is that the United Kingdom contribution, on present levels of our economy related to European economy, will be almost exactly one-third of the whole. France and West Germany will each contribute 27 per cent., Belgium 6 per cent., the Netherlands 6 per cent., and Luxembourg about ¼ per cent.

The weighting of votes in the Commission, although it is related to gross national product in accordance with this formula, is tapered in favour of the smaller countries. This is reasonable, because, if we do not do that, the Luxembourg representative may as well not vote for all the difference he will make to decisions. Our contribution is 33 per cent., and our voting is equivalent to 10 votes out of a total of 37 for the six countries. In other words, we have more than a quarter of the weighting in the voting.

One hopes that the necessity for voting will not occur very frequently. It would obviously be more sensible to get a general consensus of agreement. I think that on all the important decisions there will have to be unanimity.

That is so. Unanimity is required on important decisions. Moreover, even on decisions taken by weighted voting, in some cases, in addition to the weighted majority, the decision has to carry the support of the actual majority of the contracting parties—in other words, at present four out of six, so our position is very strong in this respect.

I will deal briefly with the raising of finances and break it down into the four stages in which it is being done. First, the provisional association which is now in existence, and to which we made a token contribution in the last financial year. We shall contribute about £50,000 in the current calendar year, which was provided for in the Estimates. Once the organisation comes into existence, for the first three years contributions will be in direct relation to gross national product on the scale I mentioned, averaged out over the last three years, and the figures I gave apply. After the first three years of the Convention, when it comes into full effect the complicated formula laid down in Article 23 of the Statute will apply.

As regards capital contributions, we shall continue to contribute in proportion to gross national product. As regards recurrent contributions, the cost is broken down, into two fractions. The first covers the expense of civil aircraft of non-member-States and military aircraft, and the share of that is based on our gross national product. The other fraction relates to the cost of civil aircraft of the contracting powers, and in that case our contribution is in proportion to the number of British-registered aircraft which have been making use of the service. It is complicated, but I think it is reasonable.

At the fourth stage, in the long run the Convention confers powers on the organisation, though not an obligation, to cover its costs by raising tariffs. The fees are defined in Article 20 of the Convention. These tariffs will be fixed by a weighted majority, representing a majority of the contracting parties, in which we shall have a substantial vote. When that final stage is reached Euro-control's method of financing will be on all-fours with the method that the Minister is introducing in this country in accordance with the terms of the White Paper.

The next group of points raised by the hon. Member concerns questions of sovereignty and the legal status of the organisation. This is, in a certain measure, a supranational institution. It will have powers of a kind that we have not conferred on a similar body before. This is an inevitable consequence of the task which I think we all agree it has to perform. For instance, the organisation will be in a position to give orders, which must be obeyed, under British law, to pilots flying over this country, including British pilots. This does not seem to be a very startling departure from the present situation, under which British pilots flying over foreign countries have to obey foreign control organisations. All that is new is that it could mean foreign centres giving orders to British aircraft flying over the United Kingdom.

The organisation will also have power to bring actions in this country, under our law, for the recovery of fees if they are not paid. Equally, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, under Clause 7 (3) of the Bill it will even be possible for the organisation to be sued by people in this country for negligence committed outside the jurisdiction of our courts, which is a new feature in our law. It is not so much a derogation of our sovereignty as an extension of it.

All this is being done not for the sake of any supranational political theory but because it is the most practical way of controlling air space and preventing accidents. It is a good example of the right way to move into European partnership on practical grounds. It is not a loss of sovereignty but a pooling of sovereignty and a shift of sovereignty at the edges.

At the same time I stress that this organisation is not going to make it impossible for us to act independently, even within the context of air traffic control. Matters are provided for in the Convention on which separate action by the separate States concerned may be taken. For instance, the recommendations which the Commission may pass under Article 8 of the Convention, by a majority vote, are recommendations for action by the separate Governments that compose the organisation, and the representatives of those Governments will go back to their Parliaments, or whatever may be their governmental system, and tell them that these things should be done. If their Parliaments decide that they shall not be done there is nothing whatever that the Commission can do about it. In most cases it would be a foolish and unlikely thing to happen, but it could happen.

Another part of the Convention enables member States to take their own initiative in certain matters, such as entrusting their lower air space to the organisation, if they wish to do so. This touches a question raised by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees about the problem of getting down from the upper to the lower air space. Member States can take their own initiative in these matters, or can entrust them to the organisation, or to other States in the organisation, and they can make bilateral agreements with them or with any country outside the organisation, over which no rules of voting by majority can impose a veto. So, both from the point of view of voting and from the point of view of legal status, there does not arise any serious problem of limiting the sovereignty of this country.

I will not go further into the details of voting, which can be studied in the Convention and which I am satisfied leave our Government and Parliament with a perfectly sufficient range of freedom of action. I conclude by referring briefly to the essential operational advantages of our joining this organisation.

Will the hon. Member deal with the point I raised about accountability in this House at a future stage?

The hon. Member raised the question of an annual report. I have made an emphatic note of that suggestion and will confer with my right hon. Friend before the next stage of the Bill is reached.

The operational advantages of joining Eurocontrol—and they are not really advantages, but necessities—are that they will enable us from the outset to take an active part in influencing the planning of an organisation which is bound to exist in any case. Our aim will be to simplify and standardise air traffic control practices, particularly in respect of fast, high-flying aircraft, which can already cross some of the countries in the organisation in a matter of minutes and, in the supersonic age, will be able to cross this country in a matter of minutes. In addition, during the formative stages—and this is the importance of our being a founder-member—we shall be able to propound our views as to the requirements for new navigation and data-gathering systems and data-processing equipment, and we shall also be able to sell our own products under this head.

Looked at in the broader context of the I.C.A.O., to which the hon. Member referred, the formation of Euro-control will undoubtedly focus and strengthen the European operational approach for subsequent deployment in the international organisation and other international forums. Standing alone, our influence would in many cases be much less, while in other contexts, such as that of air space planning in North Western Europe—which vitally affects the economy of operation of British aircraft—if we were not in this organisation we should have no standing at all.

I think that I have said enough to show two essential features of this new organisation. The first is that, apart from being necessary on practical grounds, it offers the United Kingdom an important new challenge and an opportunity to work in co-operation with Europe, both in respect of our allies and, in the future, we hope, with countries that are not allied with us in a military sense. It gives us an opportunity to do so in the practical field of contributing to the safety of air travel in a new era, which I know is very much the concern of this House and which provides us with a challenge to develop and exploit new openings for one of our most important export industries, and to maintain our leadership in it.

Secondly and finally, the Bill enables us to take these opportunities and to meet this challenge at relatively small cost, both in terms of cash outlay—since much that we would have to spend we would have to spend in any case, even if we were not in the organisation; indeed, we might have to spend more—and also in terms of commitments undertaken involving a partial but minimal pooling of sovereign powers in a spirit of interdependence.

The Bill is drafted to give us the best of both worlds in this sense, and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Whitelaw.]

Committee upon Monday next.

Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Money

[ Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision in connection with the international convention relating to co-operation for the safety of air navigation, known as the Eurocontrol Convention, it is expedient to authorise—
A. the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—
  • (1) any sums authorised by the said Act to be paid by the Minister of Aviation on account of expenses of the Organisation as therein defined (that is to say the Organisation established by the said convention and the Commission and Agency comprised therein);
  • (2) any expenses incurred by the said Minister or by the Secretary of State in providing land, property or services for the said Organisation, or otherwise incurred by the said Minister in connection with land or property which is or is to be vested in or occupied by the Organisation;
  • B. the payment into the Exchequer of sums received by the said Minister on account of charges payable to him pursuant to regulations made under the said Act in respect of navigation services, and of any other sums required by the said Act to be so paid.—[Mr. Thorneycroft.]

    Resolution to be reported.

    Report to be received upon Monday next.

    Neutron Bomb

    Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Whitelaw.]

    12.30 p.m.

    It is the custom, and has been the custom for many years now, for subjects which are raised in Adjournment debates not to be left, as they used to be left to be raised, as it were, spontaneously, but to be allotted by Ballot, because there are so many hon. Members who want to raise so many subjects. This has always been held to have the additional advantage that it enables the Minister who is responsible for the matter which an hon. Member wishes to raise to have due notice that it is to be raised and so to have a proper opportunity of explaining the matter further and more satisfactorily than in his original Answer.

    I notice that the Minister of Defence is not in the House, and I think that this is a gross discourtesy, not to hon. Members who wish to raise questions but to the House itself and to the Chair. I have not received any intimation from the Minister of Defence that he would be unable to be here—no explanation, no apology. The right hon. Gentleman is not here, and before I proceed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to know if any intimation has been given to you as to whether the House is to be vouchsafed any explanation whatever from the Minister of Defence or the Ministry of Defence.

    I do not expect to receive explanation concerning which Minister is to address the House.

    Very well, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall have one or two severe things to say about the Minister of Defence. I hope to couch them in Parliamentary language, but there will certainly be personal criticisms of the Minister of the severest possible kind. It will not be my fault if he is not here to defend himself. He had full opportunity to be here; he knew that the matter was to be raised; he deliberately chose to be absent, and, therefore, if any unfairness results from the debate the responsibility must be entirely his.

    On 8th November, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked the Minister of Defence:
    "… what plans Her Majesty's Government have for the manufacture of the neutron bomb."
    The Minister answered:
    "It would not be in the public interest to make any statement on plans for the manufacture of specific types of nuclear weapons."
    In other words, the right hon. Gentleman refused to tell my hon. Friend whether the Government had any such plans or what plans they had.

    We all appreciate that the Minister of Defence is the custodian of a great many official secrets and that it would be quite wrong, in some cases, for him to disclose them. In this case, the impression given was that the Minister was exercising his discretion in not giving any information at all. What is left open, however, by his reply is the possibility that the Government may be in the course of testing or experimenting, or even manufacturing, neutron bombs.

    There was no denial from the Minister of Defence. It is possible, on his Answer, that these matters are proceeding. What further follows from that is that the Minister of Defence saw no moral reason why the British Government should not be engaged upon such an enterprise. Quite obviously, if it had seemed to the Minister of Defence that this was a kind of enterprise upon which the Government would be ashamed to embark, especially having regard to their strictures upon other people, he would have hastened to say so.

    My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire pursued the matter a little further and asked:
    "Has the Minister seen the report which came from Washington on 2nd November, that rays from the neutron bomb can penetrate through 3 ft. of concrete? What is he going to do to strengthen 10 Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence?"
    The Minister replied:
    "That is quite another question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put it down."
    My hon. Friend left the matter there.

    In the next column in HANSARD I, too, asked the Minister of Defence a Question. I asked him:
    "… 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."
    The Minister answered:
    "I have no knowledge of any such proposal."
    That was a rather equivocal Answer because it left in doubt whether the Minister of Defence had any knowledge of any proposal to make a bomb of that character or whether he was merely denying knowledge of any proposals submitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

    To find out what the Minister of Defence really meant, I asked him a supplementary question. I asked:
    "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?"
    The Minister replied:
    "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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 956–7.]
    What was set out by the Prime Minister the other day as to our general position on tests is neither here nor there. I was asking him about a particular weapon of a particularly horrifying and nightmarish kind, and what the Minister of Defence was saying was, "I have no knowledge of any such allegation." I do not believe it. I cannot believe that the Minister of Defence had no knowledge of any proposal about neutron bombs. He was not telling the House of Commons the truth. If, being a Minister of Defence, charged by this House and by the Crown, with the responsibility of defending 50 million fellow citizens, and knowing about the things I am about to tell the House in a minute or two, he does not tell, it gets close to treason. A Minister who does not know about it ought to be impeached.

    We are not dealing with a triviality. Let us see what it is that the Minister of Defence had the impudence to tell the House of Commons he had never heard of. I take one of our own newspapers, to start with. I am about to read from the Daily Telegraph of Friday, 16th June. Almost all the quotations with which I am proposing to trouble the House are on dates prior to the resumption by the Soviet Union of any tests.

    Perhaps I may say, in passing—because there are so many people so anxious to misunderstand and to attribute the wrong kind of motive—that I share the censure of everyone of the Soviet Government for their unilateral resumption of tests. I praised the Soviet Union, as many people did, for its unilateral cessation of tests in October, 1958, but they cannot be entitled to appreciation for a unilateral cessation of tests and reject the censure for a unilateral resumption of them. That, I hope, is common ground between us. I shall have something more to say about that later.

    Here we are dealing with weapons, which I shall describe in a moment, whose testing and manufacture was being strongly pressed for during the past four years. The first quotation which I wish to make is from the science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph on 16th June:
    "… it"
    thas is, this bomb—
    "produces a shower of neutrons, the negatively charged particles of great penetrating power that are lethal in large-enough doses. In other words, it could kill everyone within a certain area, and yet not cause the material destruction associated with other nuclear weapons."
    What is the consequence that the science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph draws from that? It is this:
    "Consequently, the neutron bomb, should it ever become a reality and not just a calculation, would enable a nuclear war to take place."
    It would enable a nuclear war to take place. And the Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom dares to tell the House of Commons that he has never heard of it.

    I will continue the quotation:
    "An area can be cleared of all living things, and an invading army can march in without any risk to themselves."
    That is, of course, provided that its enemy is innocent of this nightmarish weapon. I repeat. Is anyone going to say, on behalf of the Minister of Defence, that he was telling the truth to the House of Commons, as a Minister of the Crown responsible to the House of Commons, when he said that he knew nothing about it? Was he?

    I wish to refer to some of the other things the right hon. Gentleman might have heard about, or which, perhaps, he might—now his attention as been directed to it by an unofficial private Member of the House of Commons—care to have a look at some day. In the New York Herald Tribune of 16th June, the well-known commentator Mr. Joseph Alsop had a two-column article dealing with this matter. I do not propose to quote from it. Public discussion was raging for months all over the United States, as part of the campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the President of the United States to resume, without notice, without agreement, nuclear tests. It was being said to him, "We are ready with this thing now. All we have to do is test it. You cannot afford to wait." This was on 16th June, and on 8th November the Minister of Defence said in the House of Commons that he had never heard of it.

    In the article in the Daily Telegraph, from which I have already quoted, the science correspondent alleges that the United States had the neutron bomb when testing stopped. The science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph says this, but the Minister of Defence had never heard of it. What sort of people does the right hon. Gentleman think we are?

    I quote, from the New York Times of 26th June, a description of the bomb:
    "It would kill all personnel in a limited area with a burst of radiation from neutrons and leave buildings intact. Nor would it leave any lingering radioactive fall-out."
    Senator Dodd, who has interested himself in these matters for a long time, is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor to the same effect on 27th June.

    On 5th July, Professor Teller, in the United States, gave in the New York Herald Tribune a quite terrifying description of what this weapon is and what its effects would be. I dare say that even the Minister of Defence may perhaps have heard of Professor Teller. He is said to be the father of nuclear weapons, the father of the H-bomb. He knows about it. If the Minister of Defence has never heard of it, will he ask Professor Teller to tell him? When he has done so, will he come to the House and tell us about it, because there are 50 million people in these islands whose life depends upon it?

    I quote again from the Christian Science Monitor of 8th July, 1961. In passing, what an irony that a description of this weapon appears in a newspaper bearing a title like that. This newspaper tells us:
    "Whether or not such a weapon could be developed is believed to be still an open question in secret American councils. No credible authority has proposed that the Soviets are any further along with it than is the United States."
    The Daily Telegraph of 25th July—coming nearer to the date—had a story about the neutron bomb with the headline in capitals:
    "Neutron Bomb Ideal for N.A.T.O."
    Here is a weapon "ideal for N.A.T.O." and the Minister of Defence has never heard about it.

    The final newspaper quotation with which I shall trouble the House is again from the New York Herald Tribune of 2nd November, less than a week before the Minister of Defence was giving these Answers. This, again, is a quotation from Senator Dodd:
    "The United States must speedily make every possible effort to convert the neutron bomb from theoretical certainty to a practical reality."
    I hope that I shall still have the attention of such representative of the Minister of Defence as is here, because I want to make some more quotations. Look at these benches, Mr. Speaker. I know that it is Friday. I know this is an Adjournment debate, but one of the appalling things about the present situation is the complete apathy—contributed to deliberately by Governments—of ordinary people about the most terrifying developments in the whole history of mankind. This is not a piece of melodrama. It is not a tale by Edgar Alan Poe about which we are talking. It is not somebody's nightmare vanishing with the sunrise the next day.

    We are dealing with what Senator Dodd calls "theoretical certainties being developed into practical realities." What practical reality?—the realisation of a weapon which can destroy human life, may be all, if it is developed enough, without interfering with any of the sacred rights of property. The Minister knows nothing, says nothing, does not think it worth while even to come here to deal with the question when it is raised. The Front Bench opposite is occupied by one recently-appointed junior Minister and a representative of the Whips. The Opposition Front Bench is occupied by nobody at all.

    Let us contrast with some other quotations from HANSARD all this silence, secrecy, concealment about weapons that are as far ahead of the H-bombs with which up to now people have been mostly concerned, as the H-bombs themselves were over the atomic bombs that, without notice, wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union resumed tests. People said that they were greatly surprised by this, that it was a breach of faith. Yet, after all, we had been telling them for months that our policy was to make them believe that we were to use these weapons if we could not get our own way in Berlin.

    It is quite true that we did not tell them what our own way in Berlin was. It is quite true that we did not tell them that, because we did not know what our own way in Berlin was. Dr. Adenauer had not told us. As far as I know, he still has not told us. I understand from the Prime Minister that progress has been made towards agreement. I do not know whether it has got as far as reaching an agreement so that we have something to say in answer to the Soviet proposals which we reject.

    If we tell Khrushchev we are going to attack and want him to believe that we really mean to attack with nuclear weapons if we do not get our way, what else have we told him? We have told him that if anyone is in danger of being attacked with nuclear weapons, and wants to stop it, the proper way to stop it is to deter the attacker from doing it and the only way to deter the attacker from doing it is to have bigger and better bombs than he has got. So what the occasion for the surprise was seems to me a little difficult to understand.

    Even if we were not surprised we were entitled to protest, and right hon. and hon. Members protested with great vigour and great eloquence. So did the Minister of Defence. I quote from HANSARD of 24th October. The Minister of Defence made a statement on U.S.S.R. nuclear tests, a long statement describing what had happened. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) expressed his horror and the Minister of Defence said:
    "I should like to associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. None of us in this House can but be appalled by the callous and cruel way in which the Russians have restarted this contamination of the atmosphere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October 1961; Vol. 646, c. 749.]
    The right hon. Gentleman is appalled at the "callous and cruel" Russians restarting H-bomb tests. If that is cruel and callous, what is a neutron bomb? Can we remain silent about this? He remained silent. Is humanity never to take its affairs into its own hands and call people to account for this kind of thing—loading them up with hatred of other people while we are doing things far worse than those of which we complain? The Leader of the Liberal Party says:
    "Does not this outbreak of homicidal mania by Russia cause the impression of a lack of self-confidence on their part, rather than the impression of strength."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1961; Vol. 646, c. 750.]
    If it is an exhibition of homicidal mania merely to explode a bomb in the stratosphere, what are you exhibiting when you are experimenting with the development of weapons like this?

    I ask again, is it still maintained that the Minister of Defence did not know? Then why did he not know? When will he find out? If, as I believe, he knew all the time, what complete humbug, what nauseating hypocrisy, it is to have that knowledge locked up in your soul and to use language like this about other people. I have been here long enough to know that to vomit on the Floor of the House is probably out of order, and I will restrain myself.

    Hon. Member after hon. Member was scraping the barrel for adjectives. Yet the Minister of Defence, I believe, knew all the time that the United States had perhaps—I do not know—already tested it months before, in June according to my information, or, at any rate, was regarding it as a reasonable and proper thing to do, and the only question was when to turn the theoretical certainty into a practical reality.

    I will not prolong this. It is four and a half hours before the House need adjourn. I want the Minister, representing the Minister of Defence, to come clean. I want to ask him some questions. Is there, in fact, going on in any allied country as far as he knows any testing of a weapon such as I have described? If the answer is "Yes", when did he first hear about it? Secondly, is this country engaged in similar research? If so, since when? Thirdly, does he agree with the headline which I quoted from the Daily Telegraph that this neutron bomb is an ideal weapon for N.A.T.O.? If he does, will he tell us whether any proposals have been submitted to N.A.T.O., either by him or by anyone else, for the development of such a weapon?

    Moreover, will he tell us how, in the event of such a weapon coming into existence, the population of this country is to survive any kind of war? Has he amended his civil defence plans in order to deal with this potentiality? Will he tell us what they are? Will he warn people to build shelters for themselves by individual private enterprise up and down the country as they are doing in an orgy of self-deception in the United States? Are people to be advised to do this? If they are, what use will it be if there is a weapon which, while keeping the shelter intact, kills all the people inside it?

    Will he tell us on what principle the use of such a weapon can be defended for any purpose by any power at any time. What is to be achieved by it? Defence? Clearly not. The preservation of a way of life? It is the very antithesis of a way of life, it is an ineluctable way of death. To preserve liberty, freedom, a bourgeois democracy on the party basis, a Speaker, a Committee of Privileges and a Mace on the Table? Are these the things for which we are developing a weapon of this kind? Does it make them practical realities?

    This, surely, is the end of all this kind of reasoning with which the world has been bedevilled for ten years, this nonsense that peace is being preserved by this balance of terror and, therefore, you must increase the terror and somehow get back some day to the balance. We did not begin with this kind of fusion weapon until 1950. Does anyone in his senses believe that the world in 1961 is safer and more secure than it was in 1951 when we did not have these weapons at all? Has there been an advance in our security, or are we not living precariously on the very edge of ultimate catastrophe, preparing now the weapons which can push us all over without notice and without knowledge?

    What right have the Government to conceal these things from us? Surely we have the right, in a democracy at any rate, to decide for ourselves whether we wish to be defended by weapons of this kind. The British people are ready to die for the things it believes in. We have given enough evidence of this in our history, and I suppose that it is still true. I hope that it will always be true. But the question here is not what you are willing to die for. It is a question of what you are willing to commit genocide for and what you are willing to exterminate the human race for. What is there in this quarrel which justifies perils of this kind?

    I sympathise with the hon. Member for having to be here sheltering the cowardly Minister of Defence from the attack which he deserves and from which he has run away. The hon. Member can only do his best. But if the Minister of Defence is so cowardly in his own personal affairs he is not a fit Minister to be responsible for the defence of this country, and he ought to go.

    1.9 p.m.

    We have just listened to what I can only describe as a disgraceful speech. I can well understand people asking questions to try to find out what the present situation is, or what it is likely to be at any point of time in the future, but it is an old trick to put up "Aunt Sallies" and ask for them to be knocked down. If they are not knocked down, either because of all the problems of security or because a Government spokesman cannot knock them down by saying either "Yes" or "No", the Government are then condemned by more newspaper commentators. This is a disgraceful attitude to adopt.

    Will the hon. Gentleman explain, then, why the Minister of Defence did not come here to say it himself, instead of sending what I hope I may describe without offence as the office boy?

    The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he had been in the House for many years. He knows the practice of Adjournment debates. They are normally replied to by a junior Minister. This is a long-standing practice. The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with alleging that the Minister of Defence has run away on this matter. I believe that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation will give him the replies which would have been given by the Minister of Defence if he had come here.

    I am particularly concerned about the great danger that speeches of this kind can have upon our own security in this country, upon our relations with our allies, and upon what could be potential enemies in the future. After all, we are British and we are interested in the British way of life. This is extremely important. If we are to protect the British way of life, if we are to be able to face up to all the problems besetting us, if we are to have any cards up our sleeve in negotiations concerning the reduction of armaments throughout the world—and heaven knows we have tried long enough to bring about some agreement at Geneva and elsewhere—we must not reveal everything we know. If we are to expose all the cards we have and lay them on the table, what use is there in our hoping to reach some agreement on international disarmament and, which is far more important, what hope do we have of carrying on the great traditions for which we have been famous in the past?

    This is the great dilemma we all face. This is the great dilemma which many Governments face. While we in the House of Commons expect to play our full part in deciding what this country's policy shall be in the future, all of us will surely agree that it would be wrong, and, indeed, it would be against the national security, for Ministers of the Crown to stand at the Dispatch Box and tell the House everything that is going on, including all the theoretical exercises and all the different things we may be doing with a view to trying to make certain that we at least have some way of maintaining the security of this country and have one or two cards up our sleeve so that we can carry on proper negotiations.

    This is surely preferable to following the line which has been put about so often—"We would rather be red than dead". This is just not true, because it is just as easy to be dead and red. The important point is often lost sight of that if we are killed by bow and arrow we are just as dead as if we are killed by a neutron bomb.

    Therefore, we must maintain a sense of proportion, I propose to say no more, except to express the hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give as many answers as he can to the questions which have been asked. I again express my disagreement with the terms in which the hon. Member addressed the House.

    1.14 p.m.

    I will say a few further words about some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) in a minute or two. I want to say, first, that he must have been under a misapprehension about the status of the Minister who is here to reply to the debate. The Minister will no doubt tell us, but I have considerable doubts whether the Minister who is sitting on the Government Front Bench was sent here by the Minister of Defence to answer. It may be that he is only on the Front Bench now because he was participating in the previous debate. He knows as little about it, apparently, as the Minister of Defence himself. However, I must thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation for having the courtesy to stay, which distinguishes him very greatly from the Department responsible for answering the debate.

    I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), at the failure of the Minister of Defence to come here, or, at any rate, to get another senior member of the Government to reply. The hon. Member for Totnes spoke about the traditions of the House in relation to Adjournment debates. It is true that Ministers often send junior Ministers to deal with Adjournment debates. They certainly ought to send somebody. It may be said that today's debate on the Adjournment has arisen somewhat earlier than was expected. But there have been Whips in the House throughout the whole day. Some of them are paid. What are they paid for?

    When it was evident, as it was evident to us at 11.30 this morning, that the Government's business was likely to be dealt with very quickly, it was the business of the Whips to contact the Ministry of Defence and make sure that the Government were properly represented when the debate took place. Nothing like that has happened. The hon. Member for Totnes—(the only hon. Member on the Government back benches who has turned up for the debate—is apparently under the misapprehension of thinking that the Ministry of Defence has sent a representative, because it has not.

    There are other reasons why the Minister of Defence should have taken special care to be present on this occasion. My hon. Friend has already told the House of the questions which were put to the Minister the other day, and I will not quote them again. The nature of those questions and the serious character of the matters involved should have made the Minister want to attend. We are confronted with a situation in which only a few Members of the House are present. There is no prepared spokesman for the Government. There are no representatives at all on the Opposition Front Bench. I do not think that it will do the House of Commons much good when it is learned that a matter of this nature has been discussed with so few Members present.

    Henry Fox, the father of Charles James Fox, once said, "I will speak so loud that I will be heard outside this House." What my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has said today will be heard outside the House. It will be reported outside the House. Members of Parliament sometimes complain about the reporting of the newspapers, but I hope that the newspapers will report quite accurately the numbers who were here to discuss this subject. The House of Commons, if it wishes to sustain its reputation, should take precautions to ensure that when matters of this great importance are raised there is much better representation in the Chamber.

    A few months ago the Minister of Defence complained because some people sat down outside his Ministry. The Minister will not even come and sit down on the Front Bench of the House of Commons, so he must not complain if people outside the House take extraordinary measures to deal with the situation. If the House of Commons shows that it is so little interested in such matters as this that it does not even debate it properly, and the Government do not even send a Minister along to answer the debate, people outside the House will have to resort to other measures. The best thing I could recommend would be for somebody to throw a brick through a Ministry of Defence window. It might call attention to the situation. If the Government do not send a Minister to give proper answers, the movement outside the House will develop all the more.

    It may be said that this matter has been raised only by back-bench Members on the Adjournment, but my hon. Friend and I have as much right to have answers from the Government as have any other Members of the House. We were elected to this House—indeed, we were both elected primarily on this issue. When we fought our elections, we made it absolutely clear that we were opposed to all these nuclear weapons. We made it clear that we were prepared to fight the issue inside the House as well as outside; that we proposed to say the same things inside the House as outside, and to propose the same things inside this House as outside it.

    The procedure of the House is that Ministers, not merely as a matter of courtesy but as a matter of right to Members of Parliament, should give their answers here. Therefore, what the House is now witnessing is something worse than a gross discourtesy; it is a complete failure of the Government to understand the democratic processes which they pretend to wish to defend.

    I shall not, by quotation, add much further to the descriptions given by my hon. Friend of the neutron bomb, but perhaps I should just add this description given by Mr. Joseph Alsop in the New York Herald-Tribune of 16th June. He described the neutron bombs as
    "… the better brighter weapons of the future which will merely kill all living things within their range, while leaving intact all valuable inanimate objects such as cannon factories and apartment houses."
    That is what we are discussing—the most grotesque invention in the history of the world.

    Moreover, this weapon has other alleged advantages. Once it has been developed, its cost will be about one-hundredth of that of a comparable atomic bomb. Mr. Joseph Alsop, in the same article, discusses the possibility that the spread of these weapons, if they are developed, will be enormously multiplied all over the world. The Minister of Defence told the House of Commons that he did not know what had developed, so I will give one further quotation on that subject, too.

    The Minister of Defence pretended to the House that he did not know about the discussion that is going on in relation to this subject. This is what is said on that aspect of the matter in the Christian Science Monitor of 27th June:
    "The neutron bomb is unquestionably the object of the most extensive and possibly bitterest sub rosa debate this post-war Washington has seen."
    That very responsible newspaper said that about this neutron bomb there has been the bitterest internal secret argument in Washington at any time since 1945. That is saying a great deal. There has been a huge controversy on this subject between different Departments in America, yet the Minister tried to pretend that it was something either of which he was ignorant altogether or on which he could not say anything. For neither of those explanations could he possibly have any justification.

    Anyone who has attempted to study what has been the controversy about this bomb all through the months—indeed, as my hon. Friend has said, the years—will see that, during this summer, arguments about the neutron bomb became of considerable and, maybe, even of paramount importance to the question of restarting tests. Many of those who wished the United States to restart tests used as their chief argument the possibility of developing this neutron bomb. Others, who were contesting that position, argued partly on technical grounds, and said that the neutron bomb had not developed as far as its advocates claimed.

    Nevertheless, nobody who reads the discussions that have been going on in the United States can possibly doubt that the preparations which the United States Government made for the restarting of tests, prior to the Russians restarting them, were partly influenced by the pressure to secure this neutron bomb. It is, therefore, certainly not only a question of the significance of the bomb once it is developed, but that pressure for developing it has already played its part in the political developments of the past few months affecting the restarting of tests.

    It may be, it is quite possible, that although the Minister of Defence did not know what was going on in Washington, the Russians did. It may be that they took the trouble to read the American newspapers, and that they took the trouble to inquire about this very sub rosa argument in the United States. It might be that the Russians had spies there trying to find out about it; and that one of their reasons for going ahead with their tests was that they could say, "We do not intend to be left behind in the development of neutron weapons." So it is no use anyone suggesting that the matter we are now raising, and on which the Minister recently refused to reply, is one of small significance.

    There is another aspect of the matter. According to the descriptions which I have read of this bomb, it could have—in the crazy language they use—very considerable military advantage in the sense that my hon. Friend pointed out when he quoted evidence that this weapon would enable a nuclear war to take place. These bombs could be let off and an army could occupy the area where the bombs had exploded, thus distinguishing them from any other kinds of bombs which had a bigger fallout content.

    If this is true, and if one side secured an enormous advantage in the development of these weapons, it would intensify the danger of one side seeking to secure an advantage by preventive action. This, in my opinion, has always been one of the fallacies in the balance-of-terror theory which the Minister of Defence sometimes says he favours. One of the fallacies is that it is not a balance. Each side is engaged in a race, each is trying to get ahead of the other, and if one side secures a really long-distance advantage over the other it may think, "This is the moment to strike, otherwise I am likely later to lose my advantage." The development of these weapons might have that effect.

    It is no use arguing that that is not a real danger. One can, in fact, say that almost every war in the last century—except, perhaps, the 1939–45 war—started as a preventive war; by one side saying, "We do not want a war, but if we do not do it now we may lose our chance later." The side with the neutron bomb could believe that it might have a considerable influence in altering the balance, thereby making that side feel that it had a great preventive advantage.

    No one need say to me that that danger is completely chimerical. We have only to read what is being written in the United States of America at present. There is a body at the University of Pennsylvania known as the Foreign Policy Research Institute. It is paid for partly from money voted for the War Department, under the sponsorship of the National War College and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has recently produced a comprehensive foreign policy for America which is called, "A Forward Strategy." It is an eminent body, not a "crank" organisation. It was built up to study the whole question of nuclear warfare.

    The heart of what is says is contained in this sentence:
    "The priority objective of any American grand strategy is, by a broad margin, the preservation and enhancement of our political system rather than the maintenance of peace…Our policy must be based upon the premise that we cannot tolerate the survival of a political system which has the growing capability and the ruthless will to destroy us. We have no choice but to adopt a Catonic strategy."
    That means, of course, the strategy of Cato—Carthage must be destroyed. That is the doctrine of a powerful section in the United States advocating its views with money supplied by the American Government through that Government's war contracts. The members of this body are among those who have been using their influence and wealth to press the Government to reconsider tests so that the neutron bomb can be developed.

    When he talked about this matter in replying to a debate the other day, the Minister of Defence spoke as if the whole question of bombs and military machines was in the hands of an all-wise body. We must leave these things to these great military experts who are so wise, he said, in effect. The Minister talks as if it is improper for us to discuss these matters. I have often thought, when we are told about the deterrent, that there is every reason why we should let the other side know all about it. The idea that one should not reveal the deterrent explodes the whole deterrent theory.

    In any case, the suggestion that the wisdom of developing these weapons is settled by people in the United States, in whom we can have great confidence, is not borne out by the facts. Consider, for example, what was said by Mr. Eisenhower, an authority on these matters, in his speech on leaving office as President of the United States in 1961. He is reported in the Tribune of 17th November, 1961, as follows:
    "American democracy, he said in essence, was being threatened by a new and enormous and insidious power—that of 'the military industrial complex' employing millions of men, wielding the power of fantastic billions of dollars, developing an influence that 'is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal Government.'"
    That was a remarkable thing for Mr. Eisenhower to have said in his last speech as President of the United States, for he warned the people of America against the growing irresponsible power of fantastically wealthy pressure groups, organised often by the Air Force or Army, often in competition in the United States in pressing for action which might be absolutely opposed to the declared political objects of the American Government.

    If anyone reads what has been written in the American newspapers during the past five or six months about the neutron bomb he will see that the pressure groups to which President Eisenhower referred—
    "the military—industrial complex …"
    as he called it, has been working overtime to try to get the neutron bomb tested.

    Meantime, what is the position of the British Government? Is it really no business of the Minister of Defence to find out what is going on? Is the British Government to have any influence in deciding whether or not the bombs should be made? Are these the terms of our alliance with the United States; that they can go ahead with the manufacture of bombs of this mammoth grotesque nature without us even having any say in the matter? One cannot blame the Americans in this respect, because if the Minister of Defence never raises the subject—if he is content with such a pusillanimous posture—that is not the fault of the Americans.

    But if we are to remain in the Western Alliance, Britain has every right to have a say in deciding these things. That is why we want to know from the Minister—we will not be told today, but we intend to press the matter until we get a reply—what representations the British Government have made or will make about this matter. We are entitled to know whether it has been raised by the British Embassy in the United States, if we had anything to say—or do we leave it to Professor Teller and those opposed to him to fight it out in the United States?

    If we have had no influence we have, apparently, assisted the process of restarting tests in America. After the Prime Minister made his announcement about the tests it was reported in the United States that they regarded the Prime Minister's declaration as giving them assistance, if they wished, to restart the whole testing process. So apparently all that this Government have done during these last months since the Russian tests started is to assist the process of restarting tests if the Americans wish to. And as far as the neutron bomb goes, we are told that the Minister of Defence does not know about it and that if he does he has not made any representations to the United States about it.

    One of the horrors of the whole business of nuclear weapons is the bovine fatalism which seems to have settled on so many people. We are told that we must leave it to the Government—to the experts—and that it is not a subject which the people understand because the matters involved are too complex and difficult. But there are growing numbers of people who understand these problems much better than the scientists, because they start by applying some moral principles to the case. If one tries to settle any political problem without moral principles one probably gets into a mess.

    A growing number of people, particularly the younger element, are beginning to say, "This is a terrible and complicated problem. We know it is difficult, but let us try to apply some principles to it". But once we start applying the most elementary moral principles—Christian or otherwise—the whole process in which the world is engaged is exposed as a crime of such monstrous proportions that it is impossible to find language with Which to describe it. Therefore, the duty of people who believe that some moral principle should be applied in our public life as well as in any other kind of life is, first, to tear down these cloaks of secrecy which the Government try to wrap round themselves.

    What possible excuse can there be for a Government, even if there is a case for their kind of theories of a balance of terror, to refuse persistently to give to the public the facts about this horrifying situation? I hope that, as a result of the debate, the Minister of Defence will make a full statement to the House next week on the implications of this bomb, on the representations made to the United States about it, and tell us whether or not it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that it should be manufactured. That is the very least that the right hon. Gentleman can do to repair the gross discourtesy which he has perpetrated today. He should seek an opportunity next week to make a declaration on the whole matter. I cannot understand how any Government can conceivably say that this is not a question about which we should be concerned.

    The Government may not be concerned. The official Opposition may not be concerned, but growing numbers of people outside are concerned. Those who may condemn some of us for having strange and curious views should know that the majority of the people in the world are on our side and not on the side of the secretive Minister of Defence. The Prime Minister of India said two or three weeks ago that the Indian Government would have the power by 1963 to make the hydrogen bomb, but that his Government did not propose in any circumstances to go ahead with such a programme. That was the answer of a man with much more experience than the present British Prime Minister and infinitely more than that of our Minister of Defence. That was the answer of a man whose name will be remembered when all the names of Ministers in our present Government are forgotten. That is his wisdom, and it is the wisdom which we are preaching.

    At the United Nations last week there was a vote on the question of starting these tests, which would have governed whether there could ever be tests of these neutron bombs. Seventy nations voted against any further tests of any nuclear weapons and about 20 nations voted in the minority against that proposition. Included in that minority who refuse to accept the Indian-sponsored resolution were the American Government, the French Government, the British Government and the Russian Government—the same Russian Government which had been condemned by the Minister of Defence in such extravagant or strong terms in the House of Commons a week or two earlier.

    Very little of this was published in the newspapers. Apparently, some of them did not wish the world to know what was happening at the United Nations. But it was a most extraordinary commentary on the exchanges we had about the Russian series of tests in this House when in the United Nations, a week or two later, Britain and the Soviet Union voted on the same side against the sanity and wisdom of the Indian Government.

    Some of us in the House, and outside the House, therefore, will seek every means in our power to shake the Government and the country from their apathy on the most terrible challenge that ever confronted the human race. What we seek here in this debate is, first, to secure the answers to which we are entitled from the Minister of Defence. What we are also engaged in doing is fighting for the greatest cause that men and women ever fought for in this country.

    1.45 p.m.

    I came to the House today to see some of my hon. Friends, and I have now seen some of my hon. Friends in action. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has a badge of honour, the badge of a man who is talking to empty benches most of the time, the man who is challenging the complacency which characterises the Government.

    This argument about defence has run on for many years and it cults across parties, but the Government's complacency is almost unbelievable. Let us look at their record. Five years ago we had the idiocy of the Suez operation. Let us look at the mechanics of that and the way in which the Government handled the men and women who served their country. What did they do? What did this commercial traveller who sells defence to the House of Commons, the Minister of Defence, do? He is a member of a Government who five years ago sent men and women from this country to Suez into a lunatic operation to which the House had never applied its mind as it should have done, quite apart from the politics of the matter.

    I agree that my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench took up an attitude in 1956 which might have persuaded Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, that there was a bipartisan approach to these matters, but there were people right from the beginning in 1956 who thought that this was lunacy. I want to leave the politics on one side, but I must say that there was monstrous mishandling by the Government of the men and women in our Forces and of the materials supplied by people who work in that section of British industry.

    We ought to have them impeached for the way they have behaved. In five years they have brought the people of this country into the greatest danger that they have ever encountered. They have lived for years in the aftermath of that extraordinary speech made by the then Minister of Defence, who said that we had to look after our airfields and bases and wipe out other people.

    The decay in our national life is most extraordinary. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have now reached the stage in British history when they want the countries of the Common Market on our side. Yesterday the Government introduced what was obviously a colourbar Bill. Here we have men and women who have spent years parading their affection first for the Empire and later for the Commonwealth, who have patted men on the back at Buckingham Palace garden parties and said. "What a good chap we have here", and yet the moment those men achieve independence and power they are regarded as being all wrong.

    It may be, Mr. Speaker, that the relevance of all this escapes you at the moment. The relevance is that there are today an increasing number of people who think, as I do, that the defence policies of the great Powers are not only ludicrous but a menace to the future of mankind.

    This week we have seen on television examples of the terrible consequences of famine in Tanganyika and Kenya. How is it when the House of Commons has such a link with those Territories, which were once part of the Empire and are now part of the Commonwealth, that hon. Members can sit here and say, "We have been told about the unpleasant things which are happening, but we cannot afford to do anything about them", and then go on to say that we can afford to continue to spend money on idiotic weapons for so-called defence?

    I am not a pacifist. I conceive it to be the duty of the House of Commons to have Armed Forces to defend the things which the House thinks should be defended, but I feel more and more that we are getting out of touch with realities.

    On television our children are shown Africans and other coloured people with great fat stomachs, classic demonstrations of dietetic deficiencies. Hon. Members say, "It is a terrible thing." There is no difference in compassion about these matters between the two sides of the House, but when it comes to dealing with such things my hon. Friends and I part from hon. Members opposite on two grounds. First, we believe that our defence expenditure is absolutely idiotic, wasteful and stupid. Secondly, we believe that it does not defend us anyway.

    The neutron bomb is the end. I am ashamed that there are not more hon. Members on both sides of the House today to listen to this debate, to show that they worry and care about this matter. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary cares about it. This is the great problem of our time. Yet, look at the frivolities in which we are indulging.

    This great House, this Mother of Parliaments—though I sometimes think that democracy in this country has only just arrived—

    It is just beginning. My great friend, the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan, used to say when we walked through St. Stephen's Hall and looked at the statues, "Remember, Bill, those are not your ancestors. We have only just arrived here." However, perhaps I might say that all of us in the House owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. I am not sure that this is the right place to say this, but he is one of the most courageous Members of the House of Commons, a man in the great traditions of the House who focuses our attention on these matters. Unhappily, the benches are practically empty today and hon. Members are taking no notice of this debate. I regard it as a privilege to come along and, in my limited way, support what has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Nelson and Colne and Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).

    I would say to the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale did, that one of the things which ought to worry all of us in public life today is the fact that thousands of young men and women find no consolation in our established political parties, and do not believe that the conventional parties can articulate their hopes for the future. Outside the conventional parties there are thousands of ordinary men and women, especially young ones, who care deeply about this matter and are worried about their future and believe that both the Government and the House of Commons are behaving in a lunatic fashion, having their priorities and attitudes all wrong.

    These people think it is wrong and evil that the House passes the problem by when it looks at the swollen bellies of Africans and merely sends a shilling or two towards the famine funds for Tanganyikans and Kenyans. The House of Commons may care about these things, but it has them all wrong. Hon. Members on both sides of the House support a defence policy which will drag not only those poor friends of ours in Africa, but the British people, into the abyss. That is why the benches in the Chamber are empty today and why the House of Commons is not making the impact which it ought to make. We have the whole thing crazy and upside down.

    I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for the discursive way in which I have dealt with this subject. I believe that the Government and the House must assert themselves to ensure that mankind is put on sensible rails in the second half of the twentieth century, and that hon. Members should not continue supporting lunacies whether they are on that side of the House or this.

    1.59 p.m.

    I must begin my reply by trying to remove two misconceptions from the mind of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). His first mistake is in thinking that he can, without offence, describe me as the Minister of Defence's office boy, and his second mistake is in thinking that he speaks for the public on matters of defence.

    Nevertheless, I have listened with very great interest to the hon. Member and to the two other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Perhaps I might particularly single out the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) whose moving and eloquent speech certainly struck an appreciative cord in me.

    To come to the substance of the case which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne put forward against the Minister of Defence, I listened with the greatest care to his quotations from different publications. He made them in support of his view that the Minister of Defence was not telling the House the truth when he said on 8th November that he had no knowledge of the allegations made in the course of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.

    The substance of that supplementary question was that there had been frequent and authoritative statements that the United States was preparing to test such a bomb. I feel bound to say that, carefully though I listened to all the hon. Gentleman's quotations, I did not observe one which would sustain his criticism of the Minister of Defence on that point, while I did hear quite a number which could be taken as directly controverting his attack on my right hon. Friend.

    Many of us have seen articles in the Press on this subject, and it is my first duty to make clear what I at any rate understand to be the subject we are discussing. It is undoubtedly one of the utmost gravity.

    The so-called neutron-flux bomb has been described as a nuclear weapon which produces a strong emission of neutrons, thus relying on radiation rather than blast to achieve its purpose. As such it would be damaging to people but not to inanimate objects. It is conceivable that the development of such a weapon could open new military possibilities of use on the battlefield and tactically, and perhaps not only in those ways.

    I can assure hon. Members that Her Majesty's Government do not underestimate the influence such a weapon might have, and that our policy in regard to this, as to all other military developments, will continue, as in the past, to reflect not only the need to secure our own defence and that of our allies but also our deep concern with the humanitarian aspects of all the destructive weapons that have developed and may be developed in the future.

    Clearly the possibility of a neutron bomb raises a number of important questions about its existence, its effectiveness and the intentions of ourselves, our allies and of potential enemy Powers in relation to it. But, equally clearly, there are compelling security reasons in a case like this which make it impossible for me to make any public statement whatever on these questions. I regret that this must be so, but that statement so far as I am concerned is final and hon. Members, I am sure, will not expect the situation to be otherwise.

    We are living in an age of rapid scientific advance, and we have become all too familiar with weapons of an ingenuity and destructiveness unknown to past generations. The scientists who first split the atom do not bear any political responsibility for the use to which their efforts have been put to create nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons. If the researches that go on into the nature of matter make it feasible to produce a neutron bomb, the responsibility of deciding what to do will rest with Governments. We cannot arrest scientific research either unilaterally or multilaterally. We can only take account of the results and shape our policies accordingly.

    It will, however, be useful perhaps if I say a few words about our attitude to weapons of war generally, including this subject, though I should make it clear that these remarks should not be construed as having any special relation to the neutron bomb as distinct from any other weapon.

    All military weapons are designed to kill, and no weapon can be an effective deterrent to war unless it is potentially an effective killer. That is a fact of life. Similarly, if one's enemy has a weapon of greater potential, or one which can be more effectively and instantaneously delivered than one's own, he will be in a position to gain his ends by a mere threat and to win a war without fighting. It is just that situation that the policy of the deterrent is designed to prevent, and if we follow a policy of deterrence, we must keep it up to date scientifically or it will fail.

    If we had not kept ourselves up to date with the techniques of gas warfare before 1939, and had allowed our enemies to gain a great technical superiority over us in this field, it is most likely that gas would have been used in far more lethal forms than in the First World War. It is not pleasant to keep up to date in the techniques of modern highly destructive weapons. No one enjoys it. But to let our potential enemies get far ahead of our own alliance in any such field is vastly to increase the danger that one day they will use those weapons.

    The real enemy of mankind today is not the existence of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but war and the danger of war itself. We have to be strong to prevent war, and we have to exert our efforts promptly to try to prevent those situations arising that could lead to the outbreak of war.

    The only way to make mankind safe is through general and complete disarmament under effective international control. We hope and believe that in the end this will be achieved, and that nations will eventually be able, in confidence and security, to retain only such small forces as are needed to maintain internal law and order in their countries.

    In such a world, any nation that is tempted towards aggression against its neighbour will have to reckon with the existence of a sufficiently powerful international force capable of dealing promptly and swiftly with any aggression. But that is not the situation today.

    We have been in the forefront of efforts to achieve disarmament. The task is immensely complex but we believe that it can be done. We deeply regretted it, as did the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, when the Soviet Government in June, 1960, walked out of the Geneva disarmament negotiations. We deplored equally their decision to set aside the task we had so nearly completed at Geneva of bringing an end permanently to all further tests of nuclear weapons. We have continued our efforts in the United Nations, and we have once more invited the Russians to return to negotiation. We shall continue by all means in our power to work for our objectives.

    I might perhaps say a little more about nuclear tests, since the hon. Member did refer to the subject. No Government could have worked harder than our own, right up to the end of August this year, to bring the Geneva nuclear test negotiations to a successful conclusion. The differences between the Russians and the West were narrowed down to a few items, but here the Soviet demands struck at the root of the Western concept of impartial and effective day-to-day administration of the control system, and when the West had made every concession the Russians refused to budge.

    In the end they told us that the efforts to secure a separate nuclear test treaty must be set aside and taken up again in the context of general and complete disarmament. We shall never know what combination of motives lay behind this. We assume that, for a long period while the negotiations were continuing, the Russians must have been secretly preparing for the massive series of nuclear tests on which they embarked, virtually without warning, on the 1st September.

    In this situation we and the Americans have inevitably had to take stock afresh. Our own attitude to nuclear testing was stated in the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 31st October, and has already been referred to in this debate. But the President of the United States also made a statement on the subject on 2nd November, and I will quote two extracts.
    "No nuclear test in the atmosphere will be undertaken, as the Soviet Union has done, for so-called psychological or political reasons. But should such tests be deemed necessary to maintain our responsibilities for Free World security, in the light of our evaluation of Soviet tests, they will be undertaken only to the degree that the orderly and essential scientific development of new weapons has reached a point where effective progress is not possible without such tests—and only within limits that restrict the fall-out from such tests to an absolute minimum."—

    "… the United States maintains its determination to achieve a world free from the fear of nuclear tests and a nuclear war. We will continue to be ready to sign the Nuclear Test Treaty which provides for adequate inspection and control. The facts necessary for such a treaty are all evident—the arguments on both sides"—

    On a point of order. The hon. Member has refused to give way to anybody, and the reason appears to be that he is reading, word by word, a prepared document. I submit that that is out of order, especially where, as in this case, it is quite apparent that the document he is reading is not even his own.

    The Minister is "using copious notes", as the phrase is, but that is not unusual.

    We have watched, as no doubt you have, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This goes far beyond copious notes. He has a prepared manuscript and he has not deviated from it by one word. He is afraid of any interruption in case he loses his place. This is the reading out of a prepared speech by somebody else, and I submit that it is completely out of order. He is not even a representative of the Department concerned. That is why he cannot answer any questions or deal with the debate. This is an insult to the House.

    I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary is doing anything out of order.

    I am nearly at the end of the quotation, but perhaps I may go back to the beginning of the sentence which was interrupted in the middle:

    "The facts necessary for such a treaty are all evident—the arguments on both sides have all been made—a draft is on the table—and our negotiators are ready to meet."
    I come to the conclusion.

    Before the hon. Gentleman comes to his conclusion, would he tell us whether the British Government are agreeable to having tests of the neutron bomb and whether discussions have taken place with the United States Government on that subject?

    I think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale must have been not following the passage in which I answered that question. I will repeat it. Clearly, the possibility of a neutron bomb raises a number of important questions about its existence, its effectiveness, and the intentions of ourselves, our allies, and of potential enemy Powers in relation to it. But, equally clearly, there are compelling security reasons in a case like this why I cannot make any public statement whatever about these questions. I regret that this must be so, but I am sure that hon. Members in general would not expect it to be otherwise.

    The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. Will he answer this? Can he tell us whether the Ministry of Defence has had discussions with the American Government on this subject? Will he say yes or no? This is not a question of security. Will he say whether the British Government have been engaged in discussions with the American Government as possible preparation for testing the neutron bomb?

    No, Sir. It is not a question on which it would be in the public interest for me to give an answer.

    If the hon. Gentleman will look at HANSARD, which, I observe, he has in front of him, he will see that the Minister of Defence did purport to answer this question, because he said that he knew nothing of any such proposal. If he knew nothing of any such proposal, that means that the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) is "No." Is the Parliamentary Secretary now casting doubt on the veracity of that answer?

    If the hon. Gentleman considers that the question has already been answered by the Minister of Defence, I see no reason why it should be put again to me.

    To conclude, it is right and proper that we should concentrate on these objectives—to end nuclear testing and to bring about general and complete disarmament. We do not intend to be panicked by the knowledge that new and different weapons of destruction can, and doubtless will, be developed if disarmament is not made a reality. We do not believe that unilateral or even multilateral gestures can be effective. We know that if war came, the weapons of mass destruction might have to be used. We know that the Russians believe this also.

    Our task is to prevent war, without surrendering our rights and those of our allies, and to work for a disarmed world in which all the highly destructive weapons that have been developed in this century will no longer be necessary and will, indeed, no longer exist.

    2.16 p.m.

    When I entered the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was complaining that the Minister of Defence had given this brief to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and was expressing his view about whether the hon. Gentleman was competent to deal with it.

    I want to express my sincere thanks to the Minister of Defence for having given the document to the hon. Member. He is the best reader I have heard from that Box since the Government took office. I look forward to many Fridays when there is something with which an Under-Secretary cannot be safely entrusted if he is to exercise his own thought on a problem, and when the hon. Gentleman will be given the same sort of brief and will read it as he has done today—like the curate who read the sermon because the vicar had been taken ill.

    It is little short of contempt for the House, on an occasion like this, when ample notice was given by my hon. Friend of the subject which he wanted to raise, that the Government should not have sent someone who was prepared to depart from the brief, or, if questioned about it, able to do something other than regale us with what I had imagined was out of order—tedious repetition of what he had already read.

    But for the courteous way he dealt with the matter, except when he shooed down my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) in a manner worthy of the Prime Minister, I would thank him for having stayed and for having delivered what must have been a brief as tedious to him as it was to us.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Two o'clock.