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Ministry Of Defence

Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1962

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

South Africa (Supply Of Arms)

40

asked the Minister of Defence what armaments are being plied by Her Majesty's Government to the Government of the Republic of South Africa; and under what arrangements technicians are being provided to assist in the organisation of the three new armament factories.

It has been the practice of successive Governments not to disclose information about arms supplied to other countries. The Government have made no arrangement to provide technicians to assist in the organisation of new armaments factories in South Africa.

With reference to the first part of that reply, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen the statements made by the Minister of Defence and other Ministers of the Republican Government that the purpose of the armaments build-up is to suppress movements within the Republic? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that British arms should be given to South Africa for that purpose? As to the latter part of his Answer, is it not the case that technicians have been supplied in connection with the new armaments industries that are being established by the I.C.I, in association with de Beers?

In reply to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I made it quite plain that the Government have made no arrangements to provide technicians to assist in any work of this kind. As to the first part, I cannot comment on statements of which I have no knowledge, but I would say that all proposals for the export of arms are examined from the political, strategic and economic angles before they are authorised, and this will cerainly hold for South Africa as for any other country.

Can the Minister of Defence tell us which of our enemies would be assisted by knowing the statistics of arms exports to South Africa? Is not this sort of bogus security quite wrong?

This is the practice that was followed by the hon. and learned Gentleman's own Government, and it is also followed by this Government.

Nato (Certificate Of Need)

41.

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent the application of Her Majesty's Government to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for a certificate of need will cause a modification of defence policy.

The application of Her Majesty's Government was made under Protocol II Article VI of the revised Brussels Treaty and does not necessarily involve any modification of British defence policy.

Is it not the case that in addition to this application, in order to keep the economy ticking over we had to apply in about June of last year to the Central European banks for aid, and also had to get £700 million from the International Monetary Fund? That being so, how does the right hon. Gentleman look forward to meeting this enormous increase of £70 million on defence for the current year? Does he propose to run the financial side of defence on pay pauses?

As to the general question of defence policy, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have his chance next week—

Overseas Bases

42.

asked the Minister of Defence how many United Kingdom bases overseas he proposes to close.

Our plans for the future are set out in some detail in the Statement on Defence, 1962 (Cmnd. 1639).

As the right hon. Gentleman proposes to save on either garrisons or bases—on which he differentiates—in the Mediterranean, and spend his savings in Aden and Singapore, does he now intend to build up Singapore even more strongly than before in order to carry out the policy—[Interruption.]—which the Prime Minister announced during his Commonwealth visit, when he said that we must retain Singapore because from there we should be prepared, if necessary, to go it alone?

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman has read at least part of the White Paper. I might, perhaps, suggest that he reads the second part again—about Singapore—before the defence debate, because he is not in line with it at all.

Far East (Unified Command)

43.

asked the Minister of Defence when he proposes to inaugurate a joint service command in the Far East; and from which Service the supreme commander will be appointed.

A unified command will be set up in the Far East as soon as practicable. No decision has yet been taken about appointing a commander-in-chief.

In view of the criticism there has been from Australia of this proposal, will my right hon. Friend give very careful consideration to the location of the headquarters?

I am very glad that my hon. Friend has asked this Question, because I can say that I have been in close consultation with my Australian and New Zealand opposite numbers about this particular proposal, and I think that they understand very well its advantages.

Nato (Northern Army Group Commander)

44.

asked the Minister of Defence why General Sir James Cassels is to be replaced by a German general as Northern Army Group Commander, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Will the Minister give the House a denial that this replacement will take place in a few months, because, I if it does take place, will it not automatically mean that this new general, will be in control of the B.A.O.R.?

The hon. Gentleman asked whether any proposals have been made to replace General Cassels with a German general. I have said that there have been no such proposals.

But will the Minister give the House an assurance that, should there be a replacement, as one imagines there will be, in due course, the general, whoever he may be, will be chosen on military and not on political grounds?

I hope that he will be chosen as the best man for the job, but I should also make it plain that the British Government will be fully consulted before any such proposal is made.

Nuclear Tests

45.

asked the Minister of Defence what is his estimate of the cost to be incurred in the testing of a nuclear weapon underground in Nevada; and what is his estimate of the cost of production of the weapon to be exploded.

46.

asked the Minister of Defence What is the estimated cost of the British nuclear tests at Nevada; and when, precisely, it is proposed to hold them.

The information about costs for which I am asked is classified and I am not prepared to disclose it. As regards the time of the test, my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister said on 8th February that it would be held within a few weeks.

Even though the Minister is not prepared to give the exact figures, can he confirm that the cost will be very heavy indeed; and that one of the reasons for his not giving the cost is that he does not want to frighten the British taxpayer? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although America may be able to go in for these expensive weapons, the state of our economy and finance—as shown yesterday by the Chancellor—is such that this country cannot do so without going bankrupt?

On the contrary, this is quits a small test, and the cost is not out of proportion to the size of the test.

Is the Minister aware that it was stated in Washington on 24th February that this test would take place within fourteen days from then? Is that so? And if—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for some statement made in Washington. He cannot be asked to confirm or deny a statement made in Washington.

In that case, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I may rephrase my supplementary question. Will the test take place within the next fourteen days? If so, is it not a discouragement to those who think and hope that something will come out of the Geneva talks to stop all tests by all countries?

I think that the hon. Member's supplementary question was really answered by my original Answer, when I quoted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as saying on 8th February that the tests would be held within a few weeks.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this test involves the proposed nuclear artillery weapon, Blue Water?

No, because the information about the test, both as to cost and type, is classified.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate of the cost of the recent Russian tests? Will he circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the statements made by the Russian military leaders at their military celebrations last week as to the extent and power of the recent Russian nuclear tests?

On a point of order. What responsibility does the Minister have for answering for Russia?

I dare say that the right hon. Member can circulate something in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but perhaps we had better get on. Mr. Maudling—statement.