HL Deb 26 March 1963 vol 248 cc80-3

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I covered so many of these matters in the Defence debate in your Lordships' House that I do not think I need make a long statement, but I thought the House would like to hear a statement which is being made by the Lord Privy Seal in another place about my visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The purpose of my visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on March 20 was to present to the Council the thoughts about a NATO nuclear force already put forward in the debate in this House on March 14 and in another place on January 30 and 31. The NATO Council until now has had no chance to hear those points of view. The proposals for such a force arise from the Nassau Agreement. I analysed two stages envisaged in the reorganisation of the nuclear capability of the Alliance: First, that dealing with the immediate problem relating to weapons already in existence; and, secondly, that concerned with the problem of possible developments later.

So far as the first is concerned, I developed the idea put forward by the Prime Minister at Nassau of the multinational force to which member countries would contribute weapons now at their disposal. This part of the programme, which is essentially a question of organisation within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, does not involve any new expenditure. The main British contribution is the assignment of the V-bomber force, subject to the negotiation of satisfactory terms. Discussions are now proceeding in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as to precisely how this assignment and those of the United States and other countries would operate. The Council felt that the organisation of this stage—that is, the multi-national force—should be taken a step forward at the NATO Ministerial meeting in Ottawa in May. When our Polaris submarines have been built they will be assigned in a similar manner.

In addition, the American Administration has put forward a proposal for the possible creation of a mixed-manned element. This is now being discussed by the United States Government with a number of member countries. While Her Majesty's Government will already be a major participant in the NATO nuclear force through the assignment both of the V-bomber force and of the Polaris submarines, in giving a general welcome to such a force, if it proved to be militarily practicable, I undertook to consider ways and means by which we might give it practical support. The idea is now being examined in detail by Her Majesty's Government. Meanwhile, as I made plain, there are no commitments. Mr. Merchant, the United States representative, has not yet completed his round of visits to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries interested in this matter; and a clearer picture of the nature and prospects of this proposal is not likely to emerge until he has done so.

Apart from these defence matters, I also emphasised the need for further political and, where possible, economic consultations, both within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, for the Western Alliance, and in the Western European Union, from the European point of view. To this end, the NATO Council meeting which I attended was very valuable for the widespread support it secured in reaffirming the essential unity of the Atlantic Alliance.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary for making this statement to us. One would have thought from the facts that it would have gone even wider. I am not making any suggestion that we have any complaint to make about it, because obviously a great part of what the Foreign Secretary said to-day might have been anticipated from his speech on March 14. Nevertheless, the general around which he has covered, then and now, are not matters for us to think upon beyond the fact that he has given us information; we have not to think of it in terms of having a decision either by NATO or ourselves at this stage. Obviously, there are questions within it that may give rise to some matters of debate when it conies to it. No doubt the Foreign Secretary will consider giving us an opportunity for that at a later date. In the meantime, we hear about the multi-national force, but we have not yet heard very much about suggestions which have been bandied-about for a multilateral force. Perhaps I should have felt inclined to ask a few critical questions, had he gone very far on that line to-day. But, so far as he has gone, I am content at least to let it rest there for the time being.


My Lords, we on these Benches thank the Foreign Secretary for making this statement and for adding a little to the information which he gave us in the debate on the 14th March. We regret the failure to convene the Western European Union. This seems to us to be an ominous failure and one more blow at the unity of Europe, following the failure to accept the British proposals to enter the European Economic Community.

I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary three questions. First, are not these developments further reasons why the Atlantic Powers should give urgent consideration to the formation or development of Atlantic institutions, such as an Atlantic Assembly to be developed from the NATO Parliamentarians' Conference? The second question I would ask is whether any thought is being given by the Council of Ministers to the political control of the nuclear weapons in the multi-national force. The third question I would ask is what are the reactions of Germany, so far as he has been able to ascertain, to the proposed multi-lateral force.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl. I think there are going to be many matters here which are the proper subjects for debate at some future time, but not now, because they have not yet taken sufficient form for me to be able to put them before the House for the House to take a decision. But I will do so, of course, when either the multi-national or the mixed-manned force is at a further stage of development.

Lord Ogmore asked whether this did not mean there was greater need for institutions of a political nature within NATO. I think I told him in the debate a few days ago that I had a quite open, but not an empty, mind on these matters. What we want to avoid is the proliferation of institutions for the sake of setting up some other institution. That does not make sense. It leads only to more frustration. But if anybody can prove to me that another institution is wanted inside the NATO Alliance, then I would consider it very carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, and other Parliamentarians are to make recommendations on this matter, which I await. Secondly, of course the NATO Council will be giving close attention to the question concerning political control. This is one very important part of this matter. Management is one and the sharing of command is another. But political control plays a very important part, because you must retain the credibility of the deterrent. So the answer is, Yes, the Council will be giving close attention to the matter over the coming months.

I cannot really answer for the German Government as to their attitude to a mixed-manned force. All I can say is that in the Council the political reasons for such a force were very clearly appreciated, but, of course, it has to be examined with the greatest care to see that it makes military sense and is practicable.


My Lords, can the Foreign Secretary say whether the adherence of Britain to a mixed-manned force would involve a treaty, and the degree of Parliamentary comment and control that goes with treaty procedure?


I do not think I can say yet. It would be better to wait and see how Mr. Merchant's visits to the other countries go; whether, on the whole, the European countries think the idea of a mixed-manned force can be adopted. Then there will be the process of working out what form it should take. Whether it would need a treaty I do not know at the present time, but, of course, we could not possibly adopt this procedure without coming to Parliament and explaining it all and what was involved.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for answering in such detail the three questions put to him. I think that I express what all noble Lords would like to say when I welcome the noble Earl back after his indisposition.