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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what agreement exists between this country and the United States of America regarding the launching of hydrogen bombs from United States air bases in British territory without prior consultation, in view of the fact that the United States air force keep aircraft armed with such bombs in the air throughout the 24 hours.
Arrangements for the use of the bases were confirmed in 1952 when the then Prime Minister visited Washington, and it was agreed that the use of the bases in an emergency would be a matter for the joint decision of the two Governments. Circumstances necessitating the delivery of nuclear weapons from the bases would clearly constitute such an emergency.
Yes, but would there be time for consultation? Secondly, is it not a fact that though General Powers announced on 12th November that loaded nuclear planes had been in the air since 1st October, such planes, unknown to the British public, have been in the air for 22 months, as Roscoe Drummond showed in the New York Herald-Tribune on 26th January? Why was this terribly dangerous arrangement and this situation concealed from the British public?
As to the question of consultation, which is the phrase used in the Question, I repeat that it is not a question of consultation; it is a question of joint decision. Therefore, the bases could not be used in those circumstances unless Her Majesty's Government had decided that they should be used. As to the second part of the supplementary question, which I do not think arises strictly out of the Question, the hon. Member referred to a dangerous state of affairs, but I can assure the House that if an aeroplane carrying a nuclear weapon were to crash there would be no danger of a nuclear explosion.
Do I understand that American planes which are on this patrol duty from British bases carry hydrogen nuclear bombs? Do they in this 24-hour patrol actually carry the bombs?
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) was referring to a statement by some United States general. I should prefer to examine that statement myself to see its precise terms. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not disputing it for a moment. It may very well he so. I have not challenged the accuracy of it. The point I made is a reasonable one—because there may be some public apprehension from the safety point of view—that if there is an accident in these circumstances there is no danger of nuclear weapons exploding.
I am asking a different question entirely. This is a very serious matter. I understand from the Foreign Secretary's statement that the question as to whether hydrogen bombs would be used against an enemy would be a matter for joint decision between the United States Government and ourselves in respect of our bases. What I am asking now is whether, in fact, American planes which take off from British bases on patrol duty are armed with these bombs at the present time.
So we understand the situation to be this—that the planes set off from British bases with hydrogen bombs on board at the moment and whether the bomb is dropped from one of these planes is a matter for joint decision by the British and American Governments. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us why it is necessary on patrol duties that these bombs should be on these planes?
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend if it would not be well, before right hon. Gentlemen put these questions, that they should acquaint themselves with the terms of the answer given by General Powers? As one who heard that answer, may I point out that he said the main deterrent air fleets carrying these bombs were based in the United States and not in this country?
In my supplementary questions I was not dealing with the original statement. I was attempting to elicit information from the Foreign Secretary. May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, arising out of the last supplementary question, whether in fact these American planes on patrol duty from British bases have the hydrogen bomb on board?
I said I was prepared to assume that they had for the purpose of answering this Question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly. When I said I would like to examine what the American general had said, and to see his statement, there was a derisory chorus from the other side. I had not in mind exactly what the general said, but I say again that it would not seem to me in any way contrary to the spirit of our undertakings—I would not see any difference whether any American aeroplanes of the Strategic Air Command are flying from American or British bases in a state of readiness.