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N.a.T.O. (Nuclear Weapons)

Oral Answers to Questions — Atomic Energy Establishment, Windscale (Accident) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1957.

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Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton 12:00 am, 28th November 1957

asked the Prime Minister whether, in the discussions in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Conference on nuclear weapons as a deterrent against war, Her Majesty's Government will draw attention to the declaration by Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, on 21st October, 1954, to the effect that, at any moment, either side, in trying to win the cold war, might, without meaning to, start a world war that neither side wanted.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

These observations made by Field Marshal Lord Montgomery in 1954 have, I feel sure, been noted by all concerned.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

Does not the Prime Minister agree that these observations knock the bottom out of the Government's contention that piling up nuclear weapons can possibly deter war? Do we not have it now on the authority of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of N.A.T.O., Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery, that the more nuclear weapons are piled up on each side the greater is the danger of war breaking out by accident? Will the Prime Minister draw the attention of the N.A.T.O. Powers to this disquieting fact and urge them to address themselves, before proceeding any further on this primrose path, to the question of how to make peace?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I should not have thought that that was the deduction to be drawn from the Field-Marshal's statement. What he has said, and what is, alas, true, is that there is always a danger—it is the real danger perhaps—that people, if there is a cold war and a state of high tension, may also be drawn into something which they do not intend. That is, of course, the danger. But what is the alternative—to leave the free world undefended?

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

asked the Prime Minister what agreement he made with President Eisenhower on the subject of the right of commanders of United States ballistic weapon and bomber bases in this country to act in conformity with the United States Government's policy of leaving it to their commanders to take the immediate decision for instant retaliation in case of attack on North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces anywhere in the world.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

None, Sir.

As regards the American bomber bases in Britain, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, the United States Government have given a firm undertaking that these bases will not be used for military operations except in agreement with the British Government.

There are no United States ballistic weapon forces stationed in this country.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

Is the Prime Minister aware that on 20th November. Mr. Dulles announced that it was now United States policy to instruct U.S. commanders to resort to retaliatory action instantly on their own immediate decision? Does the agreement with the British Government cover the use of so-called tactical atomic weapons and conventional weapons, or is it confined exclusively to the so-called hydrogen bombs?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The agreement made by Mr. Attlee and confirmed afterwards by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—first in 1948 and then in 1952—makes it absolutely clear that no bombers or American aircraft based in this country can be used without the joint decision of the two Governments.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Will the Prime Minister confirm that that also applies to those aircraft which are in the air and bombed up and which, we hear, are flying around all ready to act?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. Of course, there is no distinction at all as to whether an aircraft is sitting on the airfield ready to take off, or on patrol or training duties in the air.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

Will the Prime Minister make it clear that neither United States Air Force bombers nor Royal Air Force bombers while engaged in routine training flights over this country are loaded with nuclear or other bombs?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. I have made rather close inquiries into the situation which I understand to be the same now as it has always been. There has been no change in practice since 1948. In training and patrolling weapons must be carried partly for the use of training in loading and so forth, which is part of training, and also in patrolling; but they are carried in a form which is technically called—whether the weapons are H.E., atomic, or of any other character—"not armed." I am told that that is an expression to cover the fact that a weapon cannot be made active without considerable technical adjustments. Some of the older ones among us would have a better picture if I said "not fused". It is in that state that these weapons are used for experiment and training.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Can the Prime Minister give an assurance that there is no danger of a nuclear explosion resulting if one of these aircraft were to crash?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. I am told that there is no danger of an explosion. I think that American Forces make it a practice to keep always ready, when one of these patrols is in the air from one of our bases, special tanker machines which can go up and help to refuel when it is a matter of not being able to land in England so that the aircraft can fly back to their bases in America.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

asked the Prime Minister what agreement he reached with President Eisenhower relating to the application of graduated deterrents in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence, with particular reference to the use of atomic weapons up to two-and-a-half times the power of the Hiroshima bomb on the immediate decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or United States commanders, and to obtaining preliminary approval at political level only before using nuclear arms of more than two-and-a-half times Hiroshima strength; and whether he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

Is the Prime Minister aware that N.A.T.O. generals disclosed to the Defence Committee of the N.A.T.O. Parliamentary Conference that N.A.T.O. commanders are now being authorised to use nuclear weapons up to two-and-a-half times the power of the Hiroshima bomb on their own immediate decision, with no obligation to secure prior approval from any political authority? Will he say why the Government have assented to that proposition, or will he give an assurance that the Government will oppose this monstrous and appalling policy even to the extent, if necessary, of ceding from N.A.T.O.?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Before my right hon. Friend answers that question, will he take it from me that that was not said and that, as the meeting took place behind closed doors and no communiqué was published, the hon. Member has no reason whatever for making allegations such as he has just made?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I was about to observe that I have no report of the speech which has been mentioned and of which, I understand, no report was issued. I can only restate the facts as they are. There is no misunderstanding about American bombers based in this country. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will confirm that. We had an agreement in 1948, the terms of that agreement being restated and reconfirmed in 1952. They remain. No operational use can be made without the agreement of the two Governments. The forces which may be allocated to the Supreme Commander in Europe for N.A.T.O. are the responsibility of the Governments who are signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

On a point of order. I have not yet had my supplementary.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

Thank you, Sir. Is the Prime Minister prepared to state definitely that no such instructions are being given to N.A.T.O. commanders? After all, this country is a member of the N.A.T.O. Council and Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery is Deputy Commander-in-Chief of N.A.T.O. We have a share of the responsibility. Has the Prime Minister seen an article by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) in the Sunday Pictorial stating quite definitely—he was present at these meetings—that the question of the right of commanders to use these dreadful weapons on their own initiative was creating consternation among the smaller N.A.T.O. Powers?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

As has been pointed out, this Question was based on what is alleged to be a speech of which an hon. Member and one of my right hon. Friends have given very different accounts. I do not have a copy of a report of what was said. I only know what the facts are. They are that American bombers based in this country are subject to a joint agreement of the two Governments and that the use of any weapons or any forces is subject to the control of the fifteen Governments who form the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

The Prime Minister keeps referring to the political agreement of 1948 which was confirmed in 1952. Is not he aware, however, that the whole root of the concern in this matter lies in the fact that a political arrangement which might have been acceptable in the leisurely days of the piston-engined bomber is no longer applicable to modern aircraft capable of delivering a modern weapon? As we have these new weapons, does not the Prime Minister think that it would be wise to negotiate a fresh political arrangement?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The hon. Member appears to be referring to a different matter from that referred to by his hon. Friend. He is referring to the agreement as regards the American bombers based in this country. I should have thought that the greater force and power of the weapons made it all the more important that the agreement should remain and that these weapons should be used only on the joint approval of both Governments.