Defence

Part of LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1959.

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Photo of Mr Mark Bonham Carter Mr Mark Bonham Carter , Torrington 12:00 am, 27th July 1959

It may lose Torrington, but it may also help me to win it. The fact that the Labour Party has made this change raises a crucial question which we have to answer. What happens if a fourth or fifth Power refuses to join the non-nuclear club? Precisely the same question arises if France refuses to agree to a three-Power agreement to stop nuclear tests. There is no distinction at all.

To this question the Prime Minister in the last foreign affairs debate did not attempt to give an answer, nor, I must admit, did the Leader of the Opposition. Roughly speaking, both said that they hoped in course of time the French would come to see reason, reason they have not yet seen. That was a fair answer from the Prime Minister, who after all is "ad hoc-ing" along from one untenable position to another carrying the whole weight of the Tory Party behind him. It is a very laborious process in which he is extremely expert, but that is not a position for the Leader of the Labour Party to adopt. I think he should say something rather more positive.

I do not want to shorten the time for the reply to the debate, but undoubtedly it is up to the Labour Party to explain this matter. If one joins a club, still more if one starts a club, it is up to one to calculate what one is to get for a contribution, an entrance fee, or a subscription fee. This is a question which has got to be faced and which the Labour Party and, it seems to me, the Government in their talks on nuclear tests, have not faced.

If we look at this question we have to ask what contribution this country can make to the defence of the West. This contribution cannot be confined simply to nuclear capacity. The idea that when we talk about the deterrent we are talking only about the H-bomb is surely nonsense. The deterrent is not the H-bomb, but the war-making capacity of the West as a whole. The reason why we talk about the deterrent as the H-bomb is that in his first White Paper the Minister thought he would make great economies, streamline our forces at the expense of conventional forces, and concentrate on the nuclear deterrent. I do not think that under present circumstances this really makes sense.

I do not believe it makes sense either when we say that it is disgraceful or dishonourable to shelter—I think that is the word used—behind the American deterrent. After all, we must face the fact that we have sheltered under the American umbrella ever since the war, and are likely to shelter under it in the foreseeable future, as the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley made quite apparent. I must not keep the House unduly. I have an enormous lecture I should like to deliver, but I should hate to abbreviate the time left for the Government reply.

There are, however, one or two questions I want to ask. This primarily is a matter of clarification. In view of this debate, I took the trouble to read the Defence debate of last February. I found that reading it was very different from listening to it. The White Paper for 1959 stated that there would be no great change in defence policy. On reading the debate it seemed to me that there is a very major change. I am not referring to the alteration in the number of military forces which the right hon. Gentleman announced off the cuff, but to the way in which he and the Minister of Supply referred to our nuclear bomb. As I understand it, the view of the Government used to be that this country should have an independent nuclear deterrent and anything else would be shameful and dishonourable.

Nevertheless, although the Minister of Defence spoke in the debate once of an independent deterrent, both he and the Minister of Supply spoke far more frequently of our contribution to the deterrent. That is something very different. Indeed, when the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) interrupted the Minister of Defence and asked what was the difference between "independent" and "a contribution" he got, as I think he would agree, no answer. This is a very important and crucial point. One feels that the Government are sliding out of the 1957 policy into a new policy. I should like to know what the new policy is. This became very apparent in the speech of the Minister of Supply. Among other things, he said that we had invited European co-operation in the development of our own deterrent. It was "cooperation" this time, not "contribution" nor "independent deterrent." In this respect it was Blue Streak.

I should like to know whether by cooperation, contribution, and independent the Government mean the same thing. If they do, I find this a very strange semantic world in which they live. It is particularly relevant since the Minister of Supply said we could not make a contribution to the deterrent less than one weapon. Yet this is precisely what we are inviting our European partners to do. This is something which ought to be cleared up. If we cannot make such a contribution how can our colleagues make it?

I do not intend to detain the House for very much longer, but I think that the case which is being made tonight largely from this side of the House represents views which are held not only on these benches. Two distinguished ex-Members of Conservative Governments, sitting on the benches opposite, have said things very comparable with those which we are saying, and they are not altogether without knowledge of what happens in Government. The basic thesis which I should like to support was put by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Sir F. Maclean) when he spoke in the defence debate earlier this year. He said, We should aim at a regular division of labour between ourselves and our American and European Allies. They should make themselves principally responsible for the deterrent and we should make ourselves principally responsible for the cold war, which, after all, … is obviously the r61e for which we are best suited."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 1340.]