Foreign Bases (Removal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th December 1962.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 12th December 1962

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to terminate the agreement with the Government of the United States of America for the siting of a Polaris submarine base in Great Britain. I have had no collaboration at all with the Minister of Defence and this Motion has not been inspired in any way by the right hon. Gentleman in the controversy which has been referred to in today's newspapers as a "dogfight". I abhor dogfights. I dissociate myself completely from the point of view of the Minister of Defence and the point of view of Mr. McNamara. My objections to the agreement which the Prime Minister introduced to this House on 1st November, 1960, are more fundamental.

At that time, the reaction was immediate and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which so often represents the democratic point of view of the people of Scotland, immediately reacted by organising a campaign against the establishment of the Polaris submarine base in Great Britain. It was followed by decision's to oppose the base from, I believe, all the great local authorities in that area, Glasgow Corporation, Greenock Corporation and the county councils adjacent to the area. These protests came from the people of Scotland and still represent their paint of view.

They have been reinforced by the decisions of more representative bodies of the people of this country, such as the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party. We believe that this agreement was a bad agreement because it established the base almost adjacent to a big industrial area which was exposed to the dangers of nuclear war. It was placed, in the event of a nuclear war, right in the front line with no adequate defence, with no civil defence worth speaking about, and involving great dangers to the population of the west of Scotland and to the country generally.

It gave powers to the American Government to take control and to establish a miniature base in this country without this country having any real control over the activities of the Polaris submarines that were to go on their operations from the Holy Loch. Those of us who have complained against this agreement knew that it was a bad agreement, but we did not realise how bad it was until this week. We now know, for we were told over the wireless yesterday, and it is reported in the Daily Mail of today, that there were secret understandings in this agreement by which, if we allowed the Americans to have the Holy Loch, they would allow us to have the Skybolt missile.

Why was that not disclosed to the House at the time? We have heard of the biblical story of the man who sacrificed his birthright for a mess of pottage, but we have sacrificed the interests, the safety and security of the people of this country for a missile which, we are now told, is non-existent. The Government now find that their whole defence policy is in complete muddle. They are acting quite inexplicably by demanding from the Americans that they should give us an expensive and dangerous weapon, which even the Americans say is not operational.

The Government may be able to explain to the people why we should be receiving Skybolt when it is not even a military asset. This largely is a controversy between the British Government and the American Government. We are told in the Daily Mail today that The Government's bitterness over Skybolt can only have been increased by Mr. McNamara's tactics with Mr. Thorneycroft. His attitude confirmed suspicions that the United States Administration is now openly making decisions without consulting Britain. The Government know that, but when this agreement was introduced by the Prime Minister he told us that every possible consultation would take place.

We are further told, in the Daily Mail:The faith of Mr. Macmillan and his Ministers in Skybolt has been unquestioning. This has been confirmed time and time again in their public and private comments. It was promised to Mr. Macmillan by President Eisenhower in a gentlemen's agreement which gave the U.S. the Polaris submarine base on Holy Loch and other nuclear facilities here. We are entitled to have the fullest Parliamentary discussion about a commitment which this House did not realise. We are told in The Times today, by its Washington correspondent, that in the process of these negotiations Hound-dog, the other American stand-off bomb, is an inadequate weapon and that a Polaris submarine force is probably impossibly expensive and not necessarily a substitute for a bomber.

In the Daily Herald today we are told that when the Prime Minister goes to America at the end of this month a carrot will be dangled before the nose of Great Britain. [An HON. MEMBER: "Before the donkey."] Before the donkey. If Skybolt does not materialise, we are to be offered submarines, equipped with the Polaris missile, at a cost of £50 million to the British taxpayer. This is the carrot which is hung before the donkey. What we are afraid of is that the donkey will swallow it and the Prime Minister will come back, after discussing this agreement, with more commitments which will be more expensive and of less value to the people of this country.

What control have we under this agreement over the operations of these submarines? In the Guardian this week there has been a series of extremely interesting and informative articles entitled, "The First Great Nuclear Crisis", written by Mr. Hetherington, the editor. He tells us: During the last three days from October 26th to October 28th the danger was at its greatest. Thanks to coolness and sanity on both sides, and to U Thant's mediation, the crisis was overcome. But, as now admitted in the White House, it was a near thing. In the middle of that crisis the American forces were alerted and the "Proteus" was alerted in the Holy Loch. The "Proteus" disappeared. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I quite agree about that, but we are concerned with the fact that the "Proteus" came back. I hope the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) will realise the dangers involved in that. He shakes his head, suggesting that there are no dangers, but it is obvious that in this crisis the American Government thought that the Holy Loch was too dangerous a place in which to keep expensive submarines.

As we have no control over the submarines and we have no control over their activities, this weapon should not receive facilities in this country. This is the first lesson of this nuclear crisis. We are all very glad that the Russians had the sense to bring home their bombers and their nuclear missiles from Cuba; and we wish that in taking them back to Russia they had lost them on the way.

According to the President of the United States, this action by Mr. Khrushchev was an act of supreme statesmanship in that the missiles were removed from the island base which was threatening the United States. We should, therefore, carry this argument a little further, to its logical conclusion, and say that the people of this country would be very glad indeed to see the American submarines go back to the United States so that they did not live in danger of being a target for missiles and bombers in the event of an attack.

I am not anti-American. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is not anti-American to criticise American policy. Indeed, if it is anti-American to criticise American policy, then Lord Chandos and the Institute of Directors—and the Minister of Defence—are anti-American, for they have been criticising Mr. Dean Acheson. There would be a very great feeling of relief among the personnel of the "Proteus" ships and the submarines if the order were received for them to go back to the United States. If it were possible, I imagine that some of these unfortunate sailors—if they thought that it could be done and the question of nationality were not at stake—might even try to get out of this difficulty by becoming candidates at the by-election at Calve Valley or Rotherham.

I am sure that the wives and the relatives of these American sailors, some of Whom are no doubt reading the squalid and unsavoury reports of what is happening in Glasgow, would be delighted to know that American sailors were returning from this danger spot.