Oral Answers to Questions — Skybolt Missile

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1964.

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Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East 12:00 am, 21st January 1964

asked the Prime Minister if he will publish a White Paper on the circumstances in which arrangements with the United States administration for the supply of Skybolt missiles broke down.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer which I gave last Thursday and to the detailed account given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) on 30th January, 1963.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

Quite apart from the doubts cast on the veracity of the Minister of Aviation by certain unofficial accounts of these negotiations, would not the Prime Minister agree that the misunderstanding which arose between the British and American Governments on the Skybolt issue revealed a very serious failure in communication between the Governments which might well be repeated on some other issue like the Polaris Agreement? Would not it be a good thing to have an official account precisely to ensure that no such failure takes place on another occasion?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

No. I shall not accept any suggestions that the Minister of Aviation has not in this matter told the truth. The other day I quoted to the House a statement made by the President and Mr. McNamara. What right hon. and hon. Members opposite suggest is that the President and Mr. McNamara were involved in a calculated deception of Congress.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

Leaving aside entirely the question of the Minister of Aviation's behaviour, surely the Prime Minister cannot deny, because he was directly involved in these negotiations, that there was a total breakdown of understanding between the British and American Governments in the later stages of the Skybolt affair? Is it not desirable that all of us on both sides of the Atlantic should know why this breakdown in understanding took place and ensure that no similar breakdown occurs on another occasion?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

All discussions between Prime Minister and President and Foreign Minister and Secretary of State must be kept confidential. From the statement that I made and the account that I gave of the statement of President Kennedy, it was quite clear that the American Government told the American people that they had full confidence in Skybolt. The Minister of Aviation merely repeated that five days later, after the President had made his statement. I cannot see that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have any interest in pursuing this further.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if a White Paper were published, there would be representatives of the British Mission, experts from Farnborough who were at the Douglas Plant collaborating on the Skybolt project, who would be very happy to give evidence to the effect that the project could have worked if the Americans had wanted it to? The Americans did not want it to and they scrubbed it merely for their own convenience.

Hon. Members:

Answer.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I am answering for the responsibility of the Minister of Aviation and the British Government. My hon. Friend's supplementary question is a speculation of what the American Government may or may not have thought.

Mr. H. Wilson:

Since the Prime Minister must be aware that the late President took this problem of the breakdown of communications so seriously that he appointed, and announced that he had appointed, Professor Neustadt to conduct an inquiry into what went wrong in the matter of communications, does he not agree that this matter ought to be taken a little more seriously than he is at present taking it? Whatever may have been said to Congress on 7th March, will the right hon. Gentleman state categorically that there were no warnings until Nassau from the American Government to the British Government about the unlikelihood of Skybolt being delivered? Would the right hon. Gentleman further say whether he rejects the account which we have all recently read about what actually happened in the talks between the American and British Governments?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

The Question asks if I will publish a White Paper on the circumstances in which arrangements with the United States administration for the supply of Skybolt missiles broke down. I am always ready to consider with the Americans and anybody else the arrangements between Her Majesty's Government and the American Government so that we may proceed efficiently. I think that Professor Neustadt's mission may have contributed to it. I hope so. I am always ready to repeat that process. What I am now saying is that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation said nothing inconsistent with what the President of the United States had said a few days earlier.

Mr. Wilson:

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen either the Neustadt report or any conclusions arising from it? Does he intend to ask whether he can see these conclusions? Will he make it his business, since after all there was something of a crisis of confidence between our two countries which led to the appointment of Professor Neustadt to find out whether that report does contain any statement about the earlier information given to Her Majesty's Government by a high American source?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

In no circumstances will I reveal the private conversations between the President of the United States and the United Kingdom Government. I say this for a reason which must be perfectly obvious to right hon. and hon. Members opposite. The Prime Minister of Britain and the President of the United States can carry on these conversations only in private if they are to be useful to both countries. Of course I will consult the President of the United States about the organisation and efficiency of the machinery which between us we work.