HC Deb 02 August 1946 vol 426 cc1359-87

11.11 a.m.

Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)

Since the time when my hon. Friend and I put down this subject for today, a hopeful development has occurred. At that time, it appeared likely that a deadlock would be reached on the Atomic Commission of the United Nations organisation, but in today's paper I see that a more hopeful development has arisen, and very much on the lines for which we had hoped. Nevertheless, I hope the Government will con- sider today's discussion of the progress of the Atomic Commission not unhelpful. I would like to congratulate the Government on the White Paper which they issued the day before the first Bikini atom bomb test. That White Paper was produced by a high powered committee, and it reported on what the atomic bombs had done at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They gave a carefully reasoned and sober estimate of what such bombs would do to major cities of this country. They estimated that an atomic bomb of that type would kill 50,000 and render 400,000 temporarily homeless.

That is the background to the question we are now considering, and it reinforces its urgency. I hope His Majesty's Government will declare their overriding intention that at all costs Britain is going to see that the work of the Atomic Commission succeeds. If the work of the Atomic Commission fails, then, inevitably, in 10 years' time we will have a world in which there is more than one Power—It may be four, five or more— possessing these weapons. It is often said, "The only real way to be sure that atomic weapons are not used again, is to eliminate the causes of war." The Indian gets £4 10s. a year and the American makes perhaps one hundred times as large an income. Until one has equated international wage levels, we will never remove all the causes of war, I am not sufficiently Utopian to believe that in the lifetime of anyone who listens to my words all the causes will be removed. What we have to do is to lay the foundations of international confidence. What we can do in relation to atomic energy is to draw up a modern form of disarmament, and to form an international organisation through which weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated from national armaments.

When the Prime Minister went to the United States of America, he played a major part in persuading President Truman to modify his "Sacred Trust" formula, and to agree to the formation of an Atomic Commission, to which the Russians assented. It is not easy to obtain an up-to-date, accurate report of exactly what is being said at the Atomic Commission. I wish to confine myself today to the original proposals made by the Americans, and the original proposals made by the Russians. It is my case that the differences between the American proposals and the Russian proposals are in substance differences of timing rather than of content. The substance of the American proposal is that, first of all, we should establish control of atomic energy and then, when we and America are satisfied that that control is working, we will be prepared to throw the benefit of our research into the common pool, and have it developed for the benefit of all mankind. The substance of the Russian proposal is precisely the other way round. The Russians say, "First destroy your stock piles, and eliminate atomic bombs from your arguments, then enter an agreement with all the nations of the world never to use those weapons again. Then we will start on the discussions which will lead to such measures as are necessary for the control of atomic energy."

Differences of timing are differences which can be eliminated. I will later give a specific quotation from the speech of Mr. Gromyko which will make it quite clear that the Russians have not stated that they are not in any circumstances going to submit to any form of inspection. The Russians have stated, and I am sure this is in today's papers, "We do not think inspection of itself is going to solve the problem. We do believe that at the outset the nations of the world should abolish all recourse to atomic bombs by a formal act." Many of us feel—and I am here speaking not only of people in this country but of people who were present at the Atomic Commission itself—that the Atomic Commission started off very much on the wrong foot. It started by putting the cart before the horse, that is to say, by considering the wider political issues involved, such as the veto, instead of first setting up the necessary technical and scientific committees to report on the question of machinery for the control of atomic energy. It is very much easier for scientists of different nations to come to agreement than for politicians of different nations to come to agreement. I have no doubt—and it was to be our main case— that if the scientists, who are the technical advisers to the various countries on the Atomic Commission, were given more or less carte blanche to cooperate with one another, pooling information as far as necessary for the purpose, they would be able to satisfy the world that atomic energy can be controlled, and that certain measures are necessary to control it.

If I may refer to the problem of the veto, this approach would bypass the whole question of the veto. Any measures which such a scientific commission determines upon, would have to be approved by the Security Council. Russia would be in a position to veto, as would any other of the permanent members, but, once those measures have been approved by the Security Council, and provided they were satisfactory, they would provide for their own enforcement. As I said, Mr. Gromyko, in proposing a second committee of this kind, specifically stated that he wished the committee to elaborate a system of sanctions for application against the unlawful use of atomic energy, and measures, systems, and organisations of control, to ensure the observance of conditions for the outlawry of atomic weapons. He must have anticipated that the work of such a committee would be to produce a workable system for the control of atomic energy. I cannot conceive that the working of a system for the control of atomic energy should remain dependent upon any act of the Security Council itself. After all, the Security Council might not be sitting, very often it would not be sitting, and it would take a long time for it to be called together. Those who have studied the subject, have come more and more to the conclusion that the really effective safeguard would be in having a fairly long warning of the danger that once the system which was first adumbrated in detail in the Acheson-Lilienthal Report is in operation, it will be relatively difficult for any country to be able to manufacture atomic bombs in secret. It would indeed have a remarkable effect on the world if the atomic development authority were to acquire information that a nation was violating that agreement. I gather that this point was made yesterday in several speeches on the Atomic Commission, and several delegates pointed out that once an atomic bomb has been used, a disastrous situation has occurred, and it is not a hopeful line of approach to say that we must elaborate sanctions to punish anybody who has used an atomic bomb. The position is that we must establish such a system of control that we have many months' warning in advance of the fact that a country which purports to be accepting the rules laid down is really violating those rules. So, in my submission, it should be possible by that means to by- pass this political problem of the veto, and, by relying on the advice of the scientists, to establish the machinery, which is surely a matter not dependent upon political considerations but on commonsense and technical considerations.

I can understand, and I think many hon. Members will be able to understand, why the Russians were at first rather suspicious of the American proposal, for this reason: The American proposal provided that the countries of the world would inform the atomic development authority of where their own raw materials were. Thus, the Soviet Union would be obliged to give information— which would necessarily go to the United States of America—informing the world where their own supplies of uranium and thorium were. They would be bound to do this while America still retained huge stock piles and large numbers of atomic bombs. In other words, the effect of the American proposals as they now are is almost to disarm Russia, while America herself remains armed; and in a world which is unfortunately still not in a fine state of international confidence, one could hardly expect the Russians to accept at the outset proposals of that kind. It is for that reason that I believe that the solution to Russian suspicion is to obtain agreement, first on the machinery for international control, and thereafter to allow negotiations to proceed in order to bring the timings to an agreeable conclusion.

I understand that a proposal for the scientists of all these countries to get together without much interference from the politicians was, in fact, made, and was agreed to by the Russians. That proposal, I understand, was blocked by Canada, largely because of the hang-over from the Canadian spy incidents. However that may be, I very much hope that the development reported today will be followed by a great increase in confidence, and that British, Canadian and American scientific representatives will be fully authorised by their Governments to provide as much information in this scientific conference as is needed, first, to convince the Russians of the immense advantages which may be gained from the peaceful application of atomic energy; and, secondly, to give the Russians full information to enable them to know that atomic energy really can be controlled, because there are still many people who are convinced that it cannot be controlled. It is only a careful study of the technical side of this problem which has convinced me that measures for the control of atomic energy are possible, because they turn largely upon purely scientific considerations.

May I turn to a point which has so far not been mentioned at all, I think, in the deliberations of the Atomic Commission? An obvious gap in all the proposals so far made is that they have been dealing with countries which are not members of the United Nations. Any system of international control must, from the very beginning, command international confidence, and it cannot command confidence so long as there is any uranium or any thorium anywhere in the world which is not owned or controlled by the United Nations. There, in a convenient and simple form, is an ultimatum to modern industrial civilisation. Either we succeed in bringing all the uranium and thorium, wherever it may be, under the ownership and control of the United Nations, or we shall necessarily get a world in which many Powers are in possession of atomic weapons, as a result of which there will be strains and stresses, and war, in my opinion, will inevitably develop.

I do not wish to offer this observation at all in criticism, but it is only fair to the Russians to say that I can imagine them being rather suspicious because of the attitude of Sir Alexander Cadogan over the question of Spain. Sir Alexander Cadogan is, of course, our representative in the Atomic Commission. He was previously authorised to say, in the name of Britain, that our British Foreign Office and our British Embassy in Madrid were satisfied that German scientists are not, in fact, working in Spain. We could only know that if our Embassy in Madrid were a far more efficient spy service than we allege the Russian Embassy in Canada was. It was a fantastic statement to make. I am convinced that although there is uranium in Spain it is quite beyond the industrial resources of Spain to manufacture atomic bombs. I am not suggesting that there is an immediate danger, and I am not trying to raise a scare, but it is obvious that German scientists went to Spain, and it is quite impossible for our Foreign Office to know what is happening in all parts of Spain, and to know where these German scientists are now working.

In all these circumstances, I hope that our Government will take a firm line on their own. The impression now prevails, it has been put to me by many people of distinction—distinguished Americans quite recently—that Britain agrees with America on its line in advance of all these international conferences, particularly the Atomic Commission; and that, therefore, it is almost useless for me or for my hon. Friends to ask the British Government to take a line because, it is said, Russia will immediately believe that we are the stooge of America. That is not true. I am quite convinced that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State have taken strong and independent lines behind the scenes. I hope that they will take a strong, independent line openly. I am much reminded of a phrase of John Milton's: I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue. We know that there is great virtue, but let it shine forth for all men to see.

May I now turn to the main point on the peaceful side which I desire to make? I am told that the world is getting very tired of discussion of the atomic bomb. The President of the Board of Trade, in a remarkable speech delivered about a year ago, forecast that the world would begin to get very tired of consideration of this appalling weapon, and that it would gradually recede in the consciousness of men as a thing rather too unpleasant to think about and something which one, as it were, subconsciously tried to belittle. The only solution to that is for us to go ahead as rapidly as possible with the peaceful development of atomic energy.

There is one immediate circumstance in respect of which Britain and America could give a lead which would help to create a basis of confidence between Russia and ourselves. Plants in the United States are already producing an enormous quantity of radio-active byproducts, which are of immense value and may have a revolutionary effect in medical science and medical research. It is no exaggeration to say that radium is already becoming out of date today, because of the important radio-active substances that are being produced and which have a far greater range. I do not mean that radium is out of date in the strict sense, but only in the sense in which it has been publicly regarded as an extremely expensive, rare and irreplaceable element; it is still a valuable and potent material which can perform certain functions. Here, obviously, is a case of non-dangerous activity connected with atomic energy, Let us say, here and now, that these radioactive by-products will be freely and openly shared with all the nations of the world. Even if the world should, unfortunately, have to perish, as has been suggested, in the harsh glare of atomic annihilation—as I do not believe likely or perhaps possible—let us, at any rate, see that in the next five or ten years we will achieve results with the by-products of atomic energy for the benefit of people suffering from such diseases as cancer. I can see no reason whatever why we should not give a lead in this matter. I know we shall have a small atomic file working in a matter of a few months or a year. Indeed, whatever attitude is taken by the United States, we should give a lead and show Russian scientists that we want to co-operate with them.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer, except to make this final general observation. It was the first Labour Prime Minister who spoke of the risks of peace. I am convinced that if we do not boldly accept the challenge now before us and are not prepared to take all the risks of peace, we will face the certainty of war. It seems to me that one very easily gets into the situation in which one cannot see the wood for the trees, the situation in which the immediate political arguments, the immediate strategic considerations, the immediate economic considerations, overweigh the mind and prevent the mind from seeing what it is able to see at times of great stress, namely, the true position of this country, and of other politicians and statesmen, in relation to humanity as a whole. Can anybody say that we would have gone to war in 1939 if we had known of the existence of the atomic bomb? That is the kind of consideration which I suggest should remain in our minds, and I therefore ask the Government to indicate their belief that the Atomic Commission must be made to succeed and that they will try to produce that result along the lines I have suggested.

11.34 a.m.

Mr. Kendall (Grantham)

I have no particular quarrel with the excellent speech which has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), except to say that he wants to hold out to Russia the whole of the scientific pacts relating to atomic energy. I am just wondering whether or not, if Russia were placed in the situation of the United States, Russia, in turn, would be willing to let other nations of the world share in the atomic developments that have taken place in the States. I rather doubt it, and ray doubt is based on experience we had during the war. We handed over to the Russians many of our developments in mechanical warfare, and, to the best of my knowledge, we never got anything like the same return in information on what the Russians were doing themselves in the development of their own weapons of warfare.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Can the hon. Member tell me of any mechanical weapons that we handed over to the Russians that Russia had not already got?

Mr. Kendall

I could tell the hon. Member of very many, but I doubt whether he would fully appreciate the information. It seems to me, from the experience we have had in the last war, that it is hardly right, at this time, to hand over to Russia any more of the great developments that have taken place, either in this country or under the Security Council. I think Russia herself ought to show some willingness for cooperation with ourselves, not only on this subject, but on all kinds of matters that are being discussed at the present time.

What my hon. Friend said in relation to the benefits to be derived from the application of the radio-active properties of uranium and thorium and such like is quite true, but, in that respect, we should do all we possibly can to help the humane side of life throughout the world. I certainly oppose today any idea which my hon. Friend has of scrapping all the knowledge we have at the present time and starting again on an equal footing with everyone else, because I do not think that Russia today is ready to give that fullest cooperation for which we have endeavoured very frequently, and are still endeavouring, quite genuinely and seriously. It is, I think, true, as the hon. Member suggested, that we do emphasise the United States part a little too much and our own not sufficiently. I think that is true, in many respects, but, apart from that one criticism, I should certainly go the rest of the way with the hon. Member. Meanwhile, I certainly hope that representatives of our Government will do nothing to hand over the full atomic secrets to Russia until we know just what Russia is going to give us in return.

11.38 p.m.

Wing-Commander Shackleton (Preston)

I feel that I must say something in reply to the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall), whose remarks are typical of those of so many people who have not studied this problem. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) did not suggest handing over atomic secrets to Russia, and the suggestion of the hon. Member for Grantham about wiping out all existing knowledge is, I think, pointless. We cannot do that, unless we want to be faced with the atomic war which we are trying to prevent. It is quite useless for us to start any discussions with Russia on the basis of what they are going to give us in return. The whole weakness of the present situation is, that Russia realises that she is in a weak bargaining position. She realises that America has the atomic bomb, and, that being so, it is difficult for Russia to discuss this matter on anything like equal terms, and I think the Russian attitude is quite understandable. They say "We shall have to wait until we can discuss it on equal terms," America is in a strong position in regard to the possession of the atomic bomb, and that, I think, is the most serious obstacle to any sort of world agreement.

The hon. Member for King's Norton, in an extraordinarily clear and lucid speech, has stated what is the problem, and there is very little that I can add to what he has said. I think the hon. Member is acknowledged on all sides as a tremendous expert on this problem. But there are one or two points which I would like to make. When the Bikini bomb went up on 24th July, another event occurred which was very upsetting and disturbing to those of us who have been thinking about this problem. It was the day on which Mr. Gromyko said that Russia could not accept the American pro- posals. That was a bitter disappointment, I think we must realise, and make a special effort to consider, why Russia is taking that attitude. When we analyse the American proposals with their emphasis on the abolition of the veto, which I think was dragged in quite unnecessarily at this stage, it is obvious that Russia, realising her position of inferiority, is not going to agree to a permanent control, or at any rate to an extension of monopoly in control, of atomic weapons by America. We must realise that because it is the clue to Russia's attitude.

It is agreed now, and I do not think anyone will deny it, that the atomic weapon is something against which there is no defence. I know that there are people who, in the past, have argued that there is always a cure for every new weapon; but those protections in the past have always taken a form of reduction in effect and a partial or almost complete prevention of its delivery on the target. Nothing less than 100 per cent. protection is protection against the atomic bomb. Therefore, any steps that may be taken in the future for development of armaments, or for our military organisation, must be conditioned to one end only, and that is to effective prevention of war and no longer to the actual fighting. That may sound something of a paradox but there are certain possibilities in the situation which might enable us to organise a system of world defence which would have that result. For instance, there has been a most interesting suggestion, which will not commend itself to the hon. Member for Grantham from certain progressive people in America. It is that if each country in the world, or each of the major Powers, possessed a limited supply of atomic weapons, the effect as a retaliatory weapon would be such that no other country would dare to start an atomic war. That sounds a little naive, nevertheless it is true.

I am very much afraid that until that situation exists we shall not be able to get down to this problem if we continue to confine ourselves to discussing such questions as the veto and America's stock pile. I welcome the fact that a technical committee has been set up to consider this problem. It is only by tackling the matter in its technical details, by getting down to it and considering the uses that can be made of atomic energy, and con- sidering the problem with minute care, in the same way that the Lilienthall Committee considered it, that we shall make any progress. Therefore, we should start considering the development of atomic energy throughout the world. We should consider not only the negative and terrifying aspect of its use as an atomic bomb, but also the opposite side of the coin, its use for peaceful purposes. I think it was Henry Wallace who said the other day that the expectation of a new age of abundance in the field which atomic energy can bring, will do more to prevent war than the fear of being blown to bits. I submit that that is a progressive and hopeful attitude. We should now start discussing this with the scientists of the world.

I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for King's Norton. We should take a lead in this and discuss the setting up of atomic energy plants throughout the world. It is quite clear that the scientific principles of the production of atomic energy are known to all the scientists of the world. I might even claim to say I understand them in part myself, though perhaps not quite so well as the hon. Member for King's Norton. The scientific principles are known and if we could build up the progressive side of atomic energy and start making contributions towards increasing the standard of living of the whole world, the Russians would see there are great advantages in cooperation and also that we mean what we say when we declare that we are prepared to cooperate with her.

I repeat, that it is no good our saying that we will cooperate if she gives up the veto. In my submission that forms a dead end. We cannot make any progress if we follow that line. I ask that the Minister should bear in mind the remarks of the hon. Member for King's Norton and that instructions should be sent—if they have already been sent they should be emphasised—to our representatives on the U.N.O. Atomic Commission that they should get ahead with active thinking on the problem and try to work out so far as is practicable a system of cooperation, and then, a? that developed, we would begin to see more clearly this international atomic development authority. In my opinion, that is the only hope for- the world and unless we make that attempt now the result will be the closing of the door to the future and the atomic war which we all fear will come upon us. In the meanwhile, we shall lose the advantages which atomic energy could confer on a world which needs those advantages so badly today.

11.47 p.m.

Mr. Palmer (Wimbledon)

I hope my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Wing-Commander Shackleton) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I welcome the Debate, as I am sure all hon. Members welcome the opportunity to consider this matter. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) for his initiative in raising this subject. I think the House generally is grateful to him for the interest he has shown in this subject since this Parliament assembled. I do not think for one moment that the subject has been over discussed. If anything, I think in the House the subject has been under-discussed. It is rather curious to notice the aloofness of the Press from this subject as from sex in the past. It is possible that sex is discussed too much in the Press at present, but there was a time when sex was hardly discussed at all in the Press. Atomic energy has lapsed into comparative obscurity during recent months, and I am glad that the subject has been raised once again. We have to face the fact that the relations between the three great Powers, the Soviet Union, the United States of America, and Great Britain, have progressed more or less slowly in the last year or so against a new and novel background.

That background, or the beginning of it, was marked by that appalling fiery flash at Hiroshima, and recently another stage has been marked by the great "South Sea Bubble" at Bikini. I think if we bear that in our minds we may perhaps understand why relations have not progressed as well as might have been the case. I believe that in the new circumstances of the world the foreign policy of the British Government should be directed quite openly and clearly towards the establishment of a world State. I do not apologise, in any sense, for holding that point of view. Ten years ago, one had to apologise for talking about a world State. It meant that one had been reading Mr. Wells too recently. In fact, it indicated possibly a state of mental adolescence bordering almost on the indecent or the pitiful.

Today, however, the situation has altogether changed. Ten years ago, high Tories felt that the idea of a world State contradicted the British Empire, and high Marxists thought that the idea contradicted the social revolution. As for the rest of us, we felt that any talk of a world State was not compatible with our ideas of the self-determination of the small nations, upon which collective security and all our other ideas were based at that time. Today the situation has tremendously changed. The Utopians and the realists can join hands, because the atomic bomb has made us one. The world State is now practical politics. We can go to a world State either by the hard road, which may be a very bloody road as well, by means of another great war, or we can take a short cut by establishing now, or in the next two or three years, effective control of atomic energy. I believe that if effective control is established, a world State becomes a reality because the old ideas of national sovereignty are out of date.

As has been mentioned already this morning, there is no single reason that will account adequately at present for the apparent reluctance of the Russian Government to approach a peace settlement, and I am not one who blames the Russian Government entirely for a moment. I do not think that this morning we should attempt to allocate blame one way or the other. Certainly, there is one important contributory factor to the Russian approach, and that is the practical realisation that for a year or so, or maybe two or three years—I do not know—the balance of practical power in the world rests with the possessors of the atomic secret. There has been some kind of dress rehearsal, of course, in the South Sea at Bikini. In connection with that, I would like to put this question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who I understand is to reply. I can imagine that at Bikini many foreign observers were very carefully excluded. I do not know, but I do not suppose Russian observers were welcomed. I would like to know whether the British Government had any expert observers at Bikini. I know that two hon. Members of this House attended but, with great respect to them, I do not think that they could be described, perhaps, as expert observers.

The Russians know that it is important to delay and postpone final decisions on the peace settlement until Soviet science restores the balance of power. If that balance of power is restored I do not think we have necessarily advanced one step towards a permanent state of peace. Therefore, it is clearly urgent that the political problem of the world control of atomic energy should be solved, and solved quickly, because there is no time to lose. Although I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton said about the need to bypass the political problems for the moment, and to concentrate upon the technical approach, at the same time we must remember that they are only bypassed and that in the long run we shall be returning once again to the main road which is marked by the political problems. We, therefore, cannot run away from the issue indefinitely. Clearly, the political differences are immense. The Russians say, "Let us have atomic disarmament first of all, and then we can talk on a footing of equality." The Americans, on the other hand, say, "When we are satisfied of our security and that peace in the world is certain, we will hand over this great power to an international authority."

I suggest that the British Government should propose a way out of this deadlock by giving all the support they can to the idea of a supernational authority—to the Atomic Development Authority or, as I prefer to call it, "Atomic Developers Unlimited." But we should oppose the American idea that they should determine when this authority is to come into action. A definite date should be stated, and then I think we might do something towards restoring Russian confidence in the proposal. I would like now to support as emphatically as I can everything that my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton has said about the need for the British Government to have their own independent policy. We were the first people to do anything about this. That we should give the impression that we are following obediently, softly and smoothly behind everything the American Government propose is bad; as a Member of this House and as an Englishman I detest it. It is not good for the Americans or for the Russians, and it is very bad for ourselves and for our prestige. It has been suggested that some kind of a secret understanding between us and the Americans in this matter was reached between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and the President of the United States some time ago, at Quebec, I think. The present Government, who are a different Government, with, I hope, a very different world outlook, will remove that belief by establishing clearly that the British Government have their own world policy for atomic energy.

11.58 a.m.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

While agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), I wish to say that the situation is really much simpler than would appear from his remarks. It is true that the atomic bomb is the most potent explosive weapon that has been invented up to date, and it is also true, unfortunately, that it is so horrible in its effects that the reaction after a short period of alarmist excitement and headlines has been to try to forget about it because it is so terrible. It is no good trying to forget about it. While I do not wish to depress the House further, I want to indicate what is, unfortunately, true; namely, that the atomic bomb is neither the last nor the worst weapon which could be used against humanity.

When I was in the United States recently, I saw in various American papers references to bacteriological and other forms of warfare. I will not particularise, but they were suggestions of something so horrible that, in one case the germs, and in other cases other substances, could be disseminated by elderly gentlemen carrying handbags into a foreign country, and sowing the seeds of germs or other preparations which would have the effect of, not very slowly but imperceptibly, destroying all human and animal life. I thought to myself, "Is this an American headline?" As I happened to be in Washington, where I had the opportunity to get at the highest scientific authorities, I went to what I regarded as a completely competent expert scientific authority on this subject, and I was told: "This is true. It can be done."

That would be a very good answer to the atomic bomb. How would it work? Let us say the Russians are very afraid of the Americans who have atomic bombs; they send a few refugee Czechoslovaks, or someone like that, into the United States with their little handbags, and the United States population dies and fades away before any atomic bomb can be used. I am not suggesting that anything like that is in the minds of the Russians, or would be suggested by anybody at all. Why I am speaking like this is to bring before the House the realisation that this matter must be faced in all its horror. Mankind already has at its disposal means which the scientists have discovered, which are so destructive that any one of them might result in the destruction over the surface of the globe of large numbers of human beings and other living things—resulting, of course, in complete disruption and, to a large extent, the end of our civilisation.

The problem is not only that of the atomic bomb. The problem is a moral problem, and a political moral problem. Being, as it were, grown up in the world, with nations becoming adult and realising our responsibilities, we have unparalleled scientific advantages here in this country, and, I would remind the House, in the Soviet Union. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) is afraid of giving information to the Russians. How long does the hon. Member think it would take competent Russian scientists to find out all the technical and engineering details necessary to make the atomic bomb? It will not take very long. I say that, relying on information I have obtained by consulting some of the highest authorities on this subject. These things cannot be kept secret. One of the greatest troubles in the world at the present time, which was shown very strongly in our Debate on Monday on the control in Germany, is the strong anti-Soviet feeling throughout the world. That feeling is damaging our relations, damaging relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, damaging world relations and poisoning world opinion.

I do not believe there is this need to be so suspicious of the Soviet Union. I know the Soviet Union very well. I was there in 1920. I saw the effects of our blockade. Something like six million people died, largely because of the action of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). Having seen that for myself, and having seen the horrors which there existed, I do not wonder that the Russians are suspicious of some of the suggestions made by representatives of the United States and of this country, that they should stand by and allow others to control these tremendous energies. At the present time there is no possibility of keeping secret the manufacture of atomic bombs and other weapons from any nation of the world which is sufficiently well equipped to be able to engage scientific men and women to carry out the necessary research and engineering work.

The problem is a moral one, and we must face it. We must make up our minds that under no conditions will we enter into another war. In order to achieve that, one of the preliminaries is the free exchange of scientific information with the Soviet Union and with all other nations. I learned from the scientists in America that the scientists of the world strongly support these opinions. Scientists in general feel very strongly about this absurd suspicion which is dividing men. We should go confidently to the Soviet Union and to other nations and say: "We are ready to pool the knowledge which we can use together in cooperation for the benefit of mankind as a whole." That can be done.. It should be done. Any technical details ought to be given to the Russians, through, of course, the proper international authority, at the earliest possible moment. There is no doubt at all that that is the line upon which we should proceed.

Mr. Kendall

Might I ask a question before the hon. Member sits down?

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Warbey.

12.5 p.m.

Mr. Warbey (Luton)

In the short time remaining before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I wish to make two points. The first is to underline what has already been said by other hon. Members, that our own Government have a responsibility to take much greater initiative in this matter than they have shown hitherto. The Prime Minister performed a magnificent service to humanity by going to the United States last autumn. Since that time there has been, not only a failure of initiative but a degree of timidity in handling this whole question which I find rather shocking. The whole question has been wrapped up in an atmosphere of secrecy which applies, not only to the techniques of the question but to the politics of it. While there is a case for the first, there is no case whatever for the second. We should have grasped the nettle of the political implications of this whole problem, and have had our own proposals to put forward. If proposals came, as they have come, from other countries we should have been able to make our contribution towards — not emphasising differences but minimising them—towards, as Professor Oliphant is reported in the Press to have said, making proposals for modifications to bridge the gap and to remove the deadlocks. If, as I have suggested on other occasions, we had had political leadership in that great world organisation the Security Council, with the Atomic Energy Commission attached to it, we might have played a greater part than we have played hitherto.

Secondly, I wish to appeal to hon. Members who are so concerned about the functional and technical approach not to believe that we can by-pass the political problems involved. The American Government, after making a technical approach, have come forward with the really remarkable proposal of the Lilien-thal five-man board for an atomic development authority. There we see one of the paradoxes of the American civilisation, that three American capitalists, with the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and with scientists, can put forward a proposal for a world Socialist enterprise. In the United States they establish a great public corporation like the Tennessee Valley Authority and call it a magnificent example of private enterprise. In this country, we stimulate private enterprise more than it has been stimulated in the past 20 years, and hon. Members opposite call it doctrinaire Socialism. It is one of those paradoxes that we find in all modern civilisations.

The Americans have put forward this proposal. If we eventually get out of it an atomic development authority, let us realise that that authority will be a supranational body with vast power—with vaster powers than have ever been possessed by anybody in history before. One of the suggestions in the report says: It is furthermore, important to note that for every kilowatt generated in safe reactors about one kilowatt must be generated in dangerous ones in which the material was manufactured. Thus, if atomic power is, in fact, developed on a large scale, about half of it will inevitably be an international monopoly, and about a half might be available for competitive exploitation. The atomic development authority would set up, not only a vast body with licensing, controlling, owning, regulating, and inspecting powers, which would inevitably involve police powers and sanctions as well, but would also set up a vast public corporation on a world wide scale controlling half the world's potential output of energy. That you cannot have, except under a political control which is of the same degree of magnitude.

If you set up a supra-national, body with vast economic and possibly police powers, then you must have it within the framework of supra-national political control of equivalent magnitude, and that means that the limitations of the present Charter of U.N.O. will, if we go along those lines, eventually be burst asunder. I ask that we should see where we are going, and see that this thing must be integrated with the political control, and that we do not accept the American proposal, and other proposals which I think were put forward here, to bypass political control, or even bypass U.N.O., the Security Council and General Assembly altogether, and set up some quite independent, self-acting body.

Mr. Blackburn

The only suggestion that has been put forward is that the veto, which is a supreme political issue dividing Russia and America, can be bypassed, because the machinery would provide automatically for its own enforcement.

Mr. Warbey

There is no time to discuss that, but I do not believe that any piece of functional machinery can provide automatically for its own enforcement. Police powers and sanctions have to come in, and that means political control. There must be political control, and ultimately we shall come up against the question of the revision of the Charter. By all means, let us not force this issue at the present stage. Let us make a technical approach to begin with, and allow the necessary delays for suspicion to die down and a new atmosphere to be created, in which we can establish the world political control which alone will render any device safe and effective.

12.12 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

I am very grateful, as other hon. Members have been, to my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) for raising this Debate today. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) that he has rendered considerable service in this Parliament by devoting special attention to the subject of atomic energy, and, in view of the special functions with which I am charged in the Government, perhaps the House will allow me to say that I think other hon. Members would also serve the public interest if they imitated his example, and gave special attention to some of the other work with which the United Nations is charged; because much of the rest of that work is of vital importance to the organisation of a stable system of peace, and if what is going on is not generally known, it will not produce the results for which we hope. I am also in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon in thinking that the world is not yet weary of discussing atomic energy. If it were I should think it all the more important to bring home to people who are reluctant to listen the choice that faces them.

I do not want to speak in general about that choice, but to deal with the practical issues which hon. Members have raised today. The hon. Member for King's Norton used the word "deadlock," happily to reject it, because I think it is premature to use that word. Atomic energy is a problem which mankind is compelled to face; but which it will take a long time to solve. Not all inventions which are made promote the well being of mankind. It is 20 years since the man whom I regard as the greatest of all our air officers, the man who perhaps more than all others enabled us to defeat the Hitler menace when it came—I mean Lord Trenchard—said that if he had the casting vote he would abolish aviation altogether, because the evil that it could do in war time was far greater than the good which it could do in peace. Aircraft were not abolished; unfortunately, they have not yet, as their inventors hoped, bound the nations and the continents together; instead they have girdled the world with a vast circle of devastation. A United States Senator who has just flown from Tokio told me last night that 70 per cent. of the great cities of Japan, in which so vast a proportion of her population lived, are in total and absolute ruin. Aircraft have demolished, in east and west, many of the greatest monuments of the genius of mankind, and they have bombed out of existence many of the moral standards of value which have taken centuries to build up, and which we have now to reconstruct. So far, there is hardly anything on the credit side.

But, even with that prospect before us, put to us by such a man as Lord Trenchard, we did not succeed in abolishing aviation. It is academic to think that we can stop scientific progress on atomic energy; and for my part I do not think it is even desirable, because if mankind let atomic energy be used to destroy them, I do not think they are worth saving. But if they stop that, then I venture to say that atomic energy may open up before us a future of greater well being, and material and spiritual progress, than mankind has ever had before.

Hon. Members


Mr. Noel-Baker

Yes, of course, because if he solves the material problems of earning his living, man has the leisure and the strength to develop spiritual well-being of every kind.

Opinions about the potential use of atomic energy for the welfare of mankind vary, even among the highest experts. One of the leading figures of the world in this domain said to me a day or two ago that he thought we were quite a long way from the time when we could use it for industrial power. Another expert, of almost if not quite equal standing, said recently that he thought that, with the known supplies of material and using the methods which we now have, we could supply the world's energy requirements, and that perhaps in the very near future, if not at present, the cost would be reasonably competitive with coal. In any case, we all know that already, as my hon. Friend has said, atomic energy can have great value for scientific and medical uses, and we ought to ensure that it is put to those uses, and put to use if possible in chemical production of various kinds, as soon as possible. The conclu- sions I would draw from that are, first, that we cannot think about trying to stop the use of atomic energy—we cannot abolish the thing altogether, and second, we ought to emphasise, as hon. Members have done, its positive side, and to ensure that there is adequate research on that side wherever such research may serve a useful purpose.

Solving the problem will not be a quick business. I venture an analogy which will be differently received in different parts of the House. Our party on this side have, for 40 years, devoted themselves to trying to secure social security for the people. They had some early successes, they had some very serious setbacks, like the General Election of 1931. Today the National Insurance Act is on the Statute Book; and not only that, but everybody, except a few eccentrics, accepts the basic principles on which it is based, the principles that poverty, preventable illness and disease, and unemployment are social waste, and that great poverty and great wealth side by side make for the happiness of none. We may hope that the problem of international security will be solved in Jess than 40 years, less than 40 years, even if we date the start of the struggle from the signing of the Covenant in 1919.

But we certainly cannot hope that a new fundamental problem like that of atomic energy will be solved in 40 days; and it is about 40 days since the Atomic Energy Commission began its deliberations. It is impossible that in such a period concrete conclusions, or concrete accepted plans could have emerged; and, therefore, I am glad that my hon. Friend recognised that it is much too soon to talk of "deadlock." It would be much too soon even if we had had already a head-on collision of points of view between the different delegations. At present, the Commission is really at the stage of a Second Reading Debate. That is true, although it is working through a number of different committees. It is still elucidating and defining the problems to be solved. It is putting into words, words which can be understood by the layman, the principles in which the various protagonists believe. It is creating its own terminology, and clearing up misunderstandings of various kinds between the different parties.

But there has been no head-on collision. On the contrary, there has been the making of different proposals, proposals which differ primarily because they deal with different parts of the subject, rather than because they are incompatible, as my hon. Friend said. Those proposals are now under serious preliminary debate. I derive encouragement from that fact. The greatest danger in an international commission is that, when it meets, and when it knows it has a grave task before it, none of its members has anything to say; when no one puts forward any proposal at all. I have seen that happen. In 1920 various committees were created by the League of Nations to deal with the problems of the reduction and limitation of armaments. They met, and no one had anything useful to put into the discussion at all. It was left, after some years, to Lord Cecil to start a serious Debate; he did so, of course, from a purely political point of view, and he did so as the spokesman of a small country, the Union of South Africa. Our experience in this Commission has been a good deal more encouraging than that. We have had two plans of major importance put forward by major Powers. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. War-bey) in thinking that the American proposal is a plan of tremendous scope and importance. They urge that the ownership or control of all the raw materials in the world which can be used for atomic energy should be made over to an international authority.

They propose that this authority should also conduct fundamental research into the problems of atomic energy. They propose that this authority should conduct the operation of all the plants in which atomic energy may be used for any dangerous purposes. It is a tremendous proposal, revolutionary. There has been nothing like it in international affairs at all. Let us not, by the slightest inflection of our voices detract from the importance of the decision which the United States Government came to when they put forward this great plan. They suggest that this new authority should also control a great system of international inspection of raw materials and industrial plants throughout the world; that as part of the plan it should de-, nature raw material, which it should make over to national authorities for use for peaceful purposes. There are limits to the utility of de-naturing. I have not time to go into them now, but the most serious people believe that, at the lowest, it would very greatly help the system of control which is proposed. This United States proposal is a plan which will, of course, mean an immense change in the relations between the nations, if it is adopted.

The second major plan is that of the Russians. The Russians propose that the manufacture and use of atomic energy for warlike purposes should be outlawed, and that an obligation should be undertaken by every State neither to manufacture nor to use the atomic bomb. I think that these plans are not in conflict. They deal, as I said, with different parts of the subject. They must be integrated together. I am glad to say that the last reports which I have had of the discussions going on this week are that the different delegations, the Australian, Dutch, British, American, Russian, and the rest are discussing together in a committee of the Commission to see in what way this integration can take place, and to clear up misunderstandings which there have been. If I had time I could give the House examples of the kind of interchange which there has been, and of how the American representative, for example, has agreed with the Russian representative that there is no fundamental clash of principle between what they have put forward

His Majesty's Government, for their part, accept both these plans. They believe that they need to be fused. I want to say, if I may, a special word on control and inspection. International control for the prevention of the increase of armaments, the prevention of war, is not a new project. It has been debated for many years. It was always recognised in the past that it would involve access to every country, that teams-international teams—of inspectors would have to go about freely wherever they wanted, that they would have to report to some supernational authority, and that that authority would have to have power to decide on the reports. Fifteen years ago, or rather less, the French General Staff officially said, "Control is security." His Majesty's Government then in power were not wholly or enthusiastically in favour of the principle of control. They thought it would create more friction than it would do good, and that it would not really find out the facts it was designed to discover. His Majesty's present Government fully accept the principle of control and believe that a practicable scheme can be devised. It may not be 100 per cent. effective, but we believe it will give us reasonable security and will reasonably deal with the problems we have in view.

We believe, of course—and here I answer my hon. Friend the Member for Luton—that all the legal, political, scientific, and administrative problems which are involved have got to be solved, and solved together in a single, common plan. But we also agree with the hon. Member for King's Norton in thinking that the right way to start is with the technical side. We believe that we ought first to aim at drawing up a practical plan in the form of a convention for the creation of the international authority—how it is to be composed, how it is to be financed, how it can do its work, how the inspection is to be carried on, what rights are required. We believe that when we have done all that, then, in due course we shall arrive at the necessity for political decisions. We shall then be at the parting of the ways: Will Governments have this new scheme or will they not? But we think that before the governments make this major decision they ought to have first, time for reflection; second, the benefit of a prolonged international debate to bring out all the merits of all the questions that are involved; and, third, they ought to have a concrete picture of the safeguards which they are going to receive, if they accept the surrender of sovereignty, which the plan would involve.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me a moment? Could he make this point a little bit clearer? Is the technical commission which is to work out this scheme to concern itself exclusively with the drawing up of the terms of a convention, or will it deal with scientific subjects and the interchange of information between the members of the technical commission, which, possibly, could be passed back to their respective countries?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am not sure that I understand the purpose of the noble Lord. I think that everything will have to be passed back to the respective countries for consideration and acceptance. It is possible there may be agreement on exchange of scientific information before any final convention is made, but I would not care to commit myself on that.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I want to be quite sure about this. Is this a Commission of scientists who are to discuss scientific subjects and exchange information, or is it a political Commission which will draw up the convention?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think that the answer is to be found in the composition of the Atomic Commission. The noble Lord will know that our representative is Sir Alexander Cadogan who is not primarily a scientist. The American representative is Mr. Baruch and Canada is represented by General McNaughton. The Commission will deal with all aspects of the matter, as I will show. I fully agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Wing-Commander Shackleton) that the plan must also include provision for promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy, I cannot of course commit myself to his proposition that we ought now to see that plant should be set up in countries for production of atomic energy for that purpose, but I would by no means exclude that possibility.

Of course, if possible the plan should cover the whole of the world that is always true of all armament problems. This brings me to say a word about Spain. I cannot believe that in any early future, research or production in Spain is going to be a danger. I think that they are many years behind in fundamental research. I would point out that most of the scientists in this field are known, and I do not think that they have any Germans who will help them; but even if that is not the case, they are utterly without the engineering capacity. One of the greatest miracles of the atom bombs has been the achievement of American engineering. It may be that the day will come when a handful of Falangists could produce atom bombs in hidden laboratories in an Andalusian cave; but I think that that day is very distant. I hope that by then the power of the Falange and the doctrines of military Fascism will have disappeared for ever from Spain.

How are we going to get this plan? My hon. and gallant Friend says that we should use the scientists. It has been suggested that we might summon a special scientists' conference to do it for us. Scientists in a private capacity have rendered great service already during this last year. I could cite some of these services and I hope that they will continue to render them. But I am quite sure that the Government ought not to push on to the scientists the responsibility which ought to be their own. An eminent scientist whom I quoted said to me the other day that this is not a scientific problem at all; it is, scientifically, a perfectly simple matter on which they could write out what you need to know to solve it in a very short time. It is, he said, a political and administrative problem with which the Government must deal.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

That is the point. Scientists and many of us interested in this subject are perturbed at the iron curtain thrown over the faculty of nuclear fission, and until the Governments come to a decision, you are putting research and exchange of ideas in an iron cage. Civilisation cannot go on like this.

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is one of the problems with which we must deal. Scientists in their private capacity have already rendered great service by pooling and publishing information and calling attention to the major problems to be solved, and suggesting lines on which a solution might be found. It is a Government problem, and while scientists can help us to build the by-pass road, they cannot themselves by-pass the veto.

That brings me to speak of the organisation of the Commission. First, there is the Atomic Energy Commission, which consists of members of the Security Council together with representatives of Canada. They set up a sub-committee which was called Sub-Committee No. 1. That sub-committee has ceased to exist. Then there is Sub-Committee No. 2 which is mainly of a political character and deals with the system of control. That committee still continues. Then there is a body called the Working Committee, which consists of one representative from each member of the Commission. I do not know why it is called "working" —all of them are pretty industrious. There is the Scientific and Technical Committee, and there is a Legal Committee. On the Scientific Committee we have some of the most eminent figures in the world. We have first Sir James Chadwick, now Sir George Thomson and Mr. Oppen-heimer, M. Curie and others. I think that is a very high-powered body, and I think it can do the task which my hon. Friend has in view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are there any Russians?"] Yes, Sir, Mr. Bkobeltzin. Russia takes a full part on all committees and is playing a very active part and, I hope, a constructive part.

I think I have now really answered the main points which my hon. Friends desired to know about what the Government think. I want to say a word about the charge that our policy is only a pale shadow of the policy of the United States. I do not think that is true. From the beginning we have played a prominent and important part. When there are already two important plans before the Commission I do not think it would be wise to have a third plan of our own, the more so as we agree with so much of those two plans. We took the first initiative; we are continuing to play an active part in all the discussions, and we shall continue to do so with the double purpose of maximising the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and of preventing its use for warlike purposes. We have always stood for what we believe to be right, and I believe that we have done it in the main with general acceptance. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), who said that this is neither the last nor the worst weapon which science may produce. We have to deal with armaments of all kinds, and we cannot afford to have another war, even another like the last. But that does not mean we have to remove every cause of war before we can hope that war will end. We must make it the object of our policy to stop all wars, because we know that, if we have another world war, then these atomic and other weapons will certainly be used. That being so, the Government are prepared to do what was suggested; having long taken risks for war, they are prepared now to take risks for peace.