HC Deb 27 May 1952 vol 501 cc1317-26

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." —[Mr. Butcher.]

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)

I have given notice that I would draw attention on the Adjournment to the statements that the Prime Minister has made about the atom bomb, but I find that no Prime Minister and no Member of the Government Bench is present, and I presume that they have deserted the field. But that makes it no less imperative that I should do my duty and discuss the matter of which I have given notice.

The Prime Minister has made many statements about the atom bomb. His statements can be divided into two categories: those that he makes when he is in office, and those that he makes when he is in opposition—and, of course, they are very different. I suggest, however, that the time has come when the question—

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

I understand that my hon. Friend is raising on the Adjournment the matter of atomic warfare. Do I understand that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is to reply on the subject?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, who is already in his place, is to do so.

Mr. Gaitskell

The hon. Gentleman should have said that his hon. Friend has only just arrived.

Mr. Hughes

I have the utmost sympathy for the hon. Gentleman who is to reply on behalf of the Prime Minister. It is a very difficult task at any time to reply for the Prime Minister for his innumerable lapses and the case that he makes, but I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman who has just arrived will do his best with the difficult case he has to defend.

I was pointing out, before the arrival of the hon. Gentleman who is to put the case for the Government, that the Prime Minister's statements can usually be divided into two classes—those that he makes when in office and those he makes when in opposition—and they are usually different. I believe that, even at this late hour of the night, I am doing a service to this House and to the country by drawing attention to the statements which the Prime Minister has made about the atom bomb, and in asking for some statement of policy on behalf of the Government.

The statement to which I mainly wish to draw attention is the one which the Prime Minister has made about the explosion of the atom bomb that is to take place shortly in Australia, and, in order to see this in its proper perspective, I want to refer to a statement which the Prime Minister made two years ago. In opposition, he has warned us several times about the great danger with which this country, is confronted as a result of the establishment of the Anglo-American atom bomb base in East Anglia, and he has pointed out that this has, possibly, terrible consequences for the people of this country.

On three occasions, I have heard him give this warning that, by bringing American atom bombers to East Anglia, we put the people of this country in the position in which they may be the victims of terrible reprisals as a result of a possible enemy—and there is no doubt who the Prime Minister thinks is the enemy—delivering a counter-attack with atom bombs upon this country as a result of these bases being established here. I believe that, in this matter, the Prime Minister has been perfectly justified, and that history will possibly say that he has been right.

I wish to recall the warning that he gave on three occasions in this House. The first was delivered on 28th March, 1950, when he argued: If, for instance, the United States had a 'stock-pile' of 1,000 atomic bombs—I take the figure as an illustration merely; I have no knowledge of any sort or kind of what they have—and Russia had 50, and we got those 50, fearful experiences, far beyond anything we have ever endured, would be our lot."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1950; Vol. 473. c. 201.] I do not believe that the Prime Minister was under-estimating his case. If, by any chance, 50 bombs were dropped on this country, if we had atom bombs on the London area or on the industrial dis- tricts of Scotland or the Midlands, Lancashire and other parts of the country, then I believe that it would result in an enormous casualty list among the civilian population of our congested industrial districts and of our practically defenceless towns.

To think, as the Prime Minister did, of 50 atom bombs with a possibility of 200,000 casualties with each bomb, it would perhaps result in making this country untenable, which some military strategists have recently argued. I am not thinking of this country as a base for American atom bombers. I am thinking of the social consequences to the civilian population with millions of people living under these terrible conditions and practically unable to be defended in such circumstances.

There is hardly a town in this country with anything like an air-raid shelter capable of housing a very large number on the civilian population. Of course the Government cannot possibly do it. Everyone knows that they have neither the materials nor the labour to carry out a gigantic housing programme at one time, and, on the other hand, go forward with building elaborate air-raid shelters. So, I submit that the following policy of leaving the majority of the people in these congested islands in almost defenceless position and faced with what might happen in air raids with atom bombs is the most serious problem with which we are faced now.

I believe that the Prime Minister was absolutely justified in giving this warning when he was in opposition, but I regret to say that when he took over the responsibilities of office he did nothing more than the previous Government did to reverse this situation. The position of this country as an aircraft carrier for American atom bombers in Western Europe is such that the only solution is to make some agreement with the Americans to take these atom bombers back where they came from. If this were done this country would not be in danger of air attack. In fact, one of the safest countries in the world now is the one without atom bomber bases or airfields, and that is Ireland.

The very fact that Ireland is regarded as safer than this country in the event of war is proved by the fact that large numbers of strong supporters of the present Government are emigrating to Ireland because they think so. One of the gentlemen, whose name has figured in political controversies, Sir Oswald Mosley, has retired to Ireland to become an Irish landlord, because he believed that in a future war Ireland would be safer. I understand there are prominent members of the Conservative aristocracy, dukes, who have taken the same point of view.

I do not accept the view that the stronger the air force is the more secure are the people who live in that country. I know that that view is not shared by the Government I support. It will be no answer to me if the answer is that which the Prime Minister usually gives; that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire must give credit to his own Government.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

Which Government does he support?

Mr. Hughes

This is a serious discussion.

Brigadier Clarke

The Moscow Government.

Mr. Hughes

Everybody here knows that I do not represent the Moscow Government, and I am not as the hon. and gallant Member opposite; I have not spent most of my time in a Communist institution known as the British Army, which is the worst possible institution for understanding a serious political argument of this kind.

But let me return to the serious argument; I want to know, now, what the Prime Minister has done in order to relieve the anxieties of those of us who believe that there is a terrific danger to this country in the atom age; a danger expressed so very vividly last week by Lord Russell, who said that in his more gloomy moments he saw Western Europe becoming a terrible rubble heap. Those who find a fatal fascination in wandering around places like Berlin do not want to see this country ending in the way that that city has ended.

What is the present Government's policy towards the atom bomb? When the Prime Minister fought the Election, he stressed then, as in this House, the urgency of this matter by saying that there should be a meeting at the highest level with Premier Stalin. As far back as 1950, the Prime Minister made a famous speech at Edinburgh in which he argued that the time had come to discuss the whole future of our foreign relations and their implications, with Premier Stalin. He said on 28th March, 1950, that we could not go on with a policy of drift and hesitation.

But that is more than two years ago, and the policy of the Prime Minister has been to carry on no kind of conversations at a high level with Premier Stalin. Instead of such conversations, the first announcement from Downing Street in the new reign there, was the statement that the British Government had decided to explode an atom bomb in Australia. I should like to ask for some clear explanation of why it is considered necessary at the present time for the British Government to have an atom bomb of its own. Were there not certain discussions between the Prime Minister and President Truman when the Prime Minister last visited Washington?

Why is it necessary, if we are on such cordial terms with the United States— which has such a large stockpile of atom bombs at its disposal and is regarded as having an overwhelming strength in atom bombing power—that we should have an atom bomb explosion of our own? Why could this not be left, from a large number of points of view, in the position where America has full power over the atom bomb, so far as our relationship with her is concerned?

If America has had the opportunity of developing the atom bomb and experimenting with it in the desolate places of America, why is it necessary for us to say to the Americans, "That is not good enough for us, we must have an atom bomb of our own"? Is Western civilisation to be safer or more secure as a result of every industrial and scientific nation developing the atom bomb on its own? Is France to be allowed to have an atom bomb, or the new Germany? What sort of co-ordination of policy is there to be between the Western nations?

I do not believe it in the interests of this country to go into the atom bomb business, especially when we realise the position in which we are, and that we are in danger of possible attack. I do not see that this country, in its present industrial position, can afford to indulge in this new kind of armaments race, which can be very costly indeed, and will divert away from constructive industry the brains of our technicians and the labour and experience of our industrial workers.

We should have some kind of clear statement from the Government. We should know how much we have spent hitherto on producing the atom bomb, and what this experiment will cost. The Government should tell us exactly what they are up to in going to Australia in order to carry out this experiment. I do not believe that atom bombing will solve the problems of the modern world. I do not believe it is in the interest of the people of this country to go forward with development on these lines of warfare.

When the Prime Minister made his famous speech at Fulton he talked about the atom bomb being the means of the West holding its position against the East. But we now find that the East has the atom bomb. We might find that time is not on our side, and that as the years go on the Russians and the Communist countries might be able to produce more atom bombs than can be produced in the West. What a prospect. What a future that will be for civilisation.

I also believe it is a bad thing. It is not in the interests of this country as a leader of civilisation that we should be prepared to contemplate using the atom bomb, which can only be used to destroy big industrial centres in other parts of the world. From every point of view I believe that this policy should be examined now. We should have some statement from the Government explaining the position which the Prime Minister has taken up, which is quite contrary to the line he has taken during the last few years.

11.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. A. R. W. Low)

As he does on many occasions when he addresses the House on matters of defence and foreign policy the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has ranged somewhat widely. I do not think he would expect me, in the few minutes in which I have to reply, to speak on some of the broader issues which he raised in the first three-quarters of his speech. In any case, I think that the hon. Member, and the House, will agree that these short debates on the Adjournment are not suitable occasions for discussing some of the great issues to which he referred. I do not think he will expect to hear from me about matters of foreign policy, about matters of strategic policy, or even about what is perhaps the basis of his whole argument, namely, the pacifist approach which he brings to these matters when we are discussing them.

I will try, briefly, to give him the answers to some questions which he raised at the end of his speech. On the question of this country having the atomic weapon, I am sure that everyone deplores as much as the hon. Member the necessity of directing the great scientific advance represented by the development of atomic energy to armaments rather than confining it to peaceful uses; but it is generally agreed, though I know that he is one of the exceptions to this general belief, that the world situation compels us to do so.

If we are to develop atomic weapons we must test them, just as we test other weapons. The hon. Member asked me, I thought rather naïvely, what would happen in the test. That, I thought, ought to be clear to him from the announcements made on two occasions by the Prime Minister, and from the answers which he has given to Questions put by the hon. Member and by other hon. Members of the House. Perhaps I might digress for a moment to express gratitude to Mr. Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia, for his help, and our warm appreciation of the help of his Government in connection with this test.

The hon. Member also asked me about the amount of money which has been spent on this matter. He knows that I cannot answer that question. It is not in the public interest to give those figures. I see the former Minister of Supply (Mr. G. R. Strauss) is present. I remember the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends giving similar answers to similar Questions put by the hon. Member and other hon. Members.

The hon. Member referred to relations with the United States on this matter. He asked why it was necessary, when the United States had already tested and proved their atomic weapons, for us to test such weapons. I think he is aware that the United States Government is prevented, by domestic legislation, from exchanging information on atomic weapons. Therefore, we have no alternative but to proceed independently with the development and testing of our own weapon.

I think the hon. Member will agree that in those circumstances, also, it might well be considered necessary for the sake of our national prestige and safety for us to acquire and practise the technique of the manufacture of atomic weapons, and to produce some operational weapons. This is not just the view of this Government, but was, of course, the view of our predecessors, who laid the foundations of this test which is to take place in the course of this year.

I do not remember that the hon. Gentleman raised this point with the former Government, but I have no doubt that, if he thinks the matter out, he will appreciate that everything he said about the policy of the present Government in connection with this test applies in full measure to the policy of the Government of which he was on some occasions a supporter.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

What about the promised Four-Power meeting?

Mr. Low

As I indicated at the beginning of my few remarks, which are limited by time, I do not feel that the House will expect me to reply to the very broad issues which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire raised in the course of the first three-quarters of his speech.

Mr. Hale

That is an immediate issue.

Mr. Low

I came to this Box to answer the hon. Member for South Ayrshire on the points which, I understood, he was going to make in connection with the forthcoming test of the atomic weapon by the United Kingdom. I do not think that there is anything else I can add, but I hope that, on the points I have dealt with, he, and, if not he, the rest of the House, will be satisfied with the answers I have been able to give.

Mr. Hale

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us how the atom bomb is to get to Australia? Is it going by air? If so, over what countries will it pass? If it is going by sea, what is being done to prevent possible tragedy?

Brigadier Clarke

I hope that my hon. Friend will not give any such information. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who has just returned from Moscow, will probably transmit the information straight there.

Mr. Hale

On a point of order. May we, in the last 10 seconds, express our resentment at this McCarthyism in this House? The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) speaks with the mind and temper of Senator McCarthy and the manner and mood of Charley MacCarthy.

Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.