HC Deb 30 July 1954 vol 531 cc864-71

11.8 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

Disarmament is perhaps the most difficult and complex problem facing statesmanship and Governments today, but none the less it is essential to solve it. We see a world divided into two armed camps engaged in an armaments race to a degree and intensity never before equalled in times of peace. It is estimated that the annual expenditure throughout the world on armaments amounts to £40,000 million a year, and an expenditure of only one-tenth of that amount would enable assistance to be given to the under-developed countries which would help to transform the social and economic conditions of probably two-thirds of the world's population.

It is interesting in this connection to appreciate that, according to the United Nations investigators, the average annual earnings of the populations in the underdeveloped areas is about £20 a year, and the £40,000 million a year to which I have referred works out at an average of £20 a year per head of the world's population.

The relationship between disarmament and economic development is emphasised only too clearly by the recently announced refusal of the British and American Governments to subscribe to the special United Nations Fund for Economic Development so long as the present expenditure on armaments is maintained. We on this side of the House strongly regret that decision. We believe that to solve the problem of poverty is just as important to the peace of the world as the problem we are discussing this morning.

I am afraid it cannot be said that the Governments of the world have treated this problem with any great sense of urgency; indeed, they have lagged behind the scientists, whose unrestrained activities may have the most profound effect upon the future welfare of the world. What are the facts? For over eight years disarmament has been the subject of discussion under the authority of the United Nations in the Atomic and Conventional Armistice Commissions. It was not until January, 1952, that the Disarmament Commission itself was established. The Commission had meetings from January to October of that year.

We have been told that in November, 1952, the first hydrogen bomb was exploded, and yet disarmament was not again discussed until November, 1953. Even then the Disarmament Commission was not reconvened until April of this year, this time at the request of Her Majesty's Government, supported by the French and United States Governments.

To my mind all this does not indicate any great sense of urgency, although I do not underestimate the difficulties. World Disarmament Conference which sat between 1932 and 1935 showed only too clearly the difficulties of securing agreement on disarmament, but it is an historical fact—at least one accepted by many people—that its failure led directly to the Second World War.

Today the development of nuclear weapons, and particularly, the advent of the hydrogen bomb, lends a new urgency to the problem and puts a new and heavy responsibility on Governments and statesmen throughout the world. Only yesterday the Prime Minister referred to: the appalling developments and the appalling spectacle which imagination raises before us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 752.] That was a reference to what would occur if there were another world war. But surely the verbal warnings and forebodings of statesmen must be translated into deeds and actions if the world is to be saved from the perils and dangers which lie ahead.

It is in these circumstances that failure to reach agreement at the recent meetings of the Sub-Committee of the Disarmament Commission at Lancaster House during May and June was such a great disappointment. I do not think that there is anything to be gained by assessing responsibility for its failure, except that I should like to express regret that the Soviet representative could not answer, or would not answer, the five specific questions put to him by the Minister of State on the working of the proposed international control organ which, as hon. Members know, is intended to be responsible for enforcing the provisions of any disarmament treaty. I think it is only right to say here that the Minister of State himself played a notable part in the attempts that have been made to secure agreement.

After a careful examination of the various proposals put forward at the Sub-Committee meetings, I cannot find any fundamental difference between them. The Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong, but I would suggest that there was common agreement on the following principles: first, that the atomic, hydrogen and other weapons of mass destruction should be totally prohibited and eliminated; secondly, that there should be a substantial reduction in all armaments and armed forces; thirdly, that an international control organ should be established.

The main differences seem to have been as follows: first, the Russians proposed an unconditional prohibition of atomic, hydrogen and other weapons of mass destruction to operate as from the date of the convention. The western delegates were equally in favour of the total prohibition of these weapons, but they proposed that prohibition and elimination were not to become finally effective until an agreed reduction in conventional armaments had taken place. Pending total prohibition and elimination they were prepared to agree to a declaration that such weapons should only be used to resist aggression.

The second main difference was over the reduction of conventional armaments. The Western Governments proposed reductions which would equate, broadly speaking, the forces of Russia and China with those of the United States, France and the United Kingdom together.

The Minister of State (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

At their reduced levels.

Mr. Henderson

At their reduced levels. It is true to say that the main burden of these reductions would have fallen upon the United States, Russia and China. On the other hand, the Russian proposal was for one-third reductions in the present armed forces of the countries concerned. This, of course, would leave them with the same proportionate superiority in conventional armaments while the Western Powers would be left in their present relative inferiority in this sphere. The abolition of nuclear weapons would, of course, give equality of security to all countries, including Russia, and would remove Russia's present inferiority in this sphere.

A third difference was that the Russian proposal did not provide for the international control organ being established and positioned before the implementation of the provisions of the disarmament treaty. Moreover, the control organ, in the Russian view, should only have the power of making recommendations and of reporting them for action to the Security Council, which would then act as laid down in the United Nations Charter, which means that the power of the veto would still operate.

Surely all these differences, while of great importance, are not insurmountable. The most hopeful document of all was the memorandum put forward by the French and British representatives, and this still seems to me to be the most useful basis of discussion before us. I think, however, that as Ambassador Patterson, the head of the United States delegation stated, this document is not inflexible and I should like to make one or two suggestions on my own personal responsibility which might bridge the gap between the Russian and the Western proposal.

Firstly, could not a multilateral declaration be made by all the Powers agreeing not to use the hydrogen bomb, except in retaliation? This declaration would be made as a preliminary to the conclusion and implementation of a comprehensive disarmament treaty. Secondly, could not the manufacture of all kinds of nuclear weapons be prohibited as soon as the control organ reports its readiness to carry out its responsibilities? Thirdly, could not the total elimination of half of all nuclear weapons take effect as soon as half of the agreed reduction in conventional armaments has become effective, instead of waiting until the end, as is the case under the present proposals? Fourthly, could not the final, total prohibition and elimination of the remaining half of all nuclear weapons take effect as from the completion of the second half of the agreed reduction in conventional armaments?

This should meet to some extent the views of the Russian Government and would certainly be a half-way house between the Russian proposal that nuclear weapons should be banned and prohibited at the outset and the proposal of the Western Governments that that should follow the carrying out of the agreed reduction in conventional armaments. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of State will make it quite clear today that the proposals that he and the French delegate put forward at the Sub-Committee of the United Nations Disarmament Commission are not the final word and that he will consider the possibility of moving towards the stand which is taken by the Soviet Union.

There are those who argue that there is little prospect of ending the present deadlock until there has been a relaxation of world tension, but surely if we could make substantial progress towards agreement on disarmament a real improvement in the international situation would follow. There are some who advocate unilateral disarmament. Perhaps the outstanding case of a country which followed the policy of unilateral disarmament was that of Denmark during the inter-war years but, as we all know, this did not prevent that country from being invaded in 1940 and occupied for the following four years.

There are those who argue in favour of the prohibition of nuclear weapons, even though it is not possible to obtain agreement on the reduction of conventional armaments. In my view, disarmament must be dealt with on a comprehensive basis. It is not enough to eliminate a particular weapon—even the hydrogen bomb—in isolation from other existing weapons. The welfare of mankind would still be threatened by atomic weapons, the rocket, the guided missile or even the high explosive bomb.

The attack by a few American planes on Hiroshima, when one atomic bomb was dropped, is estimated to have involved 70,000 lives. In 1943, 1,000 R.A.F. bombers crossed the Channel and bombed Hamburg and in one night, by dropping several hundreds of tons of bombs, they are estimated to have killed between 40,000 and 50,000 people.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

There were 200,000 at Dresden.

Mr. Henderson

That strengthens even more my argument that getting rid of the hydrogen bomb and leaving more conventional weapons in existence will not safeguard the welfare of mankind.

We have to seek to remove the fear of war and in that connection, as the Franco-British memorandum recommended, reduce the level of armaments to that which is strictly necessary for the maintenance of internal security and the guaranteeing of obligations to other countries under the United Nations Charter. It is on that basis that the existence of foreign military bases could be terminated. I read with great interest the statement by the United States delegate during the Lancaster House meetings that: If we should succeed in reaching agreement on the regulation, limitation and balanced reduction of all armed forces and armaments, such an agreement would undoubtedly specify the bases that should be continued and those that should be discontinued. Those who are interested in the question of bomb bases might well take some satisfaction for that expression of the point of view of the representative of the United States Government. What is needed today is to end the present deadlock. For the first time since 1939, fighting has ceased throughout the world.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)


Mr. Henderson


Mr. Orr-Ewing


Mr. Henderson

We do not consider ourselves to be at war with those bandits. I thought that we were taking police action.

Could not a special disarmament session of the General Assembly of the United Nations be arranged in September? What a wonderful thing it would be if it could be addressed by President Eisenhower, Mr. Malenkov, Mr. Nehru, our Prime Minister and M. Mendès-France. In the old days of the League of Nations it was quite usual for Prime Ministers to attend the discussions. Could they not pledge their countries to make their contribution to security and freedom? The matter could then be again considered by the Disarmament Commission with a view to drawing up a disarmament treaty to be considered by a world disarmament conference which the Foreign Ministers of all countries, including China, could attend. A disarmament agreement would pave the way for many political settlements. For example, in a world in process of disarming, the controversy on German rearmament would take on an entirely different aspect.

It will be necessary, however, to remove the curtain of distrust that divides East and West as effectively as does the Iron Curtain. It will be necessary to surrender outworn concepts of national sovereignty in respect of all the problems of world relations. What is the use of preserving national sovereignty and losing national existence? Here I find myself in agreement with the Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lester Pearson, who expressed the view that the granting of such powers would not be so much an infringement as a utilisation of sovereignty for the purpose of world security.

In the face of the threats and dangers that confront them, the nations of the world must concern themselves with the problem of co-survival as well as co-existence. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to persevere to the utmost with a view to securing the greatest possible reduction of armaments. The achievement of disarmament will not lead to glittering prizes but to much greater and nobler results—a new world society in which the nations can live together free from the fear or the threat of war.

11.29 a.m.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) will forgive me if I have not time to follow him through all the points he has made in the course of his speech, with much of which the House will agree in considering the cause that all of us have at heart.

I would refer to the meetings of the Sub-Committee of the Disarmament Commission and some of the summarised opening remarks of the Minister of State. The summary of the remarks states that by right hon. and learned Friend, on the opening of the Conference, pointed out that so long as the accumulation of great armaments continued there would be no certainty that the danger of war would be lifted from the world and that the development of new weapons …

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