HC Deb 20 June 1955 vol 542 cc1034-8
The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now make a statement on the Anglo-United States Civil and Military Agreements on Atomic Energy.

The texts of these Agreements, to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred in his statement on 15th June, are being laid this afternoon and copies will be available in the Vote Office at 5 o'clock. These Agreements provide the basis for closer co-operation in atomic matters between our two countries.

Because of the limitations of the United States Atomic Energy Act of last year, the Military Agreement excludes disclosure of information relating directly to the design or fabrication of atomic weapons. It will, however, permit a valuable exchange of knowledge, on a fully reciprocal basis, on other military aspects of atomic energy. These include information relating to the development of defence plans, and to training in the use of, and defence against, nuclear weapons. The Agreement also makes possible the joint evaluation of the capabilities of other Powers in the use of atomic weapons. It will also allow the exchange of information on the effects of all types of weapons.

The Civil Agreement provides, also on a fully reciprocal basis, for the exchange between the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and the United States Atomic Energy Commission of information on a wide variety of subjects including the generation of power by atomic means. It also provides for the transfer of materials and equipment between the authorities. The Agreement also permits the exchange of information, the sale of equipment, and the use of patent rights between the electricity authorities and private industrial firms who are working in their respective countries in the development of atomic power. These exchanges will take place on a commercial basis and subject to certain safeguards.

By permitting the interchange of scientific and technical knowledge between the two Western countries which are most advanced in these matters, the Agreement will help to quicken the pace of atomic development and will bring nearer the day when the full benefits of atomic power for peaceful purposes will be at the service of mankind.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Although one must study the Agreements before one can make much worth-while comment, and while it seems that the Agreement on the civil side is highly satisfactory, is it not a fact that the Agreement on the military side, as far as we can understand it from the Prime Minister's statement, is very unsatisfactory? We were led to believe that under the American Atomic Energy Act there could be exchange of scientific information which might be on a mutually advantageous basis, but apparently, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, no such information may be exchanged concerning the manufacture of atomic weapons at all.

Does not that mean that there will continue to be a ridiculous waste of first-class scientific manpower and of the best scientific brains on both sides of the Atlantic in working simultaneously on the same problems without opportunity of consulting each other and exchanging useful information?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps I can say in general terms, first, that we are satisfied that there is nothing in these Agreements which will in any way handicap this country in future developments. There are several factors, both in the military and in the commercial sphere, which will help us a great deal.

As to the commercial side, I do not think that there is any dispute. When the House studies the Agreements they will be found, I think, to be of great service to both our countries. As regards the military field, there is, of course, a limitation; it is the limitation which is laid down by the Act passed in the United States of America. Everything outside that legal limitation we do, and shall, exchange information about.

Some aspects are, of course, very important. The right hon. Gentleman and others of his colleagues on the benches opposite will know that for a long time we have wanted, for instance, to exchange information about the conclusions we draw from, say, atomic and nuclear activities in other countries. That has not hitherto been possible. It will now be possible under the Agreements; and so will everything else except the actual manufacture of the weapons.

Mr. Shinwell

As regards the military aspects, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Agreements will embrace other N.A.T.O. countries? Otherwise, how is it possible in the sphere of nuclear defence to promote effective defence? If the Agreement does not embrace other countries or some of them, are there any exclusions? Can we have more information on that point?

The Prime Minister

Certainly. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, knows that there was an agreement between the United States and the N.A.T.O. Powers on this matter but so far as we and the United States are concerned, our two countries, as anybody in the House knows, have advanced further in this matter than any other nations. Therefore, I think it would be fair to say that this Agreement between us and the United States does go further than the general agreement between the United States and the N.A.T.O. Powers as a whole.

Mr. Neave

Can my right hon. Friend say how far this welcome Agreement affects any arrangement we may have with Commonwealth countries in cooperating in the peacetime uses of atomic energy for civil purposes? Is he in a position to say anything about any agreement that we may have with Canada in that respect?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the United States Government are making an agreement with Canada. So far as we are concerned—I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned it—the position of Canada is, of course, of considerable importance. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, we have had continuous and close-working arrangements with Canada ever since the last war. They have worked extremely smoothly and well without any kind of agreement, and, in practice, the arrangements between these two Commonwealth countries are so good that no kind of agreement is needed.

Mr. Strachey

Would the Prime Minister not agree that this no doubt inevitable limitation in the Military Agreement is one more reason for the increasing focussing of our own defence effort in this sphere?

The Prime Minister

There is nothing in this which limits our own activity. Outside the actual manufacture of weapons—perhaps I should put it very carefully: outside what the United States law lays down as the limitation—there would be the most complete co-operation. We have satisfied ourselves that it is to our advantage to facilitate the co-operation in those fields where it is possible.

Air Commodore Harvey

Is it the Government's intention to give to the United States detailed information of atomic and nuclear weapons developed in this country while we know that, for certain reasons, we cannot receive that information from the other side?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. Everything is on a basis of reciprocity, or not at all.

Mr. Bellenger

May I ask the Prime Minister a question that I tried to put to the Foreign Secretary the other day? Does this reference to atomic energy and information about it include the nuclear fusion process? I ask because we must be spending a quite considerable amount of money on developing hydrogen bombs, and although our researches in our work upon them may be for military purposes at the moment, that knowledge may eventually have civil uses.

The Prime Minister

The answer is, yes, Sir.

Mr. de Freitas

Since our Civil Defence planning has been seriously prejudiced by the fact that it was over a year after the hydrogen bomb explosion before we got details of it, may I ask whether this Agreement will prevent such a ridiculous state of affairs from occurring again?

The Prime Minister

I think that if the hon. Gentleman will study the Agree- ment will will find that it is a marked advance on anything we have enjoyed heretofore. I should say myself that the civil part of the Agreement is of the utmost importance for the future industrial life of this country. It does not compel any firms in this country to disclose anything they do not want to, but it does permit exchanges, which may be very valuable, between our industries and those of the United States. So far as the military side is concerned, I am satisfied it does all that can be agreed within the limits of United States law.

Mr. J. T. Price

Does this Agreement put any limitations on the exchange of personnel freely between the two countries? In any development of this kind, on an internationally agreed basis, the top men in scientific research, who have the "know-how," are most important, as we found in the case of Pontecorvo and other people—to our cost.

The Prime Minister

I do not know that I particularly like that recollection in which the hon. Member has indulged, but on the civil side it is certainly so, and on the military side it is so within the limits which the Agreement lays down.

Mr. Benn

Does the Agreement limit the capacity of the Government to enter into agreements with other countries if they should wish to do so? Further, does it involve any change in our security standards or screening of atomic personnel?

The Prime Minister

Our security standards remain as they are at present, and we shall continue to do all we can to keep them as effective as possible. Our atomic authorities have a number of agreements with other countries, and so have the United States Government and the United States atomic authorities. I think it would be fair to say that this certainly ranks among the most important of them.