HC Deb 30 November 1955 vol 546 cc2309-12
Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the announcement that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is prepared to agree with Great Britain and the United States to cease further experimental explosions of the hydrogen bomb, he will approach these Governments with a view to achieving this objective.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

Her Majesty's Government have had no communication on this subject from the Soviet Government. The announcement to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was made by a commentator on the Moscow Radio. Its terms and scope are far from clear and might have appeared in better light if it had been made before the recent Soviet explosion, of which Mr. Krushchev has spoken in such enthusiastic terms.

Her Majesty's Government are ready to discuss these matters at any time, but I must make it clear that in such discussions regard will have to be paid to the number and nature of the tests which each country has already made, as well as to the number and nature of the tests proposed.

It remains the view of Her Majesty's Government that a comprehensive disarmament agreement is the only final solution to these problems.

Mr. Attlee

As I understand that nothing which is not official is allowed to be said over the Moscow Radio, we are therefore entitled to take this statement as authoritative from the Government of the U.S.S.R. As there is still considerable doubt among scientists whether these explosions may not have very deleterious effects, should we not take any opportunity there is to try to halt these experiments? Surely we already know how destructive they are. I quite agree about all the difficulties of the matter, but surely this gives an opportunity for an approach.

The Prime Minister

I said deliberately that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the terms of this statement were not clear, and I said it because it is a matter of very considerable importance. The words used several times in the statement referred to "nuclear weapons." In the language usually used, that would be atomic weapons as well as hydrogen weapons. That is the effect of the language which has been used and we have to deal with the effect of the language which is used.

As the House will readily see, and as I believe the whole House, or almost the whole House, has always held, the abolition of all tests of atomic weapons, as well as hydrogen weapons, would be an entirely different matter from the banning of hydrogen bomb explosions. It is for that reason that I say we are perfectly ready to discuss these questions at any time and in any place, but that we must take some account of the position of our own country in relation to these discussions.

Mr. Strachey

Does the Prime Minister agree that. whether or not the Soviet Government have now indicated their willingness to agree to this ban, Her Majesty's Government are losing a tremendous opportunity if they fail to put forward their proposals for a truce in further tests, above all because that is the one self-policing form of nuclear disarmament which can be devised today?

The Prime Minister

I have said, and we have said many times before, that we are perfectly ready to discuss these questions. Our proposals have been tabled many times and we can table them afresh if the House so desires, but I must ask the House to understand that if they were to accept as it stands this proposal for the abolition of nuclear tests, it would mean the abolition of atomic weapon tests as well as hydrogen tests, and that would be a matter of the gravest seriousness, as all have hitherto agreed, for the position of our country at the present time.

Mr. Attlee

I thought we were all disturbed much more about the effects of the hydrogen explosions because it is suggested that they may have very long-term repercussions on the future of the human race. The fact that there was also some mention of atomic weapons surely does not prevent one from considering the matter of hydrogen bomb experiments and does not necessarily lead to the consideration of the whole banning of the atomic weapons, which is an entirely different matter. As I understand, this was put forward merely as a first step for considering the wider questions to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

The Prime Minister

We are perfectly ready to consider this at any time and in any place. I have seen it suggested, for instance, that there might be some such limitation as to agree, say, to one explosion a year, but I do not think the House ought lightly to take for granted, immediately the Russians have set off the biggest explosion in their power, that that is exactly the moment when we should forgo—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]. Hon. Members should let me finish my sentence—any right to discuss the position of our own country at any international meeting, which we should gladly attend.

Mr. Bellenger

In view of the well-known way in which Russia sometimes conducts her diplomacy, would not the right hon. Gentleman instruct Her Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow to try to find out, in the ordinary course of business, what is behind this statement?

The Prime Minister

I think that what I have said shows fairly clearly that Her Majesty's Government are ready for these discussions. I have made no point of the fact that no such approach has been made to us by the Soviet Government at all.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot carry the matter further at the moment.

Mr. Mason

On a point of order. On the Order Paper I have a Question, No. 52, which relates precisely to that which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has just asked. I put it down on 17th November to the Prime Minister, who then shunted it to the Foreign Secretary. It has been deferred three times and I have not yet been able to ask either the Question or a supplementary question on the problem of the cessation of the hydrogen bomb tests.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry about that, but it happens to most hon. Members now and again. If the hon. Member studies the Written Reply which he gets, then if he desires he can always put down another Question for further information.