HC Deb 10 July 1958 vol 591 cc577-9
45. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Prime Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will make it a condition of supply of the civilian atomic plants to be exported to Brazil, Germany, Spain and other countries that inspection should be undertaken by the International Atomic Energy Agency and that such inspection should be continuous, in view of the need to prevent these countries extracting military plutonium for atomic weapons.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

As the International Atomic Energy Agency has not yet worked out methods for implementing the inspection and other safeguards provisions in the Agency's Statute, the point raised by the hon. Gentleman is premature.

Mr. Stonehouse

Will the Prime Minister assist our representatives on the Agency to work out these proposals in detail, and, in view of the urgency of preventing these countries extracting military plutonium from these atomic plants, will he ensure that it is made a condition of supply that supervision should be undertaken by the International Agency when the right procedure has been worked out?

The Prime Minister

All we can do is what we have done—to make it a condition of supply that we should be satisfied as to inspection. The Agency is a board of twenty-three governors, representing twenty-three nations, with somewhat different approaches to this, as to other, matters. The important thing is that we should put into our contracts the right of supervision by the appropriate international agency. Since these contracts take a very long time to manufacture, it is not urgent in this case, because contract orders placed this year could not come into operation before 1961 or 1962.

Mr. Gaitskell

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is a comparatively easy matter to extract military plutonium from these civilian atomic plants? Could he confirm that in any event these contracts make it possible for Her Majesty's Government to insist upon whatever method of inspection seems to them proper and desirable?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the second part of the question of the right hon. Gentleman is "Yes". We take the power to consult with the recipients as to the best method of inspection. With regard to the ease or difficulty of extracting plutonium, I have to answer a lot of scientific questions and I should be grateful if that could be put on the Order Paper. I would try to make an estimate of the ease or difficulty which, of course, depends partly on the qualifications of the people concerned.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I press the Prime Minister on the first point again? I think he said there was provision for consultation with the purchaser as to the appropriate method of inspection, but does that leave Her Majesty's Government in a position to inspect? What happens, for instance, if there is disagreement between the purchasing country and Her Majesty's Government on this point?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that is likely to occur, but there is no doubt going to be some discussion as to what is the most appropriate international agency, and I think the right hon. Gentleman agrees that there are other agencies which could be used for this purpose.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Could the Prime Minister clear up this point? Is it not a fact that under Article XII of the Statute of the Agency powers are given to establish a permament system of inspection which would give it effective guarantees that there could not be diversion for military purposes? Since the whole purpose of establishing an agency was to ensure that there should be no diversion, would it not be possible to establish the principle that we should use the Agency?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Member knows, as in the case of all these United Nations agencies, when we have all these Governments represented on the board with different points of view, it is quite a job to get them to agree to a certain Statute. All I am saying is that, if we cannot get it done one way, we should try to do it the other way.

Mr. Noel-Baker

With great respect, does not Article XII of the Statute establish the principles of the system which all agree to and which could be effective?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but the League of Nations established the principle of the system and it was not effective. The United Nations has established all kinds of principles. The difficulty is to get an effective working operation of a difficult technical method and try to get the board of governors, on which there are twenty-three representing eighty or ninety nations, to agree. If we cannot do it in that particular form, it may be that there is some other agency, or some other method, whereby we can have effective control. That, I am sure, is the purpose of the House, and we have got, perhaps, three or four years in which to work out the best method.