HC Deb 11 November 1958 vol 595 cc190-2
54. Mr. Beswick

asked the Prime Minister why Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept the proposal of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to prohibit all further tests of fission and fusion weapons together with an inspection system recommended by the Geneva conference of technical experts.

46. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Prime Minister the present policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to discontinuing nuclear test explosions.

The Prime Minister

Our policy on the discontinuance of nuclear tests is set out in our public statement of 22nd August, which is contained in Command Paper 551 published on 30th October.

We have already made it plain that we accept the recommendations of the Geneva experts' conference, including, of course, their ideas on an inspection system. But we are not prepared to accept the Soviet position of prohibiting nuclear tests without agreement on a control system.

Mr. Beswick

May I first thank the Prime Minister for agreeing to have my Question re-transferred from the Foreign Secretary? Is the Prime Minister aware that this country is getting heartily sick and tired of the continual protestations of Ministers and the Government that they want the ending of tests in general and their refusal to accept any proposal in particular? In this case I ask him to say what is his objection to the proposal made by the Soviet Union? They are prepared to end tests permanently and say that such an ending shall be parallel with the acceptance of the proposals made by the Geneva experts. What is the objection to that?

The Prime Minister

I am sure the hon. Member would not want me to say anything which might injure the success of the negotiations now going on in Geneva. I must point out, however, that the Soviet proposal is not what he said, that there should be parallel agreements, but that first there should be one agreement to end the tests without at present any understanding on the control system.

Mr. Bevan

Is it a fact that any significant test explosion can be detected at the moment with the apparatus available to scientists? Would not it be as well to make a start that way?

The Prime Minister

I think that if the right hon. Member studies the report of the nuclear scientists he will see exactly the importance of having an international control system. Even there, of course, the degree of complete information would depend on the character of the control.

Dame Florence Horsbrugh

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this country is becoming, in the words of an hon. Member opposite, sick and tired of the Soviet suggestion that we should end the tests without agreeing to control and inspection, and that the country is thoroughly behind the Government in this matter?

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Is not it a fact that the Soviets were themselves the first to propose—in May or April of last year —that there should be a control system, with posts on Soviet territory, to ensure that suspension of tests was observed? If they would agree to a suspension of tests with control, are the Government prepared to do the same?

The Prime Minister

That is exactly the point. I think the actual meeting of scientists was on the suggestion of the British Government. It was left for several months unaccepted by the Soviet Government and then, much to our gratification, it was finally accepted. The experts have done their work, and very good work. What they, in effect, say is that we can have a system of control and how watertight it will be will depend on how complete it is; but, if we are prepared to have it reasonably complete, we should be able by these means to detect all explosions above a certain kiloton level. It is now for the Conference at Geneva to work out two things: first, an agreement to end the tests and, secondly —attached to that agreement, as a proviso or part of that agreement—political decisions as to the character of the control. I do not say every detail of the control, but an agreement on the broad principles under which the control will operate.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House also would prefer to have a system of inspection and control accompanying suspension of tests, but is he further aware that the country has got very tired indeed of the failure to make any progress here? As important tests can be detected and have been detected this year, would not it be desirable to clear the atmosphere a bit by stopping all tests?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That is why we have agreed that we shall not resume tests while the Geneva Conference is going on and we have not taken any retaliatory action on the Soviet Government, who are continuing their tests.

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