HC Deb 01 April 1960 vol 620 cc1669-76

11.5 a.m.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a short statement about my recent visit to the United States.

My purpose was to see President Eisenhower and discuss with him the situation which had developed in the Geneva Conference on Nuclear Tests. It seemed to me that these negotiations had reached a critical stage and that some fresh impetus was required if they were to go forward to a fruitful outcome. We reviewed together the course which the discussions had taken, and reached agreement on the next steps to be taken. Our joint proposals were set out fully in the declaration which we issued on 29th March, and I do not think that I have much to add to that except, perhaps, to emphasise two points.

First, we accepted the principle of a moratorium on nuclear tests below the so-called threshold, which are at present undetectable by scientific instruments. The length of this moratorium is a matter to be negotiated with the Soviet Government.

Secondly, we proposed that an agreed programme of co-ordinated research should be started at once, in the hope that through the work of the scientists of the three countries it may be possible to find effective means of detecting nuclear explosions below that threshold.

I am, of course, conscious that there are a number of important points—the length of the moratorium, the number of inspections and other matters— which will need considerable negotiation. Nevertheless, I believe that if the spirit is there, as I hope it is, it should be possible to arrive at the text of a treaty within a reasonable time. As soon as the treaty is signed the moratorium can be proclaimed.

I hope that the House will feel satisfaction both at the character of the decisions reached between the British and United States Governments, and at the fact that our two Governments are in complete harmony on this important issue.

Mr. Gaitskell

The whole House will welcome the Prime Minister's statement and, in particular, the optimistic tone contained in it. May I ask him a question about the moratorium? It has been reported that the United States are thinking in terms of a rather short period of six months because of the American presidential election. Could the Prime Minister clear up that point? Are the Americans, so to speak, standing on the constitutional difficulty that the President could not accept anything for longer than his own term of office? Perhaps we could clear up that point first.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. The question of the moratorium is that the Russians, I think, suggested four to five years. Our view is that that is too long. Therefore, the period is a matter of negotiation and perhaps it is better, on entering that negotiation, for me to leave it there for the moment. We hope to reach some agreement.

There is the quite separate issue of what power any of us has really to make a moratorium effective. Obviously, a moratorium declared by the Governments is not the same as a treaty. A Government might fall, and the next Government might repudiate the action of their predecessors. The same might happen here. Theoretically, therefore,, the actual power of the present President ends on 20th January. It is as if it were known that there was to be a new Government here at some date. Therefore, I think that it is very much the same position. It is purely a technical one, because it is quite clear, I think, that all the three Governments, once they have made this declaration, will, in their different constitutional methods, carry it out for whatever may be the agreed term.

Mr. Gaitskell

I take it, then, that the term of six months mentioned is certainly not the Americans' last word on this matter, that it is a purely constitutional difficulty, and that they would then be ready to negotiate a longer period of somewhere between that and the four to five years. I am much obliged.

Perhaps I may now ask another question about the Prime Minister's visit. He will be aware that reports appeared in the Press of his conversations with Mr. Dillon which created a certain amount of alarm and, perhaps, confusion in Europe. Since then a statement has been issued. If I may say so, I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman when he conducts a private conversation with representatives of another State and a garbled version of this appears in the Press the next day.

Nevertheless, I think that he will be aware that a certain amount of harm could have been done by these reports, and I would, therefore, like to ask this direct question. Will he make plain that Her Majesty's Government are not in any way opposed to the Common Market, and that they will accept the rights of our European friends to make whatever arrangements between themselves they wish?

The Prime Minister

Again, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the very courteous—and balanced—way in which he has presented problems that we all occasionally have to meet. Perhaps I might take the opportunity of just adding this, because it is of importance—to me, at any rate, in my position.

I have never said anything, and I did not say anything to my American friends, that I have not consistently said for two or three years to my German and French friends—to General de Gaulle and to Chancellor Adenauer. On both sides of the House we believe very much in European unity. It was under a Labour Government that the Council of Europe came into being. It was on the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) that the Germans were admitted, for the first time, to the Council of Europe. We also believe that the new friendship between Germany and France is absolutely vital to the future peace of Europe.

We agree—and the right hon. Gentleman stated it in admirable words—that not only do the Six have the right to make this commercial treaty, but that it is a good thing—we have said it over and over again—to have that degree of stability and unity in Europe. What I have pleaded for—and I pray that I have said it strongly, because I feel it so deeply—is that we should not allow an economic gap, a sort of division, to grow up which, gradually—I do not say in the short run, but in the long run, as all history has proved—will make another division in Europe.

We have seen over and over again how fatal that is; in my own lifetime I have seen it twice. It is not the particular groupings of Powers, but a division, and I have made the plea, and I make the plea again, that, somehow or other, we should, in the next period, try to make that gap so small that it is wearable, and does not have these effects. I believe that we all want to have that. It is for that that I have made my plea, and I repeat it now.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? I congratulate him on the success of his mission and express the hope, which I know is his, that this will be a step nearer what we all desire, namely, complete disarmament and the establishment of the rule of law.

Mr. Healey

May I ask the Prime Minister, in connection with the second issue, whether the American Administration clarified their position on the discussions now proceeding between the so-called Seven and the Six? The Prime Minister will be aware that President Eisenhower's communiqué with Dr. Adenauer was interpreted as implying American support for the Six against the Seven on this issue. Can the Prime Minister say whether this was, in fact, the case, and if so, whether there has been any shift in American policy since his visit?

The Prime Minister

I must be very careful not to be guilty of the very mistake of which I myself have been the victim. I would not say that there was quite that clear, lucid degree of certainty as to the policies on this matter which there is upon some other questions.

Mr. Thorneycroft

While recognising that diplomacy by leak is practised in some places and that this has done a good deal of harm, would it be possible in some way to convey to the highest quarters in America that this particular method practised against an ally and a friend, and by a distorted leak at that, after conversations between senior Ministers and officials and the Prime Minister of this country, will be widely regarded here as an irresponsible and unfriendly act, falling far below that which we are entitled to expect?

The Prime Minister

I would like to be quite clear about that. If it were a calculated leak, I would have that feeling, but I am quite certain that it was not so—absolutely certain. We all know that these things are repeated, and so forth; but I do not believe that. I have absolute confidence in the Ministers with whom I dealt. These things happen, and they are unfortunate, and, therefore, I am grateful for the opportunity of clearing that up as soon as possible.

Mr. A. Henderson

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions about nuclear tests? Can we have an assurance that if a committee of experts is appointed and reports that it is practicable to control underground test explosions before the end of the year, before President Eisenhower leaves office, it is the intention of both Governments, as a result of these conversations, that a complete and unconditional ban on all nuclear tests would be written into the projected treaty? Secondly, may I ask him whether it is proposed that the treaty should be open to the signatures of other countries, such as France and the Republic of China?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the purpose of the moratorium was to cover that area of the problem which cannot be covered in the regular treaty because no control system can at the moment be certain of looking after it. Of course, if the experts can get to work at once— and that is why we propose that we should not wait until the signing of the treaty, but should start the agreed coordinated plan right now—the sooner they get to work, the more hope there is that within the period of the moratorium, whatever it may be, it will be possible to reach a conclusion. In that case, the next step is to put the moratorium into the main treaty.

Mr. Henderson

What about the second point?

The Prime Minister

This has already been discussed in connection with the treaty at Geneva, and arrangements are being discussed for asking the adherence of other Powers.

Mr. Warbey rose

Mr. Speaker

The House puts me in a great difficulty. In a sense, all this is very irregular. The House charges me with looking after the rights of minorities and decides that today shall be devoted to private Members' business. It is not the Prime Minister's Question time. I hope that that may be borne in mind.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that the only back benchers who have been allowed to put questions to the Prime Minister are those who happen to be Privy Councillors? Can you give us guidance as to how you are going to safeguard the minorities?

Mr. Speaker

I had not perceived the rank of the hon. Members I had called. I was interested in presenting every point of view. I have not yet pronounced a termination of this matter, but I was suggesting to the House that it might be indulgent to me in gradually approaching that point.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the Prime Minister assure us that he said that the U.S.A. and Britain should "try to cut through the jungle and go forward with faith?" Is he aware that we thoroughly agree with this and that we hope it will be reflected not only in the policy of tests, but in a big fundamental change in the whole policy of nuclear disarmament?

The Prime Minister

I have no reason to deny the phrase—it is not a very novel one, I fear—because it was made in public session to the Senate.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Can the Prime Minister tell us whether or not he urged the American Government to use their influence against the Hallstein acceleration proposal for this July? If so, is that wise? In view of the extremely unfortunate history of our relations with Europe in the past three years, is it not desirable now to accept the Six in a far more specific sense than the Prime Minister did this morning and to build on that if we want a new Europe?

The Prime Minister

That is another question. All this has recently been discussed in Paris and will be discussed further—the question whether both of these groups should work at the rate which was originally laid down, or whether one or other of them should accelerate its programme. I am making a plea not so much for the machinery of what happens, but that there shall be a real purpose to narrow the gap which may result from whichever of these techniques is used.

Mr. Warbey

In view of the great importance of ensuring that there shall be no hindrance to the conclusion of this test agreement, does the Prime Minister feel able to give an assurance that no one on the Western side will engage in small underground test explosions between now and the signing of the treaty?

The Prime Minister

I think that all the Western Governments are on record as to their intentions in this matter.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Now I think that we really must end these questions.

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