HC Deb 26 July 1960 vol 627 cc1349-68

6.2 p.m.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

I want to start by making a protest against the arrangements made for this debate on disarmament. We were to discuss today the work of the Committee of Ten Nations, which sat for ten weeks in Geneva, and what the Government will do about it in the General Assembly of the United Nations in a few weeks' time. As so many hon. Members have said this afternoon, we are going away for three months. In those months, the Government delegation in New York must make declarations about disarmament of the utmost importance in the General Assembly.

I think it lamentable that this House has had no proper chance to debate what happened in the Committee of Ten, and about what the Government are now to do. During the General Election, and ever since, the Government have made resounding declarations about disarmament. if they were sincere in what they said they would have given us a full day of Government time in which they could explain what happened, and what they mean to do.

In the minutes that remain before the Private Bill, it is quite impossible for my right hon. and hon. Friends and me to put before the House what we had wished to say. Nevertheless, as I desire to hear the Minister of State, I will explain the major part of the general case I hoped to make. I had proposed to argue that for over sixty years the arms race has been the most important single factor in determining the conduct of international affairs by the leading Governments of the world.

Ever since 1898, when Mr. Khrushohev's predecessor, the Czar of Russia, issued his famous rescript, the words of which would apply today, without the change of a comma, to the arms race in which we are now engaged, Governments have shaped their policy with a view to what they have been pleased to call national defence. In the years since the First World War there have been three real chances, as I think, to bring the arms race, to an end: in 1925, in 1932, and in 1955. On each occasion, a Government of this country played a part that I regret.

The arms race has now reached the apocalyptic culmination that Czar Nicholas foretold. There came a fourth chance in September last, when the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Khrushchev proposed in the General Assembly their respective plans for general and complete disarmament. Let me recall the Foreign Secretary's actual words. He presented to the United Nations General Assembly what he called a plan by which the nations …could move forward by balanced stages towards the abolition of all nuclear weapons, and all the weapons of mass destruction, and towards the reduction of other weapons and armed forces to levels which rule out the possibility of aggressive war. I ask the House to note the words, …levels which rule out the possibility of aggressive war. I have never pretended to admire the actual plan by which the Foreign Secretary suggested we might reach that ultimate objective. I regretted the plan for a Committee of Ten Nations to meet outside the framework of the United Nations, divided into two groups of five, each group consisting of Governments bound by rigid and rival military alliances, while four-fifths of mankind had no voice at all.

Two features I particularly feared. I was afraid that each group of five would act on the pernicious policy of "My all, right or wrong". I thought that that might lead to deadlock which the presence of independent members could have helped to break. I think that I could show from the proceedings in that Committee that those fears were far from groundless. But, of course, the U.N. Assembly endorsed the proposal for the Committee of Ten. Echoing the Camp David communiqué, it adopted a Resolution which declared that …the question of general and complete disarmament was the most important one facing the world today. It expressed the hope—in reality, it was an instruction to the Committee That measures leading towards the goal of general and complete disarmament under effective international control will be worked out in detail and agreed upon in the shortest possible time. That meant, as the Foreign Secretary meant when he proposed the reductions to …levels which rule out the possibility of aggressive war that the search for partial measures of disarmament, on which so many weary years had been fruitlessly expended, no longer held real hope. Only drastic measures could stop the race to what the Foreign Secretary called "mutual suicide".

What happened when the Committee of Ten finally gathered in Geneva on 15th March? The Western Governments presented a paper that was a rude shock to everybody's hopes. We had expected that it would contain something more concrete; more definite proposals for speedy and drastic armament reductions than had the Foreign Secretary's plan of last September. Indeed, on 10th February, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had encouraged us in this House to expect that that would happen.

When this Western paper finally appeared, however, it contained, in spite of all the efforts of the Minister of State and of M. Moch, no real armament reduction in the first stage at all. Force levels at the second stage were to be, for Russia and the United States, 2.1 million men. All the real measures to deal with the nuclear, chemical and biological menaces, with the missiles, the bombers and the rest, were relegated to a final stage which, even to a Western reader, seemed to be indefinitely remote. After six weeks of the Committee's labours, the Rumanian delegate said that the Western Powers consider general and complete disarmament not as a concrete and practical task, but as a distant ideal to which humanity should continue to aspire, without knowing when and how it will be achieved. As long as the Western delegates continued to defend this lamentable paper of 15th March, I think the Rumanian's words were justified.

Certainly their Press conferences led journalists to believe that the Western delegates had altogether abandoned the Foreign Secretary's objective of September last. On 1st April The Times special correspondent reported from Geneva that the Western delegates were still hoping that the moment may come when Russia might accept partial measures. On 6th April he said: The hope has all along been that Zorin, having trumpeted general and complete disarmament around the world, would turn about and offer partial disarmament measures. I believe that when the journalists wrote stuff like that—and they wrote reams of it—they misunderstood the Minister of State, M. Moch and General Burns. I believe that those delegates were gravely embarrassed in the Committee of Ten by their attempts to defend the indefensible paper of 15th March. I think that they made the grave mistake of acting far too long on the principle "My ally right or wrong."

Let me, in all friendship for the United States, call a spade a spade. Two weeks ago the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) asked the Prime Minister to consider putting this point to the President of the United States— that one of the greatest anxieties which people in this country have is lest the military machine should become the dictator of political policy. In the interests of a continuing amicable and successful alliance in N.A.T.O., will he ask the President to do all that he can to make it abundantly clear that the military instrument is within the control of the politician?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1960; Vol. 626, c. 1174.] The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely was speaking about the flight of the RB47. But I believe that Mr. Khrushchev drew exactly the same conclusion as the hon. Member from the episode of the U2—that the Pentagon was in full charge of American foreign policy, including the policy of disarmament as well.

When I first read the Western paper of 15th March I remembered Mr. Nutting saying in his little book that the student of the disarmament discussions in which he took part must always bear in mind, as the negotiators for their part were never allowed to forget, that behind each disarmament delegation there hovers that gaunt, grey giant in the counsels of men and nations—the Ministry of Defence. When I first read the Western paper of 15th March I remembered what Mr. Nutting said, and I felt certain that the Pentagon had spoken the last and the decisive word in its preparation. I have toe highest regard for the patriotism and tae intellectual ability of the Pentagon and for the great services it has rendered to us all, but I cannot believe that it has the right people to decide Western policy on disarmament. I think they were in charge for far too long. They were in charge when Mr. Eaton made his opening speech on 15th March.

Mr. Eaton poured cold water on all flat the previous orators, including M. Moch, had said. He warned them against some grand, but hollow design; some ambitious but unenforceable scheme; some unrealistically timed programme of disarmament. I think the Pentagon was still in charge when, on 8th June, Mr. Eaton, speaking of Mr. Khrushchev's plan of 2nd June, called it propaganda slogans and glittering pictures of distant goals. No one will dispute that Mr. Khrushchev's plan of 2nd June was a remarkable piece of work. It was, indeed, the true turning point of the Committee of Ten.

Let me give a brief outline of what occurred. The Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong. Mr. Khrushchev's plan contained three essential parts: first, M. Moch's proposal that the means of delivering nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction should be abolished at the first stage of a disarmament treaty; Mr. Khrushchev added the proposal that foreign bases should be liquidated and foreign troops withdrawn.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ormsby Gore)

Perhaps I may correct the right hon. Gentleman straight away. I should like to quote from a speech by M. Moth in which he said at the final session: Among the questions put to me by Mr. Zorin on Friday was one, the principle of which he repeated today, namely that the Soviet Government has adopted the French thesis concerning vehicles for nuclear weapons. That is completely incorrect and I wish this denial to appear in the record.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am well aware that M. Moch said that. The Minister of State was kind enough to send me the minutes of that meeting, although we have not had the rest of the minutes for June. if I may say so to the Minister of State, as I would say to M. Moch, Mr. Khrushchev did accept this proposal that in the early stages of a disarmament treaty the means of delivery should be abolished. If the Minister of State would like me to do so, I will quote M. Moch's actual words as he uttered them on 15th March. Mr. Khrushchev did not allow as long a time programme as perhaps M. Moch would have proposed, but M. Moch made no suggestions. He talked about the first stage. Mr. Khrushchev added to that proposal for the abolition of the means of delivery another proposal that foreign bases should be liquidated and foreign troops withdrawn.

The second part of the Khrushchev plan of 2nd June was the proposal that American and Russian manpower ceilings should be fixed at 2.1 million in the first stage and 1.7 million in the second stage. Third, there was elaborate provision for inspection and control, which I think would go very far towards ensuring that a disarmament treaty would be effectively observed. There was much more of which I could speak if I had time.

A week after this plan had been presented, Mr. Eaton sought to show that the abolition of the means of delivery—missiles, aircraft, submarines and the rest—together with the liquidation of foreign bases and the withdrawal of foreign troops, would leave Western Europe at the mercy of the much superior conventional forces of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Zorin replied in a speech of great power, of which the Soviet News has obligingly provided us with the text. He showed that the abolition of the means of delivery would render impossible the kind of devastating sudden aggression which threatens everyone today. Then he said: You are afraid of the Soviet conventional forces? But we proposed in March a reduction to 1.7 million at the first stage, while you proposed 2.1 million at the second. If we say now 1.7 at the second, that is a concession which we made to you. If you want quicker and larger reductions, make us your proposals, and we will negotiate. Everyone knows that Mr. Khrushchev has said very often—he said it to me eighteen months ago—that he would gladly go to 1 million at the first stage if America would do the same. Everyone knows that it was the Pentagon which insisted before 15th March that 2.1 million as the figure for the second stage was the lowest they could have, because they said they could not man their bases overseas with less.

When Mr. Zorin made this speech, Mr. Eaton and his colleagues of the West were left without an answer. It was that interchange that led the other Western delegates to do what I believe they should have done many weeks before. They stopped acting in the Committee of Ten on the principle, "My ally right or wrong". They told Mr. Eaton that they could no longer defend an indefensible position. They sent him back to Washington to get new instructions from his Government. The Pentagon still resisted. I was in Washington at the time and I know something of what occurred. In the end, Mr. Eaton came back with the new proposal of 27th June. This new proposal was, as everyone agrees, a great advance on the document put forward in March. It accepted, in terms that left no doubt, the full objective of real disarmament embodied in the United Nations Assembly Resolution.

It accepted the necessity for a timetable which previously the Western delegates had contested. It accepted M. Moch's proposal for the abolition of the means of delivery, although with longer delays than Mr. Khrushchev had proposed. It showed agreement on many of the control and other measures which Mr. Khrushchev had put forward. If we had had that document on 15th March the whole history of the Committee might have been very different indeed.

I regret, as hon. Members on both sides of the House regret, that the Communist delegations chose to leave the Committee of Ten just when they knew that this fresh proposal would be made. I am quite sure that Mr. Khrushchev will try again. His whole policy will be in ruins unless he does. I urge on the Government—and this is why I wanted to have this debate today—that what they do in the United Nations Assembly in a few weeks' time may be of tremendous importance. Disarmament will be—with Africa—by far the most important issue to be discussed. It would be a disaster if the debate became a wrangle about errors of the past, or the merits of the rival plans.

Perhaps the Soviet delegates will try to make it that. Perhaps, as often in the past, and certainly at Geneva, they will be in a more sober and constructive mood. But, whatever they may do, I hope that our delegation will not lose the chance which the Assembly offers of giving a new impulsion to the disarmament work, but will state clearly and boldly a British view about how agreement should be reached.

I believe that there are two essential points on which we should go further than the American paper of 27th June. We should take up the Russians on what I call their acceptance of M. Moch's plan and press for the earliest possible abolition of the means of delivery by which nuclear, chemical and biological weapons can be used. M. Moch said in March, I recall his words, that we must do it "while there is still time." With the vast and complex changes in weapon systems now going on, the danger does not lie in going too fast; it lies in going too slow.

Why do not the Government work out a detailed plan to show that it could be done under effective international control, in two years, or at the most in three? Consider what it is that Russia offers: The abolition of all their missiles—deadly weapons of aggression in which, by general consent, they have a lead; the abolition of all their bombing aircraft, which are by no means to be despised; the abolition of their submarines, of which they have 500 or more. Can anyone doubt that if this were done it would mean more for the military security of Britain and of Europe than buying Skybolt, or arranging to give Polaris to the Germans in six years' time? In six years' time it may be too late.

The Russians, in return, ask that our foreign bases should be liquidated and foreign troops withdrawn. If missiles and bombers and submarines were abolished many of the 250 N.A.T.O. bases would automatically disappear—their purpose would have gone. Surely we can negotiate a bargain with the Soviet that our remaining bases—and of course their bases, too—would be dealt with, as conventional forces and armaments are reduced. This is the second point on which I hope that our delegation will speak out in the Assembly.

Why cannot it urge that we should all go back to the manpower ceilings which the West urged, and the Russians accepted, in 1955, of 1 million or at most 1.5 million men, at the first stage, and further drastic reductions at the second and third? Again, the military argument is extremely strong. What could so much improve the defence position of Western Europe as a reduction of Russian forces to 1 million men? The more we distrust the Russians, and the more we think them capable of a nuclear Pearl Harbour, or a surprise land attack, the stronger the case for taking from them the missiles, bombers, submarines and tank divisions without which no such attack could ever be made.

Let us take up Mr. Khrushchev on his offers in the Assembly; and we shall very soon discover if he means to cheat, and the world will judge between him and us. I say again to the Government: in these disarmament discussions, which affect the safety and the vital interests of every nation in the world, let them definitely abandon the principle, "My ally right or wrong". We might never have had Mr. Khrushchev's second plan or the American plan of 27th June, if M. Moch had not spoken out for France and demanded that nuclear weapons and the means of delivery should be abolished. If the British delegation were to act as I have suggested, I believe that the whole Commonwealth, indeed the vast majority of the Assembly, would rally to its support. Here is a chance for the Prime Minister to make another speech about "the wind of change". The arms race is no less urgent, no less dangerous, and no less vitally important to the British people than apartheid. If we lose this present opportunity, this fourth chance to get disarmament, it may be the last.

In a hospital in New York City the great American physicist, Leo Szilard, lies dying of cancer. It was Szilard who, in 1939, persuaded Einstein to propose to Roosevelt that the Western democracies should make a nuclear bomb. It was Szilard, who, when Roosevelt said "Yes", borrowed 2,000 dollars to buy radium, and began the experiments from which the bomb was born. Szilard, on his deathbed, is preaching that only total disarmament can save mankind.

Robert Oppenheimer was the leader of Szilard's team. He was the true maker of the atomic bomb. A month ago, speaking in Berlin, Mr. Oppenheimer said that in this decade The deadliness, the destructive power of the atomic stockpiles has increased far more than a hundredfold. Today, the new means of delivery and use have made of the command and control of these weapons systems a nightmare fully known only to those responsible. They have added chance to anger as another cause of disaster. If another war occurs none of us can count on having enough living to bury our dead. If our Governments will not act now on warnings such as these, I hope that they will abandon all pretences and will never use the word "disarmament" again.

6.31 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ormsby Gore)

The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) started by saying that it was lamentable that we have such a short time to discuss so important a subject and, naturally, we agree with him. But we think that some of his criticisms might have been directed at certain Members on his back benches. because they have not left us sufficient time to discuss this extremely important subject in the detail which it deserves.

The debate takes place in a mood of great disappointment because, as the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech, only a few months ago—even four months ago—the prospects for disarmament certainly looked better than perhaps at any time since the war. It was in that mood that we met in Geneva on 15th March.

I wish to make a few remarks about the two plans which were discussed during the first stage of the conference, because I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman drew an altogether fair picture of the proposals which have been put forward on the Western side. I begin, however, by making a reference to the proposals put forward by the Soviet Union—proposals which had been presented to the United Nations Assembly last September. The other Eastern European delegations told us that they had had a meeting with the Soviet Government before coming to Geneva in order to discuss the Soviet plan, but it was very noticeable that when it was presented to us on 16th March every comma and every word was the same as in the plan put forward in the previous September.

But it had certain features which we believed were an improvement. We had already said so. I had said so at the Assembly last year. It did not demand the total abolition of nuclear weapons in the first stage and, therefore, it did not require the dismantling of the Western deterrent at that stage. It put the abolition of nuclear weapons in the last stage of the plan. This was Mr. Khrushchev's proposal from last September. It also proposed that the liquidation of bases on foreign territory should not take place until the end of the second stage, by which time it was suggested that all conventional forces would have been disbanded. Very naturally, if all conventional forces had been disbanded, there would no longer be any need for bases.

These were two satisfactory features of the Khrushchev proposals of September, 1959, but the plan had certain drawbacks. Very little was said about control, although I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the latest Soviet proposals are an improvement in that respect. But the original plan which we had presented to us in March had very little about control.

As hon. Members know, it contained no provision for any nuclear disarmament in either the first or the second stage. It contained no provision whatever for building up international machinery for keeping the peace once the purely national armaments began to be reduced. Finally, the timetable suggested was quite unrealistic. Indeed, to some extent it was fraudulent, because the proposal was that this complete and general disarmament would be brought about in four years. But, as our discussions in Geneva very soon revealed, this actual process of disarmament would not even begin—not one single measure of disarmament would be started—until there had been drawn up a treaty for general and complete disarmament, there had been a world con- ference of all States, every State in the world, and every State in the world had signed the treaty. Thus, no disarmament would have taken place for a great many years. Whether it would have been possible to complete the process in four years is a different matter, but I think that even that timetable was highly unlikely.

The Western plan, which was the subject of our discussions during the first stage of the Conference, was, we believe very much more realistic. It is true that in the first stage of the plan there was very little disarmament, because the Soviet Union on many occasions had indicated that they would not be prepared for very extensive control in the first phase. It seemed to us to be very necessary to try to build up, first of all, a greater confidence between the two sides, and when this had been done and when certain technical studies had taken place, it would then be possible to move on to very much more substantial measures of disarmament.

We therefore addressed our minds very much more in the first stage to those measures which could be quickly implemented—measures which could even be implemented simply by the ten Powers meeting in Geneva. There was provision, of course, that further and more substantial measures would be introduced as soon as other countries acceded to any disarmament agreement. In the second stage we recognised the need for a world disarmament conference at which all the militarily significant countries in the world would be able to put their points of view. At that stage, and when all countries were to come in and join the disarmament process, very much more substantial measures of disarmament would be possible.

Our plan, moreover, was better balanced in that it contained measures for nuclear disarmament and conventional disarmament at each stage. It also contained provisions for building up the peace-keeping machinery. I think that too often when people talk about the need to build up peace-keeping machinery they tend to speak too much in terms of building up a force to keep the peace. But it is not just a question of having forces at the disposal of the international community. There is also a necessity to build up the machinery of conciliation and machinery for mediation between countries having a dispute, building up the power of the International Court and so on. It is only as a final resort that it is necessary that the international community should also have forces at its disposal in circumstances in which the mediation and the conciliation machinery have broken down.

During the first stage, when these two plans confronted each other, there was some clarification of the positions of both sides, but, I agree, very little progress. I do not think that that is altogether surprising in view of the very close proximity of the Summit. I gained the very definite impression that in those earlier days the Soviet delegation were anxious to see what would come out of the Summit before they were prepared to discuss disarmament in detail—that is, to discuss specific disarmament measures in detail. They were prepared to take part in a general debate on general disarmament but even on their own measures they were not prepared to enter into a detailed debate.

For instance, their proposal was that conventional forces should be reduced to 1.7 million in the first stage. When it was suggested that we should discuss in some detail the measures of verification which would be allowed to ensure that the countries concerned had reduced these forces to 1.7 million, they entirely declined to debate that issue. As I say, the evidence was that they were waiting to see how things might work out at the Summit.

The second phase took place after the collapse of the Summit and, therefore, quite naturally, in the second part of the Conference the Soviet tactics and strategy were radically different from what they had been earlier. Here I would doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that, if only the plan of 27th June put forward by the United States had been presented earlier, the course of the whole disarmament conference might have been very different. I do not think it would have made much difference what plan we had started with. Once the Summit meeting had collapsed, and once Mr. Khrushchev had decided that he did not wish to have further negotiation with the present American Administration, I think that it was extremely unlikely, whatever plan was on the table, after 7th June that we would have made any progress on disarmament this year.

When the second stage started there was, rather naturally, after the collapse of the Summit, which I am not going into now, a very marked difference in tone. The new Soviet proposals had been presented to the world on 2nd June at a Press conference by Mr. Khrushchev in which he devoted precisely five minutes to the proposals and one-and-a-half hours to vilification of the United States and the President of the United States. This was not an encouraging start. The proposals were actually tabled at the meeting on 7th June and less than three weeks later the Soviet Union and its allies walked out of the meetings.

The new Soviet proposals of 2nd June had been quite skilfully drafted. It is true that they had taken account of certain Western ideas, but I believe that in certain cases they had placed them in the wrong order. However, the improved features of their plan certainly showed that the previous discussions had not been entirely barren. For instance, they now accept that there should be some control over missile bases. They accept the prohibition of placing in space orbiting vehicles fitted with weapons of mass destruction. They have placed a figure of 1.7 million on conventional forces in the second stage of their plan and they do not, in fact, in the plan as tabled, propose any force reductions in the first stage. They certainly contain very much more detail on control, although in some respects this is still inadequate, as was very clearly shown in some of the cross-examination which Mr. Zorin had to stand up to from M. Moch.

But these were improvements. They had also agreed at long last to a study of the question of the cut-off in the manufacture of fissile material for weapon purposes, although they would themselves put off the implementation of that measure until the second stage. Most important of all, they seemed to have abandoned their unrealistic and strict timetable. They made provision in their latest plan for a report to be made to the Security Council at the end of each stage and before the next stage was started. We will discover later that this kind of proposal is mirrored in the latest United States plan, presented on 27th June.

What were the bad features of the Soviet Union's latest proposals? They contained this idea of the total elimination of all the means of delivery as the first measure in the first stage, and they pretended quite erroneously, that this represented the French views. It was taking up a French idea, I agree. It is an idea which has occurred, I think, to many of us who have studied the whole question of disarmament. It arises simply from the fact that we all now know that we cannot discover existing stocks of nuclear weapons. They are now with us in such large quantities that there is no scientific method known to man of being able to verify their existence. Therefore, if we are to deal with the problem of nuclear disarmament, we must accept the fact that these stocks cannot be found and, thus, a new approach is needed. The best approach that any of us has been able to think of is by proceeding to try to eliminate the means of delivery of these weapons of mass destruction. That is quite understood, and I made speeches in support of M. Moch's proposals along these lines.

The French proposals, however, are rather more sophisticated than perhaps the right hon. Gentleman suggested. They believe that, in the first stage, it will be necessary to get some kind of control over the means of delivery and over the bases from which these means of delivery can be launched. Then they go on to some reduction in the means of delivery, finishing with the total elimination of the means of delivery. In that kind of sequence, I think that we could all accept this as a sensible way to approach the problem of eliminating nuclear weapons.

The second bad feature of the latest Soviet proposals was their insistence on the total liquidation of all foreign bases in the first stage. These two measures represented an almost precise reversal of the proposals put forward by Mr. Khrushchev as recently as September, 1959. There, the elimination of nuclear weapons and the abolition of foreign bases were put at the very end of the process. On 7th June we had presented to us proposals which would eliminate them both as the first two measures of the first stage. This was a radically different plan and, in some ways, went back on the proposals of Mr. Khrushchev of as recently as last year.

The Soviet Union then demanded an immediate Western reaction to these latest proposals. They clearly hoped, I think, that we would make speeches so antagonistic to the proposals that they would be able to say, "Quite clearly, the West is not interested in disarmament and, therefore, we will break off the conference". But we did not do that. We studied the proposals in great detail. I returned to London, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Mr. Eaton, the leader of the United States delegation, decided after quite a short space of time, to return to the United States and have discussions in Washington. We had all agreed that the right way to deal with the latest Soviet proposals was to study them carefully, take into account what the Soviet Union and its allies said during the earlier part of the Conference, and put in some counter-proposals which would go some way to meet Soviet criticisms of the Western plan.

That was decided upon. Mr. Eaton returned to Geneva less than three weeks after the recommencement of the conference. He told Mr. Zorin that he had proposals to make. Mr. Dillon had announced three days before that the United States delegate was returning to Geneva with new proposals to put before the conference. It was on the very day that he returned that the Soviet Union and its allies walked out of the conference.

I believe that this action was very badly timed tactically because it put them in a rather absurd position. It was a really ludicrous performance. Strategically, I think that it was necessary for the Soviet Union in view of the kind of speeches Mr. Khrushchev had been making about the position of the United States and particularly about President Eisenhower. It would have been very difficult for them to have seen the rôles reversed—that a United States proposal was on the table and we were waiting for the Soviet Union's reaction to it. It would have been very difficult under those conditions for them to have walked out of Geneva.

In order to avoid this, apparently, they decided to wind up the conference in this highly discreditable way. The only action we could take was to say that the conference was not at an end. I moved into the chair and I called upon the United States delegate, who then presented the latest United States plan. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he considers this a substantial improvement upon earlier Western plans.

I should like to make some comments on the latest United States plan, because I do not think that it has had sufficient attention. It contains substantial measures of disarmament in the first stage. It provides for control, not only over missile launching sites, but also over naval and air bases. This was to meet what seemed to me a valid criticism by the Soviet Union that it was all very well to ask for control over missile launching sites but that this would be more likely to inhibit the Soviet Union than the United States and its allies and that control simply over missile sites without control over air and naval bases was a onesided proposition. In the latest United States proposal, there is now to be control over both naval and air bases as well as over missile launching sites.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

The right hon. Gentleman said that he always considered that to be a valid point by Russia. Can he give any reference to any of the discussions before the Summit when he himself, on behalf of the United Kingdom, stated openly that he thought that this Soviet point was valid?

Hr. Ormsby Gore

I thought that it was much more useful to make the point to the United States, who then incorporated it in their next plan. This was one of the new features.

Another new feature was that the United States Government accepted the figure of 1.7 million for conventional forces in the second stage. Now, the two plans are identical on this matter. Both plans, the Soviet and the United States plans, contain provision for reductions to 1.7 million in the second stage. The latest proposals also contain measures for the progressive elimination of the means of delivery. They take up the kind of language used in the Soviet plan to arrange for the transition between one stage of the disarmament process and the next.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that there is now little difference between the final goals set out in the two plans. The Soviet Union has accepted that when all national armed forces have been reduced to levels required for internal security purposes only, there should also be contingents available to the international community for the enforcement of peace in the world. In this respect, the Soviet Union has come to much the same position as that contained in the Western plan.

I believe that this latest plan by the United States Government constitutes a real effort to meet some of the Soviet criticisms. If we could have continued with our discussions, I think that the Committee would have been able to report definite progress to the Disarmament Commission and to the General Assembly. This was all brought to nought, however, by the walk-out of the Soviet delegation and their allies. Clearly, this is a situation which should be examined as early as possible by the United Nations, who have a primary responsibility in this direction.

The Disarmament Commission is to meet early in August. The United Kingdom Government for their part would have been very happy had it met even earlier. Meanwhile, in the surrounding gloom, I should mention at least one gleam of light. That is, that the Conference for the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapon Tests is still in being and we still believe that it is possible for it to reach an agreement this year, even later this summer. The number of outstanding issues is comparatively small.

I believe that progress would be possible if we could overcome the difficulty about the co-ordinated research programme. Here again, the United States have made a considerable move by saying that they will allow the inspection of any nuclear devices which are to be used in this research programme. This was quite a problem for the United States, because it requires Congressional approval before it can be put into effect. The United States have made that offer to the Soviet Union. If there is agreement on that and on one or two other major outstanding points, there is no reason why we should not sign an agreement this year. It is certainly the intention of Her Majesty's Government to do everything possible to achieve this.

Before I come to the end of my remarks, I should like to return to the question of general disarmament. Everyone in this House would agree that the prospects of serious negotiation this year are extremely slender. We will have debates at the United Nations, but they will not amount to detailed negotiation. When they are resumed, however, we should bear in mind certain basic considerations. The first is that where there is a complete lack of trust and confidence in the world, effective control over the disarmament process must be the touchstone.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Tell America that.

Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)

Tell everybody.

Mr. Ormsby Gore

It may well be that we now live under a balance of terror, and that is a disagreeable sensation. It may well be, however, that this is less dangerous than an imbalance in armed forces on both sides such as we saw in the years before 1939. We must remember that it is war itself that is the enemy and not a particular kind of war.

A ban on nuclear weapons because of their very horror, has a kind of superficial attraction, but I believe that this kind of approach to disarmament is an extremely dangerous illusion. It is not just that conventional war fought with modern weapons would be incredibly destructive, as the last war was. In future, a global war cannot be confined to conventional weapons, even if in peace time an agreement had been signed for the abolition of nuclear weapons. All the best scientists in the world, including the Soviet scientists, have agreed that it would be possible for an industrial nation which knows the process to be back in production with nuclear weapons within one year of the outbreak of war. This means that we must stop any war breaking out, not simply a nuclear war.

That consideration points unmistakably to a double task which confronts us. It is not only to reduce the armaments and forces in the world under international control in such a way as to minimise the capacity of countries to commit aggression. It also means, at the same time, building up international institutions for the peaceful settlement of disputes and putting at the disposal of the international community the force that is necessary to repulse an aggression should one take place, and to see that the laws and decisions of the international institutions are carried out.

That is the supreme task which now faces us. I know that there are people who are sceptical of achieving success. They point to the history of disarmament discussions and they say that there has been no success in the past. I do not take so pessimistic a view, because I do not think that the failures of the past are at all relevant today. It was quite possible, although misguided, up to 1939 for people to believe that they would derive an advantage from carrying out an aggressive war. Nobody outside a lunatic asylum believes that today. Therefore, it may well be that we have a period of time in which to try to conduct our international affairs in a more rational way. I believe that we can produce an answer on disarmament. We should not look at disarmament in a watertight compartment. We must also consider the political conditions and the building up of that international machinery which is necessary to keep and preserve the peace.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. After the conclusion of the Private Business, when we return to the consideration of Public Business, is it your intention to continue the debate on disarmament or will the debate be on the Consolidated Fund Bill?

Mr. Speaker

All I can say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that we will go back to the Third Reading of the Bill.

It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.