HC Deb 10 April 1962 vol 657 cc1143-51
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement.

President Kennedy and I are today issuing a joint statement about nuclear tests which was communicated to the Soviet Government yesterday evening. The text of the statement is as follows: Discussions among ourselves and the Soviet Union about a treaty to ban nuclear tests have been going on in Geneva for nearly a month. The Soviet representatives have rejected international inspection or verification inside the Soviet Union to determine the nature of unexplained seismic events which might be nuclear tests. This is a point of cardinal importance to the United States and the United Kingdom. From the very beginning of the negotiations on a nuclear test ban treaty, they have made it clear that an essential element of such a treaty is an objective international system for assuring that a ban on nuclear tests is being observed by all parties. The need for such a system was clearly recognised in the report of the scientific experts which was the foundation of the Geneva negotiations. For nearly three years this need was accepted by the Soviet delegation at Geneva. There was disagreement about details, but the principle of objective international verification was accepted. It was embodied in the treaty tabled by the United States and the United Kingdom on 18th April, 1961, which provides for such a system. Since the current disarmament meetings began in Geneva, the United States and the United Kingdom have made further efforts to meet Soviet objections to the 18th April treaty. These efforts have met with no success as is clearly shown by the recent statements of the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union and of their representative in Geneva, Mr. Zorin, who have repeatedly rejected the very concept of international verification. There has been no progress on this point in Geneva; the Soviet Union has refused to change its position. The ground given seems to be that existing national detection systems can give adequate protection against clandestine tests. In the present state of scientific instrumentation, there are a great many cases in which we cannot distinguish between natural and artificial seismic disturbances—as opposed to recording the fact of a disturbance and locating its probable epicentre. A treaty therefore cannot be made effective unless adequate verification is included in it. For otherwise there would be no alternative, if an instrument reported an unexplained seismic occurrence on either side, between accepting the possibility of an evasion of the treaty or its immediate denunciation. The opportunity for adequate verification is of the very essence of mutual confidence. This principle has so far been rejected by the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, and there is no indication that he has not spoken with the full approval of his Government. We continue to hope that the Soviet Government may reconsider the position and express their readiness to accept the principle of international verification. If they will do this, there is still time to reach agreement. But if there is no change in the present Soviet position, the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom must conclude that their efforts to obtain a workable treaty to ban nuclear tests are not now successful, and the test series scheduled for the latter part of this month will have to go forward. That in the joint statement. The House will observe that President Kennedy and I have both emphasised that the door is still open for an agreement. I therefore sent this morning a message to Mr. Khrushchev in the following terms: Dear Mr. Chairman, You will have seen the joint statement about nuclear tests which the United States and British Chargés d'Affaires communicated to the Soviet Government yesterday and which President Kennedy and I are issuing today. You will remember that we first discussed this problem together as long ago as 1959 when I had the pleasure of visiting you in Russia. I will not repeat the arguments in the statement but I feel that I must ask you to give the most earnest consideration to our proposal. After all, the object of verification is not to increase suspicion but to dispel it; to identify an event as a natural one so that confidence may not be threatened. I feel sure that once the principle of international verification is accepted there would be a real chance of reaching an early agreement as to its application. This would fill all the peoples of the world with a new sense of hope. That is the message from me to Mr. Khrushchev. I know that the whole House will share my earnest hope that Mr. Khrushchev will respond to my appeal.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on this side of the House we deeply regret the refusal so far of the Soviet Governemnt to accept even the principle of international verification and that we welcome this further effort by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister, supported by the Prime Minister's letter, to try to induce the Soviet Government to change their mind?

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions arising out of this? First, is it still the case that the reason given by the Soviet Government foe refusing international verification is the danger of espionage? Can he say whether there is, in fact, the slightest justification for that argument, and if there is any other argument which they put forward, will he say what it is?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has ruled out all possibility of a Summit conference, which might perhaps even now lead to some change in the Soviet attitude?

The Prime Minister

The espionage argument is the one first put forward. To me, and to all of us really, it seems almost incomprehensible. One might understand that at certain stages of a great disarmament scheme where there would, perhaps, be people going all over a country, going into factories, or into built-up areas, that argument might be put forward. But what is here contemplated is not even Anglo-American inspection, but international inspection, probably at very distant and, no doubt, very isolated spots. It seems really impossible to believe in the sincerity—I hate to say this—of the argument, although I realise how sensitive the Soviet Government are on that question. Therefore, I find it very difficult—we have all found it very difficult—to follow the Soviet argument.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's second question, the President and I are in the closest touch, almost day by day, on this subject, and we share the great disappointment over this, which I had hoped would be some move forward. We have moved a long way. I think that perhaps the method that we have adopted is the best one for the moment.

Mr. Grimond

While everyone will share the Prime Minister's hope that there may be some response to his letter, may I question him a little further about the project for a Summit conference? Is it not the case that Mr. Khrushchev himself suggested this, and may it not be that if any concessions are to be made on the Russian side we are most likely to get them from Mr. Khrushchev personally? Would the Prime Minister not think it worth while to suggest to the President that they should, so to speak, go back to Mr. Khrushchev's offer and add to the letter a definite proposal that they should take up Mr. Khrushchev's own offer for a Summit conference?

The Prime Minister

Mr. Khrushchev's suggestion was that the 18 Heads of Government should meet at the opening of the Geneva Conference, and we did not think that very practical. But, of course, there have been the very intimate discussions at the conference and by the sub-committee on this matter, and there have been close discussions with the Foreign Ministers concerned.

I wish to take the House as much as possible into my confidence. The tests are a serious trouble to the world. It will be a great grief to all of us if they have to continue. But there are other dangers ahead of the world. Some of them which are at the moment dormant may easily become more dangerous. If there is any question of a Summit conference in the sense of three or four Heads of Government—not 20, 30 or 40—I want to be quite sure that it is timed in such a way as to be most likely to be fruitful and upon perhaps a fairly wide range.

Mr. A. Henderson

Even though Mr. Khrushchev's reply may not be entirely satisfactory, can we be assured by the Prime Minister that the proposed tests will not be held at the end of this month, but that the President and the Prime Minister will consider deferring the tests until at least after the General Assembly has met on 1st June and received the report of the Disarmament Commission?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; I do not think I could press that. I must be frank with the House. The statement makes it quite clear what we must decide to do. We have a great responsibility. The President's responsibility is, of course, even greater than mine.

I do not think that I could ask for—I do not think that I could succeed, and I do not think that it would be right to press it upon the American Administration—the Americans to enter upon another long period of what we called last time a moratorium. For three years we continued it and made no preparations. The scientific experts and staffs in both our countries made no preparations for a test. Suddenly, the Russians, who had made the last one, were two ahead.

I cannot ask this of the President. I asked the previous President, and he responded. I feel that I cannot ask President Kennedy, even if I could succeed, to go on with a vague moratorium, in case we found that there was a third series of Russian tests which might put us in a very dangerously backward position. I cannot do that, though I would go on trying until the last possible moment, but this is at least a genuine and sincere effort.

On the point suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, it is almost inconceivable how anybody who really wants disarmament in any form can resist absolutely on principle any form of international—not even national—inspection.

Mr. H. Wilson

Would the right hon. Gentleman say, first, whether we are right in inferring from something he said a few minutes ago that the West have formally proposed that on-site international inspection could be conducted entirely by neutrals without any Anglo-American element?

Secondly, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he and the President have now quite definitely ruled out the idea of a rather more limited ban on atmospheric tests while continuing to negotiate on the question of underground tests?

The Prime Minister

As to the first of the right hon. Gentleman's questions, I must be careful. I know that that idea was put forward in one of the discussions, but we would insist on our own proposal. I am sure that it was put forward, and had it been grasped it would have been a very easy bridge.

With regard to the second question, we made this proposal on 3rd September, if I remember aright, when the Russians had just begun their series of tests. It was rejected with contumely by the Russians. I very much regretted it. They said that it was just a piece of trickery, and proceeded to make about another 40 explosions. Therefore, I do not think that it would be useful to revive it at this moment. We must somehow try to get a mood in which not only the means to disarmament—it is not so difficult to find the means for disarmament in this case—but the will, can be created.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a considerable body of opinion in the country which disagrees with both him and the Leader of the Opposition on this question? [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] Have a vote and find out. Will the Prime Minister, in view of the seriousness of this question, put down an affirmative Motion in support of his policy so that he can have the opinion of the House of Commons on the matter and the people of the country will not be cheated by some agreement between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister

Of course, I am aware of a very sincere body of opinion in the country which holds that view. I received a deputation on it only a few days ago, from a number of very distinguished ladies. They represented different points of view and were not in entire agreement as to the precise views they held. There are different variations and, of course, I am aware of them. No one could fail to be aware of them. No one who has lived through two world wars could fail to know that this opinion existed on the question of war itself. It was accepted in a very honourable way by Governments who were responsible during those wars that there were conscientious views on the other side. It is one of the honourable traditions. That, however, does not relieve me or the Leader of the Opposition from our responsibilities, and those we must perform.

Mr. Ross

Is the Prime Minister aware that most of us appreciate the responsibility, but that we have to balance our fears against hopes and that sooner or later, if we are to end our fears, we must get these tests banned? Does he not think that there would be greater hope of getting the tests banned if we had a meeting of Heads of Government before the proposed tests rather than after them? Does he not think, on reflection, that this time limit of April narrows our opportunities of manoeuvre far too much?

The Prime Minister

If I thought that, I would, of course, not hesitate to suggest it, but there are a number of reasons, into which I cannot go in detail, why I have not formed that view. Therefore, we have said in our statement, in the words to which I call attention, that we must conclude that their efforts to obtain a workable treaty … are not now successful. We shall have to see, but I think that an attempt to meet it in the way in which we have tried to meet it by a great number of methods, culminating in this public one, seems to us the best at the moment.

Mr. Zilliacus

Is it not a fact that experts on both sides agreed even three years ago that all atmospheric tests and major underground tests could be detected by national monitoring systems? In the circumstances, would not the Prime Minister propose an agreement banning all atmospheric tests and major underground tests monitored by national systems, plus a moratorium on minor underground tests for one year, in order to try to work out an international system during that period?

The Prime Minister

The House must appreciate how the Americans and ourselves have kept moving point by point on these negotiations. We did not press the question of minor tests, but at every point we have moved and we have never succeeded in breaking this absolute wall against which we come at every point. That is what is depressing and distressing —not finally; we must try. That is the situation. It is no good pretending to ourselves that that situation has not been clearly revealed.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this question now.

Mrs. Castle

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had put down Question No. Q7 to the Prime Minister which he asked me to defer because he was to make this statement to the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Lady. She is quite right. My mind had passed away from that fact.

Mrs. Castle

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not a fact that last September, in their offer to Mr. Khrushchev, President Kennedy and the Prime Minister agreed that atmospheric tests could be detected by existing means without additional controls and offered to negotiate a ban on such tests on that basis? Why are we now insisting on the introduction of inspection which we did not consider necessary last September? Why do we not renew that offer in regard to the atmospheric tests and put the Russians at a propaganda disadvantage if they turn us down once again?

The Prime Minister

I thought I had answered the point in that supplementary question, but I am very glad that the hon. Lady has called my attention to it. We have tried it this way, that way, every way. In September we said. "All right, let us bar atmospheric tests and take a chance". We were told—and in this proposal I think that we gave fairly simple reasons—in the reply: Their eloquence"— that is, the President's and mine— will not suffice to make an aggressive policy look like a peace-loving one or barbarism look like humanitarianism. They rejected this on the ground that it gave unfair military advantage to the Western Powers and that it was a piece of trickery. They followed with 40 immediate tests. We then tried a complete system, atmosphere, sea, underground, everything, which must imply some degree of verification. We were prepared to argue about the kind of verification—how it was to be done, the numbers, and all that kind of thing. We were told over and over again that there was a complete bar to any form of verification. I think that we must bring that out to the public and make this last appeal which the President and I have jointly made, and to which I have added my letter, because I discussed this with Mr. Khrushchev and reached agreement in principle three years ago. That is where we stand. I do not think that we gain by obscuring, but we gain by revealing, the very generous and reasonable attitude which the allies have taken on this matter.