HC Deb 05 June 1962 vol 661 cc425-36

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McLaren.]

1.59 p.m.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

I want to make it clear that what I am going to say applies to all tests—American, Russian, British, Fench, the lot. I am against all nuclear test explosions. At the root of our present conflict are the mutual fears of capitalist and Communist Governments. Four hundred years ago wars were fought between Protestant and Catholic countries over religion. Today no one would dream of war for this reason. By the year 2000, if there is anything of civilisation left, if we have survived, people will think it incredible that in the 1960s intelligent people were prepared to wipe out humanity, or risk wiping it out, over a mere difference about the ways of running industry.

This morning, coming to the House from my "digs" in Lambeth, I came across a bus carrying mentally defective children. The bus was collecting them from their homes. Many of the children were accompanied by their mothers, whose lives had also been ruined by their children's affliction. If the tests, from whichever country, add a single victim of this kind, they are a crime against humanity. But they will not add just one victim; they will add many victims of this kind. Admittedly, there is disagreement among the scientists, but it is as to the degree of effect that the tests will have. Among all reputable scientists there is agreement that there will be, both to the present and to future generations, some physical and mental injury.

But it is not with the medical and scientific aspects that I want to deal tonight. I intend to show that these tests are part of a nuclear arms race which is rapidly taking mankind to the precipice. I suggest that the chances of human survival are today roughly fifty-fifty. As the race continues, the odds worsen. If things are allowed to continue in their present way, there is, first, a grave danger of war by accident, and secondly, nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries. This will mean an increase in the danger of war by accident, and also sooner or later these weapons will get into the hands of a fanatical Government, perhaps some small dictatorship, which will be prepared to use the weapons and even to risk retaliation. In 1945, if Hitler had had the bomb I believe that he would have been prepared to use it, even if he had known that it would have meant suicide, because he was prepared, as we know, with his entourage to commit suicide in the bunkers of Berlin.

The sensible solution would clearly be for the Governments of the world to get round the negotiating table and end this madness. Every sane person would like to see this happen. Unfortunately, I personally have no belief that disarmament will take place in this way, because history is against it. Ever since 1922 disarmament conferences have come and disarmament conferences have gone without agreement on anything. More recently, the big three—Britain, America and Russia—have been meeting in Geneva to stop the tests. If we cannot stop the tests, we have precious little hope of stopping anything else. They held 353 sessions without any success at all.

Why do these disarmament conferences fail? Because the Governments go to them not genuinely seeking disarmament so much as an excuse for blaming their rivals for the breakdown of the talks, or a formula which will give them some advantage from a military point of view. They have never reached success in that way, and I am certain that they never will. Are we, then, to sit back and let the nuclear arms race take its course, knowing, as we must, that it can have only the same outcome as all previous arms races in history? I suggest that no self-respecting man or woman can do that.

Therefore, a growing number of people have been driven to the conclusion that the world is waiting for one great nation to have the sanity and courage to break out of this nuclear arms race, to contract out. If that were done, I believe that it would have a tremendous effect. It would lessen the tension between the Great Powers, it would cut the vicious circle of each government waiting for the other to act first, and it would produce an atmosphere in which it would be possible to reach agreement.

I admit that it is unrealistic in the present state of tension to expect that there would be unilateral total disarmament—that would be Utopian—but limited unilateral action by one nation stopping the tests would be realistic, would be possible, and would have tremendous effects. I believe that it would lead to unilateral limited action by the opposing bloc in response. Once the tests were stopped, we would have created a basis for a more important development. Just as the tough men in the West encourage the tough men in the Eastern Governments, and vice versa, so the setback to the tough men in either bloc would mean a setback to the tough school of thought in the opposing Government.

The differences between East and West on the tests ban are small. It is generally accepted that all atmospheric tests can be detected by existing means and also underground tests, certainly those under five kilotons. The Russians say that they are prepared to have on-site inspections only by invitation. I believe that is wrong. The Americans —and, of course, the British Government, with their usual subservience, says "Amen"—use this as an excuse for not stopping the tests. I think that is equally wrong.

The Prime Minister's excuse is that these tests could be detected, even the small underground ones, but that it might be hard to distinguish them from earth tremors. I am sure that whatever the risk—and there is a risk—of Russia undertaking small undetected underground explosions, that risk is far less than the alternative, which is round after round of atmospheric tests, of the arms race getting completely out of control, as it very nearly is now.

Then there are those both in the East and in the West who say that stopping nuclear tests is irrelevant, and that nothing less than complete disarmament is required. I think that is nonsense, because these gentlemen know how unrealistic such a demand is. They are making that excuse for making no progress at all. If we could stop the tests, further disarmament would become a possibility, but only then.

The fact that the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition are agreed in accepting United States tests has prevented Members of Parliament from voting against them. This is making a mockery of democratic Government. We can vote for or against imposing a tax on kiddies' sweets, yet we are prohibited from voting against the extension of the arms race which looks like costing all children their lives. On 5th March, the Prime Minister's excuse was: The Russians have certainly acquired from their tests much useful information …it may be that these developments include significant advances in defence capability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 32.] I expect that that is true, but that is precisely the argument used by the Russians to excuse their tests. So the mad dance continues until the disastrous finale, unless we prevent it.

My own view is that these two giants are so locked in combat that only action by a third party, the neutrals or those in either of the East or West main countries which are themselves neutral, can release them. Fortunately, the instinct for human survival has been alerted. A great and growing number of people are becoming aware of how close to extermination their governments are taking them. Events are great educators. Despite the fact that not a single newspaper with a circulation of more than 100,000 takes this point of view, this point of view is swelling throughout the world. Every new revelation of crisis in Vietnam or Berlin, or of some accident to a nuclear weapon, takes new millions into awareness and into activity. If we keep up the pressure against these nuclear test explosions, we will win.

2.12 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on having raised this matter and to thank the Under-Secretary of State for giving me an opportunity to support my hon. Friend's protest. Like him, I am against all nuclear tests, whether they are our own, American, Russian, French, or made by any other country.

I was in the United States earlier this year when the President announced the American series of nuclear tests, and I know that the President made that decision extremely reluctantly. There were many people all over the United States, not only supporters of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, but many other people in the United States who were as reluctant and as heavyhearted as the President himself. I shall always remember the sad faces around the television set when we watched the President making his announcement to the nation.

But those tests were accepted. We in this country have endorsed them, and I have found it remarkable that so many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who spoke in extravagant language, but, nevertheless, perhaps just language, about the Russian tests towards the end of last year, when they spoke about genocide and homicide, have found it possible to accept the American tests as being justified by military necessity.

In the last few months, I have had the opportunity with some of my colleagues of going to speak to the American Ambassador and also to the Russian Ambassador on this subject of nuclear testing. It would be wrong for me to report to the House in detail on the conversation we had with Mr. Bruce and with Mr. Soldatov. I would only say that I believe that both of them are kindly, humane and imaginative men who are as worried as we are about the consequences of what is happening. But they are convinced that their own nuclear tests are justified by the military requirements of their country's defence policy.

Each nation urges the need for not letting any other nation get ahead of it in the field of nuclear weapons. We now have to start asking where this policy is to lead us. We know that Russia already has the capacity to exterminate the United States in a matter of minutes. We know that America has the capability to exterminate the Soviet Union. It is difficult for reasonable people in other parts of the world to accept that either country is under any compelling necessity to intensify the nuclear race in which those two countries are at present engaged.

I believe that there is a great danger of nuclear weapons spreading to other countries. I hope that there is no truth in reports an the newspapers in the last few weeks that France is blackmailing this country and the United States into sharing nuclear secrets with her. I say that because the more that nuclear weapons are spread, and the more that knowledge is spread, the more likely it is that this vicious spiral of testing will be accelerated.

It is true that the danger from fallout may be less than was originally expected, and in this context I would like to quote from an article by Mr. Tom Margerison in the Sunday Times on 29th April in which he wrote: It is almost certainly true that with recent developments fall-out dangers have decreased and the prospect of mankind's survival is correspondingly enhanced. But this will be of small comfort if the consequence is to be an ever-increasing spiral of tests as East and West battle for nuclear supremacy. That the hazards are less than were originally supposed is now being used as an excuse for an intensification of testing, and only the neutral countries are showing any true sense of realism.

I should therefore like the last word to be with the writer of a letter to the Guardian dated 1st June, written by a person who signed herself, Sincerely, but with great bitterness, A Mother." The letter said: I write and think as a woman and as a mother. My child died three days after her sixth birthday of leukaemia, caused, a cancer specialist felt certain, by radiation. (I had had no X-rays.) Every time another test is announced I feel sick at the thought of the pain and suffering lying in wait for thousands of children and parents. We hear statistics, words, easily said. ` Yes, we know radiation causes leukaemia '; Mr. Kennedy is very sorry if his tests affect the health of anyone in the Northern Hemisphere'; Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Khrushchev regard the danger as ` negligible.' After all, what is 35 children a year dying in Manchester alone? It's negligible. But what if you hear the death sentence pronounced; if you watch it happening, slowly but surely; if you visit the hospital week in, week out, for blood tests and treatment; if you administer the endless drugs, at times as many as 13 a day, which make a poor little fiveyear-old enormously fat; until after 14 months they say, 'We can do no more. She may live for a day or two, or a week or two—we don't know''? And after a bad night, the dreadful bleeding, the feeling of choking on blood, and the cry ` Mummy, can't you do something? Can't you do something to stop it? 'But Mummy can do nothing but get oblivion for her as quickly as possible and begin the long wait, day and night, until she bleeds to death praying that the moment will come fast when she is released from this evil world. This is what that word `negligible' means in terms of human suffering. This is what is being condoned and agreed to as 'necessary'. Sir, I wish that the statesmen of both East and West would show just a little of the compassion and commonsense of that British mother.

2.18 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)

This is a subject of extreme importance, and the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and his hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) quite obviously attach great importance to it, as, indeed, so do we; that is, the Government Front Bench. I appreciate the views they have put forward and certainly accept that they are views genuinely held. As they know, there are wide differences of approach between them, on the one hand, and us and the official Opposition on this matter and, therefore, we probably approach this problem from different points of view.

I agree with the hon. Member for Salford, East in this respect; I certainly agree that all nuclear testing should be brought to a stop and that one of the important reasons for this is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries not possessing them. Where we differ is in the means- of achieving this. The hon. Member said we should think in terms of taking a moral lead, but I would suggest that there is no reason for thinking that a unilateral lead will be followed by others. In fact, the evidence is entirely to the contrary. We had a moratorium on nuclear testing which lasted for three years, and we should still have had it if the Russians had not broken it with a series of tests which were obviously planned in secrecy and duplicity. Therefore, I I would suggest that the evidence is certainly not that a unilateral lead by Britain would bring about the effect the hon. Member desires.

I think that in the time left to me the best thing I can do is to give factually, not emotionally, the background which has led to the present series of tests and the reason why the Govern- ment support them. The Geneva Nuclear Tests Conference opened in October, 1958, and, in the course of three years' negotiations, during which time we had this moratorium I have mentioned, we made substantial progress towards the drawing up of a treaty banning nuclear tests. In April, 1961, on the basis of the work done by the Conference, and with the impetus of a number of new concessions put forward in March, 1961, to meet suggestions frequently put forward by the Soviet delegation, the United Kingdom and United States delegations tabled the text of a complete draft treaty.

At some point—we cannot determine precisely when—the Soviet Government made it their policy not to conclude such a treaty. They started to introduce all sorts of proposals which we can now see were clearly designed to prevent the signing of a treaty. At the end of August, 1961, they announced, for reasons unconnected with the negotiations, that the Soviet Government would resume testing. In the following two months they carried out a series of over forty tests for which preparations must have been put in hand a long time in advance.

The United States and United Kingdom Governments, despite this setback, continued their efforts to achieve a treaty incorporating provisions for international supervision and verification of its observance. This principle was overwhelmingly endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.

In November, 1961, the Geneva Conference met again. The following meetings proved completely abortive. The Soviet delegation counter-proposed a treaty whose observance was to be guaranteed entirely by national detection systems. In January, 1962, the Conference went into recess.

The Western Powers had to face that situation in which there were three major factors. First, the Russians had concluded a very large series of tests in the atmosphere, from which it now became clear they had gained substantial and important information reflecting a highly sophisticated technology. Secondly, they refused to discuss any kind of system of international verification which would make it possible for the Western Powers to sign a treaty. Third, there must in this situation be a strong presumption that the Russians would be prepared to carry out further tests when this suited them.

Accepting, as we do, that the maintenance of an effective nuclear deterrent is basic to Western security—and we have to accept that: that is what we believe--the Western Powers had no choice but to make their own preparations.

It has been said that the destructive power of nuclear weapons is already so great that the balance of the deterrent can never be destroyed and that further tests can therefore serve no useful purpose. But what is involved in mutual deterrence is not just the explosive power of the weapons. It includes the nature of the weapons, the means of delivery, and possible means of preventing their delivery. Naturally, I cannot enter into the technical details here, for many reasons, one of which is that I am not qualified to do so, but those in the best position to judge believe that unless we gain more experimental evidence we shall not be in a position to assess with any firmness what the possibilities are.

President Kennedy, in a television address on 2nd March, said that a further Soviet test series, in the absence of further Western progress, could well provide the Soviet Union with a nuclear attack and defence capability so powerful as to encourage aggressive designs …further major Soviet tests in the absence of Western tests might endanger the Western deterrent As the hon. Member said, the Government and the official Opposition supported these preparations, and the Government agreed to make Christmas Island available as a base. At the same time, both Governments, the Americans and we, made it clear that they were prepared to abandon their plans for the tests now in progress in the Pacific if the Russians would sign a treaty to end tests under appropriate safeguards.

The hon. Member referred to the Disarmament Conference, and said that there was a small difference between the two sides there. It may appear to be small, but in fact it is vital and fundamental. Since the Disarmament Conference began in Geneva on 14th March, the Russians have adamantly rejected the concept of international verification. Instead, they have maintained that all tests can be detected and identified from the readings of instruments at detection posts, making on-site inspection unnecessary.

This was not the conclusion of the 1958 conference of experts, in which the Russians took part, and it is not supported by Western scientists. As a possible means of resolving this difference. it has been repeatedly suggested to the Russians that their scientists should confront those of Western and neutral Powers and explain their techniques, but these suggestions have been rejected. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's views about the detection of underground explosions. He said that only small tests might go undetected. I am told that it is not a matter of size but one of kind.

On 10th April the President and the Prime Minister issued a statement to the effect that the planned series of American tests must take place unless the Russians could accept the principle of international verification. The Prime Minister accompanied this by a personal message to Mr. Khrushchev. The latter's reply was definite, negative and polemic. He dismissed all proposals for inspection as espionage.

On 16th April the eight neutral members of the Geneva Disarmament Conferences sought to break the deadlock by tabling their own memorandum and inviting the three nuclear Powers to adopt its principles and to turn them into treaty form. The memorandum provided for an international scientific commission, a scientific detection system, and inspection of doubtful events.

A serious obstacle to the negotiation of a treaty on this basis is that the Russians continue to insist that any inspection may be carried out only on the invitation of the State on whose territory a doubtful event might occur. Nevertheless, the memorandum has been accepted as a basis for negotiations and talks are continuing.

The American series of tests in the Pacific began on 25th April, and to date there have been fifteen tests. In March, Mr. Khrushchev had already said that if the Americans tested in the atmosphere the Russians would in turn conduct further tests. He was recently reported from Bulgaria to have confirmed that the preparations are under way. We therefore assume that some Russian tests will take place. The hon. Member said that we are back in a vicious circle, but it need not be so. It may well be that thereafter the prospects for a treaty will be improved. Until there is a treaty, if the Russians want to test I doubt whether anything will deter them from doing so.

Reference has been made to the dangers of fall-out. The dangers of fallout are recognised, and any Government concerned with nuclear weapons may have to resolve the conflict between the desire not to create additional radioactivity and the necessity to ensure that the nuclear deterrent remains effective. In the American tests, every precaution is taken to keep the amount of fall-out created to a minimum, and it is estimated that the total effects from the current series of tests will equal at most 1 per cent. of those due to the natural background of radiation. Any addition to the natural background is admittedly undesirable, but the only certain way of avoiding this is to sign a permanent and effective tests ban treaty.

I have tried to explain in the short time at my disposal why we have reached the position of having to test again. We should greatly prefer it if this necessity had not been forced upon us. Many people are appalled, with good reason, by the possibility of nuclear war, and react against nuclear tests because they associate them with a readiness to embark on nuclear war. But this is the wrong antithesis. The choice is between maintaining the deterrent, which means conducting nuclear tests if Soviet policy makes this necessary, or abandoning the policy of the deterrent and being prepared to surrender to nuclear blackmail.

This we are not prepared to do. Total war today would be —

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Tuesday evening and the debate having continued for half-an-hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past Two o'clock.