HC Deb 21 April 1964 vol 693 cc1097-100
The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

Her Majesty's Government welcome the announcements by President Johnson and by Mr. Khrushchev that their Governments are reducing their planned production of fissile materials for weapons purposes. I believe that the public announcement of these reductions will do much to foster that confidence which is essential if we are to build on the achievement of the Test Ban Treaty.

Production of fissile material in the United Kingdom has, of course, always been on a very much smaller scale than in the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. For their part, as was explained in the recently published White Paper on Defence, Her Majesty's Government have already adjusted their supplies of fissile material to the minimum necessary to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent and to meet all our defence requirements for the foreseeable future.

Military plutonium production is being gradually terminated. The civil reactors which have been, and are being, brought into service in this country are part of the United Kingdom programme for electric power generation or for research and development of new techniques in the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. By the nature of their operations these reactors produce plutonium. Part of this will be used for civil purposes in the United Kingdom and part mill be sent to the United States under an agreement of which Parliament was informed on 19th November, 1962, whereby U235 is supplied in exchange by the United States Government.

Our plans do not envisage the use of any of the plutonium produced by our civil reactors in the United Kingdom weapons programme and I am informed by the United States Government that they have no intention of using the plutonium received from us for weapons purposes.

Thus, by the policies which we have adopted and are continuing to pursue, the United Kingdom is contributing fully to the initiative that President Johnson and Mr. Khrushchev are now taking.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that we on this side join Her Majesty's Government in welcoming this agreement, bilaterally concluded, between President Johnson and Chairman Khrushchev? Is he further aware that since it has been estimated that the total stock of nuclear explosive power in the hands of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is equivalent to 25 tons for every man, woman and child on earth, this can hardly be regarded as a positive act of disarmament, but that most of us will feel that it is, nevertheless, a welcome psychological step on the road to peace?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is true that this is not actually a measure of disarmament, but it is placing a limit on the production of material which is pertinent and significant in the nuclear age.

Mr. Grimond

While welcoming the agreement, may I ask whether it is not the case that there is to be no policing of it? As the Prime Minister has sometimes said that he is hopeful about getting arms reduction with inspection on either side of the East-West frontier, I wonder whether he considers that, in the better atmosphere which this agreement generates, the time will be opportune to make proposals for an agreement of this nature with inspection.

The Prime Minister

I do not think that inspection was thought by anybody to be necessary in this case. There is clearly a mutual interest here. It suits both the Russians and Americans to have this agreement. It suits everybody, so nobody will be tempted to break it. Inspection is necessary over the wider field of disarmament to give confidence, but we want to reduce inspection to the absolute minimum.

Mr. W. Yates

As the whole international situation has changed since Cuba—and this agreement is one small example—what initiative will the Prime Minister or Her Majesty's Government take concerning the keeping of fissile material in the hands of those countries which at present have it? What policing will be suggested if an agreement on these lines can be begun?

The Prime Minister

I think that this is at any rate a beginning between the nuclear Powers mainly concerned. If other Powers are to be brought in this will need further consideration by the two big nuclear Powers and our country.

Mr. A. Henderson

In also welcoming the statement, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with the statement made last week by the United States delegate at the Geneva Conference, that if a cut-off in nuclear production were coupled with an agree- ment for the freezing of all nuclear weapons the road would be open to a major reduction in armaments? Can we take it from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government's desire to secure Polaris missiles will not be allowed to stand in the way of securing this very vital agreement?

The Prime Minister

There is no question of the arrangements which we have about our Polaris submarines standing in the way of this. There is no question of this in the minds of the United States at all. Neither would I think that there would be any obstacle in the minds of the Russians, because the freezing of nuclear weapons is projected forward to a point where it covers both our programme and the American programme, and, I think, anything that the Russians wish to achieve, but this has yet to be worked out at Geneva.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Since President Johnson and Mr. Khrushchev have made simultaneous statements, would it be right to infer that they had negotiations before those statements were made? If so, did Her Majesty's Government take part in the negotiations with the United States and the Russians?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, we did. We were in the closest consultation with the United States all the time and I was able to send a message to Mr. Khrushchev quite lately telling him what great importance we attach to this agreement being tripartite.

Mr. Pentland

Can the Prime Minister give a firm assurance that plutonium which has been exported from this country to France is being used by the French exclusively for civil and not for military purposes?

The Prime Minister

I do not know the answer to that question. I should like the hon. Member to put it down, so that I can give him an accurate answer at a future date. I can tell him now that we are not exporting any military plutonium, but I should like to be certain what we are exporting for civil use.