HL Deb 15 November 1945 vol 137 cc977-81

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask a question of which I have given private notice: To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make in regard to the talks which the Prime Minister has been having with President Truman in Washington on the atomic bomb.


My Lords, the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister of Canada have issued the following statement:

"1. We recognize that the application of recent scientific discoveries to the methods and practice of war has placed at the disposal of mankind means of destruction hitherto unknown, against which there can be no adequate military defence, and in the employment of which no single nation can in fact have a monopoly.

"2. We desire to emphasize that the responsibility for devising means to ensure that the new discoveries shall be used for the benefit of mankind, instead of as a means of destruction, rests not on our nations alone, but upon the whole civilized world. Nevertheless, the progress that we have made in the development and use of atomic energy demands that we take an initiative in the matter, and we have accordingly met together to consider the possibility of international action:—

  1. (a) To prevent the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes;
  2. (b) To promote the use of recent and future advances in scientific knowledge, particularly in the utilization of atomic energy, for peaceful and humanitarian ends.

"3. We are aware that the only complete protection for the civilized world from the destructive use of scientific knowledge lies in the prevention of war. No system of safeguards that can be devised will of itself provide an effective guarantee against production of atomic weapons by a nation bent on aggression, particularly since the military exploitation of atomic energy depends, in large part, upon the same methods and processes as would be required for industrial uses. Nor can we ignore the possibility of the development of other weapons or of new methods of warfare, which may constitute as great a threat to civilization as the military use of atomic energy.

"4. Representing, as we do, the three countries which possess the knowledge essential to the use of atomic energy, we declare at the outset our willingness, as a first contribution, to proceed with the exchange of fundamental scientific information; and the interchange of scientists and scientific literature for peaceful ends with any nation that will fully reciprocate.

"5. We believe that the fruits of scientific research should be made available to all nations, and that freedom of investigation and free interchange of ideas are essential to the progress of knowledge. In pursuance of this policy, the basic scientific information essential to the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes has already been made available to the world. It is our intention that all further information of this character that may become available from time to time shall be similarly treated. 'We trust that other nations will adopt the same policy, thereby creating an atmosphere of reciprocal confidence in which political agreement and cooperation will flourish.

"6. We have considered the question of the disclosure of detailed information concerning the practical industrial application of atomic energy. The military exploitation of atomic energy depends, in large part, upon the same methods and processes as would be required for industrial uses. We are not convinced that the spreading of the specialized information regarding the practical application of atomic energy, before it is possible to devise effective, reciprocal and enforceable safeguards acceptable to all nations, would contribute to a constructive solution of the problem of the atomic bomb. On the contrary we think it might have the opposite effect. We are, however, prepared to share, on a reciprocal basis with other of the United Nations, detailed information concerning the practical industrial application of atomic energy just as soon as effective enforceable safeguards against its use for destructive purposes can be devised.

"7. In order to attain the most effective means of entirely eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes and promoting its widest use for industrial and humanitarian purposes, we are of the opinion that at the earliest practicable date a Commission should be set up under the United Nations to prepare recommendations for submission to the Organization. The Commission should be instructed to proceed with the utmost dispatch and should be authorized to submit recommendations from time to time dealing with separate phases of its work.

"In particular, the Commission should make specific proposals:—

  1. (a) For extending between all nations the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends.
  2. (b) For control of atomic energy to the extent necessary to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes.
  3. (c) For the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.
  4. (d) For effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying States against the hazards of violations and evasions.

"8. The work of the Commission should proceed by separate stages, the successful completion of each of which will develop the necessary confidence of the world before the next stage is undertaken. Specifically, it is considered that the Commission might well devote its attention first to the wide exchange of scientists and scientific information, and as a second stage to the development of full knowledge concerning natural resources of raw materials.

"9. Faced with the terrible realities of the application of science to destruction, every nation will realize more urgently than before the overwhelming need to maintain the rule of law among nations and to banish the scourge of war from the earth. This can only be brought about by giving whole-hearted support to the United Nations Organization, and by consolidating and extending its authority, thus creating conditions of mutual trust in which all peoples will be free to devote themselves to the arts of peace. It is our firm resolve to work without reservation to achieve these ends."

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the very important statement which has been made, I think it is clear that the House will, at some very early period, require to have time for a debate. There are, however, I think—and I would suggest to other noble Lords—reasons for a postponement, at any rate for a few days. First of all, I do not suppose there is any of us who would not wish to give further consideration to the statement which the Lord Chancellor has made this afternoon. It is a detailed statement and it will require very careful examination Also, of course, the Prime Minister has not yet returned, and I should take it that on his arrival in this country he will make a statement in another place amplifying what he has said in the declaration that has been given to us to-day. It would obviously be premature, I think, to debate this subject until we have heard that further elaboration. Therefore, if I might, I would suggest to the Leader of the House that we would like to have a debate on this question but we are quite prepared to wait until the Prime Minister has spoken in another place. I hope that will meet the views of noble Lords.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to express concurrence generally with what has been said by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. At the same time, it will be clear that the subject of the atomic bomb cannot well be isolated from that of international relations generally. Indeed, the highly important statement which we have just heard indicates quite clearly that it is bound up with the general question of the Organization of the United Nations and with other matters of foreign policy. A debate upon foreign policy in this House is, if I may say so, already somewhat overdue, but at the same time it cannot take place, as the noble Viscount has said, until after the return of the Prime Minister and his statement made to Parliament. Perhaps it had better take place a day or two after a similar debate, which no doubt will be held, in another place. However, that is a matter which the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will settle after the usual consultations. But in general I feel certain that the whole House will agree that there ought to be a debate in the very near future, and that it should cover both the question of foreign policy and foreign relations as well as that of the atomic bomb.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I feel sure that the suggestions made by the noble Lord are in accord with what the House would wish. It clearly would be preferable that our discussions should take place after the statement by the Prime Minister on his return. It is also, I think, right that the discussion, which has been postponed at our request, on foreign policy should not be limited in scope, or more limited than your Lordships desire. At the same time this vitally important statement will clearly require careful consideration and, will call for discussion. I suggest that as soon as may be convenient after consultation in the usual way, and after the statement in the other House, we should arrange a day, or if necessary two days, for discussion on these vital matters. In that connexion may I solicit the good offices of the Leader of the Opposition and of the noble Viscount below the gangway? The Order Paper is already practically fully occupied with Notices of Motions right into December. Therefore it will be necessary—I hope by agreement—to clear the appropriate lays of other topics. I hope the noble Lords will assist in that being achieved in order that full time may be available for this discussion.


My Lords, I feel quite certain that the noble Lords will wish to co-operate in this matter and I think we might discuss it through the usual channels.