HL Deb 10 April 1962 vol 239 cc388-92

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, there was another statement which is certainly now ready for delivery, and if it is convenient I should like to repeat it to the House now. I did not want to interrupt the noble Viscount, who had already embarked upon his speech before I realised that he had intended to do so. If I may, I will now repeat a statement by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place, which he will have made now about half an hour ago. The statement is as follows:

" President Kennedy and I are to-day issuing a joint statement about nuclear tests which was communicated to the Soviet Government yesterday evening. The text of the statement is as follows: "—

and the quotation follows:

" ' Discussions among ourselves and the Soviet Union about a treaty to ban nuclear tests have been going on in Geneva for nearly 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 April 18, 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 April 18 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 '."

My right honourable friend's statement now continues in his own words:

" That is 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. Khrushohev 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 to-day. 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. Khrushohev. I know that the whole House will share my earnest hope that Mr. Khrushchev will respond to my appeal."

My Lords, that is my right honourable friend's statement.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for the message which he has repeated to us and which has already been given to the House of Commons. I must say that I feel a certain feeling of relief that the direct decision to go right ahead with the nuclear tests has been delayed until this joint statement has been sent from the United States and ourselves to Mr. Khrushchev. Therefore I should like to support the idea which has been put forward in this joint statement, and I hope very much that Mr. Khrushchev will give special attention to it.

I have been rather concerned about the manner in which the reports of speeches by the Russian representatives have come over, and how they have repeatedly stated that the reason why we want to have this proper, scheduled series of inspections is because we want to spy. I am just wondering, in view of what I call that outrageous kind of statement. whether the British Government have themselves taken any special steps to try to dispel from the minds of the responsible Russians in this matter that this is from no point of view whatsoever a question of spying. It is, as is stated in the last part of the statement which the noble Viscount has just given us, a question of retaining confidence by the kind of checking up to which the Prime Minister refers. But what have we, or the British Government, been doing to make this really clear, and how far have we informed the public in this country as to what our statements to the Russians on that matter have been?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the support which he has given to this statement, which I think adds to its chance of proving fruitful. I can tell him sincerely that I think he has contributed a great deal to the force which this appeal will have, when it is known that it commands his support, too. As regards his specific question, I know that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been in constant and, I believe, very friendly touch with the Russian Foreign Secretary. I know that this has been very much uppermost in my noble friend's mind, and that he will have done everything in his power to dispel any fear that there might be an intelligence background to this request on the part of the West for verification. I am hoping that the actual terms of the Prime Minister's letter to Mr. Khrushchev will reinforce that point. Anything that we can do to dispel that belief will certainly be done, and any suggestion that could be made for the dispelling of that belief will be welcomed.


My Lords, I should like to associate noble Lords on these Benches with what has been said by the noble Viscount. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and again to assure the Government that we hope, of course, that this matter will go forward in the way that they suggest. I was particularly struck by the phrase that the object of verification is not to increase suspicion but to dispel it": and I would agree with the last words of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House when he said that the impression on the world given by this letter should be very great, and we are at least a united nation behind the Government on that point.