Disarmament (White Paper)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1956.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton 12:00 am, 7th May 1956

With permission, Sir, I will now answer Question No. 40.

Since my right hon. and learned Friend's statement of 16th April, the United Nations Sub-Committee has decided to make an interim report to its parent body, the Disarmament Commission. This is in accordance with the instructions given to it by the Commission on 23rd January to report on its labours within about six weeks. Her Majesty's Government hope that the Disarmament Commission will meet in mid-June to give further consideration to this problem. I will place copies of the Sub-Committee's Report in the Library of the House tomorrow evening and a White Paper will be ready shortly thereafter.

We cannot claim to have made as much progress in the recent meetings of the Sub-Committee as we had hoped. The differences with the Soviet Union which my right hon. and learned Friend described on 16th April have not been resolved. The visit of the Soviet leaders helped us to understand their position more clearly, but it did not, unfortunately, enable us to solve the major difficulties.

Before the Sub-Committee adjourned on 4th May, the four Western Powers tabled an agreed declaration of principles, which has been released to the Press. I think the House will agree that both in this declaration and in the other Western plans which have recently been tabled, the Western Powers have made a very real effort to meet the position of the Soviet Union. In the revised Anglo-French plan we agreed to modify certain of our provisions for nuclear disarmament in order to meet previous Soviet proposals. We also included new provisions for limiting and banning nuclear test explosions at appropriate stages. We also agreed to begin significant reductions of armaments and armed forces prior to the solution of outstanding world problems.

The Soviet Government, on the other hand, stuck rigidly to their own proposals of 27th March and, in particular, refused to consider Allied proposals for aerial inspection and for rights of enforcement to be given to the control officials. In addition, their new proposals, unfortunately, marked a retreat in certain significant respects from their position of last year. Not only did they drop the important link between conventional and nuclear disarmament, but they also dropped the link between disarmament and the achievement of political settlements, which was contained in their statement of 10th May, 1955. It became apparent that the Soviet Government were proposing that full-scale conventional disarmament should be completed in the next three years regardless of progress towards solving outstanding political problems.

The plain fact is that the effect of carrying out the Soviet proposals of 27th March would be drastic reductions in Allied forces and the consequent disruption of Allied defence structures such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, while the problems and divisions which made these defence organisations necessary remained unresolved.

The Soviet Delegation were unwilling to modify these proposals despite the offers made by the Western representatives to work out with the Soviet representative some compromise solution.

Although the results of this latest series of meetings are disappointing, Her Majesty's Government believe that, if the will to agree were present, the differences could be overcome. Both at the forthcoming meeting of the Disarmament Commission and at subsequent meetings of the Sub-Committee they will continue their efforts to reconcile Western and Soviet views and to reach an international disarmament agreement which would help to bring about real peace and security

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is true, as alleged by Mr. Gromyko, that the British Government have gone back on the proposals which they made in March, 1953, to the effect that the level of conventional forces for the United States, Russia and China should be reduced to 1½ million and for Britain and France to 650,000? If that is so, will the Minister say why the Government have changed their position?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

It is not true that the Allies have rejected the figures quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We are ready to examine and negotiate upon these figures. We said, for the reasons given in the statement which I have made, that we must insist that any disarmament down to such figures could be realistically achieved only when the main political problems are resolved. The Russians seemed last year to accept this idea, but they have gone back on that and said that this very low level should be achieved regardless of any political settlement whatever

Photo of Mr Charles Waterhouse Mr Charles Waterhouse , Leicester South East

is there any truth in the Russian claim that we have introduced aerial inspection as a new condition?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

No, Sir, this is not a new condition. Aerial inspection has always been part of the Allied control proposals. There is no other way to survey the vast territories involved. Aerial inspection is not a new condition, but part of the general effective control machine which must remain an essential condition of an international disarmament agreement.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while I think there will be general support for the view that effective international control must be a necessary part of any agreement, there is an uneasy feeling on this side of the House that the right hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty's Government have introduced too definitely into these discussions a condition that there must be political settlement first? Is not this a suggestion which, hitherto, has not been put forward so emphatically? Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if a general measure of disarmament all round under proper inspection could be achieved, that is the best way to achieve political settlement as well?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

It certainly is no new condition on the part of Her Majesty's Government that political settlement must accompany the fulfilment of a comprehensive and drastic disarmament programme. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made that clear in 1954. I made it clear in 1955 and in 1953 that it was the Allied position; so that there is nothing new about it. We are prepared to make immediate reductions on the part of the five Great Powers, to 2·5 million for the three major Powers and 750,000 for France and Great Britain, without insisting upon any political settlement prior to such reduction. But we say that we cannot go down to the levels which we envisage and which, in the past, Russia has accepted, without some political settlement. That would lead to a break-up in the defence structure alone created by existing political divisions in the world today

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

Will my right hon. Friend say something about the claim which, I understand, the Soviet Union have made that they have met our position in this matter by offering disarmament in respect of conventional weapons only?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

Obviously, both Russia and ourselves agree that we must begin with conventional disarmament. The Allied point of view, which is held most strongly by France and the United States, is that any comprehensive programme of disarmament—that is, one which would take several years to fulfil—should include provision for grappling with the nuclear problem, if we are to avoid the secret of nuclear weapons coming into the hands of an increasing number of countries. That has always been part of our comprehensive plan, and to drop nuclear disarmament altogether is not to meet the Allied point of view

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

May I revert to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, which requires some elucidation from the Minister? Are we to understand that when reference is made to a political settlement which, apparently, constitutes an obstacle to disarmament at present, we refer to German reunification? As, so far, there has been no German rearmament and no arms race by the Germans, why should that stand in the way of the possibility of partial disarmament? Are we to understand that German reunification is so vital that it should stand in the way of disarmament, which could produce such beneficial effects for this and other countries?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

No, Sir. With respect, perhaps I could correct the right hon. Gentleman. I am not saying that the political problems of Germany stand in the way of fulfilling a partial disarmament agreement. I am saying that we, the Allied Powers, are prepared to take certain steps by way of partial disarmament prior to a settlement of Germany and other outstanding political problems

What we cannot be expected to do is to go down to the level of comprehensive disarmament of 1·5 million and 650,000 for these five major Powers unless those political problems have been resolved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "] For this very simple reason: to go down to 1·5 million, for example for the United States, would, I am advised, mean that the United States could no longer maintain its commitment within Europe, and that would mean the disruption of the N.A.T.O. defence structure; and that is something which the Allies cannot contemplate until the problems of Europe have been resolved.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Have the Soviet delegation yet shown the slightest willingness to set up an effective machine for international control, or to permit such a machine to be set up? In the absence of one, would not my right hon. Friend agree that any disarmament agreed upon would be a mere chimera upon which this country could not possibly rely?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

I would certainly agree that any disarmament programme without effective control would be a chimera upon which this country could not rely. So far as the Soviet position on control is concerned, they have gone some way to meet it, but they refuse to agree, as I said in my statement, to aerial survey and also refuse to agree that control officials should have the right of enforcement

Photo of Mr Alfred Robens Mr Alfred Robens , Blyth

The right hon. Gentleman will have observed that there is a good deal of uneasiness in the House about the statement which he has made. I am sure he agrees that it is not easy, by question and answer, to get to the root of the matter. May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman would make the appropriate representation to the Prime Minister to ensure that we have a debate on the matter at the earliest possible moment after the White Paper has been published?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nutting Mr Anthony Nutting , Melton

I will convey the right hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

On a point of order. In view of the fact that only right hon. Gentlemen on this side have been allowed to ask questions on disarmament, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.