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Nuclear Tests (Four-Power Proposals)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th July 1957.

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Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich 12:00 am, 18th July 1957

asked the Prime Minister whether he will state the chief objection of Her Majesty's Government to the proposal that hydrogen-bomb tests should be suspended for two years.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Her Majesty's Government joined with the Governments of Canada, France and the United States in putting forward proposals according to which a suspension of nuclear tests would form part of a first stage disarmament agreement. We believe that this is the best way in which to make an advance and that if such an agreement can be reached the advance will indeed be considerable. If the right hon. Gentleman means to refer to a two-year suspension of tests in isolation, without agreement on its relationship to other disarmament provisions, the objections of Her Majesty's Government to this were stated by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on 11th July. We have had to consider the balance of courses most likely to put an end to a nuclear arms race. We have thought it best to proceed by stages. In formulating these proposals we have considered very carefully with out allies the period which would be just long enough to show whether, as we hope, the Governments concerned will fulfil all their pledges and whether other potential nuclear powers will agree to join in the suspension agreement, without, however, holding up the advance to a further stage of disarmament if this should prove possible.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

I am afraid that the Prime Minister has misunderstood the point of my Question. There has been considerable talk of a suspension for two years. Does not the Prime Minister agree that a suspension for ten months would be ridiculous, since the preparation of the tests takes all of that time, so that in fact there would be no suspension? Is he aware that because of that those of us who are anxious to see a suspension regard the proposal for a ten months' suspension as playing with the issue? Will not Her Majesty's Government agree to a suspension for two years?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I found it rather difficult to know from the form of the Question whether it was a matter of the suspension itself, or of the period of suspension. I had to make a long Answer because the matter of suspension is tied up in our proposals, rightly or wrongly—and the House will debate that next week—with a general advance to what we call the first period of disarmament—including some advance on conventional and some agreement to discuss the question of the cut-off of material. If it is a matter of two years or ten months, the reasons I have given are still valid, that ten months are a sufficient time to know whether the other negotiations are proceeding satisfactorily without putting ourselves in the position of having completely disbanded our scientific arrangements and our teams. It will be time to know whether it is a genuine move forward and, therefore, whether that ten months can be extended to eighteen months, two years, or whatever might be a satisfactory period.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

The Prime Minister is well aware of my view of this matter. Does he not agree that the suggestion of a suspension for ten months is ridiculous and that anybody who knows anything about these problems knows that a ten months' suspension means nothing in these processes? What I want the Prime Minister to say is that Her Majesty's Government will agree to a two years' suspension, or state specifically why they insist on a suspension of only ten months.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Some of the right hon. Gentleman's premises are not correct.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Is not the proposal of the Western Powers for a suspension of tests for ten months cluttered up with a whole series of other proposals, including political considerations, which are regarded as objectionable by the other side? If the Government are serious about disarmament—it can be only partial disarmament, because no more can be expected at the moment or for some time—should not the Government resile from a limited proposal for ten months?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. I think that the proposals put forward by Her Majesty's Government in conjunction with our allies, the Governments of Canada, France and the United States, have been generally regarded as wise and progressive proposals to deal with at least the first stage in this matter. However, I can see that it can be argued that we should try to deal with a still smaller stage. All that is to be debated at length next week. All I can say is that the proposal which we have agreed with our allies has been generally regarded as wise, as protecting our interests, and as testing whether there is a genuine desire by the Russian Government to move into the first stage of disarmament.