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Atomic Energy (Quebec Agreement)

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1954

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46 and 47.

asked the Prime Minister (1) the date on which the United Kingdom obtained freedom to develop atomic power for industrial and economic purposes without first seeking the permission of the President of the United States of America under the Quebec Agreement;

(2) the date on which his secret agreement with President Roosevelt was ratified in this country; and the date on which it ceased to have effect.

The Agreement which I signed with President Roosevelt at Quebec in 1943 covered a most secret matter of vital importance to our war effort. In these circumstances it could not be revealed to Parliament and thus the question of ratification did not arise here or in the United States. It was, however, a solemn, formal, and official agreement. It was annulled on 7th of January, 1948, when the new agreement came into effect.

The clause regarding industrial development to which the hon. Member refers applied to any industrial advantage which the United States had derived from their researches, plant and vast expenditure on the manufacture of the atom bomb. It in no way prevented us from promoting industrial atomic research and production from our own resources. We have, in fact, been carrying on atomic research and development ever since 1945, which was applicable both to industrial and military purposes.

Am I to understand that the Agreement was so secret that the right hon. Gentleman could not trust even the War Cabinet with the secret? Is it a fact that the right hon. Gentleman was the only person in this country who knew that he had made these promises?

No, Sir. My noble Friend Lord Waverley, as Lord President of the Council, had the management of the matter in his hands. In addition, the Foreign Secretary knew. As to the exact degree of appreciation possessed by others, I cannot answer.

Is the Prime Minister saying that he selected his personal confidants who were very near to him but that the War Cabinet did not know of the tremendous promises which he had made on behalf of the country? What about the Deputy-Prime Minister?

My telegram was addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and the War Cabinet, but it may well be that, owing to the great respect with which the words "Tube Alloys" were treated, it slipped out at some point or other.

I hope the Prime Minister, by referring to that telegram, is not seeking to utilise the propaganda material which has been used in at least two Conservative newspapers. He will have had his opportunity to make inquiries, as I have had mine. May I ask, therefore, whether he is not aware, as I am confirmed by the Cabinet Office, that the War Cabinet was not informed about the agreement of 1943? In all the circumstances, would it not be well for him to admit it and, if there is a case to argue about it, let it be argued on another occasion? Surely he is aware from the Cabinet records that the War Cabinet was not informed, as I have had confirmed from the Cabinet Office?

I cannot go further than I have gone. The telegram which I sent was addressed to the War Cabinet, but it may well be that some change was made, not as a result of a great decision on policy, but from the point of view of keeping these matters as secret as possible.

May I ask the Prime Minister, was it not a fact that it was thought best to keep knowledge of this matter in the hands of a very few people and that the War Cabinet was informed that there had been talks and agreements with the United States Government on this matter, but that they were not, as a matter of fact, informed of the details at all, or what the agreement was, but simply that some agreement had been come to, and the matter rested there?

Yes, Sir, I do not think I disagree with that. It was no attempt at keeping unnatural secrecy. On the other hand, obviously these things were talked of by as few responsible people as possible and at this particular stage it may well be it was not discussed in the Cabinet. I may, however, say that the Cabinet records are not necessarily conclusive in their completeness because very often when a thing like this was reached in conversation one said, "Do not put that down", and the matter did not figure in the printed record—

The right hon. Gentleman should not shake his head, because he knows it is true.

The Prime Minister has asserted that something is true; what is he asserting?

I am asking the Prime Minister a question, and he may as well answer and wait until I have finished. Is the Prime Minister asserting that he did explain all this to the War Cabinet? Is he asserting that he did seek authority and then gave directions that no record was to be preserved? I have made my own inquiries, that is the official answer, but I ask the Prime Minister, has he made inquiries from the Cabinet Office as to whether there was Cabinet discussion and confirmation and, if there was not —and that is the answer of the Cabinet Office on this—why does the Prime Minister not tell the House of Commons?

All that the Cabinet records show is that the words "Tube Alloys" were cut out in red ink and that was done by an official—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am not suggesting that it was any improper action.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman think, on reflection, that it would have been better not to have referred to the matter, but to have left it where it was?

I should not have referred to it unless, finding ourselves in a very difficult position when we returned to office, we were concerned to prove that we were in no way to blame.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we also found ourselves in some difficulty when we came into office in 1945.

Certainly, I fully admit the many difficulties the right hon. Member had to face, but I am not going to be accused of being responsible for the way in which things stood when we resumed office.

48.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will issue a White Paper giving the relevant correspondence concerning the ending of the secret agreement he reached with President Roosevelt.

My right hon. Friend made Her Majesty's Government's position clear on this point in his speech during the debate on 5th April. He said that if it were desired that this later agreement should be published, he was perfectly prepared to consult the other Governments concerned to see if it could be done. I have nothing to add to what he said. It is clearly for those immediately concerned to express their views.

Will the Prime Minister say, firstly, when the document itself ceased to be secret and was available for the public, and, secondly, will he say that, in view of the obvious public interest in this country in the part revelations which have been made, he will now go the whole hog and let the British public know what correspondence passed?

50.

asked the Prime Minister the present arrangements made between the United Kingdom and the United States of America regarding the development of atomic energy by Great Britain; and what agreement has been come to concerning the use of such scientific knowledge by either country for military purposes.

Present arrangements between the United States and the United Kingdom regarding the civil use of atomic energy cover an exchange of information over a limited field. No agreement exists regarding the exchange of information on the design or production of atomic weapons. We are developing our atomic programme, both civil and military, as we see fit and as the national interest requires.