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Atomic Energy (Us-Uk Agreement)

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 18 May 1954

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asked the Prime Minister whether he is yet in a position to say what were the considerations for the then Government's surrender, in 1948, of this country's right of veto on the United States of America's unilateral use of the atomic bomb.

As I was not a Member of that Administration I fear I might not be qualified to do full justice to their case.

May I ask the Prime Minister if it is a matter of fact, and if he is not aware, that there was no such surrender, and that the position with regard to the atomic bomb rested first of all on an agreement made by the Prime Minister with President Roosevelt, and an agreement subsequently made by myself with President Truman? May I ask him further whether, in view of what he said the other week about the need for confidential talks between Governments and the inadvisability of discussing them, it would not be well if the Motion on the Paper in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) was withdrawn?

[ To call attention to certain agreements governing the control of atomic weapons; and to move a Resolution.]

I am afraid that I do not control the rights of hon. Members to put Motions on the Paper. So far as I am concerned, I confine myself to defending and vindicating the actions of my own Government, the Government of which I was the head, and actions which I was personally responsible for, and I had not desired myself to embark upon a process of attacking continually other Administrations.

Whether the action in question is called a surrender or a loss— and I have no wish to enter into a dispute with the Leader of the Opposition on that —is the Prime Minister not aware that, rightly or wrongly, a widespread impression now exists on both sides of the Atlantic that the inducement for the loss of this right of veto was, in fact, increased financial aid; and if this is so, are we not at least entitled in this House to know the price in dollars of the sell-out?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is not aware that in the case of any requests for the publication of documents, one would only get a very partial view of the whole of these proceedings? What the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) has suggested is entirely untrue. A full discussion of this question would mean that one would have to go into confidential talks over a period and, like the right hon. Gentleman, I am prepared to defend the actions of my Government and also of the Government of which he and I were both Members.

I am entirely in the hands of the House. I am not myself pressing this Motion. Of course, circumstances change: what was valid in a moment of war, and so on, would not necessarily be valid otherwise. But I wish to make it quite clear that I have confined myself to defending what I was responsible for and the position as we left it, and that it was only because we found ourselves reproached with having, so to speak, no power to interfere or intervene in the developments of the new bomb, that, in order to defend oneself from very serious charges which were moving in the country, I referred to this matter at all.

Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of what he has now said and what he has said previously, it would not be fair and reasonable in all the circumstances if he deprecated the misrepresentation implied by his hon. Friend?

Both in that last question and the preceding one from the Leader of the Opposition, the suggestion was made that what I had said was untrue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, if that is so—in which case I am quite willing to withdraw—surely the best way is for the Leader of the Opposition to ask for the documents in question to be published, as the Prime Minister recently offered?

I do not think that there is any point of order in that. The word "untrue" does not necessarily mean that what is referred to was untrue by design. It is a word that is often used here, and without offence. I do not think any point of order arises in the matter.