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Neutron Bomb

Volume 649: debated on Friday 17 November 1961

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Whitelaw.]

12.30 p.m.

It is the custom, and has been the custom for many years now, for subjects which are raised in Adjournment debates not to be left, as they used to be left to be raised, as it were, spontaneously, but to be allotted by Ballot, because there are so many hon. Members who want to raise so many subjects. This has always been held to have the additional advantage that it enables the Minister who is responsible for the matter which an hon. Member wishes to raise to have due notice that it is to be raised and so to have a proper opportunity of explaining the matter further and more satisfactorily than in his original Answer.

I notice that the Minister of Defence is not in the House, and I think that this is a gross discourtesy, not to hon. Members who wish to raise questions but to the House itself and to the Chair. I have not received any intimation from the Minister of Defence that he would be unable to be here—no explanation, no apology. The right hon. Gentleman is not here, and before I proceed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to know if any intimation has been given to you as to whether the House is to be vouchsafed any explanation whatever from the Minister of Defence or the Ministry of Defence.

I do not expect to receive explanation concerning which Minister is to address the House.

Very well, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall have one or two severe things to say about the Minister of Defence. I hope to couch them in Parliamentary language, but there will certainly be personal criticisms of the Minister of the severest possible kind. It will not be my fault if he is not here to defend himself. He had full opportunity to be here; he knew that the matter was to be raised; he deliberately chose to be absent, and, therefore, if any unfairness results from the debate the responsibility must be entirely his.

On 8th November, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked the Minister of Defence:
"… what plans Her Majesty's Government have for the manufacture of the neutron bomb."
The Minister answered:
"It would not be in the public interest to make any statement on plans for the manufacture of specific types of nuclear weapons."
In other words, the right hon. Gentleman refused to tell my hon. Friend whether the Government had any such plans or what plans they had.

We all appreciate that the Minister of Defence is the custodian of a great many official secrets and that it would be quite wrong, in some cases, for him to disclose them. In this case, the impression given was that the Minister was exercising his discretion in not giving any information at all. What is left open, however, by his reply is the possibility that the Government may be in the course of testing or experimenting, or even manufacturing, neutron bombs.

There was no denial from the Minister of Defence. It is possible, on his Answer, that these matters are proceeding. What further follows from that is that the Minister of Defence saw no moral reason why the British Government should not be engaged upon such an enterprise. Quite obviously, if it had seemed to the Minister of Defence that this was a kind of enterprise upon which the Government would be ashamed to embark, especially having regard to their strictures upon other people, he would have hastened to say so.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire pursued the matter a little further and asked:
"Has the Minister seen the report which came from Washington on 2nd November, that rays from the neutron bomb can penetrate through 3 ft. of concrete? What is he going to do to strengthen 10 Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence?"
The Minister replied:
"That is quite another question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put it down."
My hon. Friend left the matter there.

In the next column in HANSARD I, too, asked the Minister of Defence a Question. I asked him:
"… what proposals have been submitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by the United States Government concerning the testing of a large neutron bomb whose principal new contribution to nuclear strategy is its alleged capacity to kill people without damaging property."
The Minister answered:
"I have no knowledge of any such proposal."
That was a rather equivocal Answer because it left in doubt whether the Minister of Defence had any knowledge of any proposal to make a bomb of that character or whether he was merely denying knowledge of any proposals submitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

To find out what the Minister of Defence really meant, I asked him a supplementary question. I asked:
"Has not the right hon. Gentleman seen frequent and quite authoritative statements that the United States is preparing at this moment to test such a bomb? Does he not think it worth while to make some inquiry to see whether this is so? Does he realise that, if such a test were made, this would be represented in many parts of the world as the final triumph of capitalist priorities? Will he undertake that the United Kingdom would never undertake itself, or be associated with, genocidal mania of this kind? Will he inform the United States, or ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to do so, that we would not regard such a weapon as compatible with the maintenance of our alliance with any Power that tested or used it?"
The Minister replied:
"I have no knowledge of all the allegations the hon. Gentleman is making, and our general position on tests was clearly set out by the Prime Minister the other day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 956–7.]
What was set out by the Prime Minister the other day as to our general position on tests is neither here nor there. I was asking him about a particular weapon of a particularly horrifying and nightmarish kind, and what the Minister of Defence was saying was, "I have no knowledge of any such allegation." I do not believe it. I cannot believe that the Minister of Defence had no knowledge of any proposal about neutron bombs. He was not telling the House of Commons the truth. If, being a Minister of Defence, charged by this House and by the Crown, with the responsibility of defending 50 million fellow citizens, and knowing about the things I am about to tell the House in a minute or two, he does not tell, it gets close to treason. A Minister who does not know about it ought to be impeached.

We are not dealing with a triviality. Let us see what it is that the Minister of Defence had the impudence to tell the House of Commons he had never heard of. I take one of our own newspapers, to start with. I am about to read from the Daily Telegraph of Friday, 16th June. Almost all the quotations with which I am proposing to trouble the House are on dates prior to the resumption by the Soviet Union of any tests.

Perhaps I may say, in passing—because there are so many people so anxious to misunderstand and to attribute the wrong kind of motive—that I share the censure of everyone of the Soviet Government for their unilateral resumption of tests. I praised the Soviet Union, as many people did, for its unilateral cessation of tests in October, 1958, but they cannot be entitled to appreciation for a unilateral cessation of tests and reject the censure for a unilateral resumption of them. That, I hope, is common ground between us. I shall have something more to say about that later.

Here we are dealing with weapons, which I shall describe in a moment, whose testing and manufacture was being strongly pressed for during the past four years. The first quotation which I wish to make is from the science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph on 16th June:
"… it"
thas is, this bomb—
"produces a shower of neutrons, the negatively charged particles of great penetrating power that are lethal in large-enough doses. In other words, it could kill everyone within a certain area, and yet not cause the material destruction associated with other nuclear weapons."
What is the consequence that the science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph draws from that? It is this:
"Consequently, the neutron bomb, should it ever become a reality and not just a calculation, would enable a nuclear war to take place."
It would enable a nuclear war to take place. And the Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom dares to tell the House of Commons that he has never heard of it.

I will continue the quotation:
"An area can be cleared of all living things, and an invading army can march in without any risk to themselves."
That is, of course, provided that its enemy is innocent of this nightmarish weapon. I repeat. Is anyone going to say, on behalf of the Minister of Defence, that he was telling the truth to the House of Commons, as a Minister of the Crown responsible to the House of Commons, when he said that he knew nothing about it? Was he?

I wish to refer to some of the other things the right hon. Gentleman might have heard about, or which, perhaps, he might—now his attention as been directed to it by an unofficial private Member of the House of Commons—care to have a look at some day. In the New York Herald Tribune of 16th June, the well-known commentator Mr. Joseph Alsop had a two-column article dealing with this matter. I do not propose to quote from it. Public discussion was raging for months all over the United States, as part of the campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the President of the United States to resume, without notice, without agreement, nuclear tests. It was being said to him, "We are ready with this thing now. All we have to do is test it. You cannot afford to wait." This was on 16th June, and on 8th November the Minister of Defence said in the House of Commons that he had never heard of it.

In the article in the Daily Telegraph, from which I have already quoted, the science correspondent alleges that the United States had the neutron bomb when testing stopped. The science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph says this, but the Minister of Defence had never heard of it. What sort of people does the right hon. Gentleman think we are?

I quote, from the New York Times of 26th June, a description of the bomb:
"It would kill all personnel in a limited area with a burst of radiation from neutrons and leave buildings intact. Nor would it leave any lingering radioactive fall-out."
Senator Dodd, who has interested himself in these matters for a long time, is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor to the same effect on 27th June.

On 5th July, Professor Teller, in the United States, gave in the New York Herald Tribune a quite terrifying description of what this weapon is and what its effects would be. I dare say that even the Minister of Defence may perhaps have heard of Professor Teller. He is said to be the father of nuclear weapons, the father of the H-bomb. He knows about it. If the Minister of Defence has never heard of it, will he ask Professor Teller to tell him? When he has done so, will he come to the House and tell us about it, because there are 50 million people in these islands whose life depends upon it?

I quote again from the Christian Science Monitor of 8th July, 1961. In passing, what an irony that a description of this weapon appears in a newspaper bearing a title like that. This newspaper tells us:
"Whether or not such a weapon could be developed is believed to be still an open question in secret American councils. No credible authority has proposed that the Soviets are any further along with it than is the United States."
The Daily Telegraph of 25th July—coming nearer to the date—had a story about the neutron bomb with the headline in capitals:
"Neutron Bomb Ideal for N.A.T.O."
Here is a weapon "ideal for N.A.T.O." and the Minister of Defence has never heard about it.

The final newspaper quotation with which I shall trouble the House is again from the New York Herald Tribune of 2nd November, less than a week before the Minister of Defence was giving these Answers. This, again, is a quotation from Senator Dodd:
"The United States must speedily make every possible effort to convert the neutron bomb from theoretical certainty to a practical reality."
I hope that I shall still have the attention of such representative of the Minister of Defence as is here, because I want to make some more quotations. Look at these benches, Mr. Speaker. I know that it is Friday. I know this is an Adjournment debate, but one of the appalling things about the present situation is the complete apathy—contributed to deliberately by Governments—of ordinary people about the most terrifying developments in the whole history of mankind. This is not a piece of melodrama. It is not a tale by Edgar Alan Poe about which we are talking. It is not somebody's nightmare vanishing with the sunrise the next day.

We are dealing with what Senator Dodd calls "theoretical certainties being developed into practical realities." What practical reality?—the realisation of a weapon which can destroy human life, may be all, if it is developed enough, without interfering with any of the sacred rights of property. The Minister knows nothing, says nothing, does not think it worth while even to come here to deal with the question when it is raised. The Front Bench opposite is occupied by one recently-appointed junior Minister and a representative of the Whips. The Opposition Front Bench is occupied by nobody at all.

Let us contrast with some other quotations from HANSARD all this silence, secrecy, concealment about weapons that are as far ahead of the H-bombs with which up to now people have been mostly concerned, as the H-bombs themselves were over the atomic bombs that, without notice, wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union resumed tests. People said that they were greatly surprised by this, that it was a breach of faith. Yet, after all, we had been telling them for months that our policy was to make them believe that we were to use these weapons if we could not get our own way in Berlin.

It is quite true that we did not tell them what our own way in Berlin was. It is quite true that we did not tell them that, because we did not know what our own way in Berlin was. Dr. Adenauer had not told us. As far as I know, he still has not told us. I understand from the Prime Minister that progress has been made towards agreement. I do not know whether it has got as far as reaching an agreement so that we have something to say in answer to the Soviet proposals which we reject.

If we tell Khrushchev we are going to attack and want him to believe that we really mean to attack with nuclear weapons if we do not get our way, what else have we told him? We have told him that if anyone is in danger of being attacked with nuclear weapons, and wants to stop it, the proper way to stop it is to deter the attacker from doing it and the only way to deter the attacker from doing it is to have bigger and better bombs than he has got. So what the occasion for the surprise was seems to me a little difficult to understand.

Even if we were not surprised we were entitled to protest, and right hon. and hon. Members protested with great vigour and great eloquence. So did the Minister of Defence. I quote from HANSARD of 24th October. The Minister of Defence made a statement on U.S.S.R. nuclear tests, a long statement describing what had happened. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) expressed his horror and the Minister of Defence said:
"I should like to associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. None of us in this House can but be appalled by the callous and cruel way in which the Russians have restarted this contamination of the atmosphere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October 1961; Vol. 646, c. 749.]
The right hon. Gentleman is appalled at the "callous and cruel" Russians restarting H-bomb tests. If that is cruel and callous, what is a neutron bomb? Can we remain silent about this? He remained silent. Is humanity never to take its affairs into its own hands and call people to account for this kind of thing—loading them up with hatred of other people while we are doing things far worse than those of which we complain? The Leader of the Liberal Party says:
"Does not this outbreak of homicidal mania by Russia cause the impression of a lack of self-confidence on their part, rather than the impression of strength."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1961; Vol. 646, c. 750.]
If it is an exhibition of homicidal mania merely to explode a bomb in the stratosphere, what are you exhibiting when you are experimenting with the development of weapons like this?

I ask again, is it still maintained that the Minister of Defence did not know? Then why did he not know? When will he find out? If, as I believe, he knew all the time, what complete humbug, what nauseating hypocrisy, it is to have that knowledge locked up in your soul and to use language like this about other people. I have been here long enough to know that to vomit on the Floor of the House is probably out of order, and I will restrain myself.

Hon. Member after hon. Member was scraping the barrel for adjectives. Yet the Minister of Defence, I believe, knew all the time that the United States had perhaps—I do not know—already tested it months before, in June according to my information, or, at any rate, was regarding it as a reasonable and proper thing to do, and the only question was when to turn the theoretical certainty into a practical reality.

I will not prolong this. It is four and a half hours before the House need adjourn. I want the Minister, representing the Minister of Defence, to come clean. I want to ask him some questions. Is there, in fact, going on in any allied country as far as he knows any testing of a weapon such as I have described? If the answer is "Yes", when did he first hear about it? Secondly, is this country engaged in similar research? If so, since when? Thirdly, does he agree with the headline which I quoted from the Daily Telegraph that this neutron bomb is an ideal weapon for N.A.T.O.? If he does, will he tell us whether any proposals have been submitted to N.A.T.O., either by him or by anyone else, for the development of such a weapon?

Moreover, will he tell us how, in the event of such a weapon coming into existence, the population of this country is to survive any kind of war? Has he amended his civil defence plans in order to deal with this potentiality? Will he tell us what they are? Will he warn people to build shelters for themselves by individual private enterprise up and down the country as they are doing in an orgy of self-deception in the United States? Are people to be advised to do this? If they are, what use will it be if there is a weapon which, while keeping the shelter intact, kills all the people inside it?

Will he tell us on what principle the use of such a weapon can be defended for any purpose by any power at any time. What is to be achieved by it? Defence? Clearly not. The preservation of a way of life? It is the very antithesis of a way of life, it is an ineluctable way of death. To preserve liberty, freedom, a bourgeois democracy on the party basis, a Speaker, a Committee of Privileges and a Mace on the Table? Are these the things for which we are developing a weapon of this kind? Does it make them practical realities?

This, surely, is the end of all this kind of reasoning with which the world has been bedevilled for ten years, this nonsense that peace is being preserved by this balance of terror and, therefore, you must increase the terror and somehow get back some day to the balance. We did not begin with this kind of fusion weapon until 1950. Does anyone in his senses believe that the world in 1961 is safer and more secure than it was in 1951 when we did not have these weapons at all? Has there been an advance in our security, or are we not living precariously on the very edge of ultimate catastrophe, preparing now the weapons which can push us all over without notice and without knowledge?

What right have the Government to conceal these things from us? Surely we have the right, in a democracy at any rate, to decide for ourselves whether we wish to be defended by weapons of this kind. The British people are ready to die for the things it believes in. We have given enough evidence of this in our history, and I suppose that it is still true. I hope that it will always be true. But the question here is not what you are willing to die for. It is a question of what you are willing to commit genocide for and what you are willing to exterminate the human race for. What is there in this quarrel which justifies perils of this kind?

I sympathise with the hon. Member for having to be here sheltering the cowardly Minister of Defence from the attack which he deserves and from which he has run away. The hon. Member can only do his best. But if the Minister of Defence is so cowardly in his own personal affairs he is not a fit Minister to be responsible for the defence of this country, and he ought to go.

1.9 p.m.

We have just listened to what I can only describe as a disgraceful speech. I can well understand people asking questions to try to find out what the present situation is, or what it is likely to be at any point of time in the future, but it is an old trick to put up "Aunt Sallies" and ask for them to be knocked down. If they are not knocked down, either because of all the problems of security or because a Government spokesman cannot knock them down by saying either "Yes" or "No", the Government are then condemned by more newspaper commentators. This is a disgraceful attitude to adopt.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain, then, why the Minister of Defence did not come here to say it himself, instead of sending what I hope I may describe without offence as the office boy?

The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he had been in the House for many years. He knows the practice of Adjournment debates. They are normally replied to by a junior Minister. This is a long-standing practice. The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with alleging that the Minister of Defence has run away on this matter. I believe that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation will give him the replies which would have been given by the Minister of Defence if he had come here.

I am particularly concerned about the great danger that speeches of this kind can have upon our own security in this country, upon our relations with our allies, and upon what could be potential enemies in the future. After all, we are British and we are interested in the British way of life. This is extremely important. If we are to protect the British way of life, if we are to be able to face up to all the problems besetting us, if we are to have any cards up our sleeve in negotiations concerning the reduction of armaments throughout the world—and heaven knows we have tried long enough to bring about some agreement at Geneva and elsewhere—we must not reveal everything we know. If we are to expose all the cards we have and lay them on the table, what use is there in our hoping to reach some agreement on international disarmament and, which is far more important, what hope do we have of carrying on the great traditions for which we have been famous in the past?

This is the great dilemma we all face. This is the great dilemma which many Governments face. While we in the House of Commons expect to play our full part in deciding what this country's policy shall be in the future, all of us will surely agree that it would be wrong, and, indeed, it would be against the national security, for Ministers of the Crown to stand at the Dispatch Box and tell the House everything that is going on, including all the theoretical exercises and all the different things we may be doing with a view to trying to make certain that we at least have some way of maintaining the security of this country and have one or two cards up our sleeve so that we can carry on proper negotiations.

This is surely preferable to following the line which has been put about so often—"We would rather be red than dead". This is just not true, because it is just as easy to be dead and red. The important point is often lost sight of that if we are killed by bow and arrow we are just as dead as if we are killed by a neutron bomb.

Therefore, we must maintain a sense of proportion, I propose to say no more, except to express the hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give as many answers as he can to the questions which have been asked. I again express my disagreement with the terms in which the hon. Member addressed the House.

1.14 p.m.

I will say a few further words about some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) in a minute or two. I want to say, first, that he must have been under a misapprehension about the status of the Minister who is here to reply to the debate. The Minister will no doubt tell us, but I have considerable doubts whether the Minister who is sitting on the Government Front Bench was sent here by the Minister of Defence to answer. It may be that he is only on the Front Bench now because he was participating in the previous debate. He knows as little about it, apparently, as the Minister of Defence himself. However, I must thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation for having the courtesy to stay, which distinguishes him very greatly from the Department responsible for answering the debate.

I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), at the failure of the Minister of Defence to come here, or, at any rate, to get another senior member of the Government to reply. The hon. Member for Totnes spoke about the traditions of the House in relation to Adjournment debates. It is true that Ministers often send junior Ministers to deal with Adjournment debates. They certainly ought to send somebody. It may be said that today's debate on the Adjournment has arisen somewhat earlier than was expected. But there have been Whips in the House throughout the whole day. Some of them are paid. What are they paid for?

When it was evident, as it was evident to us at 11.30 this morning, that the Government's business was likely to be dealt with very quickly, it was the business of the Whips to contact the Ministry of Defence and make sure that the Government were properly represented when the debate took place. Nothing like that has happened. The hon. Member for Totnes—(the only hon. Member on the Government back benches who has turned up for the debate—is apparently under the misapprehension of thinking that the Ministry of Defence has sent a representative, because it has not.

There are other reasons why the Minister of Defence should have taken special care to be present on this occasion. My hon. Friend has already told the House of the questions which were put to the Minister the other day, and I will not quote them again. The nature of those questions and the serious character of the matters involved should have made the Minister want to attend. We are confronted with a situation in which only a few Members of the House are present. There is no prepared spokesman for the Government. There are no representatives at all on the Opposition Front Bench. I do not think that it will do the House of Commons much good when it is learned that a matter of this nature has been discussed with so few Members present.

Henry Fox, the father of Charles James Fox, once said, "I will speak so loud that I will be heard outside this House." What my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has said today will be heard outside the House. It will be reported outside the House. Members of Parliament sometimes complain about the reporting of the newspapers, but I hope that the newspapers will report quite accurately the numbers who were here to discuss this subject. The House of Commons, if it wishes to sustain its reputation, should take precautions to ensure that when matters of this great importance are raised there is much better representation in the Chamber.

A few months ago the Minister of Defence complained because some people sat down outside his Ministry. The Minister will not even come and sit down on the Front Bench of the House of Commons, so he must not complain if people outside the House take extraordinary measures to deal with the situation. If the House of Commons shows that it is so little interested in such matters as this that it does not even debate it properly, and the Government do not even send a Minister along to answer the debate, people outside the House will have to resort to other measures. The best thing I could recommend would be for somebody to throw a brick through a Ministry of Defence window. It might call attention to the situation. If the Government do not send a Minister to give proper answers, the movement outside the House will develop all the more.

It may be said that this matter has been raised only by back-bench Members on the Adjournment, but my hon. Friend and I have as much right to have answers from the Government as have any other Members of the House. We were elected to this House—indeed, we were both elected primarily on this issue. When we fought our elections, we made it absolutely clear that we were opposed to all these nuclear weapons. We made it clear that we were prepared to fight the issue inside the House as well as outside; that we proposed to say the same things inside the House as outside, and to propose the same things inside this House as outside it.

The procedure of the House is that Ministers, not merely as a matter of courtesy but as a matter of right to Members of Parliament, should give their answers here. Therefore, what the House is now witnessing is something worse than a gross discourtesy; it is a complete failure of the Government to understand the democratic processes which they pretend to wish to defend.

I shall not, by quotation, add much further to the descriptions given by my hon. Friend of the neutron bomb, but perhaps I should just add this description given by Mr. Joseph Alsop in the New York Herald-Tribune of 16th June. He described the neutron bombs as
"… the better brighter weapons of the future which will merely kill all living things within their range, while leaving intact all valuable inanimate objects such as cannon factories and apartment houses."
That is what we are discussing—the most grotesque invention in the history of the world.

Moreover, this weapon has other alleged advantages. Once it has been developed, its cost will be about one-hundredth of that of a comparable atomic bomb. Mr. Joseph Alsop, in the same article, discusses the possibility that the spread of these weapons, if they are developed, will be enormously multiplied all over the world. The Minister of Defence told the House of Commons that he did not know what had developed, so I will give one further quotation on that subject, too.

The Minister of Defence pretended to the House that he did not know about the discussion that is going on in relation to this subject. This is what is said on that aspect of the matter in the Christian Science Monitor of 27th June:
"The neutron bomb is unquestionably the object of the most extensive and possibly bitterest sub rosa debate this post-war Washington has seen."
That very responsible newspaper said that about this neutron bomb there has been the bitterest internal secret argument in Washington at any time since 1945. That is saying a great deal. There has been a huge controversy on this subject between different Departments in America, yet the Minister tried to pretend that it was something either of which he was ignorant altogether or on which he could not say anything. For neither of those explanations could he possibly have any justification.

Anyone who has attempted to study what has been the controversy about this bomb all through the months—indeed, as my hon. Friend has said, the years—will see that, during this summer, arguments about the neutron bomb became of considerable and, maybe, even of paramount importance to the question of restarting tests. Many of those who wished the United States to restart tests used as their chief argument the possibility of developing this neutron bomb. Others, who were contesting that position, argued partly on technical grounds, and said that the neutron bomb had not developed as far as its advocates claimed.

Nevertheless, nobody who reads the discussions that have been going on in the United States can possibly doubt that the preparations which the United States Government made for the restarting of tests, prior to the Russians restarting them, were partly influenced by the pressure to secure this neutron bomb. It is, therefore, certainly not only a question of the significance of the bomb once it is developed, but that pressure for developing it has already played its part in the political developments of the past few months affecting the restarting of tests.

It may be, it is quite possible, that although the Minister of Defence did not know what was going on in Washington, the Russians did. It may be that they took the trouble to read the American newspapers, and that they took the trouble to inquire about this very sub rosa argument in the United States. It might be that the Russians had spies there trying to find out about it; and that one of their reasons for going ahead with their tests was that they could say, "We do not intend to be left behind in the development of neutron weapons." So it is no use anyone suggesting that the matter we are now raising, and on which the Minister recently refused to reply, is one of small significance.

There is another aspect of the matter. According to the descriptions which I have read of this bomb, it could have—in the crazy language they use—very considerable military advantage in the sense that my hon. Friend pointed out when he quoted evidence that this weapon would enable a nuclear war to take place. These bombs could be let off and an army could occupy the area where the bombs had exploded, thus distinguishing them from any other kinds of bombs which had a bigger fallout content.

If this is true, and if one side secured an enormous advantage in the development of these weapons, it would intensify the danger of one side seeking to secure an advantage by preventive action. This, in my opinion, has always been one of the fallacies in the balance-of-terror theory which the Minister of Defence sometimes says he favours. One of the fallacies is that it is not a balance. Each side is engaged in a race, each is trying to get ahead of the other, and if one side secures a really long-distance advantage over the other it may think, "This is the moment to strike, otherwise I am likely later to lose my advantage." The development of these weapons might have that effect.

It is no use arguing that that is not a real danger. One can, in fact, say that almost every war in the last century—except, perhaps, the 1939–45 war—started as a preventive war; by one side saying, "We do not want a war, but if we do not do it now we may lose our chance later." The side with the neutron bomb could believe that it might have a considerable influence in altering the balance, thereby making that side feel that it had a great preventive advantage.

No one need say to me that that danger is completely chimerical. We have only to read what is being written in the United States of America at present. There is a body at the University of Pennsylvania known as the Foreign Policy Research Institute. It is paid for partly from money voted for the War Department, under the sponsorship of the National War College and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has recently produced a comprehensive foreign policy for America which is called, "A Forward Strategy." It is an eminent body, not a "crank" organisation. It was built up to study the whole question of nuclear warfare.

The heart of what is says is contained in this sentence:
"The priority objective of any American grand strategy is, by a broad margin, the preservation and enhancement of our political system rather than the maintenance of peace…Our policy must be based upon the premise that we cannot tolerate the survival of a political system which has the growing capability and the ruthless will to destroy us. We have no choice but to adopt a Catonic strategy."
That means, of course, the strategy of Cato—Carthage must be destroyed. That is the doctrine of a powerful section in the United States advocating its views with money supplied by the American Government through that Government's war contracts. The members of this body are among those who have been using their influence and wealth to press the Government to reconsider tests so that the neutron bomb can be developed.

When he talked about this matter in replying to a debate the other day, the Minister of Defence spoke as if the whole question of bombs and military machines was in the hands of an all-wise body. We must leave these things to these great military experts who are so wise, he said, in effect. The Minister talks as if it is improper for us to discuss these matters. I have often thought, when we are told about the deterrent, that there is every reason why we should let the other side know all about it. The idea that one should not reveal the deterrent explodes the whole deterrent theory.

In any case, the suggestion that the wisdom of developing these weapons is settled by people in the United States, in whom we can have great confidence, is not borne out by the facts. Consider, for example, what was said by Mr. Eisenhower, an authority on these matters, in his speech on leaving office as President of the United States in 1961. He is reported in the Tribune of 17th November, 1961, as follows:
"American democracy, he said in essence, was being threatened by a new and enormous and insidious power—that of 'the military industrial complex' employing millions of men, wielding the power of fantastic billions of dollars, developing an influence that 'is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal Government.'"
That was a remarkable thing for Mr. Eisenhower to have said in his last speech as President of the United States, for he warned the people of America against the growing irresponsible power of fantastically wealthy pressure groups, organised often by the Air Force or Army, often in competition in the United States in pressing for action which might be absolutely opposed to the declared political objects of the American Government.

If anyone reads what has been written in the American newspapers during the past five or six months about the neutron bomb he will see that the pressure groups to which President Eisenhower referred—
"the military—industrial complex …"
as he called it, has been working overtime to try to get the neutron bomb tested.

Meantime, what is the position of the British Government? Is it really no business of the Minister of Defence to find out what is going on? Is the British Government to have any influence in deciding whether or not the bombs should be made? Are these the terms of our alliance with the United States; that they can go ahead with the manufacture of bombs of this mammoth grotesque nature without us even having any say in the matter? One cannot blame the Americans in this respect, because if the Minister of Defence never raises the subject—if he is content with such a pusillanimous posture—that is not the fault of the Americans.

But if we are to remain in the Western Alliance, Britain has every right to have a say in deciding these things. That is why we want to know from the Minister—we will not be told today, but we intend to press the matter until we get a reply—what representations the British Government have made or will make about this matter. We are entitled to know whether it has been raised by the British Embassy in the United States, if we had anything to say—or do we leave it to Professor Teller and those opposed to him to fight it out in the United States?

If we have had no influence we have, apparently, assisted the process of restarting tests in America. After the Prime Minister made his announcement about the tests it was reported in the United States that they regarded the Prime Minister's declaration as giving them assistance, if they wished, to restart the whole testing process. So apparently all that this Government have done during these last months since the Russian tests started is to assist the process of restarting tests if the Americans wish to. And as far as the neutron bomb goes, we are told that the Minister of Defence does not know about it and that if he does he has not made any representations to the United States about it.

One of the horrors of the whole business of nuclear weapons is the bovine fatalism which seems to have settled on so many people. We are told that we must leave it to the Government—to the experts—and that it is not a subject which the people understand because the matters involved are too complex and difficult. But there are growing numbers of people who understand these problems much better than the scientists, because they start by applying some moral principles to the case. If one tries to settle any political problem without moral principles one probably gets into a mess.

A growing number of people, particularly the younger element, are beginning to say, "This is a terrible and complicated problem. We know it is difficult, but let us try to apply some principles to it". But once we start applying the most elementary moral principles—Christian or otherwise—the whole process in which the world is engaged is exposed as a crime of such monstrous proportions that it is impossible to find language with Which to describe it. Therefore, the duty of people who believe that some moral principle should be applied in our public life as well as in any other kind of life is, first, to tear down these cloaks of secrecy which the Government try to wrap round themselves.

What possible excuse can there be for a Government, even if there is a case for their kind of theories of a balance of terror, to refuse persistently to give to the public the facts about this horrifying situation? I hope that, as a result of the debate, the Minister of Defence will make a full statement to the House next week on the implications of this bomb, on the representations made to the United States about it, and tell us whether or not it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that it should be manufactured. That is the very least that the right hon. Gentleman can do to repair the gross discourtesy which he has perpetrated today. He should seek an opportunity next week to make a declaration on the whole matter. I cannot understand how any Government can conceivably say that this is not a question about which we should be concerned.

The Government may not be concerned. The official Opposition may not be concerned, but growing numbers of people outside are concerned. Those who may condemn some of us for having strange and curious views should know that the majority of the people in the world are on our side and not on the side of the secretive Minister of Defence. The Prime Minister of India said two or three weeks ago that the Indian Government would have the power by 1963 to make the hydrogen bomb, but that his Government did not propose in any circumstances to go ahead with such a programme. That was the answer of a man with much more experience than the present British Prime Minister and infinitely more than that of our Minister of Defence. That was the answer of a man whose name will be remembered when all the names of Ministers in our present Government are forgotten. That is his wisdom, and it is the wisdom which we are preaching.

At the United Nations last week there was a vote on the question of starting these tests, which would have governed whether there could ever be tests of these neutron bombs. Seventy nations voted against any further tests of any nuclear weapons and about 20 nations voted in the minority against that proposition. Included in that minority who refuse to accept the Indian-sponsored resolution were the American Government, the French Government, the British Government and the Russian Government—the same Russian Government which had been condemned by the Minister of Defence in such extravagant or strong terms in the House of Commons a week or two earlier.

Very little of this was published in the newspapers. Apparently, some of them did not wish the world to know what was happening at the United Nations. But it was a most extraordinary commentary on the exchanges we had about the Russian series of tests in this House when in the United Nations, a week or two later, Britain and the Soviet Union voted on the same side against the sanity and wisdom of the Indian Government.

Some of us in the House, and outside the House, therefore, will seek every means in our power to shake the Government and the country from their apathy on the most terrible challenge that ever confronted the human race. What we seek here in this debate is, first, to secure the answers to which we are entitled from the Minister of Defence. What we are also engaged in doing is fighting for the greatest cause that men and women ever fought for in this country.

1.45 p.m.

I came to the House today to see some of my hon. Friends, and I have now seen some of my hon. Friends in action. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has a badge of honour, the badge of a man who is talking to empty benches most of the time, the man who is challenging the complacency which characterises the Government.

This argument about defence has run on for many years and it cults across parties, but the Government's complacency is almost unbelievable. Let us look at their record. Five years ago we had the idiocy of the Suez operation. Let us look at the mechanics of that and the way in which the Government handled the men and women who served their country. What did they do? What did this commercial traveller who sells defence to the House of Commons, the Minister of Defence, do? He is a member of a Government who five years ago sent men and women from this country to Suez into a lunatic operation to which the House had never applied its mind as it should have done, quite apart from the politics of the matter.

I agree that my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench took up an attitude in 1956 which might have persuaded Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, that there was a bipartisan approach to these matters, but there were people right from the beginning in 1956 who thought that this was lunacy. I want to leave the politics on one side, but I must say that there was monstrous mishandling by the Government of the men and women in our Forces and of the materials supplied by people who work in that section of British industry.

We ought to have them impeached for the way they have behaved. In five years they have brought the people of this country into the greatest danger that they have ever encountered. They have lived for years in the aftermath of that extraordinary speech made by the then Minister of Defence, who said that we had to look after our airfields and bases and wipe out other people.

The decay in our national life is most extraordinary. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have now reached the stage in British history when they want the countries of the Common Market on our side. Yesterday the Government introduced what was obviously a colourbar Bill. Here we have men and women who have spent years parading their affection first for the Empire and later for the Commonwealth, who have patted men on the back at Buckingham Palace garden parties and said. "What a good chap we have here", and yet the moment those men achieve independence and power they are regarded as being all wrong.

It may be, Mr. Speaker, that the relevance of all this escapes you at the moment. The relevance is that there are today an increasing number of people who think, as I do, that the defence policies of the great Powers are not only ludicrous but a menace to the future of mankind.

This week we have seen on television examples of the terrible consequences of famine in Tanganyika and Kenya. How is it when the House of Commons has such a link with those Territories, which were once part of the Empire and are now part of the Commonwealth, that hon. Members can sit here and say, "We have been told about the unpleasant things which are happening, but we cannot afford to do anything about them", and then go on to say that we can afford to continue to spend money on idiotic weapons for so-called defence?

I am not a pacifist. I conceive it to be the duty of the House of Commons to have Armed Forces to defend the things which the House thinks should be defended, but I feel more and more that we are getting out of touch with realities.

On television our children are shown Africans and other coloured people with great fat stomachs, classic demonstrations of dietetic deficiencies. Hon. Members say, "It is a terrible thing." There is no difference in compassion about these matters between the two sides of the House, but when it comes to dealing with such things my hon. Friends and I part from hon. Members opposite on two grounds. First, we believe that our defence expenditure is absolutely idiotic, wasteful and stupid. Secondly, we believe that it does not defend us anyway.

The neutron bomb is the end. I am ashamed that there are not more hon. Members on both sides of the House today to listen to this debate, to show that they worry and care about this matter. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary cares about it. This is the great problem of our time. Yet, look at the frivolities in which we are indulging.

This great House, this Mother of Parliaments—though I sometimes think that democracy in this country has only just arrived—

It is just beginning. My great friend, the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan, used to say when we walked through St. Stephen's Hall and looked at the statues, "Remember, Bill, those are not your ancestors. We have only just arrived here." However, perhaps I might say that all of us in the House owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. I am not sure that this is the right place to say this, but he is one of the most courageous Members of the House of Commons, a man in the great traditions of the House who focuses our attention on these matters. Unhappily, the benches are practically empty today and hon. Members are taking no notice of this debate. I regard it as a privilege to come along and, in my limited way, support what has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Nelson and Colne and Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).

I would say to the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale did, that one of the things which ought to worry all of us in public life today is the fact that thousands of young men and women find no consolation in our established political parties, and do not believe that the conventional parties can articulate their hopes for the future. Outside the conventional parties there are thousands of ordinary men and women, especially young ones, who care deeply about this matter and are worried about their future and believe that both the Government and the House of Commons are behaving in a lunatic fashion, having their priorities and attitudes all wrong.

These people think it is wrong and evil that the House passes the problem by when it looks at the swollen bellies of Africans and merely sends a shilling or two towards the famine funds for Tanganyikans and Kenyans. The House of Commons may care about these things, but it has them all wrong. Hon. Members on both sides of the House support a defence policy which will drag not only those poor friends of ours in Africa, but the British people, into the abyss. That is why the benches in the Chamber are empty today and why the House of Commons is not making the impact which it ought to make. We have the whole thing crazy and upside down.

I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for the discursive way in which I have dealt with this subject. I believe that the Government and the House must assert themselves to ensure that mankind is put on sensible rails in the second half of the twentieth century, and that hon. Members should not continue supporting lunacies whether they are on that side of the House or this.

1.59 p.m.

I must begin my reply by trying to remove two misconceptions from the mind of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). His first mistake is in thinking that he can, without offence, describe me as the Minister of Defence's office boy, and his second mistake is in thinking that he speaks for the public on matters of defence.

Nevertheless, I have listened with very great interest to the hon. Member and to the two other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Perhaps I might particularly single out the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) whose moving and eloquent speech certainly struck an appreciative cord in me.

To come to the substance of the case which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne put forward against the Minister of Defence, I listened with the greatest care to his quotations from different publications. He made them in support of his view that the Minister of Defence was not telling the House the truth when he said on 8th November that he had no knowledge of the allegations made in the course of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.

The substance of that supplementary question was that there had been frequent and authoritative statements that the United States was preparing to test such a bomb. I feel bound to say that, carefully though I listened to all the hon. Gentleman's quotations, I did not observe one which would sustain his criticism of the Minister of Defence on that point, while I did hear quite a number which could be taken as directly controverting his attack on my right hon. Friend.

Many of us have seen articles in the Press on this subject, and it is my first duty to make clear what I at any rate understand to be the subject we are discussing. It is undoubtedly one of the utmost gravity.

The so-called neutron-flux bomb has been described as a nuclear weapon which produces a strong emission of neutrons, thus relying on radiation rather than blast to achieve its purpose. As such it would be damaging to people but not to inanimate objects. It is conceivable that the development of such a weapon could open new military possibilities of use on the battlefield and tactically, and perhaps not only in those ways.

I can assure hon. Members that Her Majesty's Government do not underestimate the influence such a weapon might have, and that our policy in regard to this, as to all other military developments, will continue, as in the past, to reflect not only the need to secure our own defence and that of our allies but also our deep concern with the humanitarian aspects of all the destructive weapons that have developed and may be developed in the future.

Clearly the possibility of a neutron bomb raises a number of important questions about its existence, its effectiveness and the intentions of ourselves, our allies and of potential enemy Powers in relation to it. But, equally clearly, there are compelling security reasons in a case like this which make it impossible for me to make any public statement whatever on these questions. I regret that this must be so, but that statement so far as I am concerned is final and hon. Members, I am sure, will not expect the situation to be otherwise.

We are living in an age of rapid scientific advance, and we have become all too familiar with weapons of an ingenuity and destructiveness unknown to past generations. The scientists who first split the atom do not bear any political responsibility for the use to which their efforts have been put to create nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons. If the researches that go on into the nature of matter make it feasible to produce a neutron bomb, the responsibility of deciding what to do will rest with Governments. We cannot arrest scientific research either unilaterally or multilaterally. We can only take account of the results and shape our policies accordingly.

It will, however, be useful perhaps if I say a few words about our attitude to weapons of war generally, including this subject, though I should make it clear that these remarks should not be construed as having any special relation to the neutron bomb as distinct from any other weapon.

All military weapons are designed to kill, and no weapon can be an effective deterrent to war unless it is potentially an effective killer. That is a fact of life. Similarly, if one's enemy has a weapon of greater potential, or one which can be more effectively and instantaneously delivered than one's own, he will be in a position to gain his ends by a mere threat and to win a war without fighting. It is just that situation that the policy of the deterrent is designed to prevent, and if we follow a policy of deterrence, we must keep it up to date scientifically or it will fail.

If we had not kept ourselves up to date with the techniques of gas warfare before 1939, and had allowed our enemies to gain a great technical superiority over us in this field, it is most likely that gas would have been used in far more lethal forms than in the First World War. It is not pleasant to keep up to date in the techniques of modern highly destructive weapons. No one enjoys it. But to let our potential enemies get far ahead of our own alliance in any such field is vastly to increase the danger that one day they will use those weapons.

The real enemy of mankind today is not the existence of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but war and the danger of war itself. We have to be strong to prevent war, and we have to exert our efforts promptly to try to prevent those situations arising that could lead to the outbreak of war.

The only way to make mankind safe is through general and complete disarmament under effective international control. We hope and believe that in the end this will be achieved, and that nations will eventually be able, in confidence and security, to retain only such small forces as are needed to maintain internal law and order in their countries.

In such a world, any nation that is tempted towards aggression against its neighbour will have to reckon with the existence of a sufficiently powerful international force capable of dealing promptly and swiftly with any aggression. But that is not the situation today.

We have been in the forefront of efforts to achieve disarmament. The task is immensely complex but we believe that it can be done. We deeply regretted it, as did the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, when the Soviet Government in June, 1960, walked out of the Geneva disarmament negotiations. We deplored equally their decision to set aside the task we had so nearly completed at Geneva of bringing an end permanently to all further tests of nuclear weapons. We have continued our efforts in the United Nations, and we have once more invited the Russians to return to negotiation. We shall continue by all means in our power to work for our objectives.

I might perhaps say a little more about nuclear tests, since the hon. Member did refer to the subject. No Government could have worked harder than our own, right up to the end of August this year, to bring the Geneva nuclear test negotiations to a successful conclusion. The differences between the Russians and the West were narrowed down to a few items, but here the Soviet demands struck at the root of the Western concept of impartial and effective day-to-day administration of the control system, and when the West had made every concession the Russians refused to budge.

In the end they told us that the efforts to secure a separate nuclear test treaty must be set aside and taken up again in the context of general and complete disarmament. We shall never know what combination of motives lay behind this. We assume that, for a long period while the negotiations were continuing, the Russians must have been secretly preparing for the massive series of nuclear tests on which they embarked, virtually without warning, on the 1st September.

In this situation we and the Americans have inevitably had to take stock afresh. Our own attitude to nuclear testing was stated in the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 31st October, and has already been referred to in this debate. But the President of the United States also made a statement on the subject on 2nd November, and I will quote two extracts.
"No nuclear test in the atmosphere will be undertaken, as the Soviet Union has done, for so-called psychological or political reasons. But should such tests be deemed necessary to maintain our responsibilities for Free World security, in the light of our evaluation of Soviet tests, they will be undertaken only to the degree that the orderly and essential scientific development of new weapons has reached a point where effective progress is not possible without such tests—and only within limits that restrict the fall-out from such tests to an absolute minimum."—

"… the United States maintains its determination to achieve a world free from the fear of nuclear tests and a nuclear war. We will continue to be ready to sign the Nuclear Test Treaty which provides for adequate inspection and control. The facts necessary for such a treaty are all evident—the arguments on both sides"—

On a point of order. The hon. Member has refused to give way to anybody, and the reason appears to be that he is reading, word by word, a prepared document. I submit that that is out of order, especially where, as in this case, it is quite apparent that the document he is reading is not even his own.

The Minister is "using copious notes", as the phrase is, but that is not unusual.

We have watched, as no doubt you have, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This goes far beyond copious notes. He has a prepared manuscript and he has not deviated from it by one word. He is afraid of any interruption in case he loses his place. This is the reading out of a prepared speech by somebody else, and I submit that it is completely out of order. He is not even a representative of the Department concerned. That is why he cannot answer any questions or deal with the debate. This is an insult to the House.

I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary is doing anything out of order.

I am nearly at the end of the quotation, but perhaps I may go back to the beginning of the sentence which was interrupted in the middle:

"The facts necessary for such a treaty are all evident—the arguments on both sides have all been made—a draft is on the table—and our negotiators are ready to meet."
I come to the conclusion.

Before the hon. Gentleman comes to his conclusion, would he tell us whether the British Government are agreeable to having tests of the neutron bomb and whether discussions have taken place with the United States Government on that subject?

I think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale must have been not following the passage in which I answered that question. I will repeat it. Clearly, the possibility of a neutron bomb raises a number of important questions about its existence, its effectiveness, and the intentions of ourselves, our allies, and of potential enemy Powers in relation to it. But, equally clearly, there are compelling security reasons in a case like this why I cannot make any public statement whatever about these questions. I regret that this must be so, but I am sure that hon. Members in general would not expect it to be otherwise.

The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. Will he answer this? Can he tell us whether the Ministry of Defence has had discussions with the American Government on this subject? Will he say yes or no? This is not a question of security. Will he say whether the British Government have been engaged in discussions with the American Government as possible preparation for testing the neutron bomb?

No, Sir. It is not a question on which it would be in the public interest for me to give an answer.

If the hon. Gentleman will look at HANSARD, which, I observe, he has in front of him, he will see that the Minister of Defence did purport to answer this question, because he said that he knew nothing of any such proposal. If he knew nothing of any such proposal, that means that the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) is "No." Is the Parliamentary Secretary now casting doubt on the veracity of that answer?

If the hon. Gentleman considers that the question has already been answered by the Minister of Defence, I see no reason why it should be put again to me.

To conclude, it is right and proper that we should concentrate on these objectives—to end nuclear testing and to bring about general and complete disarmament. We do not intend to be panicked by the knowledge that new and different weapons of destruction can, and doubtless will, be developed if disarmament is not made a reality. We do not believe that unilateral or even multilateral gestures can be effective. We know that if war came, the weapons of mass destruction might have to be used. We know that the Russians believe this also.

Our task is to prevent war, without surrendering our rights and those of our allies, and to work for a disarmed world in which all the highly destructive weapons that have been developed in this century will no longer be necessary and will, indeed, no longer exist.

2.16 p.m.

When I entered the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was complaining that the Minister of Defence had given this brief to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and was expressing his view about whether the hon. Gentleman was competent to deal with it.

I want to express my sincere thanks to the Minister of Defence for having given the document to the hon. Member. He is the best reader I have heard from that Box since the Government took office. I look forward to many Fridays when there is something with which an Under-Secretary cannot be safely entrusted if he is to exercise his own thought on a problem, and when the hon. Gentleman will be given the same sort of brief and will read it as he has done today—like the curate who read the sermon because the vicar had been taken ill.

It is little short of contempt for the House, on an occasion like this, when ample notice was given by my hon. Friend of the subject which he wanted to raise, that the Government should not have sent someone who was prepared to depart from the brief, or, if questioned about it, able to do something other than regale us with what I had imagined was out of order—tedious repetition of what he had already read.

But for the courteous way he dealt with the matter, except when he shooed down my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) in a manner worthy of the Prime Minister, I would thank him for having stayed and for having delivered what must have been a brief as tedious to him as it was to us.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Two o'clock.