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Nuclear Tests

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 27 February 1962

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asked the Prime Minister what reply he has sent to the petition presented to him by Daphne H. English and others on behalf of 42,000 women signatories seeking, among other things, that urgent steps be taken to stop the testing of nuclear weapons in order to ease the international situation.


asked the Prime Minister whether he has today received a petition signed by 42,000 women in favour of multilateral nuclear and conventional disarmament under international inspection and control; and what reply he is making.


asked the Prime Miinster what reply he is sending to the petition signed by more than 42,000 women which has been presented to him asking him to take urgent steps to secure agreement on stopping nuclear weapon tests.

I received the petition to which these Questions refer yesterday. I am considering my reply.

When considering that reply, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this petition comes from a number of people who do not belong to any organised group? Does he realise that it represents a view, held by a growing number of people in this country and also in America, that the testing of nuclear weapons is more likely to lead to war than to peace?

I am studying the terms of this petition. I think that it would be courteous for me to study them carefully before writing a reply. My first reaction, from a rather cursory reading of it, was that its purpose was very much in line with Government policy and the recent initiative which President Kennedy and I had taken about disarmament, and was really saying something very much on the lines of the statement which I made myself in the House of Commons and which commanded certain support from both sides of the House.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this petition, like a similar one in my constituency, which has already collected 5,000 signatures without the backing of any organisation or publicity, expresses the moral revulsion of women against nuclear tests, and a growing demand for a reconsideration of policies based on prestige and pride? Can the Prime Minister say what reappraisal he is making of British nuclear tests and other aspects of defence and foreign policy?

I have replied that I will study this petition, and I will do my best to make a reply to it. I added that, from a cursory reading, it appears to have elements in it which were not taking the most extreme view, but trying to marry the point of view of those of us who feel that we must maintain our defences but who are passionately anxious to find some way out of what President Kennedy and I called this sterile contest.

May we take it that one of the elements in the petition of which the Prime Minister approves is the ending of the present proposed British nuclear tests?

I do not think I should like to take the matter into further detail. I shall read carefully the precise formulation of this petition and shall do my best to send a courteous and. I hope, a constructive reply.

Will the Prime Minister note that many of us on this side of the House regard this remarkable petition as a spontaneous and massive support for multilateral disarmament?

I think that what I have said about it recognises the degree of common purpose that many of us have, and I think it is very much the same as what was expressed, as I saw in the Press yesterday, by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He has latterly realised how deeply the President and I feel in this dilemma about the absolute need to maintain ourselves against being caught at a disadvantage and yet the tremendous longing of the world to find some way out of the terrible problem with which we are all confronted.

Would not the Prime Minister consider it worth while being a little more precise on this matter? Would he not be prepared to say that, even at this late hour, after the Russian tests have taken place and after the various unfortunate refusals of the Soviet Government to accept what the West regards as adequate controls, nevertheless if we could now get a firm, cast-iron agreement to have no more tests of any kind he, the Prime Minister, would urge the American Government to accept it?

That is a little different from what I observed in the newspaper that the right hon. Gentleman had said. We spent three years trying to get this, and I shall go on trying as long as there is any hope of getting it.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, on the contrary, that is exactly what I said to the Press yesterday, that it was indeed my belief that if at this moment a firm agreement could be negotiated that there would be no more tests on either side, despite the fact that the Russians have made these tests the Americans would nevertheless be prepared to make such an agreement? What I am asking the Prime Minister to do is to give as his opinion that that is the right course to pursue.

Of course, if an agreement can be negotiated and we all accept that there will be no more tests, certainly as far as we are concerned there will not be any more tests.