HC Deb 28 March 1955 vol 539 cc34-7
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement in answer to Question No. 9.

The House will be aware that the United Nations General Assembly laid down that the discussions of the United Nations Disarmament Sub-Committee, at Lancaster House, should be conducted in private. In spite of this, Mr. Gromyko, the Soviet delegate to the Sub-Committee, gave an interview to the Tass correspondent in London on 24th March, in which he sought not only to publicise Soviet views but also to misrepresent the position of the Western Powers.

Therefore, Her Majesty's Government, who have strictly observed the secrecy rule, have no option but to correct Mr. Gromyko's account. Similar statements have been made by our allies, the first of these on Friday night by the French representative, M. Jules Moch.

United Kingdom policy at the disarmament talks is based on the Anglo-French Plan of 11th June, 1954. This plan provides for:

  1. (1) total abolition of all nuclear weapons.
  2. (2) conversion of nuclear stocks for peaceful purposes only.
  3. (3) a ban on production of nuclear weapons.
  4. (4) drastic reductions in conventional armaments, armed forces, and military budgets.
  5. (5) strict international control.
In the current talks, the United Kingdom Delegation has further proposed that all States should reduce their forces to levels which would make it impossible for them to be a threat to peace. In particular, there should be drastic reductions in the forces of the five major Powers.

The United Kingdom Delegation, in concert with the other Western Delegations, has proposed that the maximum numbers for the forces of the United States, the U.S.S.R. and China, should be between 1 million and 1½ million each; for Britain and France 650,000 each. Such reductions would establish a fair balance of forces between the East and the West. Moreover, they would break up the mass armies of the world.

The Soviet Government, however, have rejected this proposal. Instead, they have merely revived their old demand for a one-third cut all round, which has been resisted by all Western countries since 1948. When asked what the effect of the one-third cut would be upon the forces of the Soviet Union, the Soviet delegate refused to reply. He would only say that this information would be given by the Soviet Union after the Disarmament Treaty had been signed.

The first three weeks of the Sub-Committee's session were chiefly spent discussing a Soviet proposal that stocks of nuclear weapons should be destroyed without providing for a ban on their production. This proposal marked a significant retreat from the position taken by Mr. Vyshinsky in the United Nations last autumn.

The United Kingdom and other Western delegations said that they could accept the Soviet proposal provided it formed part of a complete disarmament programme—which included, as does the Anglo-French Plan, effective international control and a ban on production of nuclear weapons. The Soviet delegate, however, rejected this offer and insisted that the destruction of stocks must be carried out before any other aspects of disarmament were even examined, let alone carried out.

The Sub-Committee is now, however, engaged in discussing the Anglo-French Plan and a Soviet proposal based largely on the resolution which they put forward in the General Assembly last autumn. The Western Delegations are striving, and will continue to strive, to narrow points of difference and to clarify obscurities which still exist.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I should like to ask two questions. First, while we all regret that the first proposal of the Soviet Government should have held out no hope of progress or agreement, may we take it from the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the Soviet have now made new proposals on which there is some hope that useful discussions may lead to agreement?

Secondly, if, in fact, agreement is not reached on important points within the measureable future, will the Government consider proposing to the other Western members of the Sub-Committee that we should now try to carry out the Assembly mandate, to prepare a practical scheme for the reduction of arms control in the form of a draft treaty, and invite the Soviet Government to put forward alternative plans on points over which they still feel a difference? Is it not time that we got past the general statement of objectives and down to the practical methods of how the thing is to be done?

Mr. Nutting

In reply to the second question of the right hon. Gentleman, that is precisely what we are doing in the Disarmament Sub-Committee, but the Russians, unfortunately, will not do the same. I still have hopes that we may be able to narrow the points of difference. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we have made constructive proposals.

In answer to the first question by the right hon. Gentleman, I think that the House has appreciated, from the statement I have made, that the Soviet Union have revised their old proposal from the United Nations last autumn and brought it up to date. We have been able to narrow one or two points of disagreement and we hope to go on doing that; and if we can get, at any rate, that much, our work will not have been in vain. I have said before, and I said it to the Soviet delegate in the Sub-Committee, that we must work in good faith with one another, and in private, as was laid down by the Disarmament Commission.

Mr. Sorensen

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether anything was done about Mr. Gromyko's apparent disregard of the common assurance in giving an interview to the Tass Agency? Was he reproached? Further, are we to assume that the work of the Sub-Committee will continue indefinitely until there is a reasonable hope of agreement being reached?

Mr. Nutting

We shall continue our work in the Sub-Committee so long as there is any hope whatsoever of reaching agreement. Mr. Gromyko had, unfortunately, left the country before the statement which he gave to the Tass correspondent—but to no other journalist—was released.

Mr. Beswick

While agreeing with the Minister about the necessity of continuing the conference in good faith and confidence, in view of the fact that the abbreviated and condensed reports given hitherto, on both sides, have not given a complete, or completely fair, picture of the proceedings, can the Minister give an assurance that at the end of the conference he will again agree to publish the verbatim records, as was done on the previous occasion?

Mr. Nutting

The publication of the records of the conference is not a matter which can be decided by Her Majesty's Government alone, but is, of course, for the Sub-Committee to decide. If the verbatim records are published the hon. Gentleman, the whole House and the world will be able to read, and, I hope, appreciate, that what I have said today is a fair account of the proceedings to date.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

As the Minister quoted Mr. Jules Moch, may I ask whether he is aware that the French Socialists have decided against the manufacture of thermo-nuclear weapons in France on the ground that it would be dangerous to France? That being so, would not it be a good thing if Her Majesty's Government did the same sort of thing in the interests of the people of this country?

Mr. Nutting

I am aware that I have enjoyed the most close and friendly cooperation throughout the discussions with my French Socialist colleague.

Mr. Hughes

Read his book.