HC Deb 29 November 1961 vol 650 cc424-6
13. Mr. Brockway

asked the Lord Privy Seal how the United Kingdom delegate voted at the General Assembly of the United Nations on resolutions calling for an international convention to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and designating Africa a denuclearised zone; which delegations voted for these resolutions; which voted against: and which abstained.

47. Mrs. Castle

asked the Lord Privy Seal why the United Kingdom delegate in the Political Committee of the United Nations abstained on the motion of 14th November for the denuclearisation of Africa.

Mr. P. Thomas

The United Kingdom voted against the resolution on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and abstained on the resolution on the denuclearisation of Africa. The information called for in the second part of the Question of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) is contained in United Nations document A/C1/PV 1194, a copy of which is available in the Library.

Not all the African States themselves voted for the second resolution—that is, that on the denuclearisation of Africa—and we do not believe that geographical contiguity gives Governments the right to impose a given policy on their neighbours, particularly in matters of defence.

Moreover, this resolution called for an uncontrolled moratorium on nuclear tests, a principle to which, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 16th November, we are now opposed.

Mr. Brockway

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the very unfortunate image which is given by this country to the world by these votes and abstentions in the General Assembly? On what grounds could a delegate of the United Kingdom abstain from voting on a resolution which called for the prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons, this disaster which may mean the annihilation of mankind? Does he not wish, in this kind of world, with the danger of nuclear weapons, to neutralise the largest areas that are possible? When this demand comes from the great majority of the people of Africa, should it not be recognised by Her Majesty's Government if they are civilised?

Mr. Thomas

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman about the image which is created by these actions. As to the reason why we voted against the resolution on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, in the interests of national security Her Majesty's Government cannot undertake to renounce the use of nuclear weapons in advance of a general disarmament treaty providing for effective international control.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that the resolution on the denuclearisation of Africa merely called on all Powers to refrain from nuclear tests in Africa and also from the establishment of nuclear bases and launching sites in Africa, and invited all States to regard and respect the African continent as a denuclearised, neutral zone? Surely there is in that resolution nothing that ought not to be subscribed to by every Member of this House if we wish to make any progress at all towards general and complete disarmament by establishing as many nuclear-free zones in the world as possible?

Mr. Thomas

The reasons why we abstained were very effectively and adequately given by the British delegate, and a record of them is in the Library of the House.

Mr. Healey

Is it not the case that Her Majesty's Government have accepted the aim of trying to stop the spread of atomic weapons? Is it not also true that Her Majesty's Government have been prepared to consider nuclear-free zones for certain other parts of the world? Is it not also the case that in Africa there is no apparent danger whatever of the West being overwhelmed by a majority of Soviet conventional forces? For all these reasons, is not the Government's failure to support the demand for a nuclear-free zone in Africa totally unjustifiable as well as extremely damaging to this country's reputation in that continent?

Mr. Thomas

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many independent African States also abstained.