HC Deb 18 April 1962 vol 658 cc486-9
7. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement on the progress achieved at the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

36. Mr. Prentice

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the present position at the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

Mr. Heath

There have now been altogether twenty-three plenary meetings of the Conference, three meetings of the Committee of the Whole, and eight meetings of the Nuclear Tests Sub-Committee. The plenary meetings have mainly been occupied with detailed discussion of the preamble to, and the first article of, a draft treaty for general and complete disarmament. The United States Delegation have just tabled a large and detailed document, setting out basic provisions for a Disarmament Treaty. We are very glad that this full explanation of Western proposals has been tabled.

The Committee of the Whole to discuss more limited measures has so far only discussed war propaganda.

Discussion on nuclear tests has continued in the Sub-Committee and the plenary meetings. The Soviet Government still refuse to agree to any international verification. But new proposals have now been put forward by eight Governments represented at the Committee and are under consideration.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the sympathetic comments by the Minister of State on the proposals put forward by the eight neutral delegates, can we be told that in the view of the Government these proposals constitute a satisfactory basis for a test ban treaty, and, if so, bearing in mind that the United States tests are due to begin at the end of next week, would the Government be prepared to join with the United States Government and the Soviet Government in an agreed treaty on the basis of the proposals of the eight neutral countries?

Mr. Heath

In the Conference yesterday my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the American representative put a number of questions to the neutral countries which have drawn up these proposals for the purpose of clarifying them, and we must now await the answers from the neutral countries in order to be able to form a judgment on how satisfactory the proposals are.

Mr. Prentice

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that many of us, while having absolutely no sympathy with the Soviet attitude on verification, are a bit worried about the reactions to the neutral proposals? Can he tell the House on what sort of points the neutral countries, with their limited experience, can answer these detailed questions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a danger of giving the impression that the Western Powers may be stalling for time while the Conference goes into Easter recess with the Christmas Island tests due to start a few days later? Would it not be more satisfactory to give positive approval on the basis of the proposals of the neutral countries?

Mr. Heath

There is no question of stalling in this matter, but they are very vital matters for the defence of the West and for our country. The questions put were put by the Minister of State and the American representative and were put as quickly as possible after these proposals were tabled, and they are basic ones about the operation of the proposals. I think the netural countries will be in a position to deal with them.

Mr. Mayhew

While the Soviet rejection of the principle of verification is totally indefensible, is there really, in practice, any decisive difference between the British-American plan and the neutrals' plan? If the Soviet Union violates the agreement by continuing testing, would it not also violate agreed provisions for verification? Will the Lord Privy Seal represent to the Americans that it would be a terrible mistake to go ahead with new tests without first examining in the most careful and sympathetic way these proposals put forward by the neutral countries?

Mr. Heath

I have indicated that we will give them the most careful consideration, and that was the purpose of the questions put yesterday by the two representatives.

Mr. Henderson

Can we take it that this consideration will be of an urgent character in view of the fact that there is only a question of days?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir. We shall give it urgent consideration.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that in the last resort neutral countries will not be allowed to determine the size, scope, nature and user of British armaments, including the nuclear deterrent?

Mr. Heath

That is a separate question from this neutral proposal which deals only with tests.

Mrs. Castle

Can we have an assurance that the American tests will be delayed long enough to enable proper consideration to be given to this hopeful new initiative?

Mr. Heath

I have given the House an undertaking that we shall examine the proposals with the greatest care and urgency. I cannot go further than that.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that what he has said is not an answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)? Are we not to infer cleanly from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that the negotiations are still open, that the door is not finally barred and locked? If that is so, and since Christmas Island is a British territory, could not the right hon. Gentleman indicate that the facilities on Christmas Island would not be readily afforded for atmospheric tests which are those which do not require verification, by common consent? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Would not that be a reasonable thing to do? Is it not clear that once the tests have been made, negotiations thereafter would be extremely difficult?

Mr. Heath

The position is that the Soviet Government have rejected entirely the principle of verification. These neutral proposals cover this matter and it is necessary to elucidate exactly what is involved in them. There is also the question of awaiting the Soviet reply to the neutral proposals, which has not yet been made. I cannot give further information to the House than I have already given.