HC Deb 20 March 1962 vol 656 cc202-5
Q3. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the recent meetings of the three Foreign Ministers in Geneva, which took place with a view to concerting disarmament plans as proposed in his letter to Mr. Khrushchev dated 13th February.

The Prime Minister

My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary who returned to London at the weekend has now gone back to Geneva and will continue his talks with Mr. Rusk and Mr. Gromyko, as well as leading the British Delegation at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference. I do not think therefore that it would be appropriate for me to make any formal statement now. As the House is aware, the Foreign Ministers, who had their first meeting on the evening of 11th March, have discussed, besides disarmament and nuclear tests, the continuing difficulties over Berlin, including the apparently deliberate attempts being made to interfere with civilian traffic in the Berlin air corridors.

On nuclear tests, in spite of the concessions offered by the Western side, there has so far been no sign of any Soviet willingness to consider arrangements other than those put forward on 28th November, 1961, in which there was no provision whatever for the international detection, identification or verification of nuclear tests. We shall continue our search for the minimum of safeguards against violation which would permit the general cessation of nuclear tests; but some kind of impartial international agreement is essential. If there is no such system it will be impossible to ascertain whether some unexplained seismic disturbance is in fact an infringement of the Treaty.

On disarmament, the three Foreign Ministers discussed the verification of obligations assumed, which is perhaps the point at which their views are most widely separated. However, on the positive side, agreement was reached on a business-like procedure for the conduct of the Conference and these arrangements have now been accepted by the other Governments concerned.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the failure of the three Foreign Ministers to make any progress on the problem of tests, is it not becoming evident that a test ban treaty will have to be negotiated with Mr. Khrushchev at the conference table? Would not the Prime Minister consider making a firm proposal that a summit conference be held on this problem early in April?

The Prime Minister

That is a point which, of course, must be token into consideration. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably knows, there has been some slight move this morning, and I understand that my noble Friend has once again indicated in his speech today a desire for a flexible attitude and that we are ready to accept adequate minima of international verification. Once that principle has been accepted, I do not think that it should be impossible to negotiate a treaty. Without that principle, I do not see much hope of progress.

Sir G. Nicholson

Has my right hon. Friend any progress report to make about the protests which have, no doubt, been made about the buzzing of aircraft in the Berlin air corridor? Is it not almost inevitable that an accident will take place sooner or later, with disastrous consequences to any negotiations that may be taking place?

The Prime Minister

My noble Friend and Mr. Rusk made the position clear to Mr. Gromyko, and I am happy to say that the position has somewhat improved.

Mr. Gaitskell

While welcoming the fact that the Russians have agreed to have separate talks with United States and British representatives on tests, independently of the other negotiations, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the Foreign Secretary discussed with Mr. Gromyko the possibility of a summit conference in the course of those talks?

The Prime Minister

They discussed a very wide range of subjects.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware of the reports in today's papers by Reuter's correspondent in Japan that there has been increased Strontium 90 in Japan, and that the Japanese Government are gravely concerned about food contamination which might result from further poisoning of the atmosphere, and will he give due consideration to this, in view of his objection to the Russian tests?

The Prime Minister

I have not seen the report, but if the hon. Gentleman puts down a question I will answer it.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

In view of the very great importance of these discussions, will the Prime Minister consider whether he could make available to the House copies of the full texts of the proposals made by the various delegates to the meeting?

The Prime Minister

I will consider that, but the right hon. Gentleman has long experience of negotiations, and I would be sorry to take a step which might tend to harden positions, while there is still some hope that they might become more easily handled. To set out in a White Paper everybody's position might not be very helpful to what we are trying to achieve.