HC Deb 17 December 1963 vol 686 cc1045-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Q16. Mr. A. Henderson: To ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the leadership of the United Kingdom delegation at the resumed Geneva Disarmament Conference on 2nd January.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. Q16.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intends to attend the conference as soon as he can in order to inform himself at first hand of its work.

As far as a meeting of the Foreign Ministers is concerned, that is a matter for decision by all participating countries. If, in any way, I misled hon. Members by my reply on 10th December, I regret it.

Mr. A. Henderson

Are any discussions taking place with the Soviet Government and the United States Government on the desirability of the Geneva conference resuming at Foreign Minister level? Further, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a new impetus is necessary to end the present deadlock?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the conference consists of 18 Governments. It is very difficult to get all the Foreign Ministers of the participants together at one time. It is one of the prime objectives of our foreign policy to achieve a disarmament agreement, and we should, therefore, gladly welcome any form of meeting which will promote that end.

Mr. Henderson

Will the Prime Minister answer the first part of my question? Are any discussions taking place with the Soviet and United States Governments on the desirability of the Foreign Ministers meeting?

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt that discussions are taking place between my right hon. Friend and Mr. Rusk, and I shall be seeing Mr. Rusk myself this week. Whether or not the Foreign Ministers actually meet together in Geneva must be a matter for them to decide.

Mr. Grimond

Does not the Prime Minister feel that he might take an initiative in this matter by suggesting that the Foreign Ministers of the major countries should meet in Geneva?

The Prime Minister

If the Foreign Ministers meet at Geneva, I want them to do something worth while. Timing is all-important.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does not the Prime Minister think that this would be a good opportunity to give a warm welcome to Mr. Khrushchev's announcement of a substantial reduction in the war budget of the U.S.S.R.? Can he assure us that there will be some reduction of this country's defence budget?

The Prime Minister

I am very glad to see any reduction in armaments. As I said in Geneva, when I was Foreign Secretary, our great objective is to turn the curve of armaments down. This is being begun, I think, in both the United States and the Soviet Union.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

If we understood the Prime Minister aright, he said that the Foreign Secretary will, in any case, attend early in the proceedings of the conference whether the other Foreign Ministers come or not. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this will be much welcomed on both sides of the House, and will he take it that I join in urging him that he should be very active in persuading other Foreign Ministers to come as soon as possible and to stay as long as possible?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I did say that my right hon. Friend intends to go to Geneva in any case, whether others are there or not.