HC Deb 19 March 1963 vol 674 cc201-2
Q2. Mrs. Castle

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consult President Kennedy with a view to securing Western acceptance in the test ban talks of the Russian proposal for three on-site inspections a year plus three sealed returnable seismic stations on their territory, and so enable a test ban treaty to be concluded.

The Prime Minister

As I told the House on 14th March, I agree that the reversion of the Soviet Government to their position of 1960 by the acceptance of the principle of on-site inspection is an important step forward and I am very hopeful that it may ultimately lead to a solution. I am in freqaent communication with President Kennedy on important matters which concern our two Governments.

Mrs. Castle

The Prime Minister has not answered my Question. Is it not a fact that the West said, and have said for a long time, that if only the Russians would accept the principle of inspection a test ban treaty could be concluded? Is it not a fact that the issues are now purely political and not technical? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, if the Russians were now to split the difference between their offer of three and the West's demand of seven—and accept five tests—he would now, in the name of the British people, jump to accept that in order to get a treaty concluded?

The Prime Minister

The important thing is to get agreement between all the Powers concerned—and I take note of the hon. Lady's suggestion—but at the moment the original American wish was for twenty which was reduced to seven. Then the Russians have gone back to the position they had taken—but which they afterwards abandoned—and accepted the principle, and offered three. There is, in addition to the number—which is, I hope, a matter which will be able to be settled—the question of the conditions under which these inspections would take place and, of course, negotiation will be necessary on all these points.

Mr. H. Wilson

In view of the acceptance of the principle which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is a big step forward, will he now say whether the West have made clear what is their limiting figure, what figure they regard as the absolute minimum, and whether the British Government are in support of the figure stated by the United States? Will he also say how seriously he regards the other problem—the question of the circumstances in which inspections would take place?

The Prime Minister

On the second part of that supplementary question, it is absolutely vital because if the inspections are not effective they have no purpose. The present position the Russian Government have taken is that they are not prepared to discuss the question of the conditions of inspection until the question of the number has been settled. I am hopeful that it will be possible to make progress, but I do not think that progress will be made by entering into some kind of public auction on this question. I think that, in the end, we will have to try to reach it by agreement.