HC Deb 29 May 1963 vol 678 cc1300-6
15. Mr. Driberg

asked the Lord Privy Seal to what extent, in the course of the negotiations for a nuclear test ban agreement, the principal Powers concerned have modified their original estimates of the number of on-site inspections that would be, respectively, the minimum necessary and the maximum acceptable; if, in view of the progressive narrowing of the gap between these figures, he will renew his efforts to secure agreement before either of the Powers makes this more difficult by re-starting tests; and if, meanwhile, in the interest of securing agreement, he will urge both powers to refrain from further testing.

18. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Lord Privy Seal what progress has been made on the submission of proposals concerning the concept and the number of on-site inspections, presented by Her Majesty's Government at Geneva, with a view to agreement on a nuclear test ban treaty; and if he will make a statement.

20. Mr. Prentice

asked the Lord Privy Seal what scientific advice he has obtained about the number of on-site inspections needed on Soviet territory or elsewhere to provide a satisfactory basis for policing a nuclear test-ban treaty.

Mr. Heath

The Western draft treaty of 1961 provided for a quota of 20 on-site inspections a year. Shortly afterwards, the Western delegations offered to substitute a variable quota of between 12 and 20 inspections, depending on the number of unidentified seismic events on the territory of the other side. As a result of an intensive seismic research programme, the Western Powers were subsequently able to reduce their requirements to between eight and ten, and, last March, to seven, provided that the conditions under which these inspections were made were satisfactory. This takes full account of all the latest scientific advice available to us.

The Soviet Union, on the other hand, offered a maximum of two to three in 1960, withdrew this offer in 1961, and returned to it again in December, 1962. They have thus made no advance on their position of three years ago.

We are continuing our efforts to secure a Treaty and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Kennedy have recently been in correspondence with Mr. Khrushchev on the question.

Mr. Driberg

Has the right hon. Gentleman noted, and welcomed, the statement given in evidence before a Senatorial Committee by a senior expert at the Pentagon that he would now be content with six or seven; but has he also noted the rather unfortunate coincidence that, on the very day on which President Kennedy said that a new round of testing would be a great disaster, the resumption of testing in Nevada was announced by the Atomic Energy Commission, including what appear to be some atmospheric tests, though the word is disguised under the euphemism of "surface" testing?

Mr. Heath

I have seen many such reports.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Dempsey.

Mr. Driberg

Cannot the Lord Privy Seal make any comment?

Hon. Members


Mr. Dempsey

Will the Lord Privy Seal say what offer was made in the recent statement at Geneva—delivered, I understand, to the Soviet Ambassador—to try to bridge the gap between the Russians' suggested three on-site inspections and the West's seven inspections? Furthermore, can he say what effort has been made in this declaration to try to solve the problem of the concept of an inspection? Will not he agree that it is essential that we should try to arrive at some compromise between East and West to solve this problem?

Mr. Heath

I think that the very full Answer I have given demonstrates absolutely clearly to the House what steps the Western Powers have taken to move towards the Soviet Union's position while, at the same time, the Soviet Union has not moved in any way from the position it took in 1960. This is absolutely clear. From the point of view of dealing with the concept of inspection, we have on many occasions offered to have a full exchange of scientific information with the Soviet Union, which it has never accepted. We have offered on many occasions to discuss with the Russians their fear that inspection would lead to espionage, without the invitation being accepted by them. I think, therefore, that the House will agree that the Western Powers have made a very large number of moves towards the Soviet position, and have offered many opportunities for the Soviet Union to clarify the rest, which have not been accepted.

Mr. Mayhew

Does the Lord Privy Seal recall that on Tuesday the Prime Minister stated that he was, in a day or two, expecting to agree some new initiative with President Kennedy? Can he give any information about this, and whether statements will be made?

Mr. Heath

I cannot give any information at present.

Mr. Prentice

How far does the right hon. Gentleman think that the present very narrow gap between the two sides is due to political reasons and how far to a different assessment of the scientific and technical date? If the latter is the explanation, is there not now a lot to be said for pushing the recent suggestion of Her Majesty's Government for the scientists of the two sides to meet, and should not that suggestion be renewed before there is another series of tests?

Mr. Heath

That invitation has been constantly made by both my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the American representative at Geneva, and it is an open invitation, but always the Soviet Government have made it perfectly clear that their view at the moment is that it is a purely political demonstration, and not based on scientific evidence.

Mr. P. Williams

Is it not reasonable to ask hon. Members opposite to be as persuasive with the Russians in order to try to get them to effect a compromise as they are with the Government?

Mr. Driberg

While fully accepting most of what the right hon. Gentleman said, and while urging him to be as persuasive with the Russians as with the Americans, may I also respectfully ask him not to brush aside contemptuously a perfectly serious question about the new round of tests in Nevada?

Mr. Heath

I am not brushing it aside. The hon. Gentleman made a number of statements of fact, and I said that I noted the comments to which he drew my attention.

26. Mr. Lubbock

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will publish a White Paper setting out the reasoning on which the Western demand for seven on-site inspections is based, including an analysis of the seismic events which have occurred within the territory of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in recent years, showing the statistical connection between the number of events of doubtful origin and the number of inspections demanded assuming various numbers of unmanned seismic stations and differing selection procedures for the events to be inspected.

Mr. Heath

No, Sir. The demand for a particular number of inspections is based on a number of factors and data, not only scientific. Moreover, the scientific data cannot readily be presented in the form of a White Paper.

Mr. Lubbock

But as in answer to an earlier Question the Lord Privy Seal said that this was the very type of information that we had already offered to exchange with the Soviet Union, can he give any valid reason for refusing to do this on a unilateral basis? Does he appreciate that most ordinary people find it impossible to follow the niceties of the argument about whether there should be three or seven inspections, and that many of us believe that if the information were made available we should see that the insistence on seven inspections was unnecessary?

Mr. Heath

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's conclusion in his supplementary question at all. Certainly, the scientific data are immensely complex. Naturally, when we made the offer to the Soviet Union it was for an exchange of scientists to be able to discuss these aspects of the matter which are of concern to them.

Mr. Fletcher

Would the Lord Privy Seal at least say whether it is true, as reported in the Press on Sunday, that one of the reasons for the Government's attitude is that Soviet Russia is developing an anti-missile missile which can be tested only by means of underground experiments and that that is the reason why the Government want these inspections?

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is out of order to ask Ministers to comment on, confirm or deny propositions in the Press for which they are not responsible.

Mr. Lubbock

I appreciate that the scientific reasons for the demand for a certain number of inspections are extremely complex, but does not the right hon. Gentleman know that Members of the House of Commons and members of the public are just as capable of judging the reasoning as are members of the Cabinet or of the Government negotiating team? Why should we not be given this information?

Mr. Heath

I am fully ready to agree with the hon. Member. All I said was that the information was not readily available or appropriate to be published in the form of a White Paper.

32. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in order to make it easier to reach agreement on a nuclear test-ban treaty, he will propose that the negotiating Powers should compose their remaining differences on the basis of the principle that a treaty banning all tests with imperfect means of monitoring minor underground explosions is a lesser evil than the continuation of tests.

Mr. Heath

No, Sir.

Mr. Zilliacus

I am not astonished at the reply. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the real reason for the difficulties caused by these apparently narrow differences on issues of detail and technical matters both as regards nuclear tests and as regards disarmament stems from the underlying fear and suspicion? So long as both sides remain prisoners of military logic, each believing that the other will attack if it has the chance, I do not think that we shall ever get agreement. Should not we take the initiative in trying to break the psychological deadlock by drawing attention to the basic fact that minor underground tests can be detected if there is more than one of them and that the slight uncertainty about isolated explosions is a much smaller risk than the risk of having no nuclear test ban treaty at all?

Mr. Heath

If the hon. Gentleman is right that the trouble here is suspicion between the two sides, perhaps the Soviet Government will accept our invitation to discuss the scientific aspects of this question together with any questions they care to raise about the possibility of espionage, so that we may put their fears at rest.