HC Deb 03 February 1964 vol 688 cc806-9
16. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

35. Mr. Prentice

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress made at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

Mr. P. Thomas

The Disarmament Conference reconvened at Geneva on 21st January in a favourable atmosphere. It has devoted two weeks to a general debate, during which delegations have reviewed the disarmament negotiations and put forward their ideas on the best way to proceed.

On the opening day, President Johnson sent the conference a notable message outlining the areas in which he thinks progress should be possible in the immediate future. We warmly welcome this message and hope that it will give a new impetus to the conference and lead to a year of further progress in the disarmament field. We have expressed our readiness to explore in detail the various proposals made by President Johnson.

On 28th January, the Soviet representative tabled a memorandum on measures to reduce international tension. We shall naturally consider the Soviet proposals carefully. Although they seem to contain few new ideas, we hope that some of them may lead to progress.

I hope that the conference will now turn to detailed discussion of general and complete disarmament and confidence-building measures. In my opening address to the conference, I mentioned certain key issues to which the conference should give priority, and suggested that the best way to make progress on some of them would be in private and informal working groups of delegates and other experts.

Mr. Mayhew

Will the Minister and his right hon. Friend pay particular attention at the conference to the proposal that inspection against surprise attack in Central Europe, which is wanted by the West, might be linked with a freeze on nuclear weapons in that area, which appears to be wanted by the Communist countries?

Mr. Thomas

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have supported the idea of observation posts, which is one of the measures suggested as a prevention against surprise attack. Whether it should be linked with other matters is a subject for consideration. At the moment, there is a proposal before the conference, put forward by President Johnson, on a wider freeze of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. This is something which the conference and allies on both sides will want to consider.

Mr. Prentice

During the interval when the conference has been in recess, how far have Her Majesty's Government been working out proposals of their own which would constitute a compromise between the Soviet and United States positions? Are they putting forward a plan for reducing the means of delivery of nuclear weapons at the first stage now that the Soviet Union has moved away from its original suggestion that there should be a 100 per cent. abolition at the first stage, which is quite unrealistic?

Mr. Thomas

During the interval since the last meeting of the conference, we have been in close touch with our allies, and in particular the United States, on various proposals. We think it very important to keep in step with our allies. It may be that by not putting forward proposals of our own we do not publicly get much credit, but it is the best way of proceeding in an alliance.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

We warmly welcome what the Minister said about the discussion of general disarmament. Does he recall that, although the Test Ban Treaty was signed only last August, one of the signatories has already carried out underground tests much larger than were ever carried out before and has announced a programme of still greater tests in the early future? Does not this show that until we get a disarmament treaty, whatever partial measures we take, the arms race will continue to go on in more and more dangerous forms?

Mr. Thomas

I certainly agree that we should proceed as quickly as possible with general and complete disarmament, but meanwhile there are other measures which we can take. One of them is a total Test Ban Treaty. In fact, we have proposed at the conference that there should be a technical working group on this subject to see if we can make progress.

19. Mr. Warbey

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has now decided when he will go to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva; and what type of initiative he will take there.

Mr. R. A. Butler

As I told the House on 27th January, I hope to go to Geneva after I have been to Ottawa and Washington. What I have in mind at present is a date towards the end of this month. As far as my intentions in Geneva are concerned, I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) on 27th January.

Mr. Warbey

When the Foreign Secretary goes to Geneva, will he be content to be a pale echo of the United States representative, as the Prime Minister has suggested, or, if the second best Prime Minister that we have has no ideas of his own on the subject of disarmament, is not this a chance for the Foreign Secretary to show that he has?

Mr. Butler

That question is somewhat involved. I think that I would answer simply by saying that the object of going, after our visit with the Prime Minister to Ottawa and Washington, is to take full account of the recent constructive proposals made by President Johnson and also to take full account of the Soviet initiative described by my hon. Friend the Minister of State when he was in Geneva. Out of this, I think it will be possible for the British Foreign Secretary to take a constructive line.