HC Deb 20 January 1964 vol 687 cc708-11
37. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the proposals to be put forward by Her Majesty's Government at the resumed meeting of the Geneva Disarmament Conference on 2nd January

39. Mr. P. Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what proposals he intends to lay before the Committee of 18 Nations on Disarmament concerning the length of time during which the process of disarmament will be carried out, the definition of manpower in the armed forces, and the establishment of manpower ceilings, the reduction of conventional armaments, and about the Soviet Foreign Minister's proposals for the retention throughout the process of disarmament of a minimum nuclear deterrent.

43. Mr. Swingle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will put forward a new series of disarmament proposals to the Geneva Commission on the resumption of talks and include amongst them proposals for limiting the size of military budgets and for arranging nuclear-free zones in suitable areas.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. A. Butler)

Her Majesty's Government consider that the United States disarmament proposals, in the preparation of which we have been closely associated, offer a fair basis for the negotiation of an agreement. Our policy is therefore to seek to draw the Soviet Union into serious and detailed discussion of the United States and Soviet plans already on the conference table. We shall try to find areas of common agreement, which may, of course, involve modification of the specific proposals on either side.

Mr. A. Henderson

As the right hon. Gentleman has said in his statement that both the plans contain measures of agreement, what is the objection to the Government taking their own initiative and preparing a compromise plan containing those elements of both the Soviet and the United States plans which approximate to one another? How can the right hon. Gentleman expect the Soviet Government to give way to just the United States plan, or the United States to give way to the Soviet plan? Why do not our own Government take their own initiative? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is proposing to go himself this week to Geneva and take the initiative which must be taken if we are going to make any progress at Geneva?

Mr. Butler

I can answer those two questions as follows. My hon. Friend the Minister for State has already left for Geneva this morning and will be taking charge of the initial discussions together with representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union and the other countries concerned. In the light of the developments which take place during the next few days, I shall decide what is the best moment for me to go, as I intend to do. It is not at all impossible that a further initiative could be taken by the Government. We wish to see the introduction of the ideas of the various countries concerned in the next two or three days before making any further decision.

Mr. Swingler

Does not the Foreign Secretary recall that the present Prime Minister, when Foreign Secretary, said in regard to the Geneva talks that the British representatives would be open-minded and it was not right to announce a prior commitment to anybody's disarmament plan? Just now he announced a prior commitment to support the American plan. Why is it the British Government have no original ideas of their own for disarmament to put forward? Is it not extraordinary at this stage that the Government cannot put forward any compromise proposals at all to help the discussions at Geneva?

Mr. Butler

No, there is no prior commitment either to the United States plan or to the Soviet plan. They are both on the table and there are good points in both. The Government are awaiting developments over the next—not exactly 24 hours, but the conference does open tomorrow; and I am hoping as a result of that to see what further suggestions are put forward, so that the British Government can then take a constructive part, as I hope to do, in the discussions. Then, I hope, the hon. Gentleman will not be disappointed.

Mr. Longden

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that even if tomorrow, as we all hope, there were to be a disarmament agreement signed at Geneva, it could not possibly be acted upon by anybody till the People's Republic of China are a party to it? What steps are the Government taking to get them to the conference table?

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend has put a very pertinent point, but I cannot take it any further today.

Mr. Mayhew

In one of his answers the Secretary of State said that there were good points in both the American and the Soviet disarmament plan. Does this not contrast, however, with the warm praise and support he gave to the American plan in the first Answer he gave? Is it not really a most regrettable thing that we go into these disarmament discussions without any positive proposals of our own for disarmament? If the Secretary of State is so short of positive proposals, will he study the detailed letter sent to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) containing positive proposals to end this deadlock?

Mr. Butler

I have studied the document in question. It has good points in it and it has bad points in it, and I shall keep it by me with a view to extracting the good points for the benefit of Her Majesty's Government.

As regards the British Government making proposals, I have already said that I have definitely decided that it would be better to wait for the conference to open. A speech will be made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and speeches will be made by other delegates, including United States and Soviet Union delegates. Out of that I hope we may formulate a plan for definite forward progress to be made in disarmament.