HC Deb 06 July 1965 vol 715 cc1340-2
Q1. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister what proposals Her Majesty's Government now have for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

My noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Chalfont, told the Disarmament Commission in New York in April that we should like to work out an agreement in the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee at Geneva on the means of detection and identification of underground tests. This is the main difficulty in the way of a comprehensive test ban treaty. The Disarmament Commission in its final resolution supported a return to Geneva for this purpose.

Mr. Blaker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Sir John Cockcroft, who is a member of the Advisory Panel on Disarmament set up by the Minister of State who is responsible for disarmament matters, has recently expressed the opinion that the political advantages of a comprehensive test ban treaty without on-site inspection now outweigh any military risks that would be involved? Do the Government agree with that view, and may we expect them to put forward new proposals for a comprehensive test ban treaty soon?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware of the statement made by Sir John Cockcroft, and he makes these statements with very great authority. Our view—the advice we have—is that there has been a great advance in methods of external verification in the last year or two, but we have not yet reached a point where we can safely rely on external verification being able to distinguish between a nuclear explosion and, say, a chemical explosion of equal power.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Will the right hon. Gentleman recollect that about two years ago we made a proposal to the Russians that Russian, British and American scientists might meet together to consult on this subject to see whether any modifications could be made on previous experience? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is worth resurrecting this proposal?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and also the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman will remember I put to him that it might be a good idea, if Russian scientists are positive that they can be externally verified, that we should arrange one or two small staged tests at times known only to the Secretary General of the United Nations to see if the Russians are successful in detecting them from outside. It would be useful to get scientists together for this kind of purpose, but so far we have not succeeded in doing it.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the progress which appears to have been made in the science of detecting and verifying underground explosions, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will see that Her Majesty's Government will not go into the forthcoming disarmament discussions bound to the proposals of the previous Government that there should be at least seven on-site inspections, and that they will be prepared to consider a much smaller number with a view to securing an overall agreement?

The Prime Minister

As soon as we are satisfied, which we are not vet, that it is safe to do this without any on-site inspections, we will be prepared to say so and support a treaty to that effect. As to the number of inspections, I think that in the talks which were going on with the Soviet Union two years ago there was a suggestion to reduce that figure below seven, and then there was a change of direction in favour of the more limited test ban treaty. We are not tied to a particular figure and we shall certainly be prepared to go to Geneva hoping to get a solution which would be universally accepted.

Mr. Mendelson

During the weeks of preparation before the next stage, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the authoritative opinions expressed in Washington in recent weeks by the Kilpatrick Committee, set up by Senator Kennedy, that we should not do anything to give priority in any reorganisation in N.A.T.O. to nuclear arms control which later might be a hindrance in arriving at wider agreements between East and West which would be a guarantee of peace?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the report by the Committee headed by Mr. Kilpatrick is a vitally important report. We have put forward ideas of our own, and some were incorporated in the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' agreed communiqué, for a non-dissemination agreement. Certainly the points put forward by my hon. Friend and by the Kilpatrick Committee will be borne in mind.