HC Deb 04 December 1967 vol 755 cc963-6

3.55 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As the House will know, a key issue in the negotiations at present taking place in Geneva to secure a non-proliferation treaty has been the safeguards to be applied to ensure that there is no diversion by the non-nuclear weapon signatories of the treaty of materials from their civil nuclear programmes to nuclear weapon purposes.

To assist these negotiations, Her Majesty's Government have decided that, at such time as international safeguards are put into effect in the non-nuclear weapon states in implementation of the provisions of a treaty, they will be prepared to offer an opportunity for the application of similar safeguards in the United Kingdom subject to exclusions for national security reasons only.

Her Majesty's Government welcome the similar decision announced by President Johnson on behalf of the United States.

Viscount Lambton

While giving a general welcome to this statement, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, have we discussed this decision with our N.A.T.O. allies; and, second, have we discussed it with the French Government to see whether it is their intention to follow suit?

Mr. Mulley

The matter arises from the very extensive consultations with N.A.T.O. on the drafting of a non-proliferation treaty and, of course, France, as a member of N.A.T.O., has been represented in these consultations. It is probably unlikely that France will give a similar undertaking, but, of course, I am not authorised to speak on behalf of the French Government.

Mr. Mendelson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statement he has made will be widely welcomed as a contribution to these negotiations, but will he also bear in mind that the Government, having done a great deal of work on this, should firmly oppose any suggestions like those made by Herr Strauss, a powerful member of the West German Government, that the non-proliferation treaty should be not under the control of the United Nations agency in Vienna but under some other agency? The reason given by that Minister, that he wants to keep the door open for a new nuclear command under the European Economic Community, would lead to the stultification of these negotiations and would be against the best interests of this country.

Mr. Mulley

I cannot accept that Herr Strauss is against the international safeguard system, because this treaty naturally, to be effective, has got to be worldwide. The argument, which one understands, is to try to find a way by which the Vienna system can be worked in conjunction with the existing controls that Euratom applies to its own members. It is a difficult problem, but I hope that an acceptable solution can be found very soon.

Mr. Lubbock

Will these safeguards involve publishing inventories of fissionable material in the countries concerned? If that is the case, why could not the United Nations take the initiative and publish the inventories now? Secondly, will there be any provision for international verification?

Mr. Mulley

The whole system is one of international verification to ensure, particularly in the non-nuclear States, that no civil material is diverted for military purposes. So it involves inspection on the site and not merely inventories. In placing one of our own civil plants under the International Atomic Energy Agency, we have already made an initiative in the direction which the hon. Member indicated.

Dr. Ernest A. Davies

Is the Minister aware that the safeguards team is already working very effectively in the United States of America under the leadership of a British subject? Would my right hon. Friend make it known to the Minister of Technology that if such safeguard teams are to be effective on the spot by British subjects, we should provide them with adequate safeguards for their own employment?

Mr. Mulley

That question seems to go a little further than my statement, but it is important that the safeguard system should be fully international and should be recognised as such by all the many non-nuclear weapon States which we hope will adhere to the treaty.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will approach the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China to see that they accept the same inspection of their civil nuclear programmes? Second, was there consultation with Euratom before the statement was made? Third, as President Johnson has named about 80 American civil reactors which are now to be subject to inspection, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is reasonable that the United Kingdom as well should identify those nuclear plants in this country which will now fall to be inspected?

Mr. Mulley

I think that identification will have to come at a later stage. I thought that, this decision having been made, the House would wish to be informed at the earliest opportunity. I should like to think that the signing and ratification of the treaty can follow swiftly, but I fear that some time is bound to elapse, in which we shall be able to examine the point which the hon. Gentleman makes. I cannot give any assurance on behalf of the Soviet Union or China that they will accept such arrangements. We would very much hope that the nuclear Powers signatory to the treaty will follow our example.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although probably everyone would like to see it go a little further, this is a very remarkable step forward in international co-operation and the result of most able negotiation upon which he is much to be congratulated?

Mr. Mulley

I am very much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend.