HC Deb 02 March 1967 vol 742 cc698-701
Q5. Mr. Alison

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he held with Mr. Kosygin about extending the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to include underground tests.

The Prime Minister

We agreed on the importance of extending the 1963 Treaty to cover tests in all environments. The Soviet Prime Minister was asked to reconsider the possibility of holding the tripartite technical talks on seismology to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred on 19th December.—[Vol. 738, c. 999–1001.]

Mr. Alison

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree or disagree that it is a little hypocritical to expect non-nuclear Powers to sign a self-denying ordinance such as the non-proliferation agreement while nuclear Powers—perhaps particularly his Government—keep open the underground testing option? Does he propose any further British underground tests?

The Prime Minister

I certainly do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We have been pressing all along for an extension of the limited test ban to underground tests. There is nothing hypocritical about that. The fact that we have not reached agreement on it raises other considerations. Nor do I believe that it is hypocritical to press for a non-proliferation agreement when we failed so far to get agreement on this. I would agree, however—this may be in the hon. Gentleman's mind—that a concomitant of asking for a non-proliferation agreement to be signed by non-nuclear Powers is that the nuclear Powers should make as rapid an advance as posible to nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Did my right hon. Friend have any discussions with Mr. Kosygin about the possibility of an Anglo-Soviet attempt to persuade General de Gaulle to sign the partial Test Ban Treaty, especially in view of the views of the Leader of the Opposition about nuclear sharing with France?

The Prime Minister

We did not discuss either the position of General de Gaulle or that of the Leader of the Opposition in these talks. The important difference here is, of course, the fact that the Soviet Government believe—I think they strongly believe—that modern seismological research enables outside observers, without on-the-spot inspection, to detect any underground explosion which has possible sinister meaning. We do not accept that that is yet the position, although there has been great progress year by year over the past few years. This is why we have impressed on them the need for talks between the seismological experts to see how narrow is the difference. My view is that it is a fairly narrow difference; around a particular seismic magnitude, but it would be helpful if we could get a meeting of the experts, away from the foreign affairs discussions on this.

Mr. Hogg

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree, however, that the time factor here is of some importance? Having regard to the fact that plutonium is the inevitable by-product of all uranium reactors in operation and that, by the mid-1970s, uranium reactors will be reacting all over the world, does he not realise that the quantity of plutonium available to Powers on all sides will be very large in ten years? Does that not make the matter urgent?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. It is urgent, and it is as serious as he said. This, of course, is why we are pressing on so strongly for a non-proliferation agreement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear Powers. That, I think, is a separate question from this one, which related to underground tests.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that at the time of the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in Moscow in 1963 the then Conservative Prime Minister said that we must not only co-exist with the Russians but co-operate with them? Does my right hon. Friend agree with that and would he say how that squares with the fact that this week we are talking about having nuclear weapons—to be used, presumably, against the Russians in the 1970s and 1980s?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will, if he is interested in cooperation with the Russians, no doubt want to go back into the Library and study the very fine statement agreed upon between Mr. Kosygin and myself covering a very, very wide range of cooperation between our two countries—indeed, I think on a level not previously reached. The co-operation which is relevant here and which we ourselves are proposing—and about which the Russians have difficulty—is that tripartite talks on seismology should take place so that the scientists can first of all clear out of the way any arguments about outside detection and in that way narrow the gap as to what that argument is; and then, at that stage, the Foreign Ministers can take over. We would like to see that technological co-operation as a first step.

Mr. Lubbock

Does the Prime Minister recall that at the time of the partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty the West was asking the East to accept six to eight seismic events per annum to see whether they might be of nuclear origin? In view of the improvements which have taken place in seismic techniques since that time, have we made any offer to the Soviet Government of a reduction in the number of inspections which would be required, and would the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing a White Paper giving the details of the scientific advances which have been made in the interim?

The Prime Minister

There has been no recent discussion about the number of tests and we are really still in the same position as we were more than three years ago on this matter in that the Soviet Government say that no inspections are necessary, and that they will not contemplate them, although the West is saying that some means of on-the-spot inspection is needed. As long as that difference exists, it is no good arguing about numbers. I agree that there has been a great advance in detection techniques, though not enough, in our view, to justify our taking the risk of saying that this can all be detected from outside. Since the Soviet Government have disagreed with us about this, that is why we say that there is need for the seismologists to get together. I will look into the question of the need for a White Paper, although I am not sure that one would be appropriate at present. The argument on seismology is a rather narrow one.

Mr. Maxwell

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that while the non-proliferation treaty is important, our present attitude in assisting the Russians and Americans to control Europe is proving most unhelpful in our exploration to enter the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not agree with at all with that and I would not agree with any phrase about our assisting the Russians and the United States to control Europe. The non-proliferation treaty is of great urgency. I have several times told the House that there are anxieties among some of our European partners—and these anxieties exist more widely—about the effect of the treaty on their civil technology, something which we believe is not a danger to them, and we have positive proposals for helping in nuclear matters, such as joining EURATOM on suitable terms.