HC Deb 08 July 1968 vol 768 cc5-9
7. Mr. Dodds-Parker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reasons have been given to him for the delay in the signature of the Treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by members of the United Nations.

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

There has been on delay. The Treaty was opened for signature on 1st July and remains open for further signatures. More than 60 countries have already signed in one of the capitals of the depositary Governments.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that all our Commonwealth and N.A.T.O. allies have signed and accept that our signature safeguards their legitimate interests?

Mr. Mulley

I cannot give that assurance, because the fact is that all the Commonwealth countries and all the N.A.T.O. members have not yet signed. Some N.A.T.O. members like France have made their position clear. France will not sign or ratify the treaty but will observe its terms. It is only two weeks since the United Nations recommendation was passed and in these matters—in one or two cases Governments are still under formation—it will take a little time. I am, however, confident that the great majority of countries will ratify the Treaty in due course.

22. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement about the effect of the non-proliferation Treaty upon the transfer of nuclear weapons from America to Great Britain.

Mr. Mulley

Under Article I of the non-proliferation Treaty, nuclear-weapon States party to the Treaty undertake not to transfer nuclear weapons to any recipient whatsoever. The domestic legislation of the United States Government already prohibits such transfers.

Mr. Marten

As one nuclear Power can assist another nuclear Power in the manufacture of nuclear weapons under this new Treaty, does that mean that America could allow Britain to manufacture American tactical nuclear weapons in this country under licence?

Mr. Mulley

The passing of information between two nuclear States is not ruled out. What is ruled out is the passing of any information whatever by a nuclear State to assist a non-nuclear weapon State to acquire nuclear weapons. It is, however, possible for information to be exchanged between nuclear weapon States. On the serious question that the hon. Gentleman has raised, it would be unwise to answer hypothetical questions of that magnitude off the cuff.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The Minister can answer a question of fact. Is it not a fact that the United States would be allowed to assist us in manufacture and would also be allowed to give us the delivery systems for nuclear weapons?

Mr. Mulley

I should make it clear that the non-proliferation Treaty is concerned only with the explosive warhead element. There is no prohibition on the transfer of the means of delivery which, in the simplest sense, are combat aircraft.

33. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if the Government will ratify the nuclear non-proliferation agreement at an early date; and if, following the draft treaty, he will maintain the Government's policy of the abolition of the British independent nuclear force.

35. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government regarding the permanent retention of nuclear weapons, following their signature of the non-proliferation agreement.

Mr. Mulley

Her Majesty's Government signed the non-proliferation Treaty on 1st July and intend to ratify it at an early date. We do not, however, think that we would make any significant contribution to progress on disarmament and the strengthening of world peace by unilaterally abandoning our nuclear weapons at this time, nor is this required in any way by the non-proliferation Treaty.

Mr. Allaun

I welcome this big step forward, but will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the guarantee to the non-nuclear nations should not be used as an excuse for abandoning our election promise to give up the so-called independent nuclear deterrent—which would probably be the best contribution that we could make to a nuclear disarmament agreement?

Mr. Mulley

I have made it clear on previous occasions, as have many of my hon. and right hon. Friends, that we do not see our nuclear weapons in any independent category at all. In fact, our giving the security assurance to the United Nations and to the non-nuclear weapons States was done in concert with the other nuclear Powers and in no sense is this to be interpreted as a desire to keep an independent nuclear capability.

Mr. Atkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour Party has long argued that the signing of a nuclear non- proliferation treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States would give Britain an opportunity to take unilateral nuclear action? If the Minister is now saying that it is Britain's intention to maintain her nuclear weapon as a means of underwriting her guarantees to non-nuclear States, is not this a contradiction of our original intention?

Mr. Mulley

With respect, my hon. Friend is not quite clear about the purpose of the non-proliferation treaty. It is to prevent a spread of nuclear weapons to powers which at the moment are not nuclear weapon States. I give the assurance that we should not let our nuclear policy in the future be coloured by this security guarantee. If for other reasons it became appropriate for us to cease to be an independent nuclear weapon State, I am sure that a satisfactory arrangement in that respect could be made.

Mr. Martin

Can the Minister confirm that we have the ultimate right to use our independent nuclear weapons in defence of this country's vital interests, and to that extent is not our nuclear weapon a British independent nuclear weapon and not a "so-called" one?

Mr. Mulley

These points have been argued on many occasions. I cannot conceive of any circumstances when any British Government would wish to use nuclear weapons independently. I have constantly asked hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to make suggestions as to when they think it could conceivably be in our interests to do so and so far I have had no answer.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Since the Committee of 18 has spent six very dangerous years on what it calls "collaterals", will the Government now seek to turn their attention to the abolition of weapons of mass destruction by general agreement, to which Conservative Governments committed themselves for so many years?

Mr. Mulley

I hope to make some very positive suggestions on 16th July when the 18-Nation Disarmament Committee reconvenes. I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that there will be no delay in progress on account of the United Kingdom Government. We shall be very happy to support initiatives in any direction that looks fruitful

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Is it not time to give us the facts? Are not the facts that we have the legal right to withdraw our nuclear weapons from the N A.T.O. Alliance, to which they are subscribed, at any time we might wish to protect our vital interests? Is not that the situation.

Mr. Mulley

If we look at the N.A.T.O. Charter we see that the commitment on member countries in legal terms is very little. It is only in the event of an attack to consider what help to give I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not go right back and seek to start N.A.T.O. all over again. We have painfully built up an instrument of collective security and I have heard no suggestion that it should be broken up.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

May I pursue this matter? Is it not a fact—and the right hon. Gentleman has only to say "Yes" or "No"—that we have a right to withdraw these nuclear weapons should we so desire for the protection of our own vital interests? Is not that the fact of the matter?

Mr. Mulley

As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, the position is that all N.A.T.O. members have the right to withdraw their forces, including nuclear weapons, from the defence of the alliance, but I hope that that is not a course that he is recommending to the House.

Mr. Mendelson

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that whatever further improvements in respect of nuclear disarmament hon. Members might have, this is a step in the direction of creating confidence, and without confidence among the nuclear Powers no further positive policy is possible? The Government should be congratulated on their achievement.

Mr. Mulley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and the House should be grateful to him for underlining a most important aspect of the non-proliferation Treaty, namely, that it has become possible through close co-operation between the nuclear Powers at a time when there are many other difficult international problems.