HC Deb 19 June 1968 vol 766 cc1108-15
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, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed by an overwhelming majority on 12th June a resolution commending the draft Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons which had been prepared by the Eighteen Nations Disarmament Committee, and requesting that it be opened for signature and ratification at the earliest possible date. I hope that the Treaty will be opened for signature very soon.

The Treaty contains provisions aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to those States which do not now possess them, for safeguards to ensure that nuclear material provided for peaceful purposes is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and for the potential benefits of any peaceful applications of nuclear explosives to be made available to non-nuclear-weapon States party to the Treaty. Finally, parties to the Treaty undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on further measures of disarmament.

The Treaty in its present form is the fruit of long and arduous negotiations, in which the United Kingdom was able to play a major part. Her Majesty's Government believe that the Treaty is the most important and substantial measure of disarmament and arms control that has yet been achieved, and that it is the first essential step in achieving the end of the nuclear arms race and significant progress on the road to general and complete disarmament, under strict and effective international control.

A connected question is that of security assurances to meet the concern of some non-nuclear-weapon States about their security if they renounce the option of acquiring nuclear weapons under the Treaty. The three nuclear Powers who have taken part in these negotiations, the United States, the Soviet Union and ourselves, have, therefore, jointly put forward proposals for security assurances, in the form of a draft Security Council resolution to be supported by individual declarations.

These proposals, which envisage immediate Security Council action in the event of a nuclear threat or nuclear aggression against a non-nuclear State, are at present being considered by the Security Council.

Mr. Wood

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, and welcoming any effective step which will arrest the spread of nuclear weapons, may we have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that we shall be given an opportunity to debate both the implications of the Treaty and the implications of the security assurances which he mentioned towards the end of his statement?

Secondly, will he publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the names of those nations which did not support the resolution?

Lastly, can he say anything about the attitude to the Treaty of France and China?

Mr. Mulley

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's observations. The question of the time for a debate is not for me, but I should welcome a debate. I know that my right hon. Friend is sympathetic to the possibility of a debate, but there are other pressing demands on time.

We shall be laying before the House the final copy of the Treaty as soon as this is cleared in New York. As no doubt the right hon. Gentleman understands, it is to be published in five languages, and that involves final adjustments on the text.

The countries which voted against it were Albania, Cuba, Tanzania and Zambia. There were 21 other countries which abstained.

France made clear, both in the General Assembly and yesterday in the Security Council, that she would abstain on the vote and would not sign the Treaty, but that she would behave exactly as if she had signed the Treaty, and gave an assurance that she had no intention whatever of proliferating nuclear weapons. Rather as one expected, the Chinese Government denounced the whole exercise of a non-proliferation Treaty as being, to put it in a shorthand form, a United States/Soviet Union conspiracy.

Mr. Heath

Can the Minister give the House any more information about the security assurances? The Government seem to have embarked upon a worldwide commitment for the use of our nuclear power, apparently on an automatic basis, for the defence of any country which is attacked by nuclear weapons. Is this so?

Will the Minister publish the proposals which are now being made? Will these assurances come into effect automatically? Will the veto on the Security Council still apply while discussions on use are going on in the Security Council? For a matter of such immense importance, ought not the matter to be debated by the House before the Government enter into these undertakings?

Finally, will the proposals be published as a Treaty which the House will then be able to discuss and decide upon in the usual way for treaties?

Mr. Mulley

The form of the Security Council resolution was published at the conclusion of the Geneva deliberations at the end of March, and was placed in the Library at that time. It is included in the booklet "Path to Peace", which we published some days ago. I have answered Questions in the House on a number of occasions about the security assurances, and no question of a debate about them then arose.

There will not be an automatic commitment, because that, as I explained in my speech in New York, can arise only from a defence agreement. The intention of the security assurance is that the three nuclear Powers would make it an issue immediately in the Security Council, to enable the Security Council to act in the event of a threat of nuclear attack to a non-nuclear country. Also, in our declarations we reserve the rights of Article 51 to act if, for whatever reason, there were undue delay within the Security Council.

This does not involve the automatic commitment that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. In fact, in the debates in the General Assembly, many countries expressed the view that they did not go far enough because we were not able to give that kind of automatic assurance, which the right hon. Gentleman will realise is only possible, and then not always possible, within a defence agreement.

Mr. Mendelson

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there will be widespread satisfaction and support for this major achievement in foreign and disarmament policy? Will he take note that the addition of the security guarantee is a considerable improvement of the original proposal and will bring further support from nations which were hesitant at the beginning of these discussions? Will he reject suggestions that have recently appeared in newspapers and by some spokesmen of the Federal Government in Bonn that we should not proceed with the Treaty because there are international difficulties on other subjects? This is a major success and the Government ought to be congratulated.

Mr. Mulley

I am most obliged to my hon. Friend. I would recall to the House that President Johnson described this as the most important international agreement in the field of disarmament since the nuclear age began, and I see no reason to disagree with his remarks. Certainly, it is our intention and, I am well aware, also the intention of the United States and the Soviet Union, to press on as fast as possible, not only in getting the Treaty brought into force but in carrying on further measures of disarmament thereafter.

Dr. David Owen

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a very real and significant advance. Would he bear in mind that many hon. Members would like to have a debate on this issue? Would he answer two questions? First, what is the position of the Indian Government, particularly in view of the security assurances that he has indicated? Secondly, can he assure us that there will be no difficulty in making the partial enrichment plant at Capenhurst available for our European partners?

Mr. Mulley

India abstained in the vote and made it clear in the debates that she was not, at present at any rate, prepared to sign the Treaty. As for her attitude to the security assurances, she indicated that she saw value in them because she argued that they should not be confined, as they will be, to countries which signed the Treaty but should be made generally available.

I see no reason why the Treaty should affect in any way the operation of our own establishments, although, as I explained to the House as long ago as last December, we have voluntarily undertaken, as have the United States Government, to place our nuclear installations under the same form of inspection as will be worked out for the non-nuclear countries.

Mr. Lubbock

While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the part he has played in this Treaty, what further steps do the Government envisage towards disarmament? In particular, do the Government intend to put any proposals to the United Nations for a treaty on chemical and biological warfare, in view of the great public anxiety which has arisen in the last few months on this question?

Mr. Mulley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am happy to say that we were able to play some part in the strengthening of the Treaty as to its commitment for future measures of disarmament. It will be my intention to propose at Geneva that work is urgently done on further measures of nuclear disarmament—and I have particularly in mind the comprehensive test ban treaty, the cut-off on the use of nuclear material for military purposes and, if we can, progress on the freezing of the number of nuclear delivery vehicles—and also that Geneva should concern itself with conventional disarmament problems.

In that connection, priority should be given to seeing what can be done in the chemical and bacteriological fields. But I would say that we have a protocol. Although it may not be entirely as we would have wished 40 years after it was propounded, the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of poisonous gases and biological and bacteriological means of warfare.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his efforts and welcoming warmly his promise to press on with the consideration not only of collaterals but also with disarmament, including conventional disarmament, may I ask whether he will give us a White Paper containing the text of the Treaty, with all the abstensions, votes, and so on, and an account of the negotiations? Will he also press on his right hon. Friend that the House must have a debate on this vitally important matter before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Mulley

My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has been listening to the demands for a debate. As I have said, I would welcome a debate, and I hope that it may be possible for one to be arranged.

It is the Government's intention to publish the final text. The text as it was until a fortnight ago has already been published. The text on which we voted in New York has been placed in the Library. As soon as we get an agreed text from New York, we will present a White Paper to the House.

I will consider a White Paper on the negotiations, but, since they have been carried on over a period of six years, I am not sure whether there is any need for a lengthy report supplementary to the very long White Papers on the disarmament negotiations which are laid before the House annually. However, I will consider that and I will take into account my right lion. Friend's opinions on that, but he knows that the full proceedings are laid before the House every year, and that practice will be continued.

Mr. Marten

While I recognise that a nuclear Power will not give a nuclear weapon to a non-nuclear Power, can a nuclear Power give a weapon to another nuclear Power? If not, can it assist in the manufacture of nuclear weapons for another nuclear Power?

Mr. Mulley

The terms of the Treaty make it clear that the nuclear Powers will not transfer nuclear weapons to anyone at all.

Mr. John Hynd

Will my right hon. Friend explain a little further one point on which I am far from clear? It is the operation of the assurance given by the Security Council. I gather from his earlier answer that the three members of the Security Council have undertaken to bring to the notice of the Council any threat to a non-nuclear State. Does that mean that action can then be taken, or does the veto still exist? If the latter, is it to be expected that the nuclear Powers can act in unison?

Mr. Mulley

In our declarations, we specifically reserve to ourselves the right to act under Article 51, so that action would not necessarily be held up by a veto or other undue delay in the Security Council.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Replying to my right hon. Friend, the Minister of State said that he did not think that we were automatically committed to certain actions. That is rather hazy phraseology. Has he had conversations with the Law Officers? Can he be more precise about whether or not we are automatically committed?

Mr. Mulley

I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I said that there was no automatic commitment, and that no commitment of that character could be given to any country outside strictly defined defence agreements.

Mr. W. Baxter

In view of the considerable feeling in Scotland about the stockpiling of nuclear bombs, and so on, a matter of 20 or 30 miles from the centre of Glasgow, will my right hon. Friend take immediate action to see that this terrible menace to the people of that nation is removed at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Mulley

This does not fall within the bounds of my responsibility. However, I have no reason to suppose that there is danger to the people of Glasgow from the circumstances that my hon. Friend has indicated.