HC Deb 23 October 1972 vol 843 cc780-3
38. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reply he has sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in response to his invitation to offer views and suggestions relating to a world disarmament conference.

Mr. Godber

Our reply, which was given to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 29th August, said in brief that we would favour a world disarmament conference provided that it had the general support of the United Nations membership and in particular of all the nuclear Powers. It must also be carefully and adequately prepared. With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will circulate the full text of our reply in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Archer

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he would consider suggesting that the opportunity should be seized for discussing a more positive basis of international co-operation such as a world peace-keeping force with more effective international judicial machinery?

Mr. Godber

I would certainly welcome that idea if we could get it off the ground. It is an objective that many of us have shared for many years, but the hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of the difficulties. So far as a world disarmament conference is concerned, the responses of some countries have been very discouraging, and this applies in particular to more than one of the nuclear Powers. Therefore, we should not build too great hopes at the moment. However, I hope to be in New York later this week to have discussions on this matter.

Following is the text:


  1. 1. The United Kingdom Government supports wholeheartedly the efforts of the United Nations under the Charter to maintain and improve international security and to preserve the peace and believes that arms control and disarmament have a vital role to play in the discharging of these responsibilities. Through effective measures of arms control and disarmament the structure of international security is consolidated and the diversion of scarce resources to costly and dangerous arms races can be prevented. It is therefore a clear duty incumbent on governments energetically to pursue agreement on measures of disarmament, to do all in their power to bring under control the escalating spiral of arms transfers and production and to remove this burden from the peoples of the world.
  2. 2. The United Kingdom has contributed constructively to the negotiation of the existing instruments in the field of disarmament—the partial test ban treaty of 1963, the Antarctic and outer space treaties, the Treaty on the 782 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the sea-bed arms control treaty, and the biological weapons convention. Most of these instruments were negotiated in the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament, the Conference to which the United Nations has entrusted the conduct of negotiations on disarmament. The Government of the United Kingdom recognises the major contribution of this Committee to international security, and continues to place great importance on the existence of an expert committee comprising countries which have built tip an expertise in disarmament negotiations and a profound knowledge and practical experience of the difficult problems which are to be solved.
  3. 3. The Government of the United Kingdom recognises the necessity periodically to renew the sense of urgency with which the nations address the problem of disarmament and arms control. It recognises also that it is of the highest importance that all the five permanent members of the Security Council should be included in the international disarmement negotiations. The United Nations General Assembly is itself a forum for such reassessment and renewal. But the United Kingdom Government does not close its mind to any other forum for which there is general support. It would favour the calling of a world disarmament conference provided such a conference had the general support of the United Nations membership and in particular of all the nuclear Powers, whose active participation would be essential to the consideration of measures in the nuclear field as foreseen in the preamble to resolution 2833 (XXVI); and provided thorough preparatory work showed that a satisfactory basis for such a conference exists.
  4. 4. The United Kingdom Government holds that, if it is agreed that a world disarmament conference should be held, there should be no automatic exclusion from the agenda of any aspect of disarmament and arms control whether nuclear or non-nuclear and the approach to the conference should be based on the principle that at each stage of disarmament and arms control a balance should be preserved which maintains or improves the security of all those concerned. As regards the procedures to be adopted for carrying out the preparatory work, adequate preparation for the conference would be of the highest importance. A conference which took place without detailed and careful preparation and prior agreement on the main areas for discussion would not merely fail to achieve concrete results but could have damaging effects, by arousing the expectations of the world community only to frustrate them. The United Kingdom Government therefore believes that if the General Assembly should decide in principle to proceed with the preparation of a world disarmament conference, this preparation should be entrusted to a preparatory committee with a balanced membership. It would be to the advantage of this committee if it could draw on the knowledge of some of those with experience of the disarmament negotiations in Geneva.
  5. 5. The Government of the United Kingdom believes that a definite date should not be assigned to the conference until the work of 783 the preparatory committee has made it clear that a satisfactory basis exists for the holding of a conference. As to the relationship between the conference and the United Nations, we believe that such a conference should be held within the United Nations framework. For practical and administrative reasons, the appropriate site for a conference might be New York but whatever venue is chosen for the conference itself, the United Kingdom view is that a preparatory committee could best do its work in Geneva, where it would be able to draw on the expertise of participants in the existing Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. For its part the United Kingdom would be willing to play a full part in such a preparatory committee.