HC Deb 07 December 1977 vol 940 cc1366-7
5. Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is now in a position to make a statement about progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty.

Dr. Owen

There has been good progress in the tripartite negotiations. The Government welcomed President Brezhnev's statement of 2nd November. The negotiations resumed on 5th December and we are seeking progress on the outstanding issues, so as to achieve a lasting comprehensive test ban treaty.

Mr. Forman

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the main outstanding problems are those of adequate verification of these tests and the wider participation by nations such as France and China, which will eventually have to be brought into the discussions? On the Soviet offer, which the Government welcome, does the Foreign Secretary not believe that it is now seen to be a little hollow, since it is evident that the Soviet Union was not planning to hold peaceful nuclear explosions for the three-year period in any case?

Dr. Owen

When I was in Moscow, Mr. Gromyko put very strongly to me the Soviet wish to have PNEs, and it has been a long-standing Soviet position that they need to have such explosions. I do not, therefore, think that I can agree with the hon. Member. This was a significant step forward for the Soviet Union. On the other part of the hon. Gentleman's question, verification is one of the central problems still to be resolved, and that will obviously be the subject of negotiation. As to the participation of other nuclear weapon States, that is a matter for them, but it is desirable that the agreement covers all nuclear weapon States.

Mr. James Lamond

In his statement on 2nd November Mr. Brezhnev also suggested that the Soviet Union was ready to reach agreement about a simultaneous halt in the production of nuclear weapons by all States. Has my right hon. Friend any comment to make on that proposal?

Dr. Owen

We remain ready to enter into any negotiations on our overall objective of comprehensive disarmament, and the cessation of new weapons systems would be extremely helpful. But this is very difficult to achieve and one must adopt a piecemeal approach, starting with a comprehensive test ban treaty.