HC Deb 22 February 1978 vol 944 cc1416-22
4. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the forthcoming Special Session on disarmament of the United Nations General Assembly.

10. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals he will make when he attends the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this spring.

Dr. Owen

The Government attach great importance to the Special Session. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will speak, and I will accompany him.

On 1st February in the United Nations we tabled, with a number of Western co-sponsors, a draft for the Programme of Action, which will probably be the most important document adopted by the Special Session. I shall circulate our draft proposal in the Official Report. This was prepared in consultation with friendly Governments, with non-governmental organisations in Britain and with the Advisory Panel on Disarmament, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) is a member.

Mr. Cook

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the importance that the Government attach to the Special Session in particular and the considerable work that has gone into the draft Programme of Action are very much appreciated? As one of the matters to be discussed in New York is the conventional trade in arms, however, does not my right hon. Friend think that his own position at New York would be much strengthened if he could persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence not to hold an international exhibition of arms available for export from Britain at the very time when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be addressing the conference in New York?

Dr. Owen

This is no more than an ongoing part of British policy, which is to sell arms to those countries where we think it will not affect the balance in a particular region. The real question is whether we can achieve a multilateral agreement to reduce arms sales, particularly among some of the Western industrialised Powers, to follow up the initiative started by President Carter to try to achieve some voluntary limitation.

Mr. Jenkins

Apart from the question of armaments sales, which some of us on the Labour Benches wish was not part of Her Majesty's Government's policy, will my right hon. Friend suggest to the American Government that their decision to go ahead with a massive programme of rearmament is a poor preliminary to the conference, and suggest that they hold their horses a little while until the conference is over, when they might be able to modify the programme to some degree?

Dr. Owen

The United States and British Governments are involved in detailed negotiations on a comprehensive test ban. The United States has tabled very ambitious proposals for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and I believe that it will achieve a SALT agreement this year. It is showing in a number of areas that it is genuine in its intent to have serious disarmament measures, as, indeed, we are. What we are not in favour of is cosmetic or propaganda disarmament statements.

Mr. Kershaw

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the country will have heard with relief yesterday what the Prime Minister said about his estimation of Russian progress with very dangerous weapons such as the SS 20, and will he avoid allowing himself to be boxed in to any kind of corner by propaganda in this matter but make sure that the people realise what the Russian position really is?

Dr. Owen

We shall state the factual position of the arms race clearly and unequivocally to the House. However, we shall be constantly working for sensible multilateral disarmament measures—the policy which will safeguard the interests of this country and the world.

Mr. Faulds

What contribution does my right hon. Friend think the latest French proposals will make to the discussion of disarmament?

Dr. Owen

It is rather early to analyse them. Until after the French election it will be difficult to enter into the sort of detailed negotiations that I should like to see on them. The views of the French Socialist Party, expressed in fighting the election, show that there is a greater readiness by the French to enter into discussions on disarmament, particularly in Central Europe, than hitherto.

Mr. Luce

I attach the greatest possible importance to the proposed Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on disarmament, but is it not self-evident to the Secretary of State that one major threat to peace is the lack of military balance between East and West, and that the Soviet criticism of the proposed deployment of the essentially defensive neutron bomb in Europe is a smokescreen to hide the fact that the Soviet Union is developing a wide range of devastatingly dangerous aggressive weapons, such as the SS 20? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear these factors in mind?

Dr. Owen

Certainly the Soviet Union's protests about the enhanced radiation weapon would carry a great deal more conviction if they were not accompanied by a substantial increase of its gross national product devoted to defence and the introduction of a whole range of new weapons.

Following is the document:


Put forward at the UN on 1st February 1978 by the United Kingdom and other Western states.


The states members of the United Nations at the Eighth Special Session of the General Assembly solemnly affirm that their ultimate goal is general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. They recognise that this goal requires an increase in international confidence and security to remove the incentive for states to acquire weapons and to encourage them to reduce these from present levels. The states members therefore believe that a serious world-wide disarmament strategy must be accompanied by a greater and sustained effort to eliminate the sources of tension and injustice in the world and to increase the effectiveness of international machinery in the United Nations and elsewhere for the peaceful settlement of disputes: to uphold the international rule of law: and to promote the political, civil, social and economic rights of man. This strategy should take into account not only the quantitative but also the qualitative aspect of disarmament, and should result in the release of resources for the satisfaction of the economic and social needs of humanity particularly in the developing countries.

This Programme of Action sets out in Chapter II priority negotiations for completion over the next few years. In addition it proposes concurrent measures and studies to prepare the way for future negotiations and for progress towards general and complete disarmament. It gives practical effect to the principles set down in the declaration on disarmament. A prerequisite for a successful disarmament strategy is the adherence of all states to existing arms control and disarmament agreements.


  1. i. In the nuclear field, in which the nuclear weapon states have a particular responsibility, the realisation of the central objectives of preventing both horizontal and vertical proliferation by:
  2. ii. Assurances, as appropriate, by nuclear weapon states designed to increase the confidence of non-nuclear weapon states in their own security from nuclear attack.
  3. iii. Other Weapons of Mass Destruction
  4. iv. Conventional Weapons and Armed Forces
  5. v. The measures listed above should form part of a balanced programme of disarmament and provide for adequate verification including, if appropriate, the possibility of on-site inspection. Verification provisions should be so designed as to ensure the effectiveness of agreements and to enhance mutual confidence.


In addition to undertaking the specific arms control and disarmament tasks described above, the states members of the United Nations, in order to strengthen international confidence and deepen the dialogue between those involved in defence matters in different countries, should:—

  1. (i) support the Secretary-General in his efforts further to strengthen the expertise and capability of the United Nations to play its essential role as a catalyst in the disarmament process;
  2. (ii) encourage the further discussion and development by the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament of a Comprehensive Programme for Disarmament;
  3. (iii) publish detailed information about their armed forces, and the total value of 1421 their arms production and of their transfers of arms to other countries;
  4. (iv) supply full information on military budgets using the method shortly to be finalised through a Pilot Study by the Secretary-General for the standardised reporting of such budgets, as a step towards verified and balanced reductions in military expenditure.
  5. (v) assess the possible implications of military research and development for existing agreements as well as for further efforts in the field of arms control and disarmament.
  6. (vi) seek to restrain the world-wide build-up of conventional weapons, utilising all means which could lead to bilateral, regional and multilateral measures of control, limitation and balanced reduction of such armaments.
  7. (vii) accept adequate provisions of international control as appropriate to facilitate the conclusion and effectiveness of disarmament agreements.
  8. (viii) stimulate public awareness of disarmament issues by:—
  9. (ix) take the following actions to increase confidence between states bilaterally, regionally or world-wide:—


In order to facilitate further steps in disarmament and parallel measures to promote international peace and security, the Secretary-General is requested to carry out studies relating to:—

  1. (i) the strengthening of the security role of the United Nations in peacekeeping and the peaceful settlement of disputes, to enable it to anticipate and resolve international crises.
  2. (ii) ways of limiting the build-up of conventional weapons regionally and throughout 1422 the world, taking into account all relevant aspects, inter alia:
  3. (iii) the relationship between disarmament and development, to be initiated as soon as possible after the Special Session. The terms of reference of this study should be on the basis of the report of the Ad Hoc Group of governmental experts.
  4. (iv) all regional aspects of disarmament, including further measures designed to increase confidence and stability as well as means of promoting disarmament on a regional basis;
  5. (v) the possible contribution to confidence-building among states of technical measures such as demilitarized zones, zones of limited forces and surveillance and early warning systems which could be used as appropriate in areas of tension; and on the use of some of these measures in the verification of arms control agreements.


All states undertake to work towards the fulfilment of this programme and to respect agreed measures relating to it. The General Assembly should examine its implementation as appropriate taking account of the recommendations on disarmament machinery made later in the Final Document.

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