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Disarmament

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 23 November 1961

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Q2.

asked the Prime Minister whether, following the resolution of the General Assembly Political Committee of the United Nations of 14th November, he will consult the Commonwealth Prime Ministers with a view to securing a Commonwealth policy in support of the prohibition of all nuclear weapons with an effective system of inspection and control.

There has already been considerable Commonwealth consultation on this important subject. The statement issued after the last Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference embodied a common approach to the problem of disarmament and looked to the elimination not only of nuclear but also—and this is just as important—of conventional armaments, subject to verification. The resolution referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman made no provision for any kind of verification or control.

Will the Prime Minister make it clear that Her Majesty's Government would be willing to agree to the prohibition of the use of all nuclear weapons in the first stage of a general disarmament treaty provided that it is accompanied by an effective system of inspection?

In the last three or four years we have put forward, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, a number of very constructive and far-reaching proposals. We are disappointed that we have not had more success. We are making a new effort now. The fact that the Soviet Government have accepted our proposal for taking up again the question of tests gives some encouragement. We shall press forward.

Would the Prime Minister agree that, following the declaration on disarmament by the Prime Ministers' Conference, it would be admirable if the whole of the Commonwealth in the United Nations could put forward the proposals that were set out in that declaration?

Yes, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman knows the complication of the way that resolutions are moved, seconded and promoted. We are trying our best—and I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman who asked the Question has tried to help me in this—to get this broad Commonwealth view as commonly known and as widely expressed as possible.

Would not the best way of doing that be for the Commonwealth proposals to be put forward in the United Nations Assembly? Is there any possible objection to this?

There is no objection, but there are resolutions of procedural and other kinds. I will, how- ever, consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Is it not a fact, from a practical point of view, that over a large part of the field any breaches of an agreement to ban tests would be self-evident and that the problem of inspection and control is confined to a small area of underground explosions? Was it not the failure to agree over this very small part of the programme that prevented an earlier agreement?

Yes, Sir, but it was because we had made so much progress that I was disappointed—I think we all were—that the discussions were broken off. They were then followed by tests on an immense scale by the Soviet Government in the atmosphere. Undeterred by this setback, the British and American Governments made a further offer to renew the test discussions in Geneva or elsewhere. In the circumstances, I think that was the right thing to do, but it was certainly a generous thing to do. I am happy to feel that that has been accepted and we may now hope that further discussion will take place.

Can the Prime Minister tell us if he is setting up a department or committee to work out plans for carrying out the general policy of disarmament set out in the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' declaration?

No, I think our present planning organisation is quite sufficient. The difficulty is to make progress with the Soviet Government in actual day-to-day discussion.