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Disarmament Conference

Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 21 February 1962

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asked the Lord Privy Seal whether Her Majesty's Government will propose to the United States and French Governments that they should undertake a joint study of the problems of disarmament inspection, with a view to removing the expressed fears of the Soviet Government of espionage, in preparation for the forthcoming Eighteen-Power Disarmament Conference.

We are already in close consultation with our allies over the preparation of our position for the Eighteen-Power Disarmament Conference, and both France and the United States are taking part in these consultations. The question of inspection naturally takes an important place in these consultations.

As Soviet fears of espionage constitute the main obstacle to disarmament agreement, is it not possible to work out a system of verification in relation to each agreed measure of disarmament without probing into the remaining armaments which have to be dealt with in subsequent measures of disarmament?

I entirely agree with the first part of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—that this is the key to the whole problem. His suggestion is one of several interesting proposals which we are studying very carefully. Indeed, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Members will realise that we must have sufficient to give us a complete element of confidence if these negotiations are to succeed. That is the basis on which any verification procedures can go forward, but we will certainly bear in mind the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion.

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the pathological dislike of the Russians for inspection by foreigners has lasted for many centuries and is concerned not only with espionage, but is also political and psychological? Would he not agree that it would be worth carefully examining the idea of the spot check, which has been put forward by a Scandinavian expert, so that we might be able to get some reassurance for the Western countries and yet have a scheme which bears some possibility of acceptance by the Russians?

Yes, I presume that the hon. Member is referring to the suggestion of Dr. Sohn, which is another of the possibilities which we will consider in the total problem. What we have to find is some mode of agreement on this vital question of inspection if we are to make progress in these talks.

Is there not a danger in the use of the word "inspection" in connection with disarmament or partial disarmament? Would it not be a good thing to get away from that word and to use "verification" of disarmament?

Yes, I am very happy to refer to it as verification. I agree that it is important that people should be clear about the position to which we are referring.