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Geneva Disarmament Conference

Volume 656: debated on Monday 26 March 1962

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the present state of the negotiations at the Geneva Disarmament Conference.


asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the position reached at the disarmament conference in Geneva.

Since my right honourable Friend the Lord Privy Seal answered a similar Question last Monday, there have been five plenary meetings of the conference, and also four informal meetings, besides meetings of a sub-committee consisting of the delegates of the United Kingdom, United States and the Soviet Union to discuss nuclear tests.

It has been agreed that the conference should pursue in plenary sessions its primary objective of reaching agreement on general and complete disarmament and for this purpose should consider the United States programme of September, 1961, and the Soviet draft treaty of 16th March, 1962, together with any other documents submitted. It has also been agreed that concurrently and without prejudice to this work, a committee of the whole shall consider various proposals of a more limited nature.

The sub-committee on nuclear tests has unfortunately made no progress, because of the Soviet refusal to consider any system based on international verification. That sub-committee is due to meet again today, possibly with the addition of representatives of other States.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in the light of the experience of the last ten days or fortnight, he feels that we are getting near a point at which urgent consideration should be given to Heads of Government attending the conference? Will he take it that both sides of the House would support him in an all-out effort to get a general agreement on disarmament? There is some reason for feeling that going all-out on the question of a test ban, which involves getting over the difficulties of the inspection hurdle for only a limited objective, may possibly not be the most rewarding line on which we should be pressing ahead. Will he give an assurance that the Government are making an all-out effort to get a general disarmament convention?

Yes. On the first part of the question, it would perhaps be most appropriate to await the answer which the Prime Minister will be giving tomorrow. On the second part of the question, I gladly give an assurance that we are doing all we possibly can both in the field of general and complete disarmament and in that of the narrower measures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred earlier this afternoon. We think that these two things can go ahead concurrently.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the problem of nuclear tests. This is proving a real difficulty at the present time. But this surely need not impair our efforts in the general field where we are seeking in every possible way to find areas of agreement at least as a start.

Does the Minister's reference just now to narrower issues raised earlier this afternoon, including a nuclear-free zone and a non-nuclear club, mean that the Government have not closed their mind to these questions as part of what might be a very useful disarmament convention?

Those suggestions to which the right hon. Gentleman refers have been put forward and will undoubtedly come up for discussion. There are a number of other similar measures which I think have hopeful overtones in them. This is the way in which we are seeking to press forward.

What proposals, if any, are the British representatives making on the question of inspection and the gap between the Soviet and American positions about the scope of inspection? Are the British Government supporting the idea for splitting up the areas of inspection into zones, as has been suggested in some quarters?

We are very willing to look at this question of sampling inspection, which was put forward originally at the Pugwash Conference. I have discussed this with certain Russians at the Conference, and I am still hoping to get more of a glimmer of response than I have so far achieved. This is one of the avenues which we are exploring. We are exploring every avenue which will get over the difficulty of the inspection problem.


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will publish a White Paper containing the latest disarmament proposals of the United States and Soviet Governments and the official speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

A White Paper is in preparation covering the basic documents published before the conference met. In addition, I am placing in the Library copies of the speech delivered on 15th March by the United States Secretary of State, containing proposals for immediate action on disarmament, the draft treaty tabled by the Soviet Delegate on the same day and the speech of my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary on 20th March. These papers have also already been made widely available through the Press.

What is the difficulty about adding to the White Paper, which apparently is in preparation, the information asked for in the Question?

It is the practical difficulty that the White Paper is already in hand and that if one seeks to keep holding it up to add additional documents, it will take a considerable time. The question of a subsequent White Paper could well be considered, but I have tried to cover these points in the way in which I have indicated in my reply.

This point was raised in the defence debate about the publication of the daily transactions. Will the Minister consider this again? We welcome the White Paper. Will the Minister consider whether we could not have a daily statement in the Library at any rate of all the important transactions of the conference? They are given by member Governments to the Press. Could not hon. Members have that on a day-to-day basis with the authority of the Government?

The right hon. Gentleman presumably refers to the verbatim daily reports. There is a Question to arise in a moment about that, and I should like to wait for it.

At the end of Questions

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Lord Privy Seal what proposals were made by the British delegate concerning the publication of the verbatim record of the United Nations Disarmament Committee now meeting in Geneva; and what arrangements have been made.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what the Minister said when we were dealing with Question No. 26, may I ask, through you, whether he will now be willing to answer Question No. 30?

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman was frustrated, but I am afraid Chat there is no mechanism whereby Question No. 30 can now be answered unless application is made to me.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the Minister of State rather cut out obvious supplementary questions by saying, when dealing with Question No. 26, that this Question appeared later on the Order Paper, and as it then looked as if we should reach Question No. 30, would it not be in order for the Minister of State now to apply to you for permission to answer the Question?

It is not right to involve the Chair in those matters, although I am afraid that it is from time to time.

Might I have your permission, Mr. Speaker, to reply to Question No. 30, because I feel that I gave rather an indication that I would answer it and by so doing somewhat limited the discussion? The Reply to Question No. 30 is as follows:

It has been agreed at Geneva that the verbatim records of the Conference will be made available for public use as soon as they have been checked, unless otherwise decided. Checking will take about ten days.

I should like to express my gratitude to the Minister of State for his Answer and for all that he is doing about this matter. Might I put it to him that we had the Foreign Secretary's speech the next day in The Times, we had Mr. Dean Rusk's speech three days later from the Embassy and Mr. Gromyko's speech three days later from Soviet News, but we have not had Mr. Unden's speech or the speech of the Indian delegate or other very important speeches? Would it not be more satisfactory to get the secretariat to issue these speeches next day, as it could easily do if it so desired?

There is a difficulty here. At the start of the conference—I wild be quite frank with the House about this—no procedural arrangements were agreed on. Indeed, they could not have been. There were informal discussions in advance. We tried to get agreement on certain matters, and we got the best we could. That resulted in the present form. I would point out that 17 nations were concerned, and we could go only so far as we have gone in this regard. We shall seek to give the maximum information that we can and will try to circulate additional papers in the form I suggested, through the Library.

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but will he consider whether the secretariat could not do for this vitally important committee what it does for the General Assembly, a much larger body, and get the record ready for the next day? Time is very important in this matter.

There is a distinction here. The Assembly is held in public, but these committee meetings are not, and it was agreed that delegations should have the opportunity to correct speeches before they were finalised for publication. That was the agreement which was reached, and on that I must rest.