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Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation)

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 12 March 1975

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is now considering in connection with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries ; and if he will make a statement on the effect of his Moscow consultations on this question.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on what preparations he is making for the forthcoming review conference on the non-proliferation treaty.

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what preparations he is making for the forthcoming review conference on the non-proliferation treaty ; and if he will make a statement.

We are examining in depth the various ways in which the treaty might be implemented more effectively. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 18th February, we hope that the Anglo-Soviet joint declaration on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons will give a constructive lead to the review conference.

Whilst supporting those proposals, will Britain give a lead and set an example by ending further nuclear tests and seeking the removal of the United States' Polaris bases from Britain?

The Government's position on this matter has been made clear. We want a multilateral nuclear disarmament as part of a general disarmament. We look forward to the total abolition of nuclear weapons. We are not in favour of taking unilateral action. As regards Polaris, we shall maintain its effectiveness. There is no conflict between that and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We have no intention of moving into a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons.

Is the Minister satisfied that the Soviet Union's concern to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons is as sincere as Britain's concern? Will he give the House an indication of the steps that the Soviet Union is taking to ensure that we move towards a system of general multilateral disarmament?

This issue was fully discussed by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on their visit to Moscow. One of the most important declarations that came out of that visit was the declaration on this matter. We hope that it will lead to fruitful discussions between now and the NPT Conference. I have no reason to question the integrity of either of those who signed the agreement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the major weakness of the NPT is that there are no safeguards against the nuclear supply to non-parties? Does it not defeat the whole object of the treaty if countries which have not renounced nuclear weapons have freer access to nuclear technology and materials than those countries which have renounced them? Is it not absurd that America can supply Egypt and Israel with nuclear reactors which are not subject to the safeguards contained in the NPT?

We believe that constraints on the spread of nuclear weapons would be enhanced if all nuclear supplying countries were to require safeguards on the export of nuclear materials and all equipment to non-nuclear States as stringent as those designed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have made many proposals with the International Atomic Energy Agency, designed to promote discussions. I hope that those discussions will lead to a greater effectiveness.

What representations did the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Prime Minister make to their Soviet hosts on Britain's concern at the Soviet Union's continuing escalation of the nuclear arms race and the fact that it is currently producing 5,000 tanks a year, approximately 10 times as many as the United States— all under the cloak of détente?

I think that the House will know from statements that have been made on the discussions that my right hon. Friends had on nuclear weapons, on MBFR and on the European Security Conference, that every attempt is being made that can be made by agreement to reduce the level of armaments.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that this country has not fulfilled its obligations under Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty, and that it would be better to go to the review conference in May with some kind of commitment?

I do not accept that we have not fulfilled our obligations. I think that we shall go before the review conference having been extremely active in this field, and strengthened by the deliberations that took place in Moscow. There is still some time before the review conference starts, but we shall certainly go into it in a positive mood.

The Minister, if I heard him aright, made a surprising unqualified statement. He appeared to me to say that the Government have no intention of moving to another generation of nuclear weapons irrespective of whether or not there is multilateral nuclear disarmament. Did I understand him aright? If so, is not this a new statement of policy with very dangerous implications?