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Non-Proliferation Treaty (Review Conference)

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The conference has completed its general debate and the two main committees are now conducting a detailed review of the operation of the treaty. Their recommendations are unlikely to be known before next week. A copy of the speech I made to the conference on 6th May has been placed in the Library.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members will welcome and support the statement he made in his speech at the Review Conference that nuclear proliferation is one of the main dangers facing the international community? Will he indicate to the House why it is that Britain is reported as resisting the proposal by Mexico and Sweden that the nuclear weapon States should agree to a fixed timetable for a reduction in nuclear arms that will fulfil the commitment under Article 6?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comment about my speech. I said that this was the most important single problem.

The reason why a number of Governments, particularly the nuclear weapon States, have felt it difficult to be tied to a timetable is that nuclear disarmament can be achieved only by agreement. That agreement cannot be set by a timetable because each side has to get concessions from the others. The purpose of the Review Conference will be partly achieved because a new sense of urgency will be pressed upon the nuclear weapons States, and particularly the super-Powers.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the determination of Powers which are already in possession of nuclear weapons, including the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and now Britain, to maintain and develop their nuclear weapons, represents a real threat to the Non-Proliferation Treaty? Is it not desirable that Britain should make it clear that it does not intend to go ahead? Is it not regrettable that we said last week that we are prepared to have further nuclear tests?

I cannot add much to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 6th May about Britain's position. We have made it clear—I repeated it in my speech to the conference—that Britain has no intention of moving towards a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons. I believe that both the United. States and the Soviet Union are genuine in their attempts to achieve an agreement through SALT.