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Nuclear Technology

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government intend to respond positively to proposals by the new United States Administration for further limiting the spread of nuclear technology.

As my right hon. Friend's predecessor said on 22nd December 1976, we wholeheartedly welcome the high priority which the new United States Administration are giving to this question. When they put forward firm proposals, we shall study them with care, and I expect our response to be positive.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I welcome that positive response to the indications of the new American Administration's attitude? Is he prepared, on behalf of the British Government, specifically to follow up what the Foreign Secretary himself indicated yesterday—namely, that he would give a fair wind to some of the specific proposals involved, such as a moratorium on commercial reprocessing until the need, cost and safety have been fully assessed, and a strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency, particularly on the very important safeguards side, where the Agency is very undermanned?

I certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty's Government are as concerned about this question as the United States Administration or any other Government. On the question of reprocessing, we certainly share the concern about the export of this technique and we support attempts to limit the export of either reprocessing or enrichment or the production of heavy water. On the final point, we certainly agree that an essential element of this is to improve the inspection and other techniques of the IAEA.

Has not the American President recently proposed stopping all tests, underground as well as in the atmosphere, and would this not probably prevent the invention and the production of further nuclear weapons? Why has Britain not publicly supported this great initiative, which has received a response in Russia? When the Foreign Secretary goes to Washington, will he publicly acclaim this great move towards peace?

I certainly expect that my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister will discuss this question when they go to Washington. Certainly we notice with great interest this proposal and, as my hon. Friend has said, the response that has come already from the Soviet Union. including the suggestion that there might be on-site inspection, which is one of the most important aspects of the question. We should like to follow that up and see whether it means what it appears to mean.

As it requires only three months to withdraw from the proposed non-proliferation treaty, is it wise for Great Britain to agree reprocessing contracts with countries such as Japan, whose contract, if fulfilled, would provide for the return of a very large volume of plutonium to that country?

We certainly see no reason to suppose that Japan will withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty. How- ever, this aspect of the matter to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention is important, and we shall certainly bear it in mind.