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Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban

Volume 933: debated on Thursday 16 June 1977

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, I have two statements to make. The first is on a comprehensive test ban treaty.

Nuclear arms control is a field in which we have worked closely with the United States and Soviet Union in the past. We joined with them in the negotiation of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty and the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. For both of these treaties, our three Governments are the joint depositary powers. It has long been our policy to favour a comprehensive test ban, provided that it can be adequately verified and ensures that peaceful nuclear explosions—PNE—are not used to obtain military benefits.

I therefore welcomed President Carter's announcement earlier this year that he intended to make renewed efforts to negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. I told him that he could rely on our full support.

There has followed an exchange of correspondence between myself and President Carter and President Brezhnev, with the result that the United Kingdom will participate with the United States and the Soviet Union in discussions aimed at the negotiation of a comprehensive test ban treaty. I hope that an announcement of the date and place for starting these tripartite discussions will be made shortly and that they will begin next month.

The Government attach the greatest importance to reducing the dangers of nuclear war. We join these discussions in the belief that the United States and Soviet Governments fully share these objectives, for which there is worldwide support.

Is the Prime Minister aware that we support him in entering talks to achieve a comprehensive test ban treaty, but may I put two points to him? As the testing of nuclear weapons is a matter of balance between the advance of the weapons of one country compared with the advance of the weapons of another, will he ensure that the overall aim of the talks is that the security of Europe is increased and not decreased? How does he propose to link NATO with the talks, because our security depends on the NATO Alliance?

We have notified our allies in NATO that we are entering these talks. We have a special responsibility as a depositary power, but there will be discussions with NATO on the progress of the negotiations. As regards the tests themselves, we are concerned about the security of Europe but also about the much wider problem of the security of the world. If we can secure a comprehensive test ban treaty and if France and/or China, which are the other major powers concerned, will join it at a later stage, that will be of very great benefit.

In the light of the final paragraph of the Prime Minister's statement, does he agree that one of the priority areas for discussion should be the removal of Polaris and Poseidon bases from the Clyde and the return of Glen Douglas to ordinary human uses, because this would be regarded by many people as a commitment by the Government to the ending of the threat of nuclear war? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this heavily-populated area would be a priority target in a tactical strike by the Soviet Union or the Americans?

I take leave to doubt the last part of the hon. Lady's question. I am not sure that this area is a priority target. In a sense, every major city and town throughout the whole of Europe and much of the Soviet Union is a priority target, and that is why we should try to get a comprehensive agreement. I do not believe that the people of Scotland would accept that one can unilaterally increase the safety of Scotland or any other part of Europe.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be widely and warmly welcomed? Will he reaffirm that, while the treaty is being sought, there will be no move by the Government towards any new generation of nuclear weapons for this country?

There has been no move towards a new generation of nuclear weapons by the Government. That is the position at the present time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I welcome the fact that this conference is to take place, but is he also aware that the word "comprehensive" has two meanings? It can mean an agreement about all the various ways of testing and it can mean that all those countries that are nuclear or possible nuclear Powers will adhere to the agreement. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in the long term there is a danger to the West if we implement the first without having a comprehensive agreement on the second? Will he take that into account in formulating and possibly wishing to implement a so-called comprehensive agreement?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The word "comprehensive" may be used in both the senses to which he referred. I was referring to it in the nature of an agreement between the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in the first instance. Of course, there are wider ramifications, and they will be taken into account in the later stages of the negotiations when we have seen how all three parties get on and how far we can get agreement.

When representatives of the Government take part in those important discussions, will they be pressing the Soviet Government to do all they can to discourage the use of so-called peaceful nuclear explosions in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, because this can have unfortunate demonstration effects on other countries that might use it as an excuse for conducting their own nuclear developments?

It is the Government's view that it is not possible to distinguish between the technology of peaceful nuclear explosions on the one hand and that of nuclear weapons development on the other hand. There is, however, a view that it is possible. It will be for our scientists and negotiators to consider the arguments that are advanced and to leach a conclusion in the light of those arguments. I state what our present position is.