Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th January 1979.

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Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 12:00 am, 17th January 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on developments in the negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty with verification since the speeches on the issue by British representatives at the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in the summer.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The tripartite negotiations have continued to make progress towards a properly verifiable treaty. Many of the major issues have been resolved. The negotiations resume on 29th January, and the United Kingdom for its part sees no reason why outstanding issues should not be quickly settled.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Since both sides have now agreed on verification by black box monitors in each territory, why is the United States still stalling? Following the splendid speeches that were delivered in New York on this subject, should not Britain take the initiative, either by abandoning further tests, or at least by making specific proposals at the Geneva meeting to break the deadlock?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

There are specific proposals on the table dealing with verification. There is a recognition that one can overcome some of the problems by having seismic devices. The siting of such devices, how many and the exact arrangements for them have still to be finally negotiated. However, a great deal of progress has been made.

Photo of Mr John Sever Mr John Sever , Birmingham, Ladywood

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in recognising the demands for world peace it might be a good idea, as hinted at by the Prime Minister yesterday, for meetings at Foreign Minister level to be promoted more often? Will he endeavour to see that such meetings with his colleagues across the world are promoted?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I believe that it is helpful for these issues to be raised more frequently at a political level. The United Nations special session was helpful in enabling Prime Ministers and Presidents of States to make commitments on behalf of their countries. I am a long-standing believer in the fact that the MBFR discussions in Vienna, which have become increasingly bogged down, need to be raised to a political level. I also see advantage in the follow-up conference to the Helsinki accords in Madrid at Foreign Minister level.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the most recent SALT talks between the President of the United States and Premier Brezhnev have had any bearing on his thinking on this subject?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I believe that it is fully compatible to have a SALT agreement limiting strategic arms and also to pursue a comprehensive test ban. What one is after in a comprehensive test ban is to try to persuade those countries which are on the threshold of becoming nuclear States not to cross that threshold. They wish to be convinced that the nuclear weapon States are themselves contributing to disarmament and that it is not merely a one-way process. We should not always ask the non-nuclear weapon States to exercise restraint while we, the nuclear weapon States, continue to test an increasingly sophisticated range of weapon systems.