HC Deb 23 November 1982 vol 32 cc702-4
Q1. Mr. Greenway

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 23 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Speaker of the Syrian People "s Assembly. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Greenway

May I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and ask whether she agrees with the speech by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), in which he described the Labour Party's defence policy as a divisive and insular irrelevance? Has my right hon. Friend read the remarks of Mr. Andropov, who said that the Russians were not naive enough to disarm unilaterally? Does she agree that the Labour Party is very naive?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend and the speech that he quoted, in that the only way to peace is through agreement to disarm multilaterally. We shall then reduce nuclear weapons on all sides and maintain a balance at all times. I noticed the statement made in the Soviet Union, which was reported this morning and which I believe was mentioned on the radio, that no one should expect the Soviet Union to disarm unilaterally, and that We are not naive people. I hope that that lesson will not be lost on unilateralist Members of Parliament.

Mr. Foot

Does the Prime Minister not accept that the most serious aspect of this recent issue is the statement yesterday by President Reagan on the proposed deployment of MX missiles? What consultations were there with the British Government before President Reagan made that statement, and what representations did the right hon. Lady make when the subject was raised? Does she not agree that President Reagan's proposal will involve a serious departure from the SALT II agreement?

The Prime Minister

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. The United States of America is perfectly entitled to take steps to modernise its own strategic nuclear force. That is what the announcement about the MX intercontinental ballistic missile was. I do not accept that it will necessarily undercut the SALT agreements. We must remember that President Reagan made proposals about disarmament and that we are waiting for a response from the Soviet Union.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady say what use there is in talking about new arms control arrangements if some of the old arrangements have been torn up? Is it not a fact that President Reagan's proposals, if carried out, would involve a grave breach of SALT II and that it would involve a departure from article 4 of that treaty? Has the right hon. Lady made any representations to the United States on this matter, or does she not care whether the nuclear arms race goes ahead at a much faster speed?

The Prime Minister

I care that we have sufficient to deter an aggressor. That means keeping the United States strategic nuclear force modernised. It means having a reply to intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it means having regard to the level of our conventional Armed Forces. The Americans have said that their basing plan for MX missiles does not undercut the SALT agreements in any respect.

Mr. Foot

This is the most serious matter in the world. We want to know what representations the British Government have made on this matter—or did we just say to President Reagan "You can go ahead, irrespective of whether it injures SALT II"? If the right hon. Lady consults article 4 of SALT II, she will see that this is a breach of that article. I want to know what attitude the British Government took when the proposal was made.

The Prime Minister

It is not for us to tell the United States what to do about its strategic nuclear force. It is for us to recognise that its strategic nuclear force is the final guarantor of Europe's liberty. I have told the right hon. Gentleman that the Americans have said that their basing plan for MX missiles does not undercut the SALT agreements in any respect. We believe that we should negotiate from strength. The right hon. Gentleman would negotiate only from weakness, and he would have no hope of coming to a reasonable settlement.

Mr. Eggar

In view of Mr. Andropov's statement, are we not fortunate that the Labour Party spent so much money on Chevaline when it was in office?

The Prime Minister

That is a fact which some Labour Members conveniently like to forget.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

There are other serious matters relating to the state of the economy. Will the right hon. Lady explain why relations between the Government and British industry are now worse than at almost any time, except for a brief period when the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) sought to tell industry how to do its job?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman at that time was supporting the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I also point out that the premise of his question is wrong. Relations between British industry and the Government are not bad. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed some of the votes at the CBI conference which supported our policy.

Q2. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 23 November.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Powell

Will the Prime Minister say whether Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins are correct in stating in their book on the Falklands that she despatched three submarines to the South Atlantic on 29 March?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, but I did not hear the whole of the hon. Gentleman's question. I have no idea about those two books. I have not read them, because I have been too busy doing other things.

Mr. Churchill

As the United States has not added to its strategic nuclear inventory of missiles since 1967, when it became static at 1,710 missiles, and as during the same period the Soviet Union has been deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles at the rate of 100 a year, is it not humbug and hypocrisy for the Leader of the Opposition to make such a song and dance about the fact that the United States is now belatedly taking steps to modernise its own capability, which is substantially below the SALT II limit?

The Prime Minister



Mr. Ray Powell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Prime Minister's unsatisfactory reply to my question, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.