HC Deb 09 February 1983 vol 36 cc987-9
7. Mr. McNally

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what current discussions are taking place between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United States Department concerning progress in the various disarmament negotiations; and if he will inform the House of any recent initiatives, suggestions or proposals which have been put forward in such talks by Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Pym

We are in constant touch with the United States Administration about the arms control negotiations, both in NATO and bilaterally. We are discussing the issues thoroughly with Vice-President Bush today. I cannot reveal the content of confidential exchanges with another Government. But I can tell the House that we discussed with the Americans all the initiatives which the West has recently taken in nuclear, chemical and conventional arms control.

Mr. McNally

Does the Secretary of State agree that we have gained the reputation of being "Little Sir Echo" to the American Administration in these negotiations? Does he further agree that there is little evidence of the British Government showing initiatives in this area, a role which, as the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) reminded us at the weekend, has been carried out by successive British Administrations? When will the Prime Minister show the personal interest in disarmament that has been the mark of previous British Prime Ministers?

Mr. Pym

I think that that shows just how little the hon. Gentleman knows about it. Under successive Governments, and certainly under the present Government, there has been a great deal of bilateral contact with the United States, a great deal of discussion about the details of the negotiations and a great many suggestions have been put to them, bearing in mind that at the IMF talks and the START the United States is conducting negotiations on behalf of the West. At the moment the West has more positive initiatives on the table in the various forums than at any previous stage. Many of them are the result of conversations and discussions. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his premise.

Mr. Faulds


Mr. Speaker

I call Mr. Andrew Faulds.

Mr. Faulds

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I sometimes wait a long time to catch your eye. I apologise for the delay. I was at that moment indulging in a private conversation.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept and understand that the people of Britain will be increasingly dissatisfied with a situation in which the British Government do not have control over the dual key operation for the use of nuclear weapons in Britain?

Mr. Pym

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions, and so have I, we have the advantage of the system and method of joint decision with the United States. It is not possible for these weapons to be used without the agreement of both the Prime Minister and the President. That is what the joint decision means. We have re-investigated the position, as happens every time a new Prime Minister or a new President takes office. Since then my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has examined the matter again and is of the conviction, as I am, that the joint decision means what it says, which is a satisfactory position for Britain.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

In view of the preponderance of chemical weapons held by the Soviet Union, does my right hon. Friend envisage any new initiatives with the United States Government to set up talks that might ban the use of these weapons in the event of war?

Mr. Pym

Yes, there have been discussions on the possibility of eliminating chemical weapons altogether. As my hon. Friend knows, we in Britain disposed of ours many years ago. The United States has taken no action on chemical weapons for some time, but it is now taking new initiatives in the talks designed to end the use of these weapons. We have made some positive suggestions about verification and other aspects. I mention this in answer to the original question of the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally). That is a positive position. I hope very much that between us—the United States and ourselves—we will achieve a successful result in this negotiation, but it depends, again, on the response of the Soviet Union.

Mr. George Robertson

The House will welcome the conciliatory remarks of the Foreign Secretary earlier today. Does he accept that agreement on the use of missiles is unlikely to be achieved at Geneva if the zero option is the only proposal being put forward by the United States? Surely it is time for Britain to counter the Soviet propaganda offensive by putting forward proposals of its own, perhaps along the commendable lines of the nuclear free zone proposed by the Palme commission? Surely it is time that we stopped kowtowing to every twist of President Reagan's foreign policy and started to stimulate the process of agreement?

Mr. Pym

I am not so interested in any propaganda related to arms control. I am interested in trying to get an agreement. The whole of our effort is designed and intended to achieve an agreement. That is why we must negotiate seriously around the tables at the various forums, which is what we are doing. With regard to zero-zero, we should hear criticism of the Soviet Union for not accepting it, rather than criticism of us for not moving away from it. If, unfortunately, that turns out to be the case and we are satisfied that the Soviet Union means that it will not in any circumstances accept it, we shall have to consider, and we would in those circumstances consider, a less satisfactory answer—perhaps an intermediate position on the way to a zero-zero position. I believe that the House would think it wise for ourselves and all Governments to be quite sure that there is no possibility of the zero-zero option before we contemplate any other stage, but if we are driven to it of course we will, and then we would have to sit around the table to consider what less satisfactory agreement could be reached to which the Soviet Union would agree.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are in a special position to convey to the United States Government the anxieties that exist within our European continent about the level of armaments and to urge upon that Administration the need for maximum resourcefulness and imagination in their approach to the negotiations in Geneva?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The United States has shown much imagination in this matter. The zero-zero option was put forward by the Americans and has been rejected by the Soviet Union. That rejection should be criticised. Britain and America have been using all their imagination and endeavour to produce a series of proposals as they have become necessary. What we want above all else is an agreement to reduce armaments.