HC Deb 20 July 1983 vol 46 cc360-2
2. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report recent progress at the disarmament negotiations presently taking place.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Progress in the START and INF negotiations remains disappointingly slow because of Soviet intransigence. In the INF negotiations the Russians are refusing to negotiate about a bilaterally balanced solution. At the mutual and balanced force reductions talks, the East will not agree force levels or effective provisions for verification. In the negotiations in Geneva to ban chemical weapons some progress has been made, but important problems of verification remain.

Mr. Chapman

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, but in connection with the INF talks in Geneva will he confirm that the Russians have made no constructive response whatever to President Reagan's zero option? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there are millions on both sides of the iron curtain who yearn for the Russians to enter into serious negotiations aimed at dismantling their SS20s, which would lead to the West not having to deploy cruise missiles? Does he agree that that is the safest and most practical way ahead to encourage nuclear disarmament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. We have offered the prospect of serious negotiations within the INF talks, and we are still awaiting a positive response of the kind that my hon. Friend would like.

Mr. Russell Johnston

What view does the Foreign Secretary take of the fact that Herr Genscher has again brought up the question of the informal walk in the woods agreement? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that there is a possibility of advance on that basis?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

One should hesitate before building any conclusions on what may or may not be reported about recent exchanges on that previous discussion. It is important to note that the visit to the Soviet Union by Chancellor Kohl, accompanied by Foreign Minister Genscher, has been an impressive opportunity to make plain the firmness of the West in its approach to disarmament and our determination to deploy the weapons as necessary and as agreed, but that that determination is accompanied by an equal determination to embark on disarmament negotiations if the Soviet Union is willing to move.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say when he expects the INF talks to resume? Are they open-ended, or will they automatically terminate, either with an agreement before Christmas or with the arrival of the first cruise missiles in Western Europe?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Without specific notice, I cannot give the date of the recommencement. The date has recently been changed, and unfortunately I do not have the date in my mind.

Mr. Canavan

The right hon. and learned Gentleman should do his homework.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The scene is changing rapidly, and the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) must be patient. I would rather give an accurate answer than a speculative one. The answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question is that there is no reason to suppose that the INF negotiations will be interrupted by deployment on or after 15 November.

Mr. George Robertson

Does the Foreign Secretary think it significant that it was after the visit to Moscow that Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher made the reported suggestion of reviving at Geneva the walk in the woods agreement? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not think that it would be irresponsible if Western Governments went ahead with the immediate deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles when there is a possibility that an agreement might be reached at Geneva on the basis of the tentative agreement that was arrived at last year?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman should not jump to any conclusion of that nature as a result of reports on which he may now be drawing. The best prospect for headway on the INF negotiations will follow from the firm commitment of the West to deployment, as already announced. That will be proceeded with, and it is on that basis that we strongly support the goal which we put forward of the zero option.