HC Deb 20 March 1985 vol 75 cc858-9
10. Mr. Meadowcroft

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will recommend the inclusion of the British independent nuclear deterrent in the Geneva arms reduction talks.

Mr. Luce

We have made it clear that, as far as the United Kingdom's independent deterrent is concerned, it would be wrong as things stand for us to seek to trade reductions with a super power. But we have made it clear that if Soviet and United States strategic arsenals were to be very substantially reduced, and if no significant changes had occurred in Soviet defensive capabilities, the United Kingdom would want to review her position and to consider how best she could contribute to arms control in the light of the reduced threat. That remains our position.

Mr. Meadowcroft

While I note the Minister's earlier comment that Britain was not a party to the talks at Geneva, may I ask whether he believes that it would assist those talks if Britain were to be a party to them? If that is the case, surely a pre-condition to participation in those talks is the willingness to include our own independent nuclear deterrent in the talks on disarmament.

Mr. Luce

No. To go back to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I think that the essential pre-condition for any progress in the very serious arms race that has been taking place in the last few years is that the two main super powers, who possess the vast bulk of the strategic arsenal of the world, should get together and see whether they can make progress. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the British Government support the June communiqué issued by Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko. We give every support to that. We are in close consultation with the United States. With regard to the British deterrent, the position is as stated in my answer to the question.

Mr. Leigh

Will my hon. Friend accept that, given that this country on occasions can maintain only one Polaris submarine at sea, a reduction in our nuclear capability would mean, in effect, a cancellation? Will he also accept that there is a difference between accepting that and helping the disarmament negotiations by allowing our nuclear weapons to be taken into account in the total number of Western forces?

Mr. Luce

Indeed. We have to consider what is the minimum requirement to provide an effective deterrent in our independent strategic deterrent force. That is a factor that we have to keep in mind all the time. We have to remind ourselves that our forces are literally only 3 per cent. of, for example, the strategic forces of the United States and/or separately of the Soviet Union, and that it must be for them to see whether they can make progress, as we hope they will. Thereafter, of course, we can consider our position.

Mr. Healey

Following the question of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), is the Minister aware that Mr. Gromyko himself said that the Soviet Government were seeking not a reduction in British nuclear forces but only that they should be counted in the balance of offensive forces on the Western side in the Geneva talks? Since Her Majesty's Government in the 1983 White Paper on defence said that the Russians must take account of the British nuclear forces, what possible objection is there to allowing the Russians to take account of those forces in the arms talks?

Mr. Luce

At this stage what is important is that the two super powers, which are the main possessors of all strategic weapons, should get together and try to see whether they can make progress. As I have said, our position is quite clear. If they make substantial progress, we can reconsider our position.