HC Deb 04 November 1986 vol 103 cc784-7
1. Mr. Clay

asked the Secretary of Defence what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Government of the United States concerning the strategic defence initiative; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)

I have had a number of discussions on SDI with representatives of the United States Government in recent weeks, including at the NATO nuclear planning group meeting at Gleneagles. The detail of those discussions is confidential, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to the NPG communiquéé, a copy of which has been placed in the Library.

Mr. Clay

Is it not the case that the Reykjavik summit demonstrated that the illusion of SDI, far from enhancing the possibility of nuclear disarmament, is the main stumbling block? In the light of that, should not the Secretary of State have a word with the Prime Minister and ask her to tell President Reagan that we believe that the only reason why America wants British involvement is to rip off commercial research and development by British firms? Will the Secretary of State come clean about the anti-tactical ballistic missile initiative and make an honest statement? Finally, will he tell President Reagan to withdraw this proposal and grasp the offer made by Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik?

Mr. Younger

Nothing that happened at Reykjavik alters the fact that the Soviet Union has been engaged in research into strategic defence matters for a long time, and that its efforts at Reykjavik were aimed at trying to prevent the United States from doing the same while carrying on doing it itself, which seems wholly unreasonable.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we can get away from the doctrine of MAD — mutually assured destruction—that would be of great advantage to the world, not just the East, but the West as well? Do we not want to get away from that and substitute something effective, which will work to ensure peace for the future?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend, and that is why the Government put such a high priority on encouraging our allies in the United States to negotiate as strongly as they can for reductions, in arms provided that they are balanced reductions, including all types of armaments, so that security in the West can be maintained.

Mr. Beith

Do the Government believe that SDI can create an impenetrable nuclear shield which will make nuclear weapons unnecessary? How will that help Europe?

Mr. Younger

The purpose of the SDI programme is to establish whether such techniques can produce such an effect and, if so, whether they can be deployed to be an extra protection for the West. British participation is based on the fact that it is research into that possibility and no further.

Mr. Wilkinson

Was not the President of the United States in a sense set up by the Soviets at Reykjavik? Does my right hon. Friend agree that for General-Secretary Gorbachev to make the abandonment of SDI a precondition for arms control progress was a dangerous step on his part, as the whole world was looking forward to an early sumit in the United States, with an agenda settled at Reykjavik and agreed by both sides?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct to suggest that had President Reagan agreed to the one condition that the Soviet Union and Mr. Gorbachev tried to lay down at Reykjavik he would have given away the right of the West to research into those matters while leaving the Soviet Union free to continue to do so. My hon. Friend is right in thinking that that would be a dangerous mistake and we should be grateful to President Reagan for not agreeing to it.

Mr. Mason

In the wake of the Reykjavik conference and the briefing that the Prime Minister received from Mr. Gorbachev's special emissary — a report which the Secretary of State for Defence must have read—to what extent was the SDI barrier responsible for the breakdown of the talks? If the SDI is so important, what are the prospects of any arms reductions between East and West and further talks?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point. At present it is not clear whether the Soviet Union is mainly worried about the precise definition of research and getting a tighter limit upon that, or whether it will be so completely opposed to the SDI programme in any conceivable circumstances that that will be a stopping point to any progress. I hope that that is not the case, but it is one matter that must be explored at Geneva.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my right hon. Friend spell out the new projects on which British scientisits are engaged in this area and what advantages are likely to accrue to Britain as a result? Is it not sensible that Britain should be involved in anti-missile defence? Will that give us some chance of playing a part in the decision whether the project could be implemented in the next century?

Mr. Younger

I cannot give precise details of each project in which British firms are involved. At present about $17 million worth of business is coming to British firms as part of the SDI programme. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that such research, in which British firms are participating, is trying only to establish whether such techniques will be important for the defensive shield of the West in future.

Mr. Denzil Davies

In an earlier answer the right hon. Gentleman said that it was the British Government's view that arms should be reduced. As President Reagan offered at Reykjavik to get rid of all strategic nuclear weaponry within 10 years, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government were consulted on that offer and whether they approve of and agree with it?

Mr. Younger

The British Government were closely, effectively and constantly consulted in the preparations for the Reykjavik summit. I could not possibly have expected any closer consultation than there was. During the two days of the summit, the discussions naturally had to be conducted between those who were present, not others who were then in America or in Europe. It has always been the British Government's objective to achieve reductions in arms. If, in due course, taking into account all factors, including conventional and chemical weapons, we could approach a period of big reductions or even zero weapons, we would be prepared to take part in that process. But we are not prepared to accept only one part of it on its own.

2. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if any British officials or scientists were present at the recent American testing of SDI equipment in the Nevada desert.

Mr. Younger

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the nuclear test that was carried out in the Nevada desert on 16 October and which has been confirmed publicly by the United States Department of Energy. No British officials or scientists were present.

Mr. Hughes

Is it true that the SDI scuppered the Reykjavik disarmament talks and that further star wars tests mean further nuclear tests to determine the feasibility of the X-ray system? When will the Government realise that if they want disarmament and a comprehensive test ban treaty, the sooner they get off the Reagan bandwagon the better?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. There has been no suggestion that that nuclear test was related to the strategic defence initiative. The Americans have made it clear that they abide by the anti-ballistic missile treaty and, therefore, no nuclear tests in space would be permitted as part of the research into the SDI programme. The hon. Gentleman's question falls on both parts. As for the ending of the Reykjavik summit, the reason why agreement was almost achieved but was not reached was the insistence of the Soviet Union that the Americans should abandon their SDI research, while leaving the Soviet Union free to do its own. That was an extraordinarily bad bargain, which President Reagan was right to refuse.

Mr. Marlow

If Britain were to adopt the defence policy, or lack of policy, which has been sold to the Labour party by Mrs. Ruddock and Mrs. Kinnock, would we not find that, with no Americans in Europe and with no nuclear weapons in Western Europe, the only way that we could defend ourselves would be with our own SDI?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend may well be right on that point. If the British Government had followed the policies advocated by the CND, the Labour party and others, we should he left now with the Soviet Union not being prepared to negotiate on any aspect of cruise missiles and we should have the SS20s pointed towards us in western Europe, with nothing to counter them. It seems to me that this episode is a complete demolition of the whole theory upon which the CND is based.

Mr. Douglas

The Secretary of State has twice alluded to Soviet breaches of treaty obligations. Have the Soviets in any way breached the ABM treaty, and has this matter been raised by the United States with the Soviet Union?

Mr. Younger

On a point of correction, I do not think that I have suggested at any time this afternoon that the Soviet Union has breached the ABM treaty, and I make no such suggestion now. I understand that both sides are prepared to keep within the ABM treaty, but that there is some dispute as to the precise definition of what it involves.

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