HC Deb 22 April 1987 vol 114 c662
12. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is expected on disarmament proposals following his recent discussions with representatives of the Government of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Renton

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 2 April, there was broad agreement with the Soviet Union both on the step-by-step approach to arms control and on the priorities that should be pursued. We look to early progress in those areas.

Mr. Hughes

Do the Government not recognise that they now have a historic opportunity to bring about an arms deal and that it should be grasped with both hands? Why do they not make a greater effort to obtain a coherent response from both NATO and the other major countries of Western Europe instead of, as they appear to be doing so dismally, trying to move the goal posts?

Mr. Renton

Yes, we do indeed have a historic opportunity, and we have obtained it by our consistent record since 1979—for example, by deploying cruise in answer to the deployment of the Russian SS20s —whereas the Opposition parties—the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and the leaders of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party—voted in 1983 against the deployment of cruise. If cruise had not been deployed, we should not now be in sight of the historic achievement that was referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

While welcoming the Soviet Union's recent moves on short-range weapons, may I ask my hon. Friend to tell the House what progress has been made on the vexed question of verification and what response there has been in Moscow to the excellent proposal put forward by my hon. Friend on the holding by both sides of gas weapons?

Mr. Renton

I think that my hon. Friend means, in particular, the holding of chemical weapons. In Geneva last July I was privileged to table, on behalf of the United Kingdom, an initiative on challenge inspection as the ultimate safety net of verification on chemical weapons, and progress has been made on that. However, there is much detailed work still to be done, and we are discussing it with other members of the conference on disarmament.

As my hon. Friend said, verification remains the absolute necessity of arms control agreements. There is absolutely no point in arriving at arms control agreements that cannot be properly verified, because the resultant sense of insecurity could be much worse than that which we have at present.

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