HC Deb 22 April 1987 vol 114 cc660-2
11. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the issues raised with Mr. Gorbachev during his recent visit to Moscow.

Mr. Renton

I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 2 April, and to the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs during the foreign affairs debate on 7 April.

Mr. Beith

In the light of the indications given by Mr. Gorbachev since the summit of willingness to make progress on short-range missiles and on conventional forces, are the Government now prepared to seek realistic bargains that will guarantee Western security, or have they taken fright at the possibility that multilateral disarmament might actually succeed?

Mr. Renton

Since the Government came into office in 1979 we have been seeking to make realistic bargains. That is why we have endorsed the zero-zero principle from the time that we came to office, and why we have sought a ban on chemical weapons that is verifiable and effective on both sides. That has been the hallmark of our period in office. We have sought stability, but at lower levels of armament, and we shall continue to do so.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that we must insist on two things in any negotiations: first, that we retain battlefield nuclear weapons to counter the conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact; and, secondly, that we retain strategic nuclear weapons to ensure that Mother Russia realises that she cannot fight colonialist wars on other people's territory?

Mr. Renton

I note carefully the points made by my hon. Friend. Mr. Gorbachev has said that he is prepared to discuss the question of battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons, and that is one of the matters that the NATO experts will examine carefully in the weeks ahead.

As for our own strategic independent deterrent, I fully agree that that is the minimum deterrent that we require. It will be necessary as long as the level of strategic weapons on the Russian side remains as high as it is now.

Mr. Winnick

Tory Members seem to love nuclear weapons ——

Mr. Dickens

We do not love the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Winnick


Was one of the issues raised in the talks with Mr. Gorbachev the question of ensuring that those held responsible for the most monstrous Nazi crimes against humanity should face justice? Is the Minister aware that many of us believe that the United States should be congratulated on deporting the person yesterday, and that others also held responsible for such crimes should be dealt with in the same way.

Mr. Renton

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that no one loves nuclear weapons and that his remark was very foolish. The fact is that the possession of nuclear weapons by the NATO countries has helped to keep the peace in Europe for the past 40 years. There is currently no prospect of the deterrent effect provided by nuclear weapons being provided by conventional forces in the near future. The hon. Gentleman's point about war criminals, was not discussed during the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow. I note with care and interest what he said about the deportation of the war criminal from the United States to the Soviet Union in the last two days.

Mr. Jackson

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the new era of arms control negotiations that seems to be opening up Britain will derive considerable advantage from being led by a Government and a Prime Minister who enjoy a position of unique respect, not only in Washington, but in Moscow?

Mr. Renton

I am quite certain that that is right. That fact enabled the Prime Minister to have many hours of very frank and useful discussions with Mr. Gorbachev during her recent visit to Moscow. It gave both her and Mr. Gorbachev a unique insight into the systems that operate in both countries. That was a very valuable reward for the steadfastness that we have consistently shown on arms control matters.

Mr. Healey

I must say that that Walter Mitty jibe comes very oddly from anybody who can talk like that about the Prime Minister's influence on arms control. If the Minister really believes that it is desirable to reduce nuclear weapons to their lowest level, compatible with our security, why does he not accept the total abolition of a whole class of weapons — short-range intermediate nuclear forces, a proposal that was under study in Washington at least a month ago—rather than seek to freeze a Soviet superiority which the Prime Minister claims is a superiority of 9: 1? Can there be any excuse for such bizarre behaviour, except what the Russians accused the Prime Minister of after she left—nuclearphilia?

Mr. Renton

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman clearly did not listen to my previous answer. I said that we were prepared to consider the elimination of certain categories of nuclear weapons, provided that this did not jeopardise the security of either ourselves or other NATO members. It is precisely this point that the expert groups in NATO are considering at the present time.

Mr. Batiste

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that Mr. Gorbachev understands that the West views the improvement of the Soviet Union's record on human rights as an acid test of his willingness and ability to honour the Soviet Union's international commitments?

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend has a point, but I do not think that it is possible directly to link arms control with performance on human rights. We are all delighted that the number of exit visas that are being granted to, for example, Jewish refuseniks, has greatly increased—there were 490 in the month of March—but there is still no sign of an improvement in the treatment of either the Christian orthodox priests or the Baptist pastors in the Soviet Union. Therefore, in terms of moving towards real political freedom for those with a religious or a political conscience, the Soviet Union still has a very long way to go.

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