HC Deb 18 February 1987 vol 110 cc906-7
10. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will seek to arrange discussions on disarmament with representatives of the Government of the Soviet Union.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), had extensive discussions on arms control during his visit to the Soviet Union in January. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will also discuss arms control, among other issues, during her forthcoming visit to the Soviet Union. I see no need to arrange further specific talks in the meantime.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the recent statements by representatives from the Soviet Union that they would welcome more constructive bilateral talks with the British Government on disarmament, particularly nuclear disarmament, will the Secretary of State give more urgent consideration to the distinctive and constructive role that Britain could play, instead of the British Government always seeming to act like a puppet of Ronald Reagan, who does not seem to be all that serious about nuclear disarmament, test-ban treaties or anything else that might help world peace?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I certainly believe that the United Kingdom can and should play a substantial role in advancing the cause of arms control internationally. It is a role that we have been playing consistently under this Government. I have had more than a dozen meetings with my opposite number in the Soviet Union, and when I go with the Prime Minister in a few weeks' time it will be my fourth visit.

The point that must be made clearly is that we are exercising that influence because of the responsible and straightforward policies followed by the Government. If the irresponsible policies advocated by the hon. Gentleman had been in effect there would have been no Camp David agreement, no meaningful consultations and no role for Britain other than that of the whingeing bystander so often represented on the Opposition benches.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that if there are to be important discussions with Mr. Gorbachev and other Soviet Ministers they will be properly prepared, because we do not want any more disasters such as Reykjavik?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not think that the performance of Her Majesty's Government, and most of all the agreements reached at Camp David on two successful occasions, suggest that missions undertaken by the Government are anything other than well prepared. I agree with the importance of that.

Mr. Healey

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Government's behaviour after recent discussions with Soviet representatives led the spokesman of the Soviet Foreign Office, Mr. Gerasimov, to complain that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Minister of State had misrepresented those discussions in self-advertisement for election purposes"? Is he aware that if he and the Prime Minister continue to treat Soviet discussions in that way they will damage British interests and set back the prospects for peace?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Her Majesty's Government and their representatives need to take no special action to advertise the importance and significance of what we are doing in the search for progress on arms control. On the matter of self-advertisement for electoral purposes, we need no lessons in that from the right hon. Gentleman.

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