HC Deb 01 July 1987 vol 118 cc479-81
4. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the North Atlantic Council meeting at Reykjavik on 11 June.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I told the House on 26 June, the conclusions that were reached at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Reykjavik were a notable fulfilment of our efforts to promote a real improvement in East-West relations. The United Kingdom was one of the main architects of the agreement that was reached at Reykjavik on the double zero option on intermediate nuclear forces. We have also played a central role in preparations within the Alliance for negotiations on achieving a better conventional balance. The Reykjavik communiqué confirmed the Alliance's arms control policies that were set out last December. A copy of the communiqué has been placed in the Library of the House.

Miss Fookes

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say whether any consideration was given to the control of chemical weapons, in which, I believe, the Soviet Union has a marked superiority over the West?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Yes, that was identified, as it had been in the earlier NATO communiqué, as one of the high priorities for progress. We wish to achieve a worldwide ban on chemical weapons. Last year, encouraging progress was made under the United Kingdom chairmanship of the negotiations. As my hon. Friend points out, this is an important matter, because the Soviet Union retains large stocks of chemical weapons, together with comprehensively trained and equipped forces.

Mr. Cartwright

As the North Atlantic Council has endorsed the dual zero negotiations on intermediate nuclear weapons, why should that process not be extended to the most dangerous class of nuclear weapons, the battlefield systems? Why do the Government not endorse the concept of NATO and the Warsaw pact negotiating mutual and balanced reductions in the substantial numbers of these weapons that are now deployed in central Europe?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We are seeking to achieve progress on conventional arms control, and that was one of the four priorities that were identified in the communiqué. However, battlefield nuclear weapons form no part of the conventional armoury and there is no question of contemplating reductions in the United States and Soviet land-based nuclear missiles with a range of under 500 km, except in conjunction with the establishment of a conventional balance and the global elimination of chemical weapons.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the most serious aspects of any double zero option is the verification after the agreement? Therefore, does he agree that the expertise of the seven nations group of the Western European Union on verification of armaments, which was formed after the last world war, should be used to its full?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have no doubt that that capacity should be used as far as it can be. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that a rigorous and effective system of verification is essential. That remains an important part of the negotiations, which still have to be resolved.

Mr. Healey

Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that his Government will not seek — [HON. MEMBERS: "Back again?"] May I allay the alarm on the Government Benches—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is a great pleasure to see the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Healey

I simply want to assure the House that I have returned to the Opposition Front Bench not in response to overwhelming public demand or in order to receive more premature obituaries, but because I have another week to go.

Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not seek to circumvent the welcome agreement endorsed at Reykjavik to remove two classes of nuclear missiles from Europe by introducing new cruise missiles to Britian on submarines or aircraft, as proposed by the NATO Defence Ministers just before Reykjavik? Will the Government agree to withdraw the American warheads from the Pershing 1A missiles in Germany if the Soviet Union agrees to abandon the proposal which it agreed with Washington on the retention of 100 nuclear warheads in Asia and the United States?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The agreement, as sought and so far presented, has not been extended to cover P1A weapons in Germany. It is intended to cover United States and Soviet systems only.

In answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the Alliance is totally committed to achieving an INF agreement. In that context it continually assesses its nuclear capabilities and makes whatever adjustments are necessary to maintain deterrence. Obviously, an INF agreement would be taken into account in that continuing process.

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