HC Deb 09 March 1987 vol 112 cc28-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

3.54 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

There is widespread agreement in all parts of the House about the significance of Mr. Gorbachev's announcement on 28 February that the Soviet Union was dropping its previous insistence that any agreement on intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe could not be implemented until a similar agreement had been reached on strategic and space weapons. That statement was warmly welcomed throughout the world. Sadly, so far there has been no opportunity to discuss it in the House. There has been no statement from any Minister and, despite the Government's skeletal legislative programme, they apparently cannot find the time for a debate on the subject. That is why the alliance parties have given up half a day of their precious time to enable Parliament to discuss the issues and to probe and clarify the Government's position on this important subject.

The alliance strongly welcomes the Soviet decision, first because we believe that Mr. Gorbachev was wrong to try to hold progress on INF negotiations hostage to progress on strategic and space systems. The three negotiating baskets of Geneva were always intended to be separate and they should remain so. Secondly, we welcome Mr. Gorbachev's decision because it demonstrates the validity of the 1979 dual-track decision— the decision to modernise NATO's capability, while, at the same time, negotiating to remove the threat of the Soviet SS20s. The apparent success of that strategy reinforces the alliance's belief that sound defence and sensible disarmament are complementary and not contradictory. It also confirms our belief that progress in disarmament is less likely to result from great moral gestures than from patient, tough and determined negotiation.

The worldwide response to Mr. Gorbachev's announcement has been extremely positive. In the United States, the assistant Secretary of Defence, Mr. Richard Perle, seldom known as a dove in such matters, suggested it was a constructive step that should open the way to concluding the remaining issues, leading ultimately to a treaty. That was fairly typical of the response throughout the world.

Strangely, the British Government were almost the last to respond. When the statement appeared the Government were somewhat restrained in their enthusiasm. The Daily Telegraph of 3 March described the Foreign Secretary's statement as carefully avoiding any impression of being over thr moon about the prospect of a zero option agreement". At this stage we should be clear about the origins and purposes of the zero option. It is by no means some sinister Soviet ploy. After Reykjavik, Lord Carrington reminded us that the zero option was inherent in the original dual-track decision of December 1979. The zero option was first put forward officially in a speech by President Reagan as long ago as 18 November 1981. At that stage, he offered the non-deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles in return for worldwide dismantling of Soviet INF missiles. That offer was incorporated in the United States draft treaty that was tabled on 2 February 1982. It is also worth recalling that the draft treaty called for a freeze on the shorter range systems with reductions to be "sought in subsequent phases".

I argue that the zero option represents a good deal for Western Europe. Some 441 Soviet SS20s are now deployed. We may argue about how many of those are deployed against targets in Western Europe, how many are targeted against Asia and how many are in the so-called "swing" zone, which enables them to hit targets on either continent. They are mobile systems and therefore all of them are potentially available for use in the European theatre. With three warheads on every missile, that means that the Soviets have a total of 1,323 warheads in place. That compares with the 572 single warhead cruise and Pershing missiles that would be eventually deployed if NATO completes its planned programme within the next year or so.

Thus, there are substantially more Soviet missiles and warheads to be dismantled or destroyed as a result of the zero solution than there are NATO systems. This would be the first time in the history of arms control that brand-new, effective and sophisticated nuclear weapons were destroyed as a result of an agreement. That is extremely significant.

The Government's position on the zero option has undergone some subtle change since the Reykjavik summit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Subtle?"] It may not be so subtle, but we shall see as I develop my argument. The Prime Minister was originally an enthusiastic supporter of a straightforward zero option solution. On 27 March 1982 at Harrogate the right hon. Lady said: That is our objective, the zero option objective. That is a balanced objective. 'You get rid of yours and we won't put ours in place.' That is a clear and straightforward description of the option.

On 1 November 1983 the Prime Minister said: No one would be better pleased than the Government if the result of negotiations was a zero option by the end of the year."—[Official Report, 1 November 1983; Vol. 47, c. 736.] That was clear, unconditional support for a simple zero option solution. No qualifications were being set out at that stage about, for example, short-range weapons. It seems that it was the Reykjavik summit that set the alarm bells ringing. That summit seemed suddenly to reveal the possibility that the zero option was no longer an abstract theory, no longer a negotiating position. At that stage zero option was threatening to become a reality, and the right hon. Lady seemed to be somewhat concerned about how far President Reagan was intending to go in his negotiations with the Soviet Union.

The Camp David meeting between the President and the Prime Minister produced the statement of November 1986 suggesting that priority should be given to an INF agreement with restraints on shorter range systems. That was no different in character from what had been said before about shorter-range systems in relation to INF. However, the Prime Minister seems to have reinterpreted the Camp David statement in a much stronger form. On 18 November 1986 she was talking about an INF agreement and saying: It would also be subject to negotiating at the same time on shorter-range systems".—[Official Report, 18 November 1986; Vol. 105, c. 444.] In other words, an INF deal was somehow to be held hostage to progress on shorter-range systems.

That is not the view that American Administration officials have taken. Paul Nitze and other officials have made it clear that the United States endorsed the Reykjavik understanding that short-range INF systems would be dealt with but in follow-on negotiations. There has been no support for the, idea that an INF deal would somehow be conditional on an agreement on short-range systems.

Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has great experience of these matters because I am a member of the North Atlantic assembly with him. Does he agree that General Rogers, the C in C of NATO in Europe, took the same position as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? He had doubts and he wanted to safeguard certain matters.

Mr. Cartwright

That is a fair point. I wish to consider short-range systems in more detail later. When I reach that stage, I shall try to deal with the issue which the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I was dealing with the switch in Government emphasis and the much greater importance that was suddenly given to short-range INF systems after the Reykjavik summit. The Secretary of State for Defence does not seem to have been swept along by the sudden anxiety about short-range systems. The right hon. Gentleman attended a Gleneagles meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in October after the Reykjavik summit and he was quoted in a number of national newspapers on 22 October as saying: any INF deal should take into account the 'wider spread of weapons' in Europe, but at the end of the day 'if we can get a deal on INF alone then that's fine as far as the British Government is concerned.' That was a welcome statement, and I shall be interested to see whether the right hon. Gentleman is as clear-cut in his comments this afternoon on that issue or whether he, too, has had to refine his attitude towards the zero option.

Since Mr. Gorbachev's statement on 28 February the Prime Minister has become even more strident in her denunciations of what she has described as the "huge imbalance" in the Soviet Union's favour in shorter-range nuclear systems in Europe. She has talked about the Soviet Union's "total superiority" in such systems. As a result, it seems that there is a suggestion that no deal should be done on INF until the imbalance is somehow sorted out.

I wish briefly to consider the issue of shorter-range INF systems. It is understandable that there should be concern that, if the SS20s are withdrawn, their role might be performed by shorter-range systems, especially if those systems are based forward. We know that the SS21s arid SS22s were brought forward into eastern Europe as a counter to cruise and Pershing deployments after December 1983. The Soviets have made it clear, however, that they are willing to withdraw those forward-based SS21s, SS12s and SS22s as soon as an agreement is signed on INF systems—the cruise and the Pershing on the NATO side and the SS20 on the Soviet side. There is thus a willingness on the part of the Soviet Union to deal with the problem as soon as an INF deal is signed.

There is also a proposal by the Soviet side to begin talks immediately with a view to reducing and, if necessary, eliminating other nuclear missiles in Europe. There is a willingness, a possibility and a potential for dealing with the problem to some extent immediately, and further by additional negotiations.

There is nothing new about Soviet superiority in shorter-range nuclear missiles. That has been the position for at least 20 years. It was well known in December 1979 when NATO took its dual-track decision, and NATO did not make that decision relate to the problem of shorter range systems.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I appreciate that there were strong political reasons for Europe taking that dual-track stance in 1979 and again later. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the world has moved on since then, especially in the grey area of shorter-range systems. Is he suggesting that we should trust the Soviet Union, after we have signed a zero-option agreement on long-range systems, to fulfil the promise that it has made, and that there should be no linkage with the discussions on long-range systems?

Mr. Cartwright

I believe that the deal that was accepted by both sides at Reykjavik is a sensible one. We can arrive at a settlement on the long-range INF systems immediately— that was implied originally by the 1979 dual-track decision— and then move on to consider short-range systems. I take up the issue of the Soviet short-range threat.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the West should trade the certainty that its own INF, which has been so painfully put in place, would be dismantled in return for the possibility of negotiations, with no certain outcome, on short-range systems that directly affect us?

Mr. Cartwright

I am suggesting that the deal that was worked out at Reykjavik is a sensible one. It responds immediately to what was set out to be dealt with in 1979, the longer-range INF systems. The Soviets have offered negotiations and to take back immediately the systems which have been based forward. They have offered negotiations on the shorter-range systems. That seems to be acceptable to the United States and I cannot understand why it is not acceptable to Conservative Members.

I shall deal with the alleged difficulty about Soviet short-range systems. The most modern SS21s and SS23s account for only about 200 systems in the Soviet inventory. Much of the apparent Soviet superiority consists of elderly missiles of extremely doubtful accuracy. It is worth saying that Soviet superiority in very short-range systems, such as battlefield and short-range tactical systems, is balanced by NATO's much larger stocks of nuclear artillery shells and bombs. That is something we should bear much in mind.

Short-range systems are certainly important but we should not allow ourselves to be mesmerised by the problem. Secondly, we should not start to shift the INF goalposts as a result of the Soviet's superiority in short-range systems.

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)

I am interested that the hon. Gentleman is now such an enthusiastic supporter of the zero-zero option for intermediate nuclear systems. That has not always been his position. In a debate in the House on 31 October 1983, the alliance tabled an amendment that urged the Government effectively to cease deploying cruise and Pershing missiles in exchange for a reduction by the Soviet Union in the number of SS20s that they deploy. Does he think in retrospect that that was wrong and that the Government's decision was right?

Mr. Cartwright

No. If the hon. Gentleman does a little more research than he has apparently done, or does not depend only on Tory Central Office, he will discover that in that debate the alliance had an amendment of its own which called for further negotiations with the Soviet Union without in any way weakening NATO's bargaining position. He would also find out that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) made it clear that we regarded the zero option as the best long-term possibility, but at that stage in the game it was not a practical possibility because the Soviet Union had clearly ruled it out. Therefore, we were arguing for something very much closer to the "walk in the woods" solution, which had a great deal of support at that time.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

The hon. Gentleman has put fairly the position that he put in the debate in 1983. However, does he recall that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Social Democratic and Liberal parties, including the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), voted against the deployment of cruise and Pershing at the end of the debate, with the Labour party? Every single one of them voted in that way.

Mr. Cartwright

Every member of the alliance voted in favour of our amendment and the Labour party summoned up all its courage on the issue and bravely abstained on our amendment. That was the position. We set out five objections to the Government's motion and we voted against the Government's motion, not against deployment. If the right hon. Gentleman disputes that in any way I refer him to the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) on 23 November 1983 after the Soviet Union had quit the negotiations at Geneva. He said: NATO has no alternative but to continue with the first stage of the deployment."—[Official Report, 23 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 329.] That kills the right hon. Gentleman's argument that somehow we voted against deployment. We did not; we voted against the Government.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cartwright

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have been generous in giving way.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Does my hon. Friend recall that when I was the defence spokesman for the Liberal party in 1979 I agreed with the Government on the need to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles if the SS20s were not withdrawn and I repeated that and carried the party with me in 1981 at Blackpool?

Mr. Cartwright

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful contribution.

Mr. Leigh


Mr. Cartwright

I have been reasonably generous in giving way. I think that I have given way sufficiently for the moment.

I want to move on to some of the other issues that have been raised against the background of Mr. Gorbachev's announcement. That includes issues such as verification, chemical weapons, the conventional imbalance and the doctrine of flexible response. All those issues have been raised in relation to the possibility of an IMF deal.

Verification is obviously an extremely essential element in any agreement. The United States has proposed a full exchange of information. It has proposed on-site verification of dismantling and effective monitoring of the future of missile sites. The Soviet Union, for its part, has agreed in principle but has so far been somewhat reluctant to fix details of verification procedures. However, modern satellite surveillance systems have enabled us to know accurately the details of SS20 deployments made so far and I believe that it should be possible by using those methods to prevent cheating. It is worth recalling that there are problems for the Soviet Union, too. The United States deploys many hundreds of cruise missiles which could be nuclear armed or conventionally armed. It is extremely difficult for the Soviet Union to know whether they are carrying nuclear or conventional warheads. Verification will obviously involve a great deal of tough, detailed negotiation but I do not believe that it should be allowed to become a stumbling block in the progress towards an agreement.

There is no doubt that the Soviet Union's possession of chemical weapons is a threat but that threat has not radically changed since December 1979. The progress now being made at the United Nations disarmament conference—I give credit to Her Majesty's Government for the role Britain has played in the negotiations—is of great importance. Currently, the negotiations are balanced on the issue of verification, particularly the American concern about challenge verification, but I cannot believe that tying chemical weapons to an INF deal in any way would make agreement at Geneva any easier.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

On the matter of chemical weapons, when the hon. Gentleman says that the threat has not changed, is he telling the House that there has not been a build-up of Soviet chemical weapons since 1979?

Mr. Cartwright

I accept that there has been a build-up but the threat, as an effective threat, is still there. There has been no additional strengthening of that threat. The United States' decision to press ahead with the binary system is something that I very much regret, but whether the threat is stronger or at the same level, the situation is not altered or improved by trying to link negotiations on chemical weapons to INF negotiations.

It has been suggested in some quarters that NATO somehow needs the cruise and Pershing missiles to answer Soviet conventional superiority in Europe. It is worth reminding ourselves that those weapons systems were not deployed in answer to a Soviet conventional superiority. They were deployed in answer to the Soviet's introduction of very much more powerful, accurate and sophisticated intermediate nuclear weapons. NATO was well aware of the conventional imbalance in December 1979 when it took the dual-track decision but it was not an element in that decision. The deployment of cruise and Pershing was conditional on the Soviet removal of SS20 and not on cuts in conventional forces. Again, I would argue that there is no hard evidence that the conventional position has worsened dramatically since December 1979. In fact, I would suggest that there is some evidence that NATO is at last beginning to get its act together on conventional forces.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cartwright

Yes, but this must be the last time.

Mr. Stewart

Would the hon. Gentleman take into account the evidence of Robert McNamara from his tremendous knowledge of the position, that when there is a slight preponderance in favour of the Soviet Union, it has been grossly exaggerated?

Mr. Cartwright

I would probably go a little further than the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that it is a "slight preponderance" but a worrying preponderance. However, I take the view that one can exaggerate. That is a fair point.

In NATO we cannot go on seeing nuclear weapons as some sort of crutch to bolster NATO's conventional deficiencies. Deterrence has to rest on a mix of nuclear and conventional strength and the nuclear component ought to be seen as a weapon of last resort, not something to be used for war fighting. Therefore, I could not accept any attempt to link an INF deal to conventional force levels. That is an important issue but it should be the subject of separate negotiations.

That brings me to the issue of flexible response. I certainly accept that it could be argued that a zero option and the removal of intermediate nuclear missiles undermines the doctrine of flexible response because it removes one rung in the ladder of escalation. However, that again was clearly foreseen in December 1979 as an inherent result of the dual-track decision. If the SS20s are removed there is not the same need to respond with comparable nuclear weapons systems. In any case, NATO would retain substantial nuclear capability in the European theatre; for example, dual-capable aircraft, United States submarine-launched cruise missiles and even the United Kingdom nuclear forces dedicated to NATO.

In any case I have some doubts about the scenario of nuclear escalation being based on some sort of stately gavotte starting with battlefield systems, moving through tactical and intermediate systems to strategic nuclear weapons. I agree with General Rogers, the supreme allied commander in Europe, who has always said that when one crosses the nuclear threshold at the lowest level one has no idea about what will flow from that decision. Therefore, I do not believe that we should let some slavish adherence to the doctrine of flexible response stand in the way of sensible disarmament.

The Government are right to be careful and cautious about the prospect for an INF deal. The deal is certainly not in the bag. A great deal more negotiation will be needed before we can sign an agreement. Therefore, a cautious and careful approach is justified but there is a difference between being cautious and careful and raising unnecessary obstacles along the road. I think that we are all agreed that Mr. Gorbachev was wrong to link INF agreements to progress on SDI. It would be just as wrong now for the West to try to link an INF deal to other important issues which must be the subject of separate negotiations. NATO fixed the goalposts of the zero option in 1981 and it would be foolish for us now to try to move them.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge and authority on these matters. Therefore, can he tell the House once and for all, because it is important for the House and the nation to know, whether he now disavows the statement in the official 1986 Liberal publication "These are Liberal Policies", that the alliance was opposed to the deployment of cruise missiles?

Mr. Cartwright

Fortunately, I am not responsible for what goes into "These are Liberal Policies". If that statement were simply reflecting a Liberal assembly decision, no doubt it was an accurate description of the Liberal assembly vote. However, if we are talking about the way in which the alliance votes in Parliament and the position that it took, it is absolutely clear that we backed the dual-track position of December 1979. Although we wanted negotiations to go on until the last moment and we wanted them to succeed, at the end of the day we accepted that deployment had to take place. That is the position, which we made absolutely clear.

Let me look again at the prospects for negotiations. The House should also bear in mind that an agreement on INF would be an important confidence-building step for other negotiations, which are likely to be even more complex and demanding, for example, on shorter-range systems, conventional defence, chemical warfare, and so on. Those of us who believe in negotiated disarmament should bear in mind that it is important that we start to show some results from negotiated disarmament. The Labour party is no longer interested in securing negotiated disarmament. It believes that one disarms first and hopes that the others will follow in one's footsteps. Those of us who do not accept that road and who believe that disarmament comes through negotiations must now start to show some results. There is not much to show from the past—the threshold test ban treaty, the unratified and now increasingly tattered SALT II and an ABM treaty that is increasingly under pressure. There is now a welcome sense of urgency about INF negotiations, and it would not be right for us to confuse our objectives with other important issues.

We need a clear step-by-step approach to the difficult and time-consuming business of disarmament negotiations. That approach was endorsed strongly by the Foreign Secretary in the unlikely setting of a dinner in East Berlin on 4 April 1985 when he justified the case for seeking individual disarmament agreements by quoting Plutarch as having said: Many things which cannot be overcome when they are taken together yield themselves up when taken little by little. Those words are just as relevant today as when the Foreign Secretary used them almost two years ago.

I urge the Government to throw their full weight behind the effort to secure the zero option as a vital first step in the long process of negotiated disarmament.

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

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) for giving us the opportunity to discuss what is undoubtedly a matter of great importance, which greatly interests all hon. Members. I thank him for the thoughtful way in which he has done his best to present a case, but I am bound to add that I cannot help feeling a great deal of sympathy for him in the impossible task with which he has been landed. There are some clear pointers to the extreme difficulty of that task.

One is a truly extraordinary situation that I cannot recall happening before. An Opposition party that had to choose an important matter for a debate in which there are clear policy lines to be discussed has failed even to attempt to table a motion on which the House can express a view for or against. We know why that is. There is not the remotest chance that the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party could have got together between the middle of last week and now and devised any motion that would have got both parties into the same Lobby.

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

My right hon. Friend says that he cannot recall a similar incident. I recall not long ago a debate on defence matters, initiated by the leader of the Liberal party, in which he gave several options, none of which he thought he would favour. In fact, he said in terms that these matters could not be decided by a party in opposition because it did not have sufficient knowledge.

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. I remember that other strange operation, of which today's operation reminds me, when the leader of the Liberal party produced 10 different options. He expressed doubts about all of them, and none has been heard of again. That is not surprising.

It cannot be without significance that this important debate, decided upon by the alliance I understand, has been attended by only two members of the Liberal party. It is clear why that is so. Most of the remarks of the hon. Member for Woolwich—certainly all those with which I agreed, of which there were a considerable number—would be turned down outright by any version of the Liberal assembly that anyone likes to invent.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, his anxiety to try to please both halves of his responsibilities has led him to some strange conclusions. He said that he had no doubt that the zero option was a good deal. I am grateful for that. He is right. That is why we should pursue it. However, the hon. Gentleman may not have remembered that on 31 October 1983 his right hon. Friend—if that is the right description—the leader of the Liberal party gave as the third reason for not having supported the Government on the twin track decision that he did not agree with the emphasis put on the zero option.

Mr. Cartwright

I cannot let the right hon. Gentleman get away with that. If he looks at the rest of what my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party said, he will see that he said that he dislikes the emphasis placed on the zero option, and he added: Of course that was the best option".—[Official Report, 31 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 640.] But it was not the best option to obtain agreement at that time.

Mr. Younger

That was a noble effort. I can only say that, in the Government's view, that was the best option; and today it is clear that it has paid off handsomely and the Government were right throughout.

The hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that the Americans were not in favour of restraints on the short-range intermediate nuclear forces. With respect, that is untrue. It has been part of the American negotiating position for several years—about four or five years. So the hon. Gentleman is not correct on that.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that Mr. Gorbachev was said to have announced that he would withdraw the short-range intermediate nuclear weapons, but the point is that the word is "withdraw". The hon. Gentleman would do well to ponder the difference between "withdraw" and "destroy". Withdrawing those highly mobile weapons is not a great reassurance to those of us who are frightened that they could easily be moved around quickly and deployed against us.

The hon. Gentleman has one advantage in his difficult task— he is provided, by the twin-headed advisers who sit behind him, with an argument for almost every occasion. He cannot be stuck, whatever happens. For instance, he had to marry the difference between these two statements. His hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), whom I am delighted to see here, correctly intervened on 13 December 1979 to say: I, on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues, fully support the decisions taken in Brussels yesterday, as we agree that it is necessary to update and modernise the NATO theatre nuclear capability."— [Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1545.] Well done indeed. However, let us look at the more up-to-date "These are Liberal Policies" of 1986. Page 19 of the Liberal document states: The Liberal Party and the Alliance in Parliament oppose the deployment of cruise missiles in this country. We will seek the immediate removal of those that have now arrived. It is a hard task to represent the alliance on a subject such as this.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Woolwich on one strange theory that he produced today, which simply will not do, and I hope that he will not try it again. He said that he is not responsible for Liberal party policy. I understood that he was appointed as the defence spokesman of the alliance. I can reveal to the House that the alliance consists of two parties— the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party. Therefore, whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, from now on he is responsible for the policies of the Liberal party.

Mr. Stephen Ross

No—for the alliance party.

Mr. Younger

From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight has said, "for the alliance party." Unfortunately, the electors are not given such a luxury. Each one of us must decide whether we support a particular candidate in our constituency. We must support either a Social Democrat or a Liberal, and the policy must be spoken for by the alliance spokesman who is in the Chamber now. I believe that argument is one to which the hon. Gentleman had better not return.

I want to spend a few moments spelling out the Government's position on this important issue. In spite of all that I have said, we are grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich for raising this issue. It is now more than seven years since NATO's twin track decision in 1979 to deploy long-range INF missiles in Europe and at the same time to seek an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. It was a decision that epitomised this Government's approach to security: a determination to provide the defence forces we need, together with a willingness to reach arms control agreements that would provide for security at lower levels of weapons. We went ahead with those deployments, and today it is beginning to look as though the Soviet Union may at last be willing to negotiate a balanced agreement on them.

It is as well to remember how we got to where we are today. By 1979, the Soviet Union had reached approximate parity in strategic weapons with the United States. Then, as now, there was a gross imbalance in conventional forces in Europe. The Soviet Union was rapidly building up its deployments of Backfires and SS20 missiles. Each of these missiles is capable of carrying three nuclear warheads, which could strike targets throughout western Europe. Faced with these threats, it was clearly essential that NATO had an effective response, short of the strategic level, with European-based forces cabable of striking the Soviet Union. NATO's existing capability in this area consisted of aircraft— mainly US F111s— which were becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack on the ground and which faced increasing Soviet air defences. We and our NATO partners therefore decided in 1979 to modernise those forces with ground-launched cruise and Pershing II missiles, to be based in the United Kingdom and four other European countries, beginning in 1983. This was the deployment part of the 1979 decision. The arms control part of the decision was to seek a negotiated agreement on weapons of this type.

For many months, the Soviet Union refused to negotiate at all, but when it became clear that NATO was firm in its resolve to go ahead with the deployment part of its decision, it agreed to negotiations, and these began in November 1981. NATO's position throughout these negotiations has been that there should be global equality between United States and Soviet LRINF missiles.

The most radical proposal was the one we tabled in 1981 for a global ban on all United States and Soviet long range INF missiles. When it became clear that the Soviet Union was not ready for such a radical step, the United States, between 1983 and 1986, tabled a series of interim offers, providing for global equality at levels above zero. The deal agreed at Reykjavik was quite close to the original NATO proposal of global zero— but, as an important concession to the Soviet Union, it was agreed that it could retain 100 SS20 warheads in Soviet Asia, while the United States would retain a similar number in the United States.

What of the attitude of the Soviet Union? Well, we saw a range of tactical moves from the Russians. First, back in 1981, they pretended that balance already existed in INF weapons by distorting the figures and including the United Kingdom and French deterrents of a quite different nature and purpose. They claimed that this meant that NATO should not go ahead with deployments. They tried scare tactics, with dire predictions in 1983 about the consequences if NATO deployments went ahead. Then they tried walking out of the negotiations. When that did not work, they returned to the negotiating table, and we saw Gorbachev's offer of January last year, which offered a zero solution in Europe, but would have left the Soviets with 500 SS20 warheads in Asia, which could rapidly be returned to Europe at a time of tension. Finally, at Reykjavik, they agreed to the zero-100 solution.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman missing out the other important concession made by Mr. Gorbachev at Reykjavik— that he accepted that the French arid the British should retain nuclear weapons as they were European states? Without that concession it would have been harder, and I believe indeed wrong, for the United States to have accepted the 100 SS20s on the Chinese border.

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct. I was going to mention that later. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that the reason why the Russians accepted that qualification was largely that we were clearly determined not to be pushed from that position. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would he generous enough to agree with that.

Mr. Wilkinson

Would my right hon. Friend clarify a very important point about the Soviet SS20 deployments? He referred to Soviet Asia. Is it not true that the 100 SS20s could, from Soviet Asia, threaten Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, the ASEAN states and Japan? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Soviets are seeking to prevent the United States from deploying their 100 INF systems in Alaska?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. Of course, the precise positioning of where we can agree to have those 100 missiles in the Soviet Union will be an important part of the negotiations.

Having reached the zero-100 solution, the Soviet Union then put up another obstacle. Mr. Gorbachev had agreed at his Geneva summit with President Reagan in 1985 that an INF deal could be agreed independently of the other negotiations. But at Reykjavik this linkage was imposed once again. The Russians declared that they could not go ahead with an INF deal without a solution on the SDI, and the opening of negotiations on a comprehensive test ban. It was always hard to see the logic in this position, and we can all welcome the fact that this latest Soviet barrier to progress in the negotiations has also been put aside.

One prominent red herring has been the Soviet attempt to involve the United Kingdom and French deterrents, and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) raised that point a moment ago. We and our NATO allies have been clear throughout that they have nothing whatever to do with the INF negotiations, which are about land-based intermediate range United States and Soviet systems. At first the Soviets claimed that those national deterrents should be matched against their SS20s in Europe; then they tried insisting that they should be prevented from being modernised; and finally, at Reykjavik, Mr. Gorbachev confirmed Soviet acceptance that they had no connection with the INF negotiations.

What lessons can be drawn from this? It is obvious enough that many of the Soviet proposals have been tabled not so much in order to make progress towards a negotiated solution, but rather with the hope of beguiling Western publics and undermining support for NATO deployments and our negotiating positions. Our people, or most of them, are not as naive as some in the Soviet Union appear to think. You will need no reminding, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the volume and heat of the debate on INF deployments when it reached its height in 1983. But we and our allies were clear in our determination to proceed with deployments unless an equitable deal could be reached, and the general election result that year demonstrated that, despite the antics of a noisy minority, the British public knew that to be the right course.

At this point it must be recorded for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Devonport and his right hon. and hon. Friends that throughout this business the Labour party has been solidly supporting the actions and efforts of the Soviet Union to drive a wedge between the two halves of the Alliance on this point. Many Labour Members know that to be true.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most important that we should be extemely cautious about this offer from Mr. Gorbachev, especially as in his statement on 2 March he said: Of course, the conclusion of such an agreement, as has been repeatedly emphasised, should be conditioned by a decision on the prevention of deployment of weapons in space, in view of the organic interconnection of these issues."? In other words, there appears to be something of a qualification there.

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend has raised two points. First, I am sure he will agree that this is not an offer from Mr. Gorbachev. We must remember that this is not an offer from Mr. Gorbachev; this is an acceptance by Mr. Gorbachev of the offer that we have been making and that has been on the table for some considerable time.

Secondly, my hon. Friend may be right to say that there is a qualification in those words. However, as I read them, they refer specifically to deployment, and it is common ground in the West that deployment is not allowed under the anti-ballistic missile treaty and, if it became necessary, it would have to be the subject of negotiation between East and West.

There are other conclusions to be drawn from all this. The 1979 twin track decision was the result of extremely close consultation in the Alliance, and that consultation has continued to this day, at all levels. We have worked together, respecting each other's needs and interests, in pursuing our common goal, often in the face of great pressure and difficulties. That is the strength of the Alliance—that we can work together on that basis—and Opposition Members would do well to reflect solemnly on that fact.

One other point is abundantly clear. We would have got nowhere in the negotiations if we had not been determined to proceed with deploying cruise and Pershing II missiles. We have done so, and that has brought us to the position today where we can see the outline of a deal that would get rid of 90 per cent. of the Soviet SS20 threat. What would the Soviets have offered the unilateralists? What would they have offered if we had failed to go ahead with our deployments?

But we are not home yet. During the past few days, some hon. Members seem to have acquired the impression that an INF agreement is in the bag. That is far from being the case. The Soviet Union has removed this latest self-imposed obstacle, and that is to be warmly welcomed, but a number of important issues need to be resolved, not by declarations and speeches, but by serious and detailed negotiations, if we are to have an agreement. Important details on the long-range INF missile reductions must be resolved. There is also the question of shorter-range INF missiles, which the hon. Member for Woolwich mentioned at some length, which have ranges between 150 km and 1,000 km. The Soviet Union has a large imbalance of about 9: 1 in its favour at this range band. It is an important range, because it allows missile systems in the Warsaw pact to target almost all of western Europe, while NATO missiles of a similar range would be incapable of targeting the Soviet Union. If they were left unconstrained in an LRINF agreement, and especially an agreement banning LRINF missiles in Europe, this could be undercut by Soviet deployments of SRINF systems that could be almost as effective.

That is why part of NATO's negotiating position since 1982 has been that any INF agreement should include constraints on SRINF missile systems of the 500 km to 1,000 km range, which means the Soviet Scaleboard and SS23 missiles. The NATO proposal has remained broadly the same over those years. It calls for a ceiling in Soviet systems of this range, together with a United States right to match them. It is an essential condition for any equitable INF agreement, but the Soviet Union has yet to agree to it. Its offer of negotiations on missile systems of 1,000 km and below is all very well, but it does not provide what is required to prevent an INF agreement from being undercut by deployments at this level.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

There is bound to be an element of confusion in relation to the word "we". I hope that the Secretary of State will try to establish any difference of emphasis between the negotiating posture that INF should be linked to the short-range missiles possessed by the Soviet Union and NATO in Europe and what he seems to be suggesting is the Government and NATO position.

Mr. Younger

I am not sure whether I understood the hon. Gentleman's point, but I have tried to make clear to the best of my ability whether I mean the United Kingdom or NATO when I have used the word "we". If I have not done so, I apologise and will try to make sure that it is clear in the future.

Mr. Douglas

I am sorry if I did not put it clearly. The deficiency is obviously mine. What I am trying to establish is that the United States' negotiating policy does not seem to have a linkage to the short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. We seem to be insisting on such a link.

Mr. Younger

I do not think the hon. Gentleman is correct. It has been part of the United States' negotiating position for years that there should be constraints on short-range systems. That was clearly repeated to me recently when I was in Washington and when Ambassador Nitze and Richard Perle came over here last week.

Mr. A. J. Biffen (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

There is a world of difference between reminding the House that the United States and, indeed, Britain continue to be concerned about short-range nuclear missiles and about seeking a solution to the problem and declaring that it is a condition of arriving at the INF agreement.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman had better check it again himself, but this has been part of the position on the negotiations for a very long time. Indeed, he will find that it is part of the United States' negotiating position at Geneva.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

As I understand it, the United States has produced a counter-proposal to the Soviet initiative— if we can call it that— and circulated a draft treaty. Does that draft treaty refer to SRINF?

Mr. Younger

I cannot go into detail on the proposal that the United States has tabled at Geneva. The negotiators on both sides will know, but I cannot go into that today. I am absolutely clear that the United States has agreed—this was reinforced to me recently—that this is part of its negotiating position. There is no change in that position, and this difficulty, if it is one, is entirely imaginary.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

This is the nub of the debate. My understanding is that the United States' position, as expressed by Mr. Maynard Glitman in Geneva last week, was that they would deal with the intermediate nuclear force negotiations and secure a treaty, in the expectation that they would follow it immediately with further negotiations to deal with the other short-range missiles. That excludes the offer that Gorbachev has apparently made to withdraw— the Secretary of State used the correct word— those deployed in Eastern Europe as a result of our deployment of cruise.

As there might be a difference between the British Government and the United States Government, the House will be interested to know the answer to this question. Is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that short-range nuclear missiles must be included in the same treaty as that for intermediate nuclear forces, on which they seem to be about to embark? If so, those of us who supported the Government's attitude on deployment would differ from them very strongly.

Mr. Younger

I think that I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks. He may have noticed that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to this in a broadcast on Sunday, but it was made clear that the draft treaty contains articles constraining the shorter-range weapons that might be used to bypass an LRINF agreement. That is clearly in the negotiating position as of now. I can answer the right hon. Gentleman's question by saying that, of course, it is possible that an initial agreement may be drawn up containing constraints, and it does not rule out later negotiations about other aspects further to the constraints that may have been agreed. But our position is clear. If an INF agreement is to be struck, it must include constraints on SRINF, the details of which are still to be negotiated. I hope that that reassures the right hon. Gentleman. It is certainly intended to do so.

It is for these reasons that NATO's position is that, in the event of an LRINF agreement, it will also be important that it is followed by negotiations aimed at addressing the imbalance in SRINF forces and dealing further with LRINF. Furthermore, as the Prime Minister and President Reagan agreed at Camp David last year, reducing the levels of nuclear weapons will increase the importance of eliminating conventional disparities. But there is no suggestion that we are imposing any formal negotiating linkage between these aims and an INF agreement. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will deal with this issue further, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later this evening.

The third issue that needs to be resolved in an INF agreement is verification. We have welcomed the general statements by the Soviets of willingness to accept on-site inspection, but, if an agreement is to be effectively verifiable, it will need to include specific and detailed provisions as to how this is to be achieved. This will require long and painstaking negotiations and a constructive approach on both sides. We will need to be patient, and the Soviet Union will have to understand that we will not be rushed into an agreement with inadequate verification just on promises that the details can be settled later. But if the Soviet Union really wants an agreement, and is prepared to negotiate constructively, then it will find the United States, with the full support of its allies, more than willing to join it in negotiating and implementing an agreement.

I should like to conclude by giving a view of the Reykjavik INF European zero deal from my point of view as Secretary of State for Defence. We have seen a lot of comment in the press over worries in Europe about the deterrence implications of this INF deal. It would indeed involve the complete removal of the cruise and Pershing II missiles that we have worked so hard to deploy here in the first place. Of course, any arms control agreement that involves substantial reductions of forces will mean difficult choices and hard decisions. We and our NATO allies have discussed these and will continue to do so in the months ahead; but the Reykjavik deal would also remove a major element of the Soviet intermediate range threat facing us, and I am totally confident that we would be able to maintain effective deterrence following such a deal. I also hope and believe that a successful INF deal would help to make progress possible in other areas of arms control.

The Government's policies on all this are clear. We will maintain the forces required for effective deterrence—unlike some who would throw them away. We will work with our allies to maintain our common security—unlike some who would throw them out. In this way, rather than through pious statements and wishful thinking, we will also provide the most effective basis for reaching arms control agreements that can provide for security at lower levels of forces.

I started by welcoming this debate and making a few suggestions to the hon. Member for Woolwich, who opened the debate, about how difficult his task must be. However, his task is relatively simple compared to the task facing the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) who is to speak in the debate. The whole House awaits with great interest every word that will be spoken by the right hon. Gentleman. It is widely known, not just in this House but throughout the Western Alliance, that the right hon. Gentleman is gravely disturbed and greatly disagrees with the vast majority of the Labour party's policy on this matter. Yet he is faced with the prospect of making a speech defending many matters with which he completely disagrees.

Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman has to do that, a time when it has become crystal clear that the policy followed by the Labour party for the last four or five years has fallen in ruins about the ears of those by whom it was formulated. They have resisted, fought and disagreed with the whole policy of deploying cruise missiles in response to the SS20s on the basis that to do so would force the Soviet Union never to remove them and to be more intransigent than ever.

It is plain to anyone who can read and understand English that exactly the reverse has taken place, purely because we resisted the blandishments of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, although usually he did not employ such blandishments— until recently anyway—and stood up to the threats that were made and deployed the cruise missiles. As a direct result that Soviet Union is now prepared to come to discuss the removal not just of cruise missiles in this country and in other western European countries, but of the SS20s which caused the problem in the first place.

There can seldom have been a clearer case of the policy of a party being proved in mid flight to be absolutely unviable and to have produced the opposite effect to that which was intended. Therefore, it is a highly suitable policy for the Labour party to have adopted and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's defence of it.

4.54 pm
Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

I shall start by echoing the Defence Secretary's words because I welcome the chance to debate this important matter. I am staggered to find that the alliance parties, as they call themselves, should have chosen to debate possibly the most important single issue in world affairs and yet neither the leader of the Social Democratic party nor the leader of the Liberal party has chosen to speak in the debate. Indeed, the leader of Liberal party is not even here.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Where is the leader of the Labour party?

Mr. Healey

My right hon. Friend will be here in a minute. I thank the Secretary of State for Defence for offering me a poisoned chalice. I hope to return it to him and watch him drink it to the dregs in the course of my speech.

I shall start by talking about the fundamental issue—about what is happening in the Soviet Union and how we should respond. I am afraid that so far that matter has been largely ignored by both opening speakers. I do not think that anyone any longer denies that something absolutely new and encouraging has been happening inside the Soviet Union since Mr. Gorbachev became general secretary. The incompetence and corruption of the Soviet bureaucracy is now castigated every day in the newspapers, officers of the KGB have been imprisoned for maltreating journalists and I noticed this morning that even Mr. Bernard Levin had left his machine-gun post unmanned on the Golan Heights to express his views about what was happening in the Soviet Union and, very reluctantly, to specultate that just possibly the whole system is beginning to transform itself.

Perhaps it is still too early to feel confident about how the internal situation in the Soviet Union will develop over the next few years. However, the evidence about fundamental changes in Soviet foreign policy is now overwhelming and highly encouraging. Last April Mr. Gorbachev used the jargon of dialectic materialism to renounce the doctrine of the inevitable conflict between the two camps that has guided Soviet foreign policy since the time of Lenin. He spelt out in more detail his new ideas about the world to the Soviet central committee and to the recent international forum in Moscow this year.

It is clear to all observers that he now believes two things which are quite new for a Soviet leader. First, that in the nuclear age security must be based on co-operation with one's political opponents rather than on a continuing arms race with them, and that both sides in their military arrangements should pursue purely defensive strategies. That was a central theme in his speech to the Moscow forum. The second fact that is emerging, not only from discussions like those recently attended by Professor Erickson but also from Soviet behaviour, is that the Soviet Government now accept that it is impossible to achieve military superiority in an arms race, that even equality is unnecessary and that the objective is sufficiency.

So far the only Western statesman who has had the wisdom to recognise and admit this in public is the West German Foreign Secretary Mr. Genscher in an impressive speech at Davos at the beginning of February, to which I had the privilege of listening. Since Mr. Genscher spoke, the truth of his remarks has been borne out by what Mr. Gorbachev said 10 days ago in Moscow. He accepted the zero option for intermediate nuclear forces that was first put to Mr. Brezhnev by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and me in September 1981 and adopted by NATO and President Reagan in November 1981.

The Secretary of State for Defence has said a good deal this afternoon about the reasons why that was put forward. It was not, with respect to him, a concession to Western strength, a response to the deployment of cruise and Pershing—first of all, because cruise and Pershing have already been matched since their deployment by the bringing forward of SS22 and perhaps SS23 missiles to Czechoslovakia and East Germany, and by the patrolling of submarine-launched cruise missiles off both American coasts.

I am rather surprised that the leader of the Social Democratic party should have taken so much credit in that outburst of his last week for the response to the cruise and Pershing deployment, when, as has been pointed out already, he and his Liberal colleagues voted against that specific proposal, side by side and shoulder to shoulder with the Labour party, in the only debate that we held on the matter before deployment, in 1983.

Mr. Maples

Despite all the exciting and encouraging noises coming out of the Soviet Union at the moment, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that Mr. Gorbachev would he offering to withdraw all SS20s from Europe if NATO had not deployed cruise missiles?

Mr. Healey

This is the question that I am immediately coming to. The striking thing about the zero option is that it is not a concession to Western strength; it is a concession from Soviet strength.

As the Secretary of State for Defence pointed out—this was confirmed yesterday by the American negotiator in Geneva— the zero option means that the Soviet Union will dismantle over three times as many missiles as NATO will dismantle and many more than three times as many warheads. If one adds in the Soviet missiles already deployed in the far east, they will have to be reduced from, I think, about 130 to some 33.

The plain fact is that this is a remarkable proposal. I suspect that General Rogers may be right in saying that some of the Western Governments who put it forward in 1981 did so only because they thought that the Soviet Government were certain to reject it. That was General Rogers's speculation in a speech that he made on the Gorbachev offer last week.

Since it was NATO which first proposed the zero option some five years ago, one would expect the Western Alliance to give it an immediate, unanimous and positive response. Yet the leaders of the Western Alliance are now running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. Oddly enough, the only Government who seem united and positive in their response are the Government who, in previous episodes of arms discussion, have been divided— the Government in Washington. For the first time since President Reagan came to power, Mr. Shultz, Mr. Weinberger, Mr. Nitze and Mr. Perle are all offering a welcome to Mr. Gorbachev's speech.

But that is far from being true elsewhere in the Alliance. NATO is behaving more like the alliance in this House than the Alliance of Western Governments. The Secretary-General, Lord Carrington, welcomed the proposals, but the Supreme Allied Commander, General Rogers, said that they gave him "gas pains" and said that they are unacceptable unless there is a simultaneous agreement, not only on short-range intermediate nuclear forces, but on chemical weapons and on conventional weapons.

In France, there is public disagreement. The President and the Prime Minister have pronounced themselves in favour; both the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister have publicly pronounced themselves against. In West Germany, on the other hand, the Foreign Minister is in favour and the Defence Minister is against.

In Britain, the Gorbachev speech was met over the following two days by an avalanche of negative briefing, largely emanating, I understand, from No. 10 Downing street, which culminated in the extraordinary performance of the Prime Minister at Question Time last Thursday, when she brought the dinosaurs on her Back Benches shambling out of their caves to grunt approval of what she said because they thought that she was taking a bold, negative posture, as against the wet, wimpish posture of the American President— and, by God, they have actually put down an early-day motion in those terms.

The Prime Minister won tile approval of the dinosaurs because she insisted that last Thursday there was a 9: 1 superiority in short-range intermediate nuclear forces—those with a range of between 500 and 1,000 km—and that this must be corrected at the same time— she repeated this again and again and again—as there was an agreement on intermediate nuclear forces.

Yet in his broadcast yesterday, the Foreign Secretary took exactly the opposite view. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for Defence agreed with him, rather than with the Prime Minister , I do not suppose that he is looking forward to his next meeting with "Attila the Hen", but still I do not suppose that he looked forward very much to his last meeting.

The plain fact is that what the Foreign Secretary said, and the Secretary of State for Defence repeated today, is that there must be some constraints on short-range intermediate nuclear forces in the same treaty as INF'. Unlike the Secretary of State for Defence—who was a bit nervous about revealing that he either had or had not seen the draft treaty that the Russians have been reading for the last five days— the proposal in the American treaty is quite clear.

It is that the Russians should remove the SS22 and SS23 missiles which they brought forward— the right hon. Gentleman is quite right about that—to East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and that they should freeze their superiority of 9:1 and not increase their superiority so as to circumvent the removal of the intermediate nuclear forces. That is a completely different proposal and exactly the opposite of what the Prime Minister seemed to be saying last week.

Indeed, I was interested in the fact that Mr. Matthew Parris— one of our late colleagues, a former Conservative MP and a former member of the Prime Minister's kitchen cabinet—told the Foreign Secretary, after Mr. Parris had carefully deployed all the Prime Minister's arguments against agreeing to an INF treaty, that his position appeared to be just like a Conservative caricature of the Labour party's position.

I can see why Mr. Parris said that, and I can see why the Secretary of State for Defence is looking so thoughtful when I repeat it— because the American policy, endorsed by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, is to freeze the Soviet 9:1 advantage in SRINF and then begin to negotiate it after the treaty on INF is signed.

I see that the right hon. Gentleman does not dispute this. The only difference is that the Americans at Reykjavik said that they asserted the right to raise their number of SRINF to match those deployed by the Soviet Union. But their negotiators have since made it clear in Geneva, according to the newspapers, that they have no intention of taking advantage of that right. So we are going, in my view quite rightly, for an INF agreement which freezes a 9: 1 superiority in SRINF and leaves that for negotiation immediately afterwards.

The question that we must ask ourselves is, if the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence are so convinced that this is the right policy, why has the Prime Minister tried to overthrow it—and on the eve of a visit to Moscow in which we assume that she was hoping to cut what the Italians call "una bella figura"? I think that there are three reasons. They are pretty obvious. The first is that she has been hoping to use her visit to Moscow as she, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister used his last visit—for self-advertisement for election purposes. That is not my phrase but that of the spokesman of the Soviet Foreign Office, Mr. Gerasimov, who was extremely irritated by some of the things which Ministers have said about their recent discussions with the Soviet Union.

The Conservative party's election strategy is based on reviving the psychoses of the cold war, the suggestion that there has been no real change in the Soviet Union since the days of Stalin and that the Russians would drop nuclear weapons on us if ever we adopted the same defence policy as most of the other NATO countries already have. We saw that in a recent and disgusting party political broadcast, a recent advertisement placed by the Conservative party in the Daily Express and in the quite disgraceful film which, I am glad to say, embarrassed even the Defence Secretary when he saw it, and which has been produced by the Ministry of Defence for circulation to schoolchildren.

The second reason why the Government, or the Prime Minister, have sought to torpedo the INF discussions is that, as she admitted in her communique signed at Camp David the other day, any agreement on nuclear weapons will make conventional forces more important. She knows that she is gravely weakening our conventional forces to pay for the Trident submarine programme. We have had a concatenation of military officers, starting with Major Lord Morpeth through General Frank Kitson up to Field Marshal Lord Bramall, who said in The Times this morning that if the Government go on like this, they will be shooting themselves in the foot and gravely damaging the morale of the British Army.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the weakening of our defence forces, but his policy and that of his party is to put our corps in Germany in an impossible position in which they could not hold one inch of ground on that important central front. He knows that and would never have supported such a policy in the past, so why on earth is he supporting it at the moment?

Mr. Healey

The hon. and, perhaps, gallant Member is talking tripe. If he reads the lengthy and thoughtful report of The Economist's defence correspondent, Mr. Meachin, last August, he will find that soldiers in the Rhine Army are confident of holding a Soviet attack. We also have the word of General Rogers, the supreme allied commander, that there is in any case no danger of a Soviet attack out of the blue.

Mr. Spicer

With no nuclear forces?

Mr. Healey

Yes, with no nuclear weapons. They were talking about the conventional capability. No British Army in Germany has ever carried out an exercise which involves the use of nuclear weapons because it has not the slightest idea how it would be possible to fight a war with nuclear weapons. Field Marshal Lord Carver and Lord Louis Mountbatten have said that it would be quite impossible ever to fight such a war.

Mr. Younger

In view of his usual marvellous array of name-dropping, which, according to my calculations, has now got to 11, and as the right hon. Gentleman has included The Economist of last August, would he care to look at this week's The Economist in which the main leading article is a devasting critique of everything that the Labour party stands for in defence?

Mr. Healey

I apologise for referring to Field Marshal Lord Bramall. I thought that, possibly, his name would impress the right hon. Gentleman, but the right hon. Gentleman is new to the job so I dare say that he has never even heard of him.

There is one thing that I should say about The Economist, however. The first six or seven pages are absolute tripe. The stuff that is good is the reporting which follows in the middle and latter part. I am sure that many Conservative Members share my view.

The third reason why the Prime Minister does not want an agreement on INF is that she knows that the next stage will be negotiations on strategic nuclear forces and that, in those negotiations, the Trident submarine programme is bound to be involved because there is not a cat in hell's chance of the United States providing Britain with Trident missiles if it has already agreed, as it is committed to try to do, to abolish all strategic ballistic missiles by 1995.

I should like to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary—this is the poisoned chalice that I told the right hon. Gentleman was coming—on trying once again to lead the Prime Minister back to reality. They have both had this problem ever since they have been in office. The Foreign Secretary had it only the other day with Hong Kong and Lord Carrington had it in spades with Rhodesia and many other issues.

The interesting thing about the Foreign Secretary's speech yesterday is that he went a little further and was a little franker than the Defence Secretary today. First, he utterly rejected the view of General Rogers, which was repeated by some Conservative Back Benchers a moment ago, that intermediate nuclear forces on the NATO side are a vital rung on the ladder of escalation. That was the initial reason why the NATO military tried to persuade NATO to introduce these weapons. It was not because of the SS20s, but as a rung on the ladder of escalation.

Secondly. the Foreign Secretary, not perhaps fully understanding what he was doing, also rejected the strategy of flexible response which depends on the concept—

Mr. Wilkinson

No, he did not.

Mr. Healey

With great respect, I know a little about this because I introduced this strategy 20 years ago. I just want to quote what he said.

Mr. Wilkinson


Mr. Healey

The Foreign Secretary. He said yesterday that he does not believe that it is possible to have a number of steps on a ladder, but that he favours uncertainty. We now have the Howe uncertainty principle to join the Heizenberg uncertainty principle. He said that it would be all right because we have what he bizarrely called a carnival of nuclear options. There is a circus element in the Foreign Secretary's approach to these problems and it is different from the way in which the NATO military look at it.

Thirdly, the Foreign Secretary fully supported the American proposals at Geneva which the Secretary of State for Defence has or has not seen but is not telling us about — although the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Government know them off by heart by now and although they have been rejected by the Prime Minister. He appeared to be quite relaxed about NATO's conventional position. He could not easily take up a different stance because he expressed those views in an interesting lecture which he gave to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies only two months ago. He said then that the SRINF that he wanted dealt with were the SS22s and SS23s in Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic. Mr. Gorbachev has already undertaken to withdraw them with the destruction of the SS20s when the time comes.

Mr. Wilkinson

No, he has not.

Mr. Healey

Oh yes he has.

Mr. Wilkinson

The general secretary of the Communist party has made no undertaking to withdraw the SS22s and SS23s. He has suggested that if a zero option agreement is reached he would consider negotiating their future, which is quite different.

Mr. Healey

With great respect, I have the text here and I shall read it out to the House in a moment. Mr. Gorbachev repeated what the Warsaw pact as a whole said at its meeting last June— that those weapons were put forward only because of the Western deployment of cruise and Pershing and that they would be withdrawn the moment an INF agreement was reached. Beyond that, he agreed to freeze the 9:1 disparity on the rest.

It is not surprising that the position of the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence this afternoon may be somewhat disappointing to those whose imagination was inflamed by the Prime Minister's remarks during Question Time. However, the plain fact is that we all know perfectly well—and this has been said many times by the Foreign Secretary—that disarmament will be achieved only step by step. If we do not reach the first step, the others will not follow.

As the Prime Minister agreed with President Reagan at Camp David, the first step must be agreement on the INF. Then we can discuss the shorter-range intermediate nuclear forces, where the imbalance is nothing like 9:1. We can achieve that only by leaving many of the NATO nuclear weapons out of account. Taking the shorter range forces as a whole, from the lowest to the highest, once cruise and Pershing have gone the United States will have 4,650 warheads in Europe with another 1,900 promised in case of tension. That includes the F111 bombers in Britain, which can drop bombs on Moscow, and, of course, the 400 Poseidon.

Mr. Cash

They will not be there.

Mr. Healey

They will not be there if we get an agreement on SRINF, which is what we want, and on the 400 Poseidon missiles, which are still allocated to SACEUR after the decision on deployment of cruise and Pershing.

The aim in the SRINF negotiations should be to get nuclear weapons out of Europe and to have a zero option for SRINF, just as we hope to have one for the INF. If that can be achieved, substantial cuts in conventional forces will be needed to provide a much better conventional balance. The imbalance is nothing like as great as some propaganda suggests. It is close to 1.2:1 if we take account of the military capability of NATO and the Warsaw pact in armoured defence equipment. The man who has argued that most persuasively, ambassador John Dean, for eight years conducted the MBFR negotiations for the United States in Vienna.

When the impending talks take place we should act on the advice of Mr. Genscher, which is that both sides should aim to be capable of only defensive operations, and not take an offensive stance.

We stand on the verge of a historic opportunity. If we achieve the deal on the LRINF which is in our grasp—the American and Soviet negotiators clearly think the same—we can start a process that gives the world new hope for peace through co-operation. It is desperately urgent to start that process, otherwise the prospect of proliferation in other countries will become imminent. There is already a nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan on the subcontinent, and nuclear competition between Israel and the Arabs will be close behind. I fear that in the process of producing a new basis for world peace and security, there is no chance of the British Government taking the lead. The leadership is now with the United States and West Germany, with Britain far behind. However, I hope, at least, that what the Secretary of State for Defence has said today, and what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, will persuade the British Prime Minister to remove the new obstacles to agreement that she rolled out into the road last Thursday.

5.24 pm
Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

It is a pity that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) did not accept the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to talk about the policy of the Labour party. Rather than defend that policy, the right hon. Gentleman chose to defend the policy of Mr. Gorbachev. Apart from that, because of his usual knock-about, radio commentary style, I could not interpret what he was saying.

The subject of disarmament is extremely complicated. It has dragged on for years. It has attracted acronyms and nicknames galore and only a few people wish to thread their way through the debating minefield. As weapons change, and disarmament talks change, too, surely our present interests and objectives are fairly easy to identify. They are that we must not be left exposed to the much stronger conventional forces of the Eastern bloc. Some people say that we could and should rearm conventionally to the extent necessary to hold them off. In theory we could do that, but at the price of converting ourselves into an armed camp like Nazi Germany in the 1930s and Soviet Russia today.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

And by bringing back conscription.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

As my hon. and learned Friend says, we would have to bring back conscription.

I cannot think of a more dangerous situation. We are talking about two blocs armed to the teeth, both believing that, because the weapons are conventional, it might be possible to win a war. That part of the Labour party that believes in defence would bring about just such a position. We would return to the uncertainties of the 1930s, and the only certainty would be that sooner or later war would break out.

If everyone is sure that, because of the presence of nuclear weapons, no one can possibly win a war, there will be no war. To be more precise, our nuclear weapons must be of two particular types. First, we need battlefield nuclear weapons to counter conventional superiority; and, secondly, we need strategic nuclear weapons to ensure that Russia realises that her homeland would not escape. If we had those two types of weapons, there would be no war.

People may say that battlefield nuclear weapons are not meant to be used, and that if they were used war would escalate. So it would and, because the Russians also know that, they will not use them and will not start anything. If we have only strategic nuclear weapons and can only respond to a conventional defeat or impending defeat by self-destruction and blowing up the world, everyone knows that we would not do it. Such a weapon is incredible. It will not be used. One would need the inexorable logic of General de Gaulle to make that possible.

The intermediate weapons can go, provided that the other two types stay and that there are restraints on them, as suggested at Camp David after Reykjavik. Prior to the talks at Reykjavik, and immediately afterwards, I feared that the United States might press us too hard to come to some sort of agreement—and, even now, I have a sneaking feeling that the United States' President needs some kind of political prestige, and therefore might go a little too far for us. But I noted this morning that Mr. Max Kampelman, the negotiator for the United States, is reported to have said that he understands our need for short-range weapons.

There can be no doubt that the United States wants the agreement to succeed, and I believe that Mr. Gorbachev also wants it to succeed. Perhaps his principal reason for that is economic. The Soviet Union already lags far behind the United States and Europe economically, and it is falling further behind every day. In the year 2000 the gross national product of the Soviet Union will be half that of the United States and of Europe; and I do believe that the Communist system and technological age are even more remarkably inappropriate to bring economic welfare and prosperity to the USSR. Nevertheless, if it was not necessary for the Soviet Union to spend so much on armaments in the short term, that would obviously be some weight off the shoulders of the population.

Therefore, I hope that when the Prime Minister goes to Moscow, she will insist that the two sorts of nuclear weapons are necessary to us. I do not insist that they should match absolutely in numbers. We should have enough for our own purposes. If the others wish to keep more, that does not matter because they will not be used if we have them in sufficient quantity. We can do without the INF and the two superpowers could sharply reduce their strategic weapons without any loss of security to either. If chemical weapons could be thrown into the agreements as well, so much the better.

All those things depend on proper verification and negotiation. Those negotiations will take place because the Russians have seen that they will not get their way by our abandoning our weapons and being unwilling to defend ourselves.

If we get this preliminary step-by-step agreement about INF, that may create the climate of confidence upon which other negotiations and steps can be taken to secure the peace of our world.

5.31 pm
Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

The hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) referred to the importance and necessity of step-by-step negotiations. That seems to be the right approach in all these matters. The hon. Member for Stroud made many points with which I agree.

However, I should like to go back a little further. I want to support the agreement put forward by the hon. Gentleman, but there is no doubt that when we first approached this question in about 1977 or 1978, although there were other reasons for considering cruise and Pershing, there was no doubt that the impetus that led us to believe that it might be necessary to deploy them if we could not reach agreement was the deployment of the SS20s. Undoubtedly, that led us to consider the matter carefully. At the Guadelupe meeting, which I attended with other Heads of Government and state, we agreed that we would make a further effort with the Soviet Union to secure if we could the withdrawal of the SS20s that had already been deployed. At the time, there were relatively few, about 20 or 30. If we could do that, we would seriously consider, as a measure of confidence, not proceeding with cruise and Pershing.

It seems that, eight years later, that is exactly the position to which we have returned, except that there have been changes in the deployment of other weapons. We still have to decide whether the bargain is worthwhile. I asked Mr. Gromyko about that after I had ceased to be the leader of the Labour party. He was adamant in his refusal to withdraw the SS20s, under any circumstances or in any conditions. I warned him at the time that if he insisted on continuing with that deployment, despite the agitation and protest in this country and elsewhere, I had no doubt that NATO would then deploy cruise and Pershing. He replied, "If that is the case, we must go ahead." It was one of the gloomiest interviews that I have had, because once again we were ratcheting up nuclear arms.

However, I have no doubt that our expressed determination to go ahead and deploy the SS20s and Pershing brought him back to the negotiating table. That is a lesson for people to learn now. One does not have to use the rhetoric of the United States. The personal abuse and the level to which the American Administration descended in the earlier part of President Reagan's tenure of office was deplorable. There is no need to use that kind of language to be firm. For what it is worth, my experience is that the Russians will pocket any concession that is made and say "Thank you" but give nothing in return. One must negotiate at every level.

After the Prime Minister spoke last week, I detected that we were apparently unwilling to show any confidence in securing an agreement with the Soviet Union. That is disappearing in this debate and the Foreign Secretary yesterday and the Defence Secretary this afternoon have gone some way to dispelling that. However, if that were so, there would be no hope for our Western world. There has to be some measure of confidence between us. I summed that up many years ago by saying, "Compete where we must, and co-operate where we can", and provided that we can reach agreements with the Soviet Union that are worthwhile to both sides, that must be of value to our people.

The latest proposal is worthwhile and we should accept it, subject, as the hon. Member for Stroud said, to proper verification. The proposal that the Soviet Union's 100 SS20s might be put into one military base at Novasibirsk is a good idea because it would make for proper and easy verification, and inspire the confidence that is necessary if we are to proceed to the next step. Assuming that we can get this agreement, we cannot leave it there.

Indeed, as far as I can see, after the meeting of the political bureau of the Communist party of the Soviet Union Mr. Gorbachev did not want to leave it there. He said: As soon as an agreement on eliminating Soviet and United States medium-range missiles in Europe is signed, the Soviet Union will withdraw longer range theatre missiles from the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia by agreement with the governments of those countries, the missiles which had been deployed there as measures in reply to the deployment of Pershing-II and cruise missiles in Western Europe. That should be a subject of discussion between us and not solely between the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. The question remains, what happens, where they go and how far.

Mr. Gorbachev continued by making a further proposal: As far as other theatre missiles are concerned, we are prepared to begin talks immediately with a view to reducing and fully eliminating them. Both sides could reduce those theatre nuclear missiles. Whatever the disparity, there would be no disadvantage to us in doing so.

Above all, General Secretary Gorbachev stated: the Soviet Government still considers it highly important to reach agreement on substantial limitation and then elimination of strategic arms. Elimination is a long way away but substantial limitation is possible.

I hope that when the Prime Minister goes to Moscow she will take the following line with General Secretary Gorbachev. If we get this agreement on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which would be of great value in beginning to build an element of confidence in the relationship between the two sides, she should say. "We in the West would be willing to reduce our strategic missiles if you would do the same by at least 50 per cent." If both sides cut 50 per cent. off the level of their strategic nuclear missiles, we would both still be hopelessly over-insured and paying far too big a premium.

Whatever the economic and financial consequences of doing that, the confidence that would begin to emerge in other directions would transform the position of the West and the East. A 50 per cent. reduction would be worthwhile. Obviously, our strategic nuclear weapons will be included in that. We should not resist including them in the calculation of both sides. I could never understand why the Soviet Union should be expected to exclude from the total calculation all the French and British strategic nuclear missiles, which was a line we took at one time. They must be included. They should not have been included in the nuclear intermediate range because they are outside that. If I were Mr. Gorbachev, I would insist on including in the calculation of strategic nuclear missiles ranged against me, not only American missiles, but French and British missiles. The total number of missiles must be counted. However, that does not mean that we must discard them. It may mean that there must be sonic reduction.

The question whether we go ahead with Trident is a moot point. Everyone who considers this matter must be concerned, as I am, about the level of our conventional forces. I am particularly worried about the naval element. We must review this constantly. I would not take a fixed view on Trident for ever and I would not abandon it now. The situation may change. If there is an important stragetic agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, we may want to consider where we lit into the picture. Certainly we should not give up Trident up for nothing. We must negotiate cur way out of this.

My view is well known and I do not intend to develop it further. I strongly applaud the Labour party's attitude to building conventional forces. The way in which it has focused on that has been of value to the country and I hope it will continue to do so. I hope that all hon. Members, wherever we may sit, will continue to review the changing circumstances in defence as events occur. The position today is certainly not the position of four years ago and it is even less the position when. I left office. No one should adopt a fixed position for ever and allow considerations on defence weapons to be turned into ideology. That would be absurd.

I am glad about what the Secretary of State said this afternoon. I hope we shall support the approach that has been made in Geneva by the United States. If so, the world will have made a turning for the better.

5.42 pm
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

The last. words of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) are of the greatest importance and I am sure that his support for the initiative in Geneva will add great weight to those considerations.

As the Member for Parliament for Greenham common, and as one who has INF missiles in his constituency, it is hardly surprising that I welcome Mr. Gorbachev's positive response to the Western position over the zero option and the withdrawal of intermediate range nuclear missiles. It is the fulfilment of the West's declared policy which began at the start of this decade that no cruise or Pershing II missiles will be deployed in NATO if the Soviet Union dismantles its SS20 force. Clearly, although we have been forced to deploy cruise and Pershing II because of Soviet intransigence, now that it has seen the error of its ways, who can do other than applaud it?

From the speeches so far, there is a danger of us all being sure that in Mr. Gorbachev's statement about moving towards the dismantling of medium-range missiles his definition of those missiles is the same as it is in Western Europe. In his statement he used three different descriptions for nuclear missiles in Europe. He described medium-range missiles, enhanced-range operational-tactical missiles and operational-tactical missiles. The question of definition will play an important part in the considerations at Geneva. Clearly, it is vital that we and the Soviet Union think in exactly the same terms.

If to the Soviet Union the zero option simply means withdrawing SS20s in exchange for withdrawing cruise and Pershing IIs, but leaving SS12s, SS22s and SS23s in place—weapons which can strike deep into Western Europe as far as Great Britain—we must all think again about the possible benefits of the treaty that seem to be within our grasp.

Verification appears to be a thorny issue. Satellite reconnaissance can do so much, but only so much. Unless each side is willing to allow something more, I find it difficult to know how a treaty can be made to stick. It is possible to hide missiles out of sight of satellites, so something like on-the-spot verification will be crucial.

If I sound marginally sceptical, it is because I have my constituents in mind. They accepted cruise missiles, not because they wanted a new generation of missiles in their midst at Greenham common, but because the continued security of NATO seemed to demand the deployment of those weapons. They believed, as I believed, that multilateral disarmament was the only safe way to reduce the nuclear threat. The question to which we require an answer is whether the withdrawal of SS20s, cruise and Pershing Hs will leave Western Europe as secure in the future as it is at present, or whether other circumstances have been created which reduce the effect of the zero option.

One is bound to ask, what has happened to make the Soviets change their mind from their apparently intransigent stand at the beginning of this decade to their present position? Within that change of stance there is now a willingness to uncouple an arms agreement on INF weapons from a halt to the American strategic defence initiative to consider the zero option as a relevant proposition.

I do not rule out the obvious differences which Mr. Gorbachev has made to East-West relations, but the difference seems to lie in his perception of the cold war—something on which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) touched. Clearly, Mr. Gorbachev does not believe that the peace movement, CND, the Greenham protesters, the Greens in West Germany or even the Opposition's policy are likely to have much effect on the West's policies for the defence of Western Europe. That suggests that he does not think that the Opposition will win the general election.

Mr. Gorbachev also knows that the present American Administration will not abandon the SDI. Therefore, he seems to have calculated that what is necessary for Soviet security is a reduction in the immediate interface between the nuclear forces of the United States of America and the USSR in Western Europe. Perhaps the limited flight time of Pershing Hs from West to East has created too great a threat in his mind for him to feel easy leaving those weapons in West Germany. Perhaps he is seeking to lower the nuclear threshold.

One of the inevitable results of the iron curtain since it fell across Europe 40 years ago has been to make Europe the most likely battlefield for world war three. Yet it would be a battlefield in which the inhabitants were not really the protagonists. The Warsaw pact without the Soviet Union poses no real threat to the Western European members of NATO, but once the Soviet Union and America are included in the groupings those countries become involved in a different way. While the Soviet Union dominates the Warsaw pact, who can think of any reduction in the American involvement in NATO, except with profound unease?

Perhaps Mr. Gorbachev believes that Europe would be more secure if the face-to-face confrontation of the superpowers was of a different order, or was of a kind which compelled the United States of America to retaliate with long-range missiles at a Soviet Union seeking to create a nuclear shield for itself. That is why I believe the Soviet unwillingness to bring its short-range nuclear missiles more into line with NATO's numbers—we have already heard that the disparity is about 9: 1 in the Warsaw pact's advantage—is an acid test of Soviet good faith in negotiating over INF. Otherwise one will be tempted to believe that the INF proposal is an attempt to gain a different nuclear advantage for the Soviets which, taken with their advantage in conventional weapons, could give us all cause for renewed anxiety.

Those are my worries. They must sound like a halfhearted response to the most positive initiative of the superpowers that we have heard for at least a decade. When it comes to making a choice between peace and disarmament, I choose peace. The two are not necessarily synonymous.

The Geneva talks and the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Moscow at the end of the month are clearly crucial. A satisfactory outcome must be judged not just in terms of advantage to the superpowers but by reference to the peace and security of Europe. That is why I hope that our American allies will fully consult us—and, indeed, all members of NATO in Europe. I hope, too, that any agreement will not put the possibility of a conventional European war back on the agenda. Sometimes in our desire to be rid of nuclear weapons we lose sight of that possibility, but we must remember that the prospect of a winnable conventional war, far from allowing us to sleep more easily in our beds, would give us cause for the greatest concern.

We should be sceptical about all the proposals on the table. We must probe and define and we must be sure that the verification arrangements are such that the treaty, if it is signed, will last.

5.51 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). Both he and I took part in some of the numerous debates before the arrival of cruise missiles at Greenham common. It is worth noting that, notwithstanding his caution and reticence, even he seems to accept in principle the case for making an agreement a reality in the context of the Gorbachev initiative and the American counterproposal on long-range intermediate nuclear force missiles in Europe.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who opened the debate for the Opposition, spoke about the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union. Any objective observer must believe that something potentially important is under way in the Soviet Union. It is too early to say how far that will develop, but an objective analysis of the attitudes of the United States and the Soviet Union over the past few years to the overriding issue of nuclear weapons cannot but lead many people in the West—including myself—to the view that the approach of the Soviet Union has been more positive and responsible than that of the United States.

I hope that we are moving into a phase in which both superpowers will he constructive and will make real progress towards cuts in their nuclear arsenals. I refer in particular to the historic proposals unveiled by Mr. Gorbachev on 15 January 1986. They involved three important stages in the removal of nuclear weapons, and included important concessions by the Soviet Union.

It was in that statement that Mr. Gorbachev first acknowledged that the Soviet Union was prepared to set on one side the existence of the French and British strategic nuclear weapons, provided that they were not expanded and that we did not replace Polaris with Trident. In Reykjavik, the Soviet Union was dropping any link between British and French nuclear weapons and INF. We are now discussing the removal from the Reykjavik package the proposal that involved the Soviet Union being allowed to keep 100 SS20 warheads in Asia and the Americans being allowed to keep 100 long-range INF missiles in the United States.

It is important to recognise that an agreement would not remove the threat of nuclear war overnight. However, it would be an important advance. I approach this subject from a standpoint very different from that of the Secretary of State. I want the removal of all nuclear weapons from Europe. I realise that that may take some time, and that the French nuclear weapons may be the last to go, but I am prepared to live with French weapons in Europe for an interim period. I believe that the world would be a safer place if nuclear weapons were confined to United States territory and Soviet territory—with China presumably keeping its weapons.

It is sad that the Government have not been prepared to take a positive approach in areas where we count and have influence. I refer especially to their failure to make real progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty. That is a role that a British Government should play. They should remove all nuclear weapons and bases from British territory. They should campaign for the removal of nuclear weapons from Europe. Above all, they should use their influence throughout the world, and in the forums where they are still represented, to achieve real progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, the real danger in coming years is that there will be a nuclear exchange not in central Europe but in, for example, the middle east or in Pakistan, where a key figure has recently openly admitted that nuclear weapons have been developed.

Verification is a most important issue. One of the main arguments that we deployed against cruise missiles was that their numbers were exceedingly difficult to verify under an agreement. It is true that the location of bases in Europe is more or less common knowledge and that, therefore, it should not be too difficult to reassure the Soviet Union on the removal of Pershing II and cruise from Western Europe. Nevertheless, the challenge of verification may be one of great benefit to future agreements. As the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) said, we have to consider the wish of the Soviet Union to verify United States compliance with limitation of the deployment of the weapons on its own soil. I hope that the attitude of the British Government to verification in this area will be more convincing and more genuine than in their attitude to progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty. Everyone accepts that an agreement on verification would have to include on-site inspection as well as satellite verification. But such an agreement will be important and may be of use in an agreement to cut the United States and USSR strategic arsenals by 50 per cent. I note that Mr. Shultz referred to that over the weekend.

Let us consider the issue of short-range INF weapons. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff. South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) said, the Soviet Union's position on that is very clear. It is the desire of Opposition Members that NATO—in this context, that means the United States—will not use that argument to present, or indeed sabotage, an agreement on intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

I suspect that the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary adopt a more reasonable, less war-like approach to these matters than the Prime Minister and that they genuinely wish an agreement to be reached. It must be remembered, too, that we are in the run-up to a general election. The chances are that the agreement will not be signed until next year. That seems to be common ground between the two sides, and that view has certainly been expressed by the United States Administration. However, it is to be hoped that talks will be under way and that real progress is made between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is their agreement; they are the parties directly involved. I hope that the Prime Minister—or any other European leader—will not manage to undermine progress, as some people fear. I hope that an important advance will be made, not because the removal of the missiles will suddenly transform Europe into a safer place, but because an agreement would help to build the world's confidence in the superpowers and, more important, confidence between East and West.

There are two ways to correct the conventional imbalance. One is for us to increase conventional forces in Western Europe. The other is to make real progress on mutual and balanced force reduction talks and negotiations on the conventional side. I have not conceded that there is the huge conventional imbalance about which Conservative Members like to speak. No matter how much confidence we have in the developments that may be taking place in the Soviet Union, it is common ground that we have to defend Western Europe. There is no suggestion that we should unilaterally reduce the defence of Western Europe against the Soviet Union. However, I approach these issues from a somewhat different stance. I want to see all nuclear weapons removed from Europe. If we can get an agreement, it will be a real step forward and I hope that the two superpowers will build on it in the future.

6 pm

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I go a long way with what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said, except that I do not think that a comprehensive test ban treaty is on the cards until we have made significant improvements in verification. When the hon. Gentleman talked about the reduction of weapon systems in Europe, I assumed that he meant those on a multilateral basis, and that he was speaking in his personal capacity and not reflecting the attitude officially taken by his party.

Both the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) raised a point that goes to the root of our problem. We talk about disarmament and arms control, but we all know that it is not just a question of that. We would achieve far more if there were more confidence. I regard these talks not just as a test to see how far we can make progress technologically in reducing weaponry, but as a way to improve the confidence on both sides. That will enable us to take some step, however small, which we hope will lead to bigger steps that will have even greater significance than those that we are contemplating.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made a speech which will be warmly welcomed not only on both sides of the House but by many outside.

Mr. James Callaghan

Do not make trouble.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I do not want to make trouble. The right hon. Gentleman's speech will be welcomed by many.

There are strong reasons for our adopting a positive approach—political, economic and environmental. In this respect, a positive approach must also be practical, if it is not to run into the sand. I see no distinction between the attitudes of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and of the my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has rightly emphasised that, although it is important to take a positive approach, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that the going will be easy. On the contrary, we in Western Europe will have to be courageous in telling our electorate about the real choices that have to be made. In doing so, we shall need to be extremely careful not to arouse expectations that are too high.

It needs to be emphasised that the reality is that a nonnuclear world is not feasible, and will not be so for many years to come. The Soviet Union knows that one reason why it is recognised as a world power is its parity with the United States in advanced nuclear missiles. To base nuclear deterrence on aeroplanes and cruise missiles would put it at a distinct disadvantage because it knows that the United States is well ahead in these weapons. There is no sign that Gorbachev would dare risk the Soviet Union taking such a step, at least for some time.

Secondly, there is no reason for us to suppose that it is in our interests to take a leap in the dark without adequate verification procedures. Thirdly, we all know that it would be folly for the United States to renounce nuclear ballistic missiles while China retains hers and there is probably a nuclear capability in Pakistan and Israel. The British and French will be bound to retain their nuclear forces until such time as substantial progress is made in these factors.

We cannot expect the Soviet Union or the United States unilaterally to do without nuclear ballistic missiles as long as other countries do not make progress. Equally, we shall not make progress in the negotiating ring until we have solid substantial proof that the progress made by the two superpowers is genuine, enduring and verifiable. In that respect, I am sure that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth will recognise that the Prime Minister has made it clear that if sufficient progress is made between the two superpowers, we in Britain will enter the negotiations and put Trident into the melting pot for future discussion.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most substantial points is on-site verification, and that we cannot rely on satellite?

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Yes, I agree. In many instances, on-site verification will be the right step to take, but I am also aware that there have been considerable advances in electronic technology which may on some occasions make on-site verification not as necessary as once we thought. At the moment, they have to go together.

Another reason why we should not arouse expectations that are too high is that we all know that one of the side effects of relying less on a nuclear deterrent is that we have to build up conventional forces. I cannot see any electorate in Western Europe agreeing to huge expenditure on conventional forces at a time when disarmament and arms control talks are in the air and budgets are already large. There is a prospect of the United States expecting us to bear a heavier conventional burden in Western Europe, which in itself is bound to put additional financial strains on our budgets. Therefore, in terms both of cost and political timing, it would be unrealistic to suppose that we can, overnight, make up for the conventional imbalance between us and the Warsaw pact.

I am not talking about the central region, where there is more of a balance than one had hitherto recognised because of the improvements that we have made. Looking at the West's response to the Soviets, should there be a conventional attack, it is not the central region that we would have to consider. We would have to consider the northern flank as well as the Mediterranean. The danger is in thinking that somehow peace will break out and that we shall get defence on the cheap if we do without nuclear deterrents. These and other dangers were rightly emphasised by General Rogers in the aftermath of Reykjavik. Misgivings on military grounds were voiced when the zero option was first proposed in 1981. Those misgivings by military leaders were overcome by the political argument, which only goes to show how foolish it can be to subordinate defence imperatives to political theory.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and other Members have told us why the zero option was put forward. We knew that it would not be accepted by the Soviet Union, but we still hoped for better deployment of cruise missiles, while it would help European electors to accept the presence of cruise missiles on their soil.

Six years have gone by and the mistake at Reykjavik to commit the West to appear to accept a zero option with so few and ineffective conditions had to be addressed. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right. She spoke for all the European allies when at Camp David she insisted that a zero option on long-range INF must take into account constraints of short-range nuclear systems. I am not suggesting that it is a tidy, logical matter. It would be foolish to expect this or any other European Government to go into such talks, or to persuade the Americans that it would he in our interest to surrender any of its INF and to expect us to defend ourselves. That would put us in the position of relying almost exclusively on theatre nuclear weapons systems, and conventional weapons, with the back-up of the strategic defence and nuclear defence forces of France. That is the wrong attitude, but it is one that many of the leaders have accepted, including the supreme allied commander.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for seeking a way forward. A reduction or the elimination of a whole segment of nuclear missiles can enhance stability, provided that it is guided on the whole by the principle of parity.

I do not think that there is, yet, enough trust or confidence for either side to give away too much. The Russians suffer more than we do from mistrust and lack of confidence. They have had that lack of confidence since Tsarist days; it is one of their problems; it is why they have an iron curtain, and why they are so beastly to some of their people and have only recently begun to let a few more out.

We all want peace in the West and, increasingly, those in the Soviet Union who know the high cost of peace want peace and security at less cost. It must not be less security at less cost, because that is not the way to preserve peace but the way to encourage aggression. Many of us in this Chamber appreciate that because we belong to that generation but, increasingly, especially when it comes to the election, we shall be addressing a new generation—the post Vietnam generation, who do not remember that the second world war came about because we were so badly prepared. We gave the impression to totalitarian countries that we were not willing to stand up, not just for preserving the peace, but for the values that we held dear.

In the course of the coming election that will make the argument interesting and stimulating. That is why we have, yet again, to fight this intellectual battle for the retention of strong defence forces which are credible to preserve peace.

Many of us would like to see a shift from nuclear to conventional arms. That must take place under carefully controlled conditions. To suggest otherwise is not just to delude ourselves but to take us on the way to Armageddon.

6.12 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) on his excellent speech. I wish to second many of the points that he made. This has been an interesting debate and I thought that the speech of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) was outstanding.

It is interesting that the alliance should have chosen this subject for debate. It certainly leads with its chin. In reality, the SDP would agree with the Conservative party and the Liberals would agree with the Labour party over this issue.

I attended the debate in the House on 24 January 1980 on nuclear weapons. On that occasion the Liberal party defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), said: In my party, as well as in the Labour party…there is a substantial body of opinion that is totally opposed to the staging of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom. I must put that on record tonight."— [Official Report,24 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 756.] I took the trouble of looking at the vote after the debate. I do not think that my hon. Friend's will be surprised by the result. Some Liberal Members were in one Lobby, some were in another and the majority abstained.

When I was still a schoolboy the House of Commons staged another major debate on nuclear weapons. On that occasion, the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, opened the debate with a phrase that has remained with me. He said: What ought we to do? Which way shall we turn to save our lives and the future of the world? It does not matter so much to old people; they are going soon anyway, but I find it poignant to look at youth in all its activity and ardour and, most of all, to watch little children playing their merry games, and wonder what would lie before them if God wearied of mankind."— [Official Report. I March 1955; Vol. 537. c. 1895.] All of us who took an interest in defence realised the immense threat that was posed to this country by the build-up of the SS20s in Eastern Europe. They were a way of getting round the arms control talks which were under way at that time. We were concerned by the challenge that they presented to our democracy and the democracies of the Atlantic Alliance. Could politicians make unpopular decisions to protect the long-term interests of that Alliance? Britain and NATO came out of that crisis extremely well. It is ghastly for a Secretary of State to have to decide which region should have cruise missiles; which hon. Member should have these obliterating weapons of the nuclear age in his constituency. Full marks should go to the people of Newbury, who have been so robust and sensible in the way that they took on board that particular horror.

While that was occurring, the Opposition were spurning decisions that they had taken in government and spurning the approach that the Labour party had adopted to nuclear weapons since 1945. At the same time, a wave of Soviet propaganda was washing over these shores. Some succumbed as soon as they got their feet wet. Others -I include the Liberal party—rushed down the beach and dived into the waves.

We are faced with a surprising decision by Mr. Gorbachev-a U-turn. But perhaps it is not hard to see now why he made that U-turn. It is too early to say whether the changes inside the Soviet Union are changes of substance or style but, as in the United States, Mr. Gorbachev has his military industrial complex to think about and is in need of a diplomatic success. He has to show his countrymen that his change of style can bring home some bacon for the Soviet Union. Above all. he has to cut back on the cost of his military defence so that he has more money available for consumer affairs inside the Soviet Union.

Mr. Beith

Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is in the West's interests that Mr. Gorbachev should win that argument internally or lose it?

Mr. Townsend

Obviously it is in the interests of Mr. Gorbachev and of the West that progress should be made, and this is the subject to which 1 wish to turn.

The House will look foolish if it starts putting forward detailed negotiating positions. There are two major obstacles, which have been well covered today— the problems of short-range missiles and of verification. How does one tackle the verification problem? Are satellites sufficient? Should there be on-site inspections? Do we have to go into factories as well as aircraft hangars? This is not the occasion to go into all that. The Government are right to put forward a tough negotiating stance at this stage; it is in Britain's interests that they should. I detect no difference between the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and No. 10 on this issue. As in the United States, there seems to be a broad measure of agreement as to how to proceed. In Europe, individual politicians will state their different positions. I detect, in general across the Western world, the feeling that something has changed; a new moment has arrived. The tide has come and we must take that tide. Hon. Members may say in a few weeks that I was being vastly over-optimistic and foolish, but this is the moment to look above the molehills, to look to the high ground and see if we can make the breakthrough that our constituents and the people in these islands so desperately want.

I end with a quote that is frequently wrenched from its moorings. It comes from a speech which was made by Lord Mountbatten in Strasbourg in May 1979. He said: To begin with we are most likely to preserve the peace if there is a military balance of strength between East and West. The real need is for both sides to replace the attempts to maintain a balance through ever-increasing and even more costly nuclear armaments by a balance based on mutual restraint. Better still, by reduction of nuclear armaments I believe it should he possible to achieve greater security at a lower level of military confrontation. Since the debate in which Sir Winston Churchill took part, there has been a gradual escalation of the arms race. Perhaps we now have a chance to reduce some of the nuclear weapons on both sides.

6.19 pm
Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Like many of my hon. Friends, I am puzzled that the SDP should have chosen this subject to debate, particularly as for most of the afternoon the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) has been the only Member on the SDP Bench in support of her party's policy. I hope that she has listened attentively and learnt a lot, particularly from the speech of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan).

The Gorbachev proposals may have been seen as a heaven-sent gift to the Labour and Liberal parties in their headlong pursuit of votes, but I submit that it would be a sad misunderstanding of the situation if we moved too far too fast.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) seemed to be "praying in aid" a complete change of heart in the Soviet Union, of which country we are even hearing the words "emerging democracy", but I have no doubt that we must await implementation of the Helsinki final act before we can believe that there is a major change in the Soviet Union. We are a long way from that.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth that if we have achieved this beginning, it is only because of the unity of the West and our determination to stand firm when it was necessary to do so. His Administration took the first decision that, in the face of the threat from the Soviet Union, we should respond by stationing cruise missiles in this country. The Soviet Union did not believe that we would respond, but we did, and we have now reached a beginning in genuine disarmament.

However, it is no good arriving at a starting point unless we can be sure that the West will be united when it goes into negotiations. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) voiced the fear that the United States might be tempted to go for quick electoral gain, rushing into an agreement in the hope that the Goverment could regain some of the popularity that they have obviously lost. I do not believe that that will happen. On Friday and Saturday of last week I attended a meeting of the International Democratic Union in Munich, and the chairman of the United States Republican party made it clear that we would and should go forward in unity and that there would be full consultation all the way.

The Soviet Union clearly hopes to exploit divisions in the West, particularly in the United Kingdom. We do not need to waste time on the craven role in defence matters that has been chosen by so many people in the Labour party, but we need a clear and definitive statement on where the SDP and the Liberals stand on nuclear defence. The Liberal party conference went unilateralist last year, while the SDP supported a nuclear deterrent, provided that it did not involve the upgrading of Polaris to Trident. On television last week the leader of the SDP said that such an upgrading would represent a massive enhancement of our nuclear capacity, which he could not accept.

I was puzzled by that statement, because in the same interview the leader of the SDP said that he believed that there was a positive way forward in co-operation with the French. We all know that the French are upgrading their independent nuclear deterrent to achieve exactly what we shall achieve from Polaris and Trident. The French expect to complete their upgrading by 1990. It is an expensive operation and they would welcome support. There is, however, no question of the French giving up their nuclear deterrent. They will be the last ones to move. Does the leader of the SDP have the full-hearted support of the Liberal party and, in particular. the leader of that party for his French policy?

Where and when did detailed discussions about the joint venture take place? We know that there was a lunch and a dinner in Paris, but what further consultations have taken place? Has the cost been examined? I believe that it is a bogus cover-up by the Liberals in an attempt to paper over cracks to regain lost confidence and votes.

There is little division between the SDP and the Conservative party in defence matters, but none of us knows where the Liberals really stand. They were unilateralists in 1984, multilateralists in 1985 and unilateralists again in 1986.

Mr. Beith


Mr. Spicer

I am not giving way, because of the shortage of time.

We are making just a beginning. The meeting of the International Democratic Union in Munich last week was attended by Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Austrians, Americans, Japanese and others. They all agreed to send a letter of support to our Prime Minister, who is going to Moscow at the end of this month, not only with our best wishes, but with the best wishes of all those who truly hope for a just peace in the world. I delivered that letter, on their behalf, to No. 10 today.

6.26 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The subject for the debate is all things to all men, in the typical alliance tradition. We, however, must ask ourselves whether removal of long-range intermediate nuclear forces from both sides of the iron curtain under the zero-zero option would enhance our security. It surprises me that so few people have addressed themselves to this fundamental issue.

In General Secretary Gorbachev, the West is confronted by a leader who is far more formidable and infinitely more dangerous than Mr. Chernenko and Mr. Brezhnev were. He has great propaganda skills, intense determination and great orthodoxy in his personal commitment and loyalty to Communist ideology. Furthermore, he knows how to play on Western public opinion, how to exploit divisions within NATO and how to play on wishful thinking in the West.

The initial dual track decision in 1979 was taken two years after SS20s were first deployed in the western military districts of the Soviet Union. We hoped that our decision would induce the Soviets to dismantle their systems, so that we would not have to modernise our intermediate-range nuclear forces. Of course, that did not happen and the Soviets' SS20 build-up continued inexorably.

In 1981, we persisted with the zero-zero option and suggested again that if the Soviets dismantled their SS20s we would not modernise our INF by the deployment of cruise and Pershing 11 missiles. Once again, the SS20 buildup continued.

From December 1983 we had to put in place our own modernised systems of ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing II missiles. This was achieved only with very great political difficulty. There were mass demonstrations and critical votes in national Parliaments. We are proud of the decision taken by this House. We and the Federal Republic of Germany, two key countries in the Alliance, were the first to deploy the systems. Since then NATO has begun to deploy them in Italy and Belgium, and ultimately it is hoped that they will be deployed in the Netherlands.

What has transpired since that deployment? The answer is that the Soviets have undertaken another inexorable build-up of short-range systems—SS12s, SS22s and SS23s. They are ballistic missile systems with short flight times and, in common with the SS20s, but perhaps more so, they are a direct threat to Western Europe. They represent a counter- force capability that could knock out our air bases and destroy NATO's command and control facilities. Since the Soviets have a preponderance of short-range systems— 9:1 in their favour— the position vis-a-vis intermediate nuclear systems does not matter so much to them. The Soviets are aware that their short-range systems ensure that they have a capability of launching a pre-emptive strike to knock us out on the ground. Of course, in the process there is the risk that there would be a strategic nuclear response. However, a strategic nuclear response launched by the United States on our behalf is more likely to occur if intermediate-range systems are located on the soil of Western Europe. That crucial linkage was the raison d'etre of our INF modernisation in the first place. Chancellor Schimdt, in his lecture to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, emphasised the point.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and others have said that we have other options. We have dual-capable systems, such as the Fills. However, air-launched systems are vulnerable because their response time is slow. We also have quasi-strategic systems, such as the Poseidon boats. However, with regard to a submarine-launched strategic ballistic missile, one's adversary is riot sure whether he is receiving a strategic response.

I believe that we should proceed with the negotiations, but we should seek a definite quid pro quo. It is crucial to emphasise to our American friends—as has been said by Mr. Giraud, the French Defence Minister and also by Mr. Wörner the German Defence Minister—that Western Europe should address the problem in its totality. That is, we must address it with regard to the conventional balance, the chemical balance and the imbalance with regard to short-range systems. If we are deliberately to pursue a policy that renders us vulnerable—by denying ourselves intermediate-range systems stationed on the soil of Western Europe— we must have a capability to defend Western Europe's retaliatory forces securely.

I have always argued that there is a need for strategic defence against short-range systems. The technology of strategic defence is more important than ever before. Ii is important for point defence—the protection of air bases and command and control centres. New technologies are emerging for this purpose. Furthermore, space-based systems are important because they would be able to intercept ballistic missiles even of a short-range nature, such as the SS22s and the SS23s, in the launch phase.

I am pleased that General Secretary Gorbachev has removed the linkage, imposed at Reykjavik, between the American development of SDI and INF arms control. Unless the West takes countervailing measures, it may be making itself more vulnerable militarily by pursuing the zero-zero option. However, I recognise the political benefits that may arise from such an agreement.

6.34 pm
Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)

I do not share the pride of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood, (Mr. Wilkinson) at having cruise stationed in Europe. I do not share his hope that those countries that have not completed the stationing of such weapons will do so. There is neither reason for pride nor hope in such an argument, despite the fact that some may argue that there is necessity.

I wish to make some general comments as I do not normally participate in debates in the Chamber—

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)


Mr. Freeson

I do not believe that my observation was humorous. I do not normally join in the debates in the Chamber because I find most of them are devoted to the detailed minutiae that overlook some of the central issues that have faced Britain and people on both sides of the iron curtain for far too long. Indeed, they have been left untackled for too long. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottaway), who sniggered, may not be aware, unlike his hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip- Northwood, that I am an active parliamentarian in the Western European Union parliamentary assembly. I have participated in its debates— agreeably or disagreeably, according to one's point of view.

It is conventional wisdom to point out that nuclear weapons have existed for 40 years during which time there has been no war in Europe—post hoc ergo propter hoc, this is taken as cause and effect. Thus both East and West justify their relentless stockpiling of nuclear weapons. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood illustrated that in his speech. The Russians start storing certain types of equipment in Eastern Europe and so we start to stockpile other types of equipment. The Russians therefore start stockpiling further forms of equipment and we respond. This stupid, dangerous madness continues.

We are spending about $9.5 billion between the lot of us on building up all forms of offensive defence. We should start considering—that process can begin in the House—developing a non-offensive defence policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is possible to have a non-offensive defensive policy. It is long overdue. It would require a fundamental reshaping of our attitude towards so-called nuclear defence.

Wars have continued despite the so-called deterrent. They have continued on a massive scale throughout the world, beyond Europe. Some tens of millions of people have been killed or wounded. In many cases wars have been waged in the Third world by the superpowers—by proxy. Far too often this country— under whatever Government— has given support to one side in such proxy wars. Millions of people have suffered at the hands of offensive high technology. We have often sold such technology to other countries.

Today there are an estimated 50,000 nuclear weapons, with an explosive power equal to I billion Hiroshimas. I often wonder, having listened to some of the speeches this evening, if people have thought of the implications of providing so-called defence by overkill— if I may use that hackneyed word.

Apart from nuclear weapons, the arms race in conventional weapons, far from stabilising or reducing, has accelerated apace. Far from preventing potential wars this arms race has induced wars in many parts of the world. Directly, if not indirectly, either politically or through our massive arms trade, we are contributing to the death of thousands of people in other parts of the world by the sale of British offensive equipment. Whatever we think of past cause and effect, to behave as we have for the past 40 years will not guarantee peace or provide security in future. We must move from a position of threatened mutual suicide to one of common security. There is no route to world security other than by the progressive reduction and eventual abolition of all offensive weaponry and the introduction of replacement defensive weaponry.

The fundamental duty of politicians is to build the stepping stones, military and political, to that end. Both NATO and the Warsaw pact have missiles in position with flight times of six minutes to centres of command and government. As a result, both sides are moving towards the establishment of fire-on-warning systems that would respond automatically to any assumed missile attack. The dangers of war by accident, including computer error, are thus greatly increased. We need a system of defensive deterrence that is not provocative to others. Such a system should provide an effective and militarily credible defence. It should also reduce the risk in a crisis of pre-emptive attack or war by miscalculation. Those who talk about SDI as such a system are overlooking all the potential for war in space going well beyond the systems that are now proposed for research.

Defence positions should reduce pressure on the East- West arms race by, for example, removing the present possibility of one side reacting to the other side's deployment of new or additional weapons by deploying more of its own. Our defence policy should improve the atmosphere for detente instead of generating distrust. It should be affordable and acceptable to the public at large.

It is often argued that a defence-only policy would be ineffective and could not win—whatever that may mean in the nuclear age. It is generally agreed, however, that defence is stronger than attack. With the coming of modern technology, it is estimated that an attacker needs to have a superiority over the forces available to the defender of four or five to one. The superior strength of defensive tactics and forces that has been evident throughout the history of warfare is now being strengthened by modern technology. The tank and the capital naval ship may become technically obsolete in modern war with the advent of accurate homing missiles. If the Exocets fired by Argentina had had better fuses, the history of the Falklands war might well have been different. It is difficult to imagine a successful invasion by sea with the intelligent use of homing missiles aimed at the attackers.

It is possible to order military forces so that they can be seen to be entirely defensive and non-provacative, even though each weapon could be used offensively. A country's entire defence posture— its weapons, the training of its forces, its doctrine and its operational manuals— can show clearly whether its forces are for defence only. No one considering the defence forces of Sweden, Austria and Yugoslavia, for example, could assume that they were for any purpose other than defence. These countries do not heighten international tension by provoking anxiety among their neighbours.

Effective defence need not overburden an economy. It is necessary only to consider the relative costs of defence and offensive weapons. A modern battlefield tank costs $3 million while an anti-tank guided missile costs $30,000. A combat aircraft such as the Tornado costs $30 million and a sophisticated missile capable of destroying it, such as the Patriot, costs $1 million, or just over 3 per cent. of the cost of a Tornado.

Along with military steps towards non-aggressive defence policies we need also to work politically towards constructive and peaceful co-existence. We must move away from confrontation politics. The relaxation of tension that would accompany a non-provocative defence position would allow discussions on detente to take place in a much easier atmosphere, and this is not the concern of the superpowers alone. There are forums at which many countries can participate in discussions, as we do in Britain and at international assemblies. It makes the greatest sense to identify politically the issues in which both sides have a common interest. These include a common test ban agreement and moves towards a reduction in nuclear defence weaponry that we have been discussing this evening. There are many other initiatives along those lines.

I find it extremely disturbing that, after several years of paying lip service to the zero option, many parts of Western Europe, including Britain, should start running scared at the first sign of serious negotiations in that direction, and should start erecting all sorts of obstacles to such a move. If we were sincere in what we have been advocating, or claiming to advocate, since the early 1980s, we would put our actions and words where our statements have been in the past. That includes making more progress towards the removal of as many nuclear weapons in Europe as we can, and as rapidly as possible.

6.47 pm
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) has called for a nonoffensive defence policy. He said that we must move from a position of threatened mutual suicide. I think that we would all agree with that. We would all read that as a good explanation of the need for a strategic defence initiative. As for the rest of his remarks, I refer him—I do not believe that he was in the Chamber at the time—to the important remarks of his colleague, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), on the history of the past 40 years, which the right hon. Member for Brent, East seeks to write down as a great aberration. However, peace has been preserved for the past 40 years. I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to consider what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, a former Prime Minister, had to say about Western determination having brought the Soviet Union back to the negotiating table. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth speaks with important and significant experience on that issue.

We are debating a subject that is too important for the making of easy party political points. However, the difference between the parties on the Opposition Benches must be stressed. These are differences that the British public must understand when the forthcoming general election takes place. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly the position of the Labour party than the contrast between the speeches of the right hon. Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth and for Brent, East.

We all become used to the performances of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), and I use "performances" advisedly. He is the living embodiment of that famous old cliché that if one is on a weak wicket, the best thing is to shout. In other words, the best form of defence is attack. According to the right hon. Gentleman, the leaders of the Western nations—I hope that I am not doing him an injustice by misquoting him — are running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. Anyone more like a headless chicken than the right hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind his principles and the things in which he has believed over decades, is hard to imagine. It would appear that his head has been chopped off and thrown into the wastepaper basket. That must be the position when he chooses to defend a policy that he knows is arrant nonsense. He made a ludicrous comparison. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East—I am sorry that he is not in his place now—knows that to be a fact.

We must consider the unfortunate position of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright).

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think again about the way in which he attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). It was unworthy of him. I hope that he will also note that, although my right hon. Friend is not present, neither is the Secretary of State for Defence. That is understandable because they both have other engagements. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stop continuing to be a former diplomat and apologist for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Whitney

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who was not here when his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East spoke, has the courtesy to read what his right hon.

Friend said. He will then understand the point about the headless chicken, which was the right hon. Gentleman's term for the leaders of western European nations.

Mr. Foulkes

I have heard what my right hon. Friend has said on previous occasions on this matter. I know exactly what he said—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), screaming harridan that she is, will wait, I shall explain that I was not here precisely because I was representing my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East and the Leader of the Opposition at the Commonwealth day service in Westminster Abbey.

Mr. Whitney

I am delighted to have an explanation, which I was not seeking, for the absence of the hon. Gentleman. However, I repeat that if he is making assertions about his right hon. Friend's statement, he had better read it first and then he will learn a little.

Before I deal with SDI, an introduction to which was happily given me by the right hon. Member for Brent, East, I should like to mention the opening bat of the hon. Member for Woolwich on what was for him an extremely sticky wicket, to continue the metaphor. It seemed unkind to give him such a task. He who knows such a lot about NATO defence and understands and is a loyal supporter of NATO was driven into the position, when he was seeking to explain the extraordinary riding of two horses going in widely diverging directions, which is now his unhappy lot of having to say, "I am fortunately not responsible for the Liberals." I share his views on t hat but I hope that the electors of Truro note that too.

Everyone who has spoken, from both sides of the House, welcomes Mr. Gorbachev's initiative. It is significant that the words of praise for Mr. Gorbachev's initiative, which was described as an act of statesmanship, were not used when President Reagan made precisely the same proposal in 1981. It was then condemned by Opposition Members as a public relations exercise. Now that it comes from Mr. Gorbachev it is a marvellous new initiative. However, I shall cavil not at that.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have explained, we need to be extremely careful about the problems of verification. We have to take extreme care on the problems of the shorter-range and aircraft missile systems. We have to take account of the imbalance in conventional forces, whatever the arithmetical arguments of those differences are, and we have to take account of the differences in chemical weapons. I have to say to the hon. Member for Woolwich—I am glad that he has now rejoined the debate—that to say that there has been no significant change in the position on chemical weapons since 1979 is to show a serious misunderstanding of the massive development in capability that the Soviet Union has manifested in the past seven or eight years. Nevertheless, the welcome is there and, subject to all those caveats, which any responsible leader of any Western Government must take into account—certainly my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will take them into account and I am confident that the American Government will take them into account—we must welcome the initiative and go forward.

The significant development is that the Gorbachev offer is no longer subject to the caveat about SDI. It was particularly significant that the offer came when it did. I shall quote The Sunday Times, not in terms of a particular attack on the newspaper, but because I take The Sunday Times editorial of 1 March as a typical example of a standard conventional view of the international negotiating relationship on nuclear weapons as it then obtained. It was unfortunate for the leader writer of The Sunday Times that the Gorbachev offer came just a few hours before his editorial was printed. Speaking of the Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Moscow, he offered the view that she may be the one person who can persuade President Reagan to make the necessary compromise on star war testing, which is the one issue that stands in the way of the first-ever missile-cutting deal between the superpowers. Clearly, The Sunday Times was wrong. The conventional views of what I would call the arms control establishment in London were wrong. That is not an objective and, therefore, we need to look again carefully at the relationship in terms of future arms control negotiations and the strategic defence initiative. I believe that the nation, the House and, indeed, my party too should step back and look again carefully.

The strategic defence initiative has been subjected to a linguistic propaganda war which is akin to what was suffered by the term "cold war" over a generation. The term "cold war" was picked up by the international Left so that anyone who pointed out any dangers or threats that came from the Soviet Union or Soviet policy was condemned as a cold war warrior. There is an unhappy correlation now between the glib phrase "star wars" and the strategic defence initiative. Of course, it is a defence initiative. It may or may not work but it is, to use the words of the right hon. Member for Brent, East, a nonoffensive defence policy. It is a step back from what he described as a position of threatened mutual suicide.

One of the reasons why it became such an object of controversy was that it upset the Western arms control establishment. I speak as someone who was a co-founder of the Council for Arms Control and I am totally dedicated to arms control. However, I know also that there are people who have made a profession out of arms control—I make no complaint about that—but they are flat earthers. They are deeply unhappy about the concept that there is any possible alternative to what the right hon. Member for Brent, East suggested, mutually assured destruction, the all too sadly apposite acronym, MAD. MAD is precisely what President Reagan is seeking to get away from.

Another reason why SDI was such a fiercely attacked target was that it was linked with the general animosity which has been built up in so many quarters in the West against President Reagan. Of course, the concepts involved in SDI are 20 years and more old. For 20 years in the East and West there has been research and work on anti-satellite systems. The fact that in March 1983 it was gathered together by President Reagan and relaunched under the new umbrella of the strategic defence initiative was practically irrelevant. It was given a new thrust, but it was not anything new. It is research that the East and West have been in engaged in for two decades, in my view, quite rightly, too.

If there is a sensible and valid alternative to MAD, surely it must be right at least to explore the possibility. The arms control establishment, being, as I have said, inclined to flat earthism and conservatism, with an extremely small "c" said "No. This is destabilising. They will never do it. It will take too much money and it is technically impossible." I remind the House that just a few months before the atom bomb was dropped, well-known experts on the subject said that no atom bomb would ever be dropped, and a few months before a landing was made on the moon, well-known experts on the subject said that no landing would ever be made on the moon.

I do not know whether SDI will succeed. However, the arms control circles, which have strong influences on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, have now been surprised by the technical progress that has been made. I do not believe that the Soviet Union has been surprised because it is engaged in the technology. The Soviets know the American capability and they believe that something can be achieved. That is the reason why they are so sensitive about it. But the next defence of the arms control establishment is that that cannot be an all-embracing, 100 per cent. technology. In fact, sadly, in March 1985 my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was moved to compare it to a Maginot line mentality. It would be dangerous if that were the concept, but it is not. Among serious strategic thinkers in the United States the concept is developing of a combined defence of defence on the one hand and offence on the other. The technical possibilities are opening up.

Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friends in the Government to ensure that they take an extremely openminded, not to say positive, view of the possibilities that SDI may offer—not just for the West, but for the Soviet Union. That must be regarded as a serious possibility.

In line with that, I urge my right hon. Friends to take a careful look at their attitudes on the anti-ballistic missile treaty. I have been disturbed by some of the nervousness that they have displayed about the reading of that treaty. The treaty is the jewel in the crown of the arms control process. My right hon. Friends must understand that when they receive submissions from their Departments-from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence— they are talking about the Holy Grail, about the only coconut that has dropped off the tree so far—

Mr. Foulkes

Stop mixing your metaphors. Get on with it.

Mr. Whitney

I will mix my metaphors. If the hon. Gentleman will listen, he will learn something.

The ABM treaty was signed by the Soviet Union only when it was clear that, were it not signed, President Nixon was ready to deploy anti-ballistic missiles himself. That is what brought the Soviet Union to sign that treaty in 1972.

On the interpretation of the treaty, there is now a great debate on whether there should be a narrow or broad definition. As we are not signatories of the treaty, we do not have a locus to take a definitive view. However, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to look at article 13 of that treaty, which establishes a consultative committee between the contracting parties and which meets twice a year. As I understand it, there has never been a single report of a Soviet complaint about the American interpretation of the treaty.

Therefore, the interpretation of the ABM treaty is linked to the attitude on SDI. With the Gorbachev initiative of a week last Saturday, those two areas give a new impetus, and we must look to that in a positive spirit.

I remind the House that the approach that we seek is not, in its own right, to sign a treaty for arms control. That is a laudable objective. What we really seek are sensible and sound relations between East and West. That must be the final objective, and that is where we start. Therefore, in any rush or enthusiasm, which is understandable, to sign a piece of paper that is labelled "arms control", let us not lose sight of that final objective. As Moscow knows well, the desire for peace in Britain and in the West as a whole is absolute. It has only to respond and then we can make progress.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate, which is already running late. The House is well accustomed to the intemperance with which it is often addressed by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), but even by his own standards and lack of control over his tongue, is it parliamentary that he should refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman)—

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Do not repeat it.

Viscount Cranborne

—in the way that he did while intervening in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney)?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I am not sure that I heard the remark to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The hon. Lady is not complaining.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I am not complaining because I do not regard the hon. Member as a gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If something discourteous was said, the Chair did not hear it.

7.5 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I hope that I shall be forgiven for intruding on those private exchanges.

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), whose sitting down has been greeted with some enthusiasm in some quarters, took us away from the main subject of the debate into the issue of the strategic defence initiative. Of course, the debate is not about SDI, because Mr. Gorbachev has accepted at last that he will not link intermediate nuclear forces with SDI. That is the opportunity that has arisen and it is the basis for the debate. As the hon. Gentleman referred to that matter, let me say that I do not share his view. He said that it may or may not work. If it does not work, far from being a defensive, non-provocative nuclear system, it is in fact one of the most offensive systems that could be created. If it could work on the basis of President Reagan's initial dream, as the total defence, the impenetrable shield, it would be non-provocative defence, but I have yet to find anybody in the United States who any longer believes that that is within the capacity of the technology—

Mr. Whitney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith

No. The hon. Gentleman has just spoken. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary does not share the hon. Gentleman's belief, because the most thorough analysis that I have seen of the SDI concept to which, to be fair, the hon. Gentleman referred is that made by the Foreign Secretary some time ago, which has 18 points of specific criticism of the SDI concept. I wish that the Government would refer to it more often.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) made it clear that, whatever changes have taken place in the arms control scene since 1979, none has invalidated the case for acceptance of the zero-zero deal which we sought then. By "we", I mean hon. Members in all parts of the House. Not many have questioned that during this extremely valuable debate. The general tenor of the debate has been strongly to encourage the Government to go ahead and seek a deal now that the obstacle of linkage with the SDI programme has been removed.

We heard several helpful speeches during the debate. The hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) made a sensible speech. Comment has been made on both sides of the House about the speech by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), who would not want to give up NATO weapons without obtaining greater security for Europe in the process by getting something in exchange. He made that clear in a speech that found acceptance in many quarters, if not entirely on his own Benches.

I appreciate the speech by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who lives and works so close to the problems presented by cruise deployment and whose constituents have had to put up not just with cruise deployment but with some of its domestic consequences. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) spoke from a committed unilateralist position, which I do not share, but he entered into the spirit of the debate, which was to encourage the Government to move forward.

The hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) came closest in the debate to pouring cold water on the prospects for the INF discussions, but even he agreed, for example, that a stage had come when not only would the I NF negotiations proceed but when we would put Trident into international arms negotiations. He finds himself in a similar position to that adopted by the alliance in being prepared to maintain a British nuclear capacity at its present level but with the intention of negotiating it away. There was an unhappy reference in the hon. Member for Wealden's phraseology to the "mistake" of Reykjavik, by which he was referring in particular to the zero option.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), who represents that part of Bexley that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) does riot represent, spoke about attaining the high ground. That note must enter the discussions. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) preferred to attack my right hon. and hon. Friends as out-and-out unilateralists. He has clearly not made the kind of detailed study of Liberal party conference resolutions which forms the unhappy lot of anyone who is the chairman of the policy committee in any political party. If he looks a little more closely, he will find amongst our recent conference resolutions that there are resolutions which freeze our existing cruise deployment, and resolutions which fully underscore our longstanding and unshaken commitment to maintain American nuclear bases on British soil as part of our commitment to the NATO deterrent. If the hon. Gentleman finds these things fascinating, he should devote more time to their study.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) rather worried me. He still wants cruise deployment in the Netherlands when we are open to the prospect of removing those weapons entirely from Europe. He is Ruislip's answer to Richard Perle, yet even Richard Perle is ready to seek a move forward on INF negotiations.

Mr. Wilkinson

If we gratuitously forgo deployment in the Netherlands, as many in the peace movement would wish in that country, it may subsequently prove a precedent which will be difficult for NATO if NATO at a later date seeks to enhance its short-range capability. That was the implication of my point, and that is a serious matter.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman has refined his point. It is not for us to decide whether the Dutch Government can or will accept deployment within the Netherlands. However, it can now be rendered unnecessary by success in the negotiations.

The discussions at Reykjavik caught the public imagination in the East and the West, and notably in the West where there is so much more opportunity for public feeling to be assessed and estimated. There is no doubt at all that that process caught the public imagination and that there was a great deal of public disappointment that the process seemed to come to a sudden end. Getting the Reykjavik process moving again, in the form of Mr. Gorbachev's new willingness to unlink the INF discussions, will again capture the imagination of the Western public and create expectations that the Government must make a major effort to satisfy.

Therefore, in the early stages of the debate we looked for some sign of where the British Government stand. The Secretary of State for Defence has apologised to me for having to return to his discussions in France. Perhaps he is trying to get the French out of their Maginot line complex.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith

I intend to develop my argument. I gave way a moment ago; I will not give way now.

I hope that the Secretary of State will continue the process in which my hon. Friends and I engaged in trying to discuss with France the way in which their military capacity can be seen as part of a European defence and not as a solely French operation conceived on such narrow principles that it cannot provide a genuine defence for France—

Mr. Jim Spicer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman because he flatly refused to give way to me.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State expressed surprise that there was no motion upon which the House could vote. He would not have been here for the vote in any case. However, the Order Papers are littered with motions that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled about the details of these matters. Is anyone seriously suggesting that we need a vote tonight so that some right hon. and hon. Members can go through the Division Lobby to oppose a deal on intermediate nuclear forces? This is one of the occasions when the House can surely express by common consent the need to see progress in this area.

The Secretary of State did not clarify whether there was a link in the Government's mind between intermediate and short-range nuclear forces. Instead, he devoted quite a lot of time to a partisan chronicling of events of the past few years. He tended to ignore those factors that led my right hon. and hon. Friends and Ito criticise the absence of the dual key in cruise deployment and the fact that deployment took place while discussions in Geneva were still taking place. That was a matter of wide public concern at the time. Such feelings were strengthened by widespread British feelings that cruise was not sufficiently or at all under British control.

We wanted some sign from the Secretary of State during today's debate that there was no formal linkage between his legitimate concerns about short-range nuclear weapons and the prospects of an INF deal. Some of the phrases that the right hon. Gentleman used such as, "This is an essential condition of an INF agreement"—when talking about short-range nuclear forces— did not remove the doubt that the Government are trying to impose a linkage where neither the Americans nor the Soviet Union wish to impose any linkage at all upon these discussions.

The Secretary of State prayed in aid the draft treaty tabled by the United States at Geneva. However, the effect of the treaty is to freeze existing Soviet superiority in shortrange nuclear forces. That is clearly an attempt to table and recognise the relevance of short-range nuclear forces for further progress and to the spirit in which an INF deal is struck. However, the treaty tabled by the United States does not remove that superiority. That is clearly a matter that we must consider after concluding an INF deal.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), in a characteristically entertaining and interesting speech, raised the important question of what is happening now in the Soviet Union. That is part of the background to these discussions. What is happening there and how should we respond to it?

Clearly fundamental changes are taking place in the Soviet Union giving rise to major pressures. We are in no position to rest at this moment on a judgment that the changes will continue in their present direction. That can only be a hope. Of course, the experience in China is a demonstration of how these things can go wrong and how there there can be major reversals. However, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, the Lord President of the Council, myself and others visited Moscow last summer, observed the beginnings of some of these changes and pressed on issues such as human rights for different attitudes from those which have been characteristic of the Soviet Union in recent years.

It was apparent to all of us—and this would not be a subject of disagreement between the different parties in that delegation— that the economic situation was a major driving force, along with the desire for greater stability, in Mr. Gorbachev's attitude to disarmament. That was underlined by my perception that it was not cruise or Pershing that concerned Mr. Gorbachev most; nor was it French and British nuclear forces that most concerned him. Indeed, he made increasingly clear his readiness to put that issue to one side. The strategic defence initiative and the major commitment that would be involved in continuing the existing Soviet work in that area to match that initiative was Mr. Gorbachev's main concern. Removing the SDI linkage was an important decision for Mr. Gorbachev to make. I believe that that decision was dictated by his belief that the process must be got rolling and that some agreement must be secured somewhere. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bexleyheath was right when he said that the Soviet leader must start to show results if he is to remain secure in his own political system.

In the course of our discussions in Moscow, I felt that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East appeared rather like an early and very genial Father Christmas, upending his sack on the Kremlin table so that everything tumbled out before Mr. Gorbachev could even get his note up the chimney. Almost anything that Mr. Gorbachev could have asked for was already on offer because the Labour party had already committed itself to having no NATO nuclear bases in the United Kingdom, no cruise deployment and no British nuclear forces.

There was no incentive to do more than produce decorative offers of re-targeting Soviet missiles and nominal reductions in their strength. I do not believe that that was a sensible strategy. Nor do I believe that Gorbachev was educated in the Santa Claus school of negotiation. He will drive a hard bargain or a hard series of bargains. He is prepared to drive bargains and he needs those bargains. It is in the interests of the West and of world peace to secure bargains which will enhance our security. We cannot do that in one single deal, as Gorbachev discovered when he went to Reykjavik.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who is to reply to the debate, referring to shortrange nuclear forces in 1985, said: Such systems are not at present the subject of arms control negotiations. Priority is rightly being given by the United States and Soviet Union to reaching agreements on the strategic and long-range intermediate categories."— [Official Report,20 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 209.]

The Minister stressed the distinctive nature of the various negotiations. We now have the opportunity to make progress on intermediate nuclear forces.

When the Prime Minister goes to Moscow, there are many issues that she can rightly raise. She can talk about short-range missiles and Soviet conventional forces. She can talk about human rights issues. All of those are important to the West and to the West's perception of Soviet intentions and to the West's assessment of Soviet good faith. But she must not stand in the way of a deal on intermediate nuclear forces by making it dependent on linkage with any or all of those issues.

We were prepared to bring this matter before the House. It would not otherwise have been debated before the Prime Minister's visit to the Soviet Union. It is entirely in line with our belief that we should maintain sound defence while actively promoting disarmament that we ask the Government to take what will be, in the view of millions of people, a small but very significant step forward for mankind if they enable the nations of the world to achieve the first major nuclear arms deal—that on intermediate nuclear forces. It is an opportunity that the Government must not throw away.

7.20 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

I agree with the last words of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). This is an important debate, and I am grateful to the alliance for arranging it, although they may come to regret it because of the inconsistencies that it has shown in their position. It is important because it concerns the first substantial reductions in modern weapons. The debate contained thoughtful speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) arid for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), among others, and from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang).

The one thing that the debate lacked was the sound of Opposition or alliance leaders eating their words. That would have been appropriate. I know that humble pie is not the favourite diet of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who prefers an extravagance of loose verbiage, but it would have been good if, on this occasion, he had echoed the words of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) and accepted that his constant opposition to the deployment of cruise in Britain had been wrong.

The right hon. Gentleman said, "It was our determination to deploy cruise and Pershing that brought the Soviets back to the negotiating table." How right he was, yet we heard not a word of that from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, who once again resorted to using ridiculous phrases such as the one about the Prime Minister reviving the psychosis of the cold war— [Interruption.] We heard good grunting noises from the right hon. Gentleman, but he would do well to remember the article that he wrote in The Observer of 13 February 1983. It was entitled "The Case against Cruise" and it contained gems such as the following: If Cruise is once deployed it will make an arms agreement enormously more difficult. It is certain that if the West deploys Cruise and Pershing the Russians will reciprocate. The balance of power will then become much less stable than it is today. For all these reasons, NATO must now abandon its decision of December 1979. The Labour Party is determined that Britain shall not accept Cruise missiles on her soil. Instead, today the right hon. Gentleman was like one of the ugly sisters suddenly deciding that Cinderella was her best friend after all. He is trying to jump on the bandwagon—

Mr. Healey


Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman has had his chance. I will give way in a second. His hypocrisy in the way in which he talked about INF and the possibility of a zero-zero option will remain with him for many years.

Mr. Healey

I am glad that the Minister has given 'way. Every quotation that he made has been justified in the event. The Soviets did reciprocate the deployment of cruise and Pershing by putting missiles in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Four years passed before we could resume arms negotiations. The position has become less favourable than it was, as the Prime Minister said last week. Every statement that it made has been proved right in the event.

Mr. Renton

I regret that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman. I am reminded of the old phrase, "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." That is what we have heard today, and the same is true of the alliance spokesmen. It would be wrong to leave them out of the calculations altogether.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) tried to make it clear that it was logical and consistent for the alliance to have backed the dual track decision but to have voted against the deployment of cruise. That is precisely what they did. He said, "'That is an absolutely clear position." To me, it is as clear as mud. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made abundantly clear, because of the deployment of cruise and because of the courage and steadfastness of the NATO Alliance in deploying cruise and Pershing, we reached the position that we are in today. Without that, we would not have been here.

Mr. Foulkes

It is facile.

Mr. Renton

No, it is not facile. The question is how many SS20 systems would have remained facing Europe if we had followed Labour or alliance policies. Would it have been 900, 600 or 300? One can choose any number one likes except zero. Only with the deployment of cruise, contrary to the policies of the Liberal party, the alliance and the Labour party, have we reached the position—

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The Minister knows full well that the policies of the alliance have been consistent throughout— [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) can keep his policies, but the SDP line has been consistent, as has been the alliance line. The leader of the Liberal party went to his conference and had enough courage to challenge the delegates and reject their policy. The fact is that he did not accept the Liberal assembly decision. It is about time that it was accepted that there is some honour in this House. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) has consistently held the view that we should support the dual track decision. The policy of the alliance, as distinct from the policy of the Liberal party— [Interruption.]—has never shifted. It is the strength of the alliance that both parties have to agree to a policy before it becomes alliance policy. It is wrong to claim that that is not so.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman has managed to bury the alliance defence policy once and for all. He has certainly buried any idea that there is unanimity or consistency in it. He said that the alliance had always supported the dual track position, yet in the House the alliance voted against the deployment of cruise. He did that, as did the leader of the Liberal party, and it is an intrinsic part of the dual track decision. Only that decision has brought us to the stage that we have reached today.

To get back to the main gist of the debate, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East suggested that the Government had been half-hearted in welcoming Mr. Gorbachev's suggestion. But my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary emphatically welcomed the Soviet statement for three clear reasons. First, it accepted the idea of an INF agreement based on the zero option that the NATO Alliance first put forward in 1981. Secondly, the Soviet leadership has broken the link between an INF agreement and SDI which we and our NATO allies have repeatedly urged the Soviet Union to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) pointed out the importance of this. Thirdly, the Soviet statement made no reference to the British and French independent nuclear deterrent, a third good reason for supporting the statement, thus confirming our long insistence on the exclusion of the British and French deterrents from any INF negotiations.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East will remember that in the SDI debate in February 1986 he said: The major obstacle to accepting the Soviet proposals for the zero option of intermediate nuclear forces is the British Government's determination to go ahead with the Trident programme."— [Official Report,19 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 33.] However, last October Mr. Gorbachev said of the British and French independent deterrent forces, "Let them be increased and further improved." I ask the House and the right hon. Gentleman whose advice I should take, his or the general secretary's? Certainly, the general secretary's advice is a great deal more helpful and useful for the defence of this country than that of the right hon. Gentleman.

Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I am cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the negotiations. Those involved in arms control matters have by nature to be cautious and, as many of my hon. Friends have said in the debate, the going will not be easy. However, the events of the past week or so give one reason to think that real progress may be possible. The ground has already been covered in some detail in exchanges between the two parties, most notably during the Reykjavik meeting last October, and the Americans moved with promptness in tabling a draft treaty.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East, the hon. Members for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and some of my hon. Friends asked about the position of SRINF in the current treaty negotiations. Part of the West's negotiating position since 1981 has been that an LRINF deal must contain constraints on SRINF. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said earlier, the draft treaty contains articles constraining those shorter range weapons which might be used to bypass an LRINF agreement. NATO will require follow-on negotiations to address the Soviet imbalance in these and other shorter range systems.

At present we do not know precisely what the Soviet Union is prepared to offer on SRINF. The Soviets must address the imbalance, explain why they need these systems which have no direct equivalent on the NATO side, and say why they continue to deny the United States the right to match. Similarly, the question of conventional weapons was raised frequently in the debate. The Prime Minister agreed with President Reagan at Camp David that steps to eliminate conventional disparities would become more important as nuclear weapons were reduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, in his thoughtful speech, and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth asked about on-site verification as well as the use of national technical means such as satellites and said that this will have to be looked at very carefully in arriving at a final treaty. I agree with those hon. Members, including, I think, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, who said that the verification arrangements made in this treaty could be a useful precedent. One will look to see how they are worked out and if they could be built on in other fora.

I realise how important this issue is to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury because Greenham common is in his constituency and he has often spoken wisely on the subject in the House. He asked what had happened to make the Soviets change their minds. That point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. I suggest several possibilities such as economic questions in the Soviet Union; a wish among the Soviets not to invest huge sums of money in new defence technologies; a wish on the part of the new leadership to show members of its bureaucracy and the party that it is making progress in these negotiations: and, above all, the resolution of NATO itself.

Over the years the Soviet Union has been shown that cruise and Pershing missiles were being deployed in Western Europe and that the only way to remove them was for the Soviets to remove the SS20s. That must be regarded as a great success for the steadfastness of NATO.

We should not be carried away too much by thoughts about a transformation in Soviet society. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer). It is easy to be excited when we read in the newspapers about all that has happened. However, only in the last two weeks we have had two instances of the Soviets refusing entry visas to an all-party group of Members of Parliament and, at the end of last week, a group of parliamentary wives who wanted to go to the Soviet Union for tourism and to meet friends, including a number of Soviet Jews who have been denied exit visas for 10 or 15 years. It is inconceivable that in the Soviet Union, which is moving towards more openness and towards restructuring, such retrogressive steps should still be taken because they appear to be clearly contrary to the obligations that the Soviets entered into under the Helsinki final act.

Where does this leave us? Over the last few years the opposition parties would have had us scuttling off to Moscow at every new twist in the Soviet strategy for wearing down the West. The negotiating brief of the Opposition parties, and especially that of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, would have been a deal at any price— cruise, Pershing, Trident, everything must go. Instead of that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will visit Moscow later this month and in her agenda will be discussions with the Soviet leader on genuine arms control. Those discussions will be on the basis of real and balanced cuts in nuclear arsenals which will not leave us defenceless in the face of a Soviet threat.

Recent developments have proved for all to see that we were right to go ahead with cruise deployment and right to resist the numerous offers for freezes or partial reductions which Moscow presented in the years before deployment and which Labour and Liberal parties found so attractive. They also prove that we were right to refuse to allow the British nuclear deterrent to be included in INF negotiations, and right to hold out for the genuine and balanced arms control agreements that we may now be in sight of achieving. The whole country will remember that at the next election.

Question put and negatived.