HC Deb 18 March 1987 vol 112 cc910-2
2. Mr. Cash

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress at the arms control negotiations in Geneva.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The seventh round of the Geneva nuclear and space talks has been extended to allow further discussion of the United States draft INF treaty tabled on 4 March. The chemical weapons negotiations resumed on 3 February. We hope that it will be possible to build on the encouraging progress made last year.

Mr. Cash

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted the desperate Houdini tactics being adopted by the Leader of the Opposition in a vain attempt to satisfy the negotiators at Geneva and the voters of this country that his party is no longer unilateralist? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it proves that the firm defence policy that is being followed by the Government will produce effective, verifiable progress towards genuine disarmament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Like my hon. Friend, I am driven to speculate about the implications of reports in today's press about shifts in the position of the leader of the Labour party, suggesting that the Opposition are moving towards support for a zero-zero position. If indeed that is happening, one must, however belatedly, welcome the Opposition's attempt to evade the consequences of their previous disastrous policy. The logic of the Opposition's position of one-sided disarmament would be to speed up the removal of cruise missiles to encourage Mr. Gorbachev to remove the SS20s. The recognition, if it be the case, of the wisdom of keeping cruise missiles in this country to achieve success in the negotiations reveals the foolishness of the whole unilateralist approach.

Mr. Cartwright

Have Her Majesty's Government been consulted about the suggestion that American Pershing 2 missiles, which will be covered by the INF agreement, might not be removed but converted into shorter range systems? Since anything that can be converted can be reconverted, what are the implications for the difficult verification issues arising out of the agreement?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is because of the importance of the verification issues that the verification provisions in the draft treaty are themselves so important. It is because of the scope for variation in the capacity of the SS21s and the SS22s on the Soviet side that it is so important to achieve proper constraints on shorter range intermediate nuclear weapons. Among the constraints, the right to match, as well as everything else, has always been open to consideration.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, put in succinct terms, there would be no progress in the various talks if the Opposition's policies on these matters were to be pursued? None the less, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that progress in the various negotiations is disappointingly slow? Is there no chance, perhaps with the help of our American allies, of being even more firm about these matters and getting the processes somewhat speeded up?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can understand my hon. and learned Friend's impatience for quick headway in the matter. He must acknowledge that, in matters of such complexity where verification and constraints on shorter range intermediate nuclear weapons are of crucial importance, it is far more important to be right than to be speedy.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Home Secretary explain why the Government have changed their mind on the zero-zero option by now wanting an agreement on short-range nuclear weapons while reaching an agreement on the INF instead of in subsequent negotiations, as was the Government's position between 1981 and 1986?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There has been no change in the Government's position. If one looks back at the statements in the series of communiqués, one sees that it has always been regarded as important to secure proper constraints on the shorter-range intermediate nuclear weapons as part of the initial agreement, and, beyond that, to secure a commitment to a further round of negotiations for the rest.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Although there is now, fortunately, real hope of progress with regard to the INF and chemical weapons, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is equally, if not far more, important that we should reach some sort of accommodation over strategic weapons? Does he further agree that such an accommodation will be very difficult to achieve until there is some understanding with the Soviet Union on the testing and deployment of the SDI?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As the prospect of agreement on strategic weapons was one of the components that was endorsed by NATO at its two ministerial meetings at the end of last year, as well as at Camp David, it is clear that we should like there to be headway on strategic weapons. That may be easier to achieve if there is proper understanding of the way in which the ABM treaty is to be observed by both sides.

Mr. George Robertson

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the draft treaty on intermediate missiles that has been tabled by the United States at Geneva does not endorse the Prime Minister's line that catching up with Soviet short range superiority is a pre-condition for an agreement? Why is it that when this condition was not part of NATO's zero option offer in 1983 it is now so important and might easily obstruct a historic agreement that would get rid of both the SS20s and the cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe? Why does our Prime Minister, every time that there is a significant concession from the Soviet Union and the chance of a break through in arms control, insist on inventing some spurious objection to it and on moving the goal posts?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is doing his best with a profoundly bad brief. There is absolutely no validity in the points that he makes. From the moment that the zero-zero option was put forward in 1981 it was always accompanied by the suggestion that constraints on shorter-range intermediate weapons were necessary and part of it. As I have already said this afternoon, that position was clearly set out in the Defence Ministers' and the Foreign Ministers' communiqués of December 1986. We need to have constraints on the SRINF systems, which are capable of targeting western Europe, and those constraints need to be incorporated in any INF agreement on zero-zero. Thereafter, further negotiations must address urgently the substantial imbalance that currently exists in the SRINF.