HC Deb 18 March 1987 vol 112 cc918-20
8. Mr. Lester

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the intermediate range nuclear forces negotiations.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) earlier this afternoon, 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. Our aim remains the conclusion of a global longer range intermediate nuclear forces agreement based on zero-zero missiles in Europe and incorporating constraints on Soviet missiles in Asia and on certain shorter range intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. Effective verification will be a vital part of the agreement.

Mr. Lester

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. As he knows, during the recent visit of the Soviet delegation to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Professor Zagladin suggested that we might jointly pursue the concept of adequate defence rather than that of mutually assured destruction. Has my right hon. and learned Friend done any work on that subject?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That question raises massively wide issues beyond which it is difficult to go. We cannot escape from the conclusion that for the foreseeable future the nuclear component will be an effective and essential part of our deterrent defensive policy, and any changes must be calculated to enhance rather than undercut the effectiveness of that defence.

Dr. Owen

In his welcome speech in Brussels the Foreign Secretary asked us to look beyond the INF agreement to the strengthening of the WEU. Why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman find it necessary to imply that the WEU headquarters should move close to NATO in Brussels, apart from the fact that he was speaking in Brussels?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also tell us whether he wants Spain to become a member of, and a signatory to, the treaty and join the union? Is he worried that an expansion of the membership might detract from the capacity to discuss nuclear strategic questions, and in particular from the importance of using the framework for increased Anglo-French strategic nuclear co-operation?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The suggestion of possible co-location in Brussels was prompted, not by the fact that I happened to be speaking in that city, but by a fact that has not escaped the perceptive intelligence of the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that the NATO headquarters are in Brussels. To have part of an organisation's institution in Paris and another part in London is not necessarily the best way of ensuring that it contributes effectively to the dynamic of the Alliance. No doubt many people will disagree with the suggestion, but it is worth considering.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the membership of Spain and other possible applicant countries. As I said in my speech on Monday, it is most important that any expansion of membership should contribute to the cohesion and effectiveness of the WEU, which is why it is important for the WEU's existing members to be clear about their purpose and intention. I do not think that if any prudent alteration in the membership took place, it should affect the prospect of the necessary increasing consultation between Europe's two nuclear powers, the two permanent members of the Security Council, France and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Whitney

In response to an earlier question my right hon. and learned Friend referred to the need for a proper understanding between the two signatories to the ABM treaty. Can he confirm that article 13 of that treaty established a consultative committee precisely to consider questions of interpretation and that, as a result of those arrangements, that committee meets twice every year? Can he tell the House whether he has any information about disputes relating to the interpretation of that treaty, the so-called broad or narrow definition, having been raised in the consultative committee?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend, with his long experience and knowledge of such matters, is quite right to draw attention to the existence of the consultative committee and to the fact that it meets to consider matters within its terms of reference. However, it is equally clear that it has not been able to resolve all the matters currently under discussion. The question of any possible change as between broad and narrow in the application of the treaty would go beyond the scope of that consultative committee.

Mr. Freeson

Returning to the original supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), will the Foreign Secretary express a view as to whether the existence of about 50,000 nuclear warheads throughout the world is adequate for security, or do we need more?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I repeat the view that I expressed in Brussels on Monday, and which I have expressed on many other occasions. There is a super-abundance, far beyond any necessity, of nuclear warheads on both sides of the European divide. That is one of several good reasons for seeking to achieve progress in arms control, including the reductions that could be made possible if we secure the present INF agreement.

Mr. Hickmet

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in negotiations with the Soviet Union on arms reductions, consistency of purpose and firmness of resolve are essential? Does he further agree that if we were unilaterally to abandon our independent nuclear deterrent or require the United States to remove cruise from Europe, we would have a position of instability in Europe and fundamentally undermine those arms negotiations? Is not the lesson that if one gives anything to the USSR, one gets nothing in return?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is quite clear that the prospect of progress in the INF agreement and in the negotiations that may now be before us is a consequence of the coherence and firmness of the Western Alliance and not of our willingness to embark on unilateral disarmament.