HC Deb 18 November 1987 vol 122 cc1055-6
9. Mr. Tony Lloyd

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in what recent discussions he has been engaged with Governments of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics concerning verification procedure relating to arms control.

Mr. Mellor

Verification procedures relating to all aspects of arms control are frequently discussed as part of the continuous dialogue between the United States and British Governments about arms control matters. Verification procedures relating to a chemical weapons ban and nuclear testing are also discussed at the conference on disarmament in Geneva.

Mr. Lloyd

As the Government are not directly involved in negotiations with the Soviet Union but are merely in the process of consultation with the United States, will the Minister tell us — in response to an earlier question — what the British Government's minimal line is? For example, will they say that inspection can take place only at Greenham Common and Molesworth, or will they unquestioningly accept what the United States negotiates on our behalf?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman is fully entitled to pursue that point. He may be interested to know that I gave as full an explanation as I could in Committee on the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Bill. The discussions on the treaty have not been concluded. The way in which the arrangements work means that the United States would not put forward any negotiating gambit with the Soviets that had not previously been cleared with us. At the moment negotiations are concerned with disclosed sites, which in this country involve only Greenham Common and Molesworth.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we must not forget that the historic breakthrough in INF arms reduction is the result of multilateral disarmament and this Government's policy of negotiating from a position of strength? Does he also agree that if the Labour party had had its way there would be no chance of ridding Europe of SS20s or cruise missiles?

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It was only the decision of the Alliance to deploy a new generation of cruise missiles and Pershing IIs in Europe that compelled the Soviet Union to abandon its stance of boycotting the disarmament talks while it thought that unilateralist Governments would be elected in Europe, to come back to the negotiating table and to negotiate seriously. That could not have been achieved if the Labour party had been in power.

Mr. Robertson

Will the Minister tell his hon. Friends that if he wants to talk across the Dispatch Box he cannot do so from the Strangers' Gallery? The Government are in the Strangers' Gallery at the negotiations and are not part of them. Last weekend the Defence Secretary was telling the media that the Government had serious reservations about the concessions being made by the Americans on an INF treaty. At the same time the Minister was telling the world that the Government were in favour of the INF deal but were enthusiastically in favour of a strategic arms limitation deal as well. Since there is clearly an argument within the Government on the issue, can he tell us who is winning, or has the Prime Minister not yet made up Ministers' minds for them?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both points. First, while of course the talks are bilateral, because the weapons systems concerned are wholly American, the agreement upon which the talks are predicated was reached by the NATO Alliance. All members of the NATO Alliance subscribe fully to the American negotiating position and any matters relevant to Alliance-basing countries are cleared by the United States with those countries before negotiations proceed.

On the second point, the hon. Gentleman knows full well that when the Prime Minister went to see President Reagan at the end of 1986 the communiqué stated clearly that it was the priority of those two leaders that there should be an INF deal, followed by a START deal, followed by talks to try to bring about conventional stability. Subsequently, that became the position of the whole NATO Alliance. It is the sheerest mischief-making for the Opposition to try to suggest that the INF deal does not have the support of all members of the Government. Their only aim is to give aid and comfort to those in the United States who are trying to prevent Senate ratification in due course by saying that the Europeans do not want it.