HC Deb 21 October 1987 vol 120 cc707-9
3. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress in current arms control and disarmament conferences.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Prospects for a United States/ Soviet agreement on intermediate nuclear force missiles are encouraging. A number of key issues, including verification, remain to be resolved. We are participating in talks in Vienna to agree the framework for negotiations on conventional stability covering the Atlantic to the Urals. Negotiations on chemical weapons have made progress, but considerable complexities remain.

Mr. Chapman

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that statement. Can he say what part the United Kingdom Government have played, in encouraging the talks and co-operating in the discussions that have led to the successful INF agreement? Does he agree that for further successful negotiations in those various areas there must be confidence on both sides about the verification procedures?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

In reply to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I can tell him that the Government have consistently sought to improve the prospects of success in our series of contacts with the Soviet Union and the United States, going back to the period of four years ago when no contact whatever was taking place. From that time we have pressed the Soviet Union very hard on the need to come to the bargaining table, and we have helped the negotiations overcome the series of obstacles erected by the Soviet Union against their success. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that an essential part of an agreement must be effective verification. As we shall hear in the debate tomorrow, that will involve Soviet inspections of INF missile deployment sites in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is willing to play a full part in bringing about agreement on those essential features.

Mr. Duffy

Does the Secretary of State not agree that in the next and perhaps decisive phase of arms control negotiations both sides will need to demonstrate conclusively that sufficient political will exists to ensure that a serious disarmament process is here to stay? Will he tell the House what confidence-building measures he is considering? Will he put to our NATO allies the need for them to consider making available help for Soviet infrastructure and agricultural technology?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not see the need for those proposals in this context. Of course, it is important for both sides to be seeking to develop confidence in the other. If these negotiations are to succeed they must be approached with a sense of realism and vigilance and with an open mind. In that spirit I had a meeting this week with my American opposite number, Mr. Shultz, who will go to Moscow later this week. I am quite certain that both he and the other side recognise the need to establish a firm foundation of confidence if further success is to be achieved.

Sir Peter Blaker

If we are to have an agreement for the abolition of intermediate range nuclear forces, is it not now even more important than before that we should also have an agreement to ban chemical weapons, in which the Soviet Union has enormous superiority and in the offensive use of which its forces are trained?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The greater the progress that is made in achieving arms control agreements in respect of nuclear weapons, the more urgent it becomes to achieve progress with regard to conventional as well as chemical weapons. My right hon. Friend is right to remind the House that the Soviet Union is capable of waging chemical warfare on a large scale. It has substantial stockpiles of chemical weapons and its troops are comprehensively equipped and trained to operate in a chemically contaminated environment.

Mr. George Robertson

Why, when the Americans and Soviet Governments are about to sign a historic agreement eliminating a whole generation of nuclear weapons, are this Government still desperately scratching around with the French to invent a new nuclear system? When President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev are agreed on the urgent necessity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, does the Prime Minister not look increasingly belligerent, antiquated and pathetic as she tells the world that nuclear disarmament has gone far enough? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with her?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is the hon. Gentleman who looks increasingly antiquated and pathetic as a result of the style of questions that he asks on this subject. The point made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is precisely the point that I have made this afternoon. If we are to make further progress on nuclear arms control, it is of the greatest importance to make headway on conventional and chemical weapons as well.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the policies advocated by so many Opposition Members were adopted, namely, a unilateralist approach, those policies would be of no help for progress in the various fora that my right hon. and learned Friend has just described to the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. and learned Friend is precisely correct. The Labour party would have opposed the entire strategy of the dual track approach and the deployment of weapons on the Western side in Europe—without which it would not have been possible to achieve the breakthrough to secure the removal of that category of weapons altogether.

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