HC Deb 12 April 1989 vol 150 cc891-2
3. Mr. Waller

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of negotiations to reduce conventional forces in Europe.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

Two negotiations—one on conventional armed forces in Europe and one on confidence and security-building measures—began in Vienna on 6 March. The discussions have got off to a good, businesslike start. I presented radical Western proposals for both sets of talks on 6 March. We now look for a response from the East.

Mr. Waller

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the Vienna talks have got off to a good and constructive start, they are bound to be long drawn out in view of the many complexities involved and the many different weapons systems in Europe? Given the asymmetry of conventional weapons and arms in Europe, does he agree that we have no choice but to rely on a nuclear deterrent for our total security for what may be a considerable time?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no doubt that my hon. Friend is right in the last part of what he says. The central problem is the gross inequality between the conventional forces available to the Warsaw pact and those available to the NATO Alliance. There is progress in the fact that that inequality is now acknowledged by the Warsaw pact and it is recognised that unequal reductions are necessary to achieve an outcome that will be acceptable in the end.

Mr. James Lamond

Does the Foreign Secretary think that it helps to advance the possibility of weapons reductions throughout the world when he sits in the Guildhall smiling and nodding while Mr. Gorbachev outlines the Soviet Union's unilateral proposals but then goes around the world slagging off those efforts and doing everything he can to undermine any possibility of confidence-building between our two nations?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman, as always, has a wholly inaccurate perception of the facts. The proposals put forward by Mr. Gorbachev at the Guildhall were of a very modest nature. Perhaps the most important and least attractive part of them was his attempt to bring nuclear weapons back into the negotiations and to suggest that there can be no progress on conventional arms reductions so long as there is no progress on nuclear weapons. In doing that, he was going unhelpfully right outside the terms of reference of the talks.

Sir Peter Blaker

What recent developments have there been in the attitude of the Soviet Union to the key question of verification, which is relevant not only to conventional disarmament but to the possible abolition of chemical weapons? Am I right in thinking that the recent trial inspection of chemical weapons establishments in the Soviet Union was somewhat disappointing? Will my right hon. and learned Friend continue to give a lead on this important matter, as he has been doing in recent years?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

With regard to the conventional negotiations, the mandate rightly calls for strict and effective verification measures. That is crucial to its success. The Soviet Union has demonstrated its ability to agree on such matters by its acceptance of the necessary measures in the intermediate nuclear forces treaty. My right hon. Friend is, however, entirely right to point out that the Soviet Union's absence of candour and failure to be straightforward about the size of its chemical weapons stocks, and the lack of openness of investigation during the recent visit to Shikhany, illustrate how far there is to go.