HC Deb 10 January 1990 vol 164 cc928-9
4. Mr. Jack

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arms control negotiations he is presently involved in; what stage each has reached; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The United Kingdom joins in the two sets of conventional arms control negotiations taking place in Vienna, and in the chemical weapons negotiations at Geneva. All three are making progress; in particular, we hope that the negotiation on conventional armed forces in Europe—the CFE talks—will meet our ambitious target of agreement during this year. I shall be attending a conference in Ottawa in February, following up the initiative taken at last year's NATO summit to promote an open-skies agreement.

Mr. Jack

My right hon. Friend's response bears impressive testimony to the strength and resolution shown by the Government and their allies on defence matters. Does he agree that, had Conservative Members listened to the CND apologists on the Opposition Benches, he could not have made that response?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is quite right—what is producing these results is strength followed by negotiation. We have shown the strength, and we are now gaining the benefits of the negotiation.

Mr. Cohen

Is not there some dispute over the specification of weapons to be included in the arms control talks? Has not the Soviet Union accused the West of dragging its feet, particularly in its failure to include dual-capable—that is, nuclear-capable—aircraft in the talks?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is a good bit out of date. A plentiful programme of work for the CFE negotiations still lies ahead and there is hard work still to be done, which is why the Canadians have suggested that, among other things, we should review progress at the Ottawa conference and establish whether any obstacles can be removed. Nevertheless, although some arguing remains to be done, I think that we are on course for an agreement this year.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Although I welcome the political developments in eastern Europe, does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation is fluid and potentially dangerous? Although Warsaw pact countries such as Czechoslovakia may demand the withdrawal of Soviet troops from their territories, as happened yesterday, it is surely in the interests of NATO, of this country and of Europe generally to resist reciprocal demands by the Soviets for the withdrawal of British and French troops from West Germany.

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree, and no such demends have been received.

Mr. Kaufman

When discussing stages in disarmament negotiations—to which this question refers—the Prime Minister said yesterday that negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons would be considered when the agreements on reductions in conventional arms have been completed."—[Official Report, 9 January 1990, Vol. 164, c. 814.] Last spring's NATO declaration, however, made it clear that negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons could begin as soon as the conventional arms reductions had begun. Why does the Prime Minister not tell the truth to the House?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is nit-picking. The comprehensive concept—to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was referring, and to which the right hon. Gentleman also clearly refers—is not in dispute; the allies are all agreed on it, and we are all adhering to it.

Mr. Ian Taylor

I welcome the progress in the talks at Vienna and elsewhere. Will my right hon. Friend nevertheless suggest to our NATO allies that they do not proceed too fast with reducing their own defence commitments? Britain—and, outside NATO, France—will maintain their own readiness while there is still uncertainty in the wider Europe; many of our allies in NATO, however, are already showing that, far from meeting the 3 per cent. target, they are dropping further behind.

Mr. Hurd

There is great advantage, when one is thinking of any reductions in defence spending or defence equipment, in continuing to hold negotiations on balanced and agreed reductions.

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