HL Deb 19 April 1967 vol 282 cc190-3

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there have been any recent developments in the techniques of verification of disarmament agreements.]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have decided to join with the United States Government in holding a joint arms control verification exercise in the United Kingdom in 1968, known as Exercise Cloud Gap 15. The purpose of the exercise will be to test in the field possible means of verifying compliance with a hypothetical international agreement which sets a limit on conventional land and air forces. This exercise, which will cover a major part of Southern England, will give us an opportunity to acquire valuable practical experience of verification problems and techniques, which should be most helpful in the pursuit of our disarmament policies. The more experience we can build up now about the verification of arms control and disarmament measures, the more confidence we shall be able to have in the agreements that are eventually negotiated.


My Lords, in view of the fact that mutual fears of cheating have been among the main obstacles to the achievement of a general disarmament agreement, may I ask my noble friend whether it is intended to invite the Soviet Government to send observers to this very important exercise?


My Lords, I have always believed that the participation of the Soviet Union in exercises in international co-operation could be nothing but beneficial, but this is in fact the first practical test of this nature in which the United Kingdom and the United States of America and the other NATO Allies have taken part, and we all have a great deal to learn. We hope that as a result of the experience gained from this exercise it may be possible in future years for other countries to take part in similar activities. As the noble Lord has hinted, the more experience the participants in disarmament negotiations can build up in this field, the better.


My Lords, I would remind Her Majesty's Government that trust is a two-sided blade; so may I ask them to give serious consideration to what my noble friend has asked? And may I ask a second supplementary question? Am I right in thinking that this particular exercise has no connection with possible immediate suggestions for disarmament arising from the long-term considerations in which many of us have been interested?


My Lords, so far as the first part of my noble friend's question is concerned, I would say that of course the Government will take the firmest note of what my noble friend has suggested. So far as the second part of the question is concerned, I would inform my noble friend that this exercise is not related to any specific current organised control or disarmament proposal. This is a part of a programme of field tests. These tests have been going on in the United States of America for some time under the general title of Project Cloud Gap and we, the United Kingdom Government, have been associated with them since 1965. In fact, we had a liaison officer taking part in these exercises, but this is the first time we have had an opportunity to play a part in the tests. Indeed, it is the first time one has taken place outside the United States of America.


My Lords, while I recognise the extraordinarily imaginative enterprise of this proposal, may I ask whether my noble friend would not agree that its success will largely depend upon the confidence of other countries, and, if so, whether there has been any discussion with the Governments of the Geneva Conference and, particularly, whether the Soviet Union, which is suspicious of inspection, has been informed of this project?


My Lords, as I have already suggested, this is an early stage in what is in fact a new departure in arms control exercises and arms control investigations. We have not informed the Soviet Union, or any other Government outside NATO, in advance, that this exercise is to take place. Of course, the Soviet Union will know of it now, and I hope that it will encourage the Soviet Union to take a greater interest in the possibilities of international inspection for disarmament agreement, a field in which I regret to say the Soviet Union has been rather less interested than other countries in the past.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us whether the exercise will include nuclear weapons?


My Lords, the detailed arrangements for this exercise are still being worked out between the two Governments. To give perhaps a little more background information, I may say that it will last for about six months and that its basic assumption will be the existence of a disarmament agreement which limits conventional ground and air forces. The British forces which are normally stationed in the exercise area will play the part of a host force whose personnel and equipment are limited by this agreement, and the inspection teams will play the role of an international inspectorate, to test various methods of ensuring that the provisions of the treaty are carried out. Whether, in attempting to deceive the inspection teams, the host forces will have recourse to devices which include the illegal injection of nuclear weapons into the problem I cannot yet say, because the detailed arrangements have yet to be formulated.


My Lords, will my noble friend consider the particular danger that lies in this exercise if full inspection for other countries is not granted, in that unkind persons might say that whereas one side is busy trying to reveal these hidden weapons, the other side is perhaps trying to conceal them?


My Lords, I confess that I cannot see any danger in that. That, indeed, is the whole object of the exercise. What we are trying to do is to demonstrate to those who are cynical and sceptical about it that in a disarmament agreement it is extremely difficult to cheat. We can find that out only if someone tries to cheat and someone finds him out in cheating.

Forward to