HL Deb 14 May 1980 vol 409 cc257-60

2.40 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 they are satisfied that the "Chevaline" project, costing £1,000 million, to enable Polaris missiles to penetrate the anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow is justified in view of the Soviet Union's dismantling of half of that system; and whether they will take advantage of this situation to propose renewed negotiations on missile exchanges before any possible Soviet restoration of the system is begun.

The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of DEFENCE (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal)

My Lords, as the 1980 Statement on the Defence Estimates said, the programme code-named Chevaline is designed to respond to Soviet anti-ballistic missile capabilities which we know are being improved. Nothing has happened recently to alter our view of the need for the programme.

Under the 1972 anti-ballistic missile Treaty between the USA and the Soviet Union, each party may deploy up to 100 ABM systems. The Government believe that the restrictions imposed by the Treaty enhance strategic stability and for this reason would welcome any further restrictions on ABMs.


My Lords, is it not the case that there is a great deal of uncertainty as to the intentions of the Soviet Union in dismantling half their protection around Moscow? It might be either that they are thinking of the ultimate endorsement of SALT 2, or they may be changing it in a way which will make our new missiles unable to penetrate. Could this not be resolved through the American- Soviet Standing Consultative Commission to which the Soviet Union announced this decision?


My Lords, first of all, I cannot comment on press reports about Russian dismantling of part of their anti-ballistic missile systems. Secondly, I would agree with the noble Lord that if indeed those reports were true there is a degree of uncertainty as to what the reason might be; but I have to say that it would be uncharacteristic of the Russians unilaterally to undertake a permanent reduction in their military capability in that area.

So far as disarmament is concerned, I have said many times in this House, to the noble Lord and to others, that while we believe passionately and sincerely in disarmament, we believe it must be a step by step process with concrete results which are verifiable at each stage.


My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that it is essential that we should have a ratification of SALT 2 and then further discussions about SALT 3? When this point was put by different speakers the other day when we had our defence debate, I thought this was the right approach. We must not be negative on this.


My Lords, we have no intention of being negative about this. We have always supported the United States and we have always supported the wish to see SALT 2 ratified. But the noble Lord knows as well as anyone else that recent events have made that a little more difficult than it was.


My Lords, will my noble friend enlighten me as to exactly what "around Moscow" means? What is the definition?


My Lords, we are getting into a difficult area. I can only say that my brief says some hundreds of miles around Moscow.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister if this amiable exchange is not based on a serious misconception? Is he aware that there has been no dismantling of Soviet missiles around Moscow? Is he aware that the 64 Galosh missiles which were there before 1974 are still there, whereas the United States has in fact dismantled all of its antiballistic missiles? Is he aware that all we have is an uncorroborated press report that the Soviet Union intends to dismantle them, and they will probably do so because they are becoming obsolete anyway? Is he aware that since 1972 the Soviet Union has been engaged in an intensive programme of research and development of new anti-ballistic missiles, and would he not agree that whatever may be our opinions about this debate we should at least get the facts right?


My Lords, as those questions come from the noble Lord— and, incidentally, I am glad to see that he has survived a unilateral assault without any apparent damage— of course we must treat them as a very interesting statement. I have said I cannot comment on press statements, but if the noble Lord is right I think my answer gains some force.


My Lords, the Minister referred to press reports. Is it not the case that the Soviet Union announced this decision to the American Soviet Standing Consultative Commission last week? Cannot this opportunity be taken of some negotiations to end this missile rivalry?


My Lords, I am not aware whether indeed the Russians did announce it. All that I have been aware of have been press reports, on which I have said I cannot comment. I can only repeat that we wish for disarmament; but we wish for disarmament on a stable, verifiable, wholly credible basis, and only on that basis.