HL Deb 29 April 1981 vol 419 cc1171-2
Lord Brockway

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 what were the conclusions of the discussions between American and European senior officials at the meeting of the NATO special consultative group at Brussels from 30th March onwards on the reduction of theatre nuclear forces in Europe, and what was the attitude of the British representatives.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)

My Lords, at the NATO meeting on 31st March, allied representatives, with full British support, reaffirmed their Governments' commitment to NATO's December 1979 decision on theatre nuclear forces, including the pursuit of arms control. We would welcome early resumption of United States-Soviet talks and share our allies' views as to the importance of continuing alliance consultation on these matters.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while welcoming the decision to urge an early negotiation, may I ask whether the Government will seek, at the meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers in Rome early next month, to reach a decision about the date of the negotiations? Is there not hope that this negotiation might lead to the withdrawal of the Soviet SS20s and the Backfire bomber and make unnecessary the stationing of the cruise missile in this country? Has the Minister noted the decision of the Belgian and Netherlands Governments not to station cruise missiles until the result of these negotiations? Could not our Government reach a similar decision, particularly in view of the critical report on the effectiveness of the cruise by the United States Congress study which was published yesterday?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think it is understandable that the new American Administration wish to review their negotiating position on theatre nuclear forces and, indeed, to review it as part of the wider consideration of SALT and their general arms control policy. It is only reasonable to expect a new administration to do that. But the United States Administration have already said that they intend to continue with the talks on arms limitation and theatre nuclear forces. I do not think any date has yet been fixed, but I hope it will not be too long delayed.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, while welcoming the tone and substance of the Foreign Secretary's reply to my noble friend, in that it means that we shall continue as a country to support all meaningful attempts to secure arms control in this field, in a most comprehensive sense, both inside NATO and outside in other fora, may I express pleasure at seeing him back in this country and looking so well?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I do not think we should forget, when talking about arms limitation talks and theatre nuclear forces, that, at the present time, there is a very serious imbalance in favour of the Soviet Union. Therefore, though we are very willing to discuss limitation, it is necessary that the double decision taken by NATO in December 1979 should be adhered to.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, can my noble friend say what counter-withdrawal has been made by the Soviet Union, in response to the Americans' withdrawal of 1,000 warheads from their stockpile in Europe?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, as my noble friend knows, that is a rather different set of negotiations. That is concerned with mutual and balanced force reductions, and not so much with the strategic arms limitation talks or, indeed, with the theatre nuclear forces talks. But what the Soviet Union have said, and have repeated to me in a message which the Soviet Ambassador delivered to me last week, is that they would be prepared to go ahead with talks on theatre nuclear forces.

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