HL Deb 25 November 1981 vol 425 cc754-6

2.41 p.m.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I apologise to the House for rising so often. I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude towards the proposal of the Soviet Union that the present General Assembly of the United Nations should adopt a declaration that the state which first uses nuclear weapons would be committing the gravest crime against mankind, that it is the duty of the leaders of nuclear states to reverse the arms race by equitable negotiations, and that nuclear energy must be used only for peaceful purposes.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the Government are committed to the negotiation of realistic, equitable and verifiable arms control and disarmament agreements on nuclear and conventional weapons. As President Reagan made clear in his speech on 18th November, no NATO weapons, conventional or nuclear, will ever be used except in response to attack. The Government do not believe that a declaration of the kind proposed by the Soviet Union would be a serious contribution to genuine arms control and disarmament, since it would not be a substitute for negotiated agreement.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while welcoming part of that Answer, may I ask the Government this question: Are they really going to decline to accept a declaration against the first use of nuclear weapons? Is the noble Lord aware that when he says they might be used against a conventional attack, inevitably such use would lead to an all-scale nuclear war?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the first object of Western defence policy is to deter a war, not to fight one, and I am not at all sure that the proposal which the noble Lord is making would have that effect. It would seem to me that in a time of crisis it would really be of no use to rely upon the words of somebody having said that they would not use such-and-such a weapon first.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, while I hardly expect the Foreign Secretary to agree that the Soviet Union is the state best qualified to denounce crimes against humanity, would he not agree that the first use in war of nuclear weapons on either side would be likely to be entirely counter-productive?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, this is the sort of question which it is almost impossible to answer. If there were circumstances in which the whole of the western world seemed to be overrun and we were in danger of complete annihilation as a society and as a civilisation, I think one would have to think very carefully about what action one took.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that all these questions about doing away with nuclear war are extremely dangerous as they give the impression that conventional warfare is acceptable, whereas it is utterly unacceptable? Furthermore, would my noble friend agree that it also gives an impression of pacifism alike to the Oxford debate of 1936?

Lord Carrington

Yes, my Lords, I agree with my noble friend; I found conventional warfare extremely disagreeable at first-hand. I think that perhaps some of those who ask these sort of questions misunderstand the reasons why we have had peace in Europe for the unprecedented period of 36 years. I believe that it has very largely been due to the deterrent policy of the NATO Alliance.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, in relation to nuclear weapons within the European theatre in particular, is the noble Lord aware that the public are very confused by the apparent conflict between the figures given by President Reagan in his television appearance the other day, which appeared to show a vast superiority by the Soviet Union in theatre nuclear weapons, and the denial by President Brezhnev that the Soviet Union has any such advantage? Is it not possible to get an agreement at least on the facts between the superpowers as to how many of these weapons there are on each side?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that would be a very good start to the negotiations. The problem—and the noble Lord will know this—is that in relation to the mutual and balanced force reduction agreements there is still argument going on after a number of years about what are the statistics and the facts. I think that what is essential in the negotiation which starts in Vienna on Monday is that there should be a real will on the part of both parties to these negotiations to come to an agreement and to get some results; and the first thing that they must do is to decide on the facts and what they are.

Lord Peart

My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord that certainly we on this side will support his attitude and his view in relation to this issue.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that there are many occasions on which declarations and communiqués on international gatherings seem not to have a great deal of relevance to any settlement? Can he really say that there is any objection to a declaration of this kind being adopted by the United Nations?

Lord Carrington

Yes, my Lords; I thought I made clear in my supplementary answers exactly why I thought there was an objection.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that in giving support to his tactics no one on this side of the House, I think, is seeking to take away from my noble friend Lord Brockway the view that there is a great and useful purpose in international agreements of various sorts? Would not the noble Lord agree that we have international agreements outlawing various kinds of war, and that therefore the outlawing of this type of war and the laying down of international agreements about the nature of war and the limitations of war is a useful step? Will he not therefore take a little more seriously what my noble friend suggests?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that when the chips are down declarations really are not of much use. It seems to me in circumstances of this kind that what one wants to do is to take an area of weapons, as the United States and the Soviet Union have done, and negotiate to see whether you can limit them down to nothing. That seems to me the practical way of doing it, because the real difficulty between East and West is a lack of trust and confidence. So why do we not start by trying to get arms limitation talks, which in the end will build up the confidence which I hope will bring down the levels of all arms?

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the only reasonable and rational declaration that the West can make in the present international circumstances is to be strong?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I like the noble Lord's supplementary on this Question better than his supplementary on the other one.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us are just as much opposed, or are as equally opposed, to conventional weapons as to nuclear weapons, and are aware of the fact that 50 million people were killed by conventional weapons in the last war? Would the noble Lord print in the Official Report the very short declaration which is now before the United Nations so that Members of this House may be aware of it?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I do not know what the rules are about that but I will certainly look at it. The only thing I would say about the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is that I think we must be very careful, as Lord Shinwell has said, not to allow this country to be defenceless.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the Government join with us on this Bench in welcoming the declaration of support for the principle of multilateral disarmament which we have just heard from the Labour Front Bench?

Lord Carrington

Indeed, my Lords, and from the Bench at the back.