HL Deb 07 October 1981 vol 424 cc108-10

3.1 p.m.

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 part they are taking in the proceedings of Disarmament Week, beginning on 24th October, which was proclaimed with unanimous approval by the United Nations Assembly Session on Disarmament (May to July 1978).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my honourable friend the Minister of State plan to speak to audiences at home and abroad during and just before Disarmament Week. They expect to touch on disarmament and arms control matters.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that the United Nations Assembly reached the decision for a Disarmament Week to warn the peoples of the world of the danger of the arms race and the need for disarmament? Will the spokesmen for the Government indicate that when they are speaking to the people?

Lord Trefgarne

Certainly, my Lords. My noble friend, my honourable friends and, indeed, myself from this Dispatch Box have often reiterated the Government's acceptance of the need for multilateral disarmament in accordance with the various points we have made on that issue from time to time; but with regard to the matter to which the noble Lord refers in his Question, it is not part of Government policy to orchestrate public opinion in these matters.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, while welcoming part of the noble Lord's reply, would he not agree that on a question of such universal and devastating importance the Government spokesmen, while not orchestrating public opinion, ought to do more than to "touch on" the question of disarmament?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we do a good deal more than to touch on these matters. If I may refer to what was done last year during Disarmament Week, a number of documents were published; my noble friend made an important speech to the United Nations Association during the Disarmament Week last year, and none of us loses any opportunity to express Government views on these matters.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he will give the House an assurance that no agreement on multilateral disarmament will be entered into by this Government unless they can be absolutely positive of verification in the Soviet Union?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, verification is an important part of the posture that we adopt in these matters but I think it is unwise to give any hostages to fortune by offering categorical assurances on particular matters in advance of knowing the circumstances of the occasion.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, will the noble Lord take the opportunity of this Disarmament Week again to ask the Soviet Government whether they will accept the principle of verification?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we lose no opportunity of doing that.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while refraining from entering into questions about verification, about which I have a Question later, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that during Disarmament Week there will be demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country in favour of disarmament? Is he aware that this pressure is now becoming so strong that it is likely to determine the effect of the next general election?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think, if I may say so, that that is slightly exaggerating the position; but the Government share the views that I think the noble Lord expresses of the need for multilateral disarmament properly verified and with the other conditions that we have from time to time applied. I believe that we are not so far apart from the noble Lord as he himself imagines. What we oppose is unilateral disarmament.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is the noble Lord able to explain in the simplest possible manner what importance verification can have to those who have already decided to disarm unilaterally?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord would have to pose that question to those to whom he refers.

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