HL Deb 21 October 1981 vol 424 cc752-4

2.39 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 was the attitude of the British delegation at the Disarmament Committee at Geneva (established by the UN Special Assembly on Disarmament) to proposals for international conventions banning underground nuclear weapon tests and the outlawing of chemical and radiological weapons, and to the establishment of working committees on nuclear weapons and comprehensive disarmament.

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

My Lords, the British delegation to the Committee on Disarmament support the work of the committee for the conclusion of international agreements banning chemical and radiological warfare. They have resisted proposals for the establishment of a working group on nuclear weapons because nuclear disarmament is a matter best negotiated between the nuclear weapon states. The delegation have played an active part in the work of the sub-group for a comprehensive programme on disarmament.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is there not a great contrast between what the Minister has said in this House in support of multinational disarmament and the actions of our representative on this committee? For example, is it not the case that in opposing the working committees on nuclear arms and on comprehensive disarmament they are opposing the major recommendations of the United Nations General Assembly? Is it the case that the British representative has actually proposed that all subjects now under discussion at bilateral and multilateral negotiations should not be dealt with by the United Nations until 1990?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the proposals which we support are those which are best calculated, in our view, to achieve some measurable success in the area to which the noble Lord has referred. As I have said very often from this Box, our aim in this matter—and the noble Lord has acknowledged it—is to achieve balanced and verifiable measures of disarmament. Our policy within those constraints is to achieve individual elements of disarmament rather than the sort of scatter-gun effect which I think is advocated by the noble Lord.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, could the noble Lord give an answer to the Question which my noble friend has put to him about whether discussion has been postponed until 1990?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we certainly hope that progress will be made long before 1990 but rather along the course which I have suggested.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, as this country has no chemical weapons and as the Soviet Union have some 50 per cent. of their forward ammunition in chemical weapons, with training designed to use it all, is it not much more apt to ask what their attitude is to this conference?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there are of course a number of conferences in the disarmament fora going on at present. As for the question of chemical warfare which my noble friend has raised, we are very much in favour, as he well knows, of a convention to ban chemical warfare.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom have signed the convention on chemical warfare and that the United States has not done so? Will the noble Lord say what proposals the Government have for ratifying the convention on chemical warfare?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the existing convention on chemical warfare dates back, I think, to 1925. A number of shortcomings have, not unnaturally, been found to exist in that particular convention. I do not think it is yet the case that we have reached the point of ratifying a new convention, but we hope that this will occur before long.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, does the noble Lord confirm the statement of his noble friend that 50 per cent. of the forward troops of the Soviet armies are armed with chemical weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that that was the precise implication of my noble friend's earlier supplementary question, but it is certainly the case that the Soviet Union possesses a very substantial chemical warfare capability.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the unaligned nations committee of 21, which is a majority in the Disarmament Committee, has accepted the principle of the treaty proposed by the world disarmament campaign and has proposed three stages? The first stage is 25 per cent. abolition of nuclear weapons and proportional for conventional weapons; 50 per cent. in the second stage, and comprehensive disarmament in the third stage? Are our Government supporting that proposal?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I said earlier, we consider that progress in these matters is best achieved by negotiations between the nuclear states themselves.

We do not think that the intervention of the nonnuclear states is quite as constructive as the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the Soviet Union has proposed a ban on all new types of weapons of mass destruction? Was this raised at Geneva and, if so, what was the attitude of the British delegation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I understand that a proposal along those lines has been made by the Soviet Union, but we need to evaluate it rather more fully before we can reach a formal position on it.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, as against the Security Council which has the responsibility, the United Nations Assembly is in fact a popular but an irresponsible body which conserves its rights without really committing us to anything?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid it would not really be appropriate for me to brand the United Nations General Assembly as an irresponsible body, although I must say we do not always agree with the conclusions it reaches.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, when the noble Lord is considering treating somebody as irresponsible, will he remember that at the present moment the President of the United States might be in that group?