HL Deb 27 October 1981 vol 424 cc895-7

2.36 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 is their attitude towards the proposal to establish a nordic nuclear-free zone covering Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and an adjacent area of the Soviet Union.

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

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have strong misgivings about proposals to establish a nordic nuclear weapon-free zone. We believe that these proposals do not take account either of the Soviet ability to make nuclear strikes on targets in Europe from deep within the Soviet Union or of the Soviet superiority in conventional weapons.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while being very disappointed with his reply, in thanking the Minister may I ask this question: Does not this promise a major breakthrough in freeing Europe, East and West, from nuclear weapons? Has the noble Lord noted the statement of President Brezhnev that he will be prepared to discuss with the Governments concerned a large adjacent area in the Soviet Union. And supplementing the decisions of Bulgaria and Romania to join a nuclear-free zone in the Balkans, does not this indicate a hopeful development of communist attitude towards this issue?

Lord Trefgarne

Would that it did, my Lords, but unhappily this is not the case. In June President Brezhnev did make a vague reference to the possibility of considering measures concerning parts of Soviet territory that would border a nordic nuclear weapons-free zone, but subsequently the Soviet news agency explicitly rejected incorporation of either the Kola Peninsula or the Baltic in such a zone.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is widespread concern about the spread of nuclear weapons both in the East and the West? Is he not further aware that the idea of a nuclear-free zone in Europe has a respectable origin going as far back as Hugh Gaitskell and the Rapacki plan? Would he not look again at the Government's position in this matter?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Government consider their position in respect of these types of proposals—and there are a number of proposals which are discussed from time to time—from the point of view of our own security, among other things, and our security would most certainly not be served by creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in Europe, or confined to further North, while the Russians retain the ability to fire their missiles at us from their own territory.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, do not questions of this kind, whose only effect if implemented would be to weaken the military power of the western alliance, serve no purpose other than to strengthen the aggressive power of the Soviet Union? Would they not be more convincing if just occasionally an anti-nuclear demonstration were staged in the streets of Moscow?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think there is considerable force in what my noble friend says. But, having said that, we certainly would not dismiss all these proposals out of hand. We would examine each and every one on its merits.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the last sentence of that reply—that we would not dismiss out of hand what the Soviet Union says—brings us to the logical point that if we never believe anything that the USSR leaders say we can never get agreement, and that each step and moderate statement towards that is a worthwhile step on the path of a joint effort to build up peace?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is not a question of believing or disbelieving what they say, although I must say our credibility has been strained from time to time, but of examining these proposals on their merits. The particular proposal which is put to us now is one that we think would unduly expose us to the threat we hope to avoid. The fundamental difficulty is that none of the proposals include provision for moving the Soviet SS20 missiles out of range of Europe.

Lord Duncan-Sandys

My Lords, is not this an unrealistic proposal, and would it not be seen by the world as the first step towards the abandonment by Western Europe of the will to defend herself?

Lord Trefganre

My Lords, I believe there is considerable force in what my noble friend says.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that if there should be some degree of agreement it might be the commencement of the abandonment of the suicidal policies now being followed by the powerful nations on earth? Therefore, would it not be a possibility for Her Majesty's Government to consider encouraging both the United States of America and the Soviet Union to have this item on their agenda in November, notwithstanding that the immediate proposals would be objectionable to the USA? But perhaps from these, with bargaining and discussion, progress might be made along the road to sanity.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly hope that the talks to which the noble Lord referred which are to begin at the end of November will make some progress on the matters which will be under discussion. But the proposal contained in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is so one-sided that it would have to be substantially modified before it could form any basis of discussion.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, has the Minister noted the statement by Mr. Michael Foot that he hoped that the coming Labour Government would join this North European nuclear-free zone? In view of that, will the Government reconsider spending their billions on the Trident which will be scrapped under those circumstances?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if ever the right honourable gentleman succeeds to No. 10, which, I suggest, is not exactly a likely prospect, then I suspect that his policies will have to be modified in accordance with the reality of the situation that he will then find.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is it not the case that the nuclear-free zone favoured by Mr. Rapacki when he was Foreign Minister of Poland, and by Hugh Gaitskell when leader of a different Labour Party, would have been in both Western and Eastern Europe roughly equally?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not familiar with the elderly proposal to which the noble Lord referred —doubtless it had its merits in its day. However, the present problem is that the range of nuclear weapons available to the Soviets—and I mean range in terms of the distance that they will carry—is such that they would have to go a very long way East to cease to be a threat to Europe.