HL Deb 22 December 1982 vol 437 cc1065-9

11.11 a.m.

Earl Alexander of Tunis

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 whether, in view of the new Soviet leader Mr. Andropov's reported comment, Let no one expect unilateral disarmament from us, we are not a naive people". they will make a Statement on East/West disarmament negotiations.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, it has long been the British Government's view that unilateral, or onesided, disarmament would be naive in the extreme. The route to successful arms control is through multilateral negotiations, the objective of which is to preserve or, if possible, enhance our security through balanced and verifiable reductions of armaments on both sides. To this end we support the allied position in the talks on conventional forces in Vienna, and the two negotiations in Geneva on intermediate range and strategic nuclear weapons, at which the United States have, with allied support, proposed radical cuts in the levels of nuclear weapons. We should like to see the Soviet Union respond constructively to these proposals.

Earl Alexander of Tunis

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for his reply, would he not agree that those in this country who campaign for unilateral disarmament, show a dangerous lack of judgment? Should not Her Majesty's Government do more to persuade the British public that there can be peace only through strength, and that the siting of cruise missiles in this country, for example, demonstrates our resolve to protect ourselves?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend's assessment and also I agree with my noble friend that, provided we remain firm in the intentions which we have stated, that is the way that we will be most likely to get an arms control agreement which is both balanced and verifiable.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is it not possible for the Government to adopt a more negotiating attitude? Is it the case that Mr. Andropov yesterday offered to reduce by more than two-thirds the medium missiles in Europe; and does this not follow an offer to cut the SS2s by 20, to withdraw missiles from central Europe and to propose that nuclear weapons should not be used first? In view of all these offers, rather than mere rejection, is it not possible to take negotiations when they are made?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Andropov offer is bogus. It endeavours to equate intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles (which only the Russians hold) targeted at every single country in Western Europe with strategic weapons which both France and the United Kingdom hold. That is not equating like with like. If, for the first time, the Russians now accept the principle that their SS20s must be reduced before there can be greater security, that, I would agree with the noble Lord, is a step in the right direction. But to demand a substantial and continuing Soviet monopoly of longer-range, land-based missiles in Europe while insisting that NATO alone should implement the zero option, is not a serious negotiating position.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, while any offer to reduce Russian arms is welcome, can my noble friend confirm the impression that the Russian offer would have the effect of reducing their medium-range missiles to some extent but of removing ours altogether?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, perhaps, for the record, the way I should reply is that my understanding is that Mr. Andropov's offer would be to remove all the old Russian SS4s and SS5s and to reduce the very modern SS20 Russian rockets to the equivalents of the British and French independent strategic missile forces, while allowing no deployment at all of the American intermediate-range cruise and Pershing missiles. My understanding of that, as a conclusion, is it would mean that there would therefore be a monopoly—and I am agreeing with my noble friend—of Russian intermediate-range weapons in Europe still targeted upon every single country in Western Europe.

Lord Hale

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he really is answering the Question on the Order Paper or is he referring to a later Statement which is not on the Order Paper; and can he add whether the Question on the Order Paper refers to a statement made, or alleged by the Daily Express or Pravda, to have been made by Mr. Andropov, in Russian or in English, and to what extent we may henceforward put down on the Order Paper observations of persons of almost any nationality?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the supplementary question which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked me about Mr. Andropov's offer, arises from one of the disarmament negotiations which are going on at the moment between East and West—which is what the original Question was about.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the time has come to regard some of the organisers of the so-called Peace Movements as being openly hostile to our own country as well as to the whole of the Western Alliance?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that all your Lordships would well understand the distaste, indeed the dismay, of many people at the thought of nuclear war; but, in Her Majesty's Government's view and in the view of the Western Alliance, it is only by steadiness and determination that we shall reach the goal of an agreed, balanced and verifiable disarmament.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, has the noble Lord read the interesting article in today's Financial Times on the offer by Mr. Andropov, an article which concludes that, although the detail of the offer is contentious and the bargaining road ahead is hard, at least both sides are talking the same language? Does this not encourage the noble Lord to take a more positive attitude to keep the dialogue going on this important subject—particularly at Christmas?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, certainly it is the intention of the West to see that the dialogue is kept going in the INF and at the START talks in Geneva and also in the MBFR talks in Vienna.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that to keep the dialogue going the best way is not to describe Mr. Andropov's offer as "bogus"? Is the noble Lord aware that the Russians regard President Reagan's zero option as equally bogus; and that if one merely trades insults, that is not the best way of getting serious talks going?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the offer is bogus because it deliberately mixes the two sets of negotiations which are going on in Geneva at the present time. An offer to reduce Russian intermediate-range land-based missiles, of which at the moment the Soviet Union has a monopoly, by a trade-off against strategic systems held by the British and the French, is a bogus offer. It would end, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, in the unwelcome result of maintaining a monopoly for Russia in land-based missiles of the intermediate range sort, targeted on every country in Western Europe.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the noble Lord recall the complete quotation from Mr. Andropov, of which the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Alexander, quoted only a part? The quotation was as follows: Let no-one expect unilateral disarmament from us: we are not a naive people. Then it continues: Nor do we expect unilateral disarmament from the West.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for that timely question.

Baroness Wootton of Abinger

My Lords, is it not rather a strange use of language to call an offer of that kind "bogus"? A bogus offer, as I understand it, is one which the party making it does not intend to carry out. It would be perfectly legitimate to call this an "unacceptable" offer, but I think it is somewhat provocative to introduce the word "bogus".

Lord Belstead

My Lords, a bogus offer is an offer which is deliberately misleading. Perhaps it would be better if I repeated my final words when talking of Mr. Andropov's offer when I said that the offer is not "a serious negotiating position."

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the noble Lord comment on a rather simple idea in dealing with this question of unilateral disarmament? Should we not give the Russians a permanent three-to-one advantage, on the basis that for every 30,000 nuclear disarmers we allow to run free round our bases they will allow 10,000 to run freely round theirs? Perhaps we could send the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and his friends to put this proposition and, if they did not wish to do so or if the Russians turned it down, would we then understand how rubbishy it was?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, of course it is a fact that the ability to express views about the perils of nuclear warfare is open to people in the free countries of the West but not to those in the Soviet Union.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I think we have had a very long run on this Question. Perhaps I may suggest that we take the one question from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and then move on.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, while I agree entirely with the Minister's basic attitude, is it not a fact that we are losing the propaganda war? If we make announcements at the wrong time and the Russians are being much more skilful at propaganda, perhaps we should think a little more about the effect of announcements such as, for example, that about the "dense pack" at a time when a great many people who are foolish in their final answer, in my view, are very worried by the whole thing? In other words, does the Minister not think that our propaganda posture could be improved?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I entirely take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that it is essential to make it clear to people generally that the West wishes to hold out the hand of friendship. Therefore, may I seize the opportunity to remind the House that in the INF talks, the offer from the West is for no land-based missiles at all to threaten the people of Europe, both on the Russian side of the European border and on the Western side of the European border. The offer from the West in the START negotiations is for deep cuts in these terrible inter-continental ballistic missiles. The offer from the West in the MBFR talks in Vienna, which have been going on for eight long years, is for very substantial reductions in conventional forces on the central front in Europe. The West is holding out the hand of friendship and does want to find a way to get verifiable but balanced reductions in forces.

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