HL Deb 24 February 1983 vol 439 cc823-5
Lord Mayhew

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 progress has been made in the Geneva disarmament negotiations.

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

My Lords, only limited progress was made in the first three rounds of the negotiations because the Soviet Union insisted on trying to justify its monopoly in INF missiles. In the fourth round of the negotiations which began on 27th January Ambassador Nitze has our full support in his efforts to explore any solution consistent with NATO's principles of balance.

At the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks the United States has called for very substantial reductions and proposed a reduction of one-third in the number of warheads carried by the superpowers' strategic ballistic missiles involving cuts of over a half in the number of ballistic missiles themselves. The Soviet Union has put forward heavily qualified proposals for less radical cuts.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord, may I ask whether he recalls that last year the Soviet and American delegates to the intermediate range talks agreed on a compromise proposal for deploying 75 missiles on both sides? Was it not regrettable that the American and then the Soviet Governments rejected this? Can he say whether the British Government supported this admirable proposal and, if it is revived, whether they will support it in future?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is referring to informal discussions and an informal agreement which it was said had been reached between the United States and the Soviet INF negotiators at Geneva in mid-1982. If I am correct that that is what the noble Lord was referring to, it is for the Governments of the United States and the Soviet Union to comment about ideas which were exchanged informally between Ambassadors Nitze and Kvitsinsky. What we know for certain is that it was later on in the year that the Soviet Union simply broke off the talks.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Minister whether in the process of these negotiations at Geneva our representatives or representative ever asked the representatives of the Soviet bloc what their intentions are? Although we have some information, derived from the 1917 Revolution, that they seek to create a Communist world, we do not know whether their intentions have ever undergone a change in a more peaceful instead of militaristic direction? Are these questions ever asked? If we were asked in return what our intentions are, would we put all the cards on the table?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think I can answer both parts of the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, by referring to President Reagan's statement which was made on 22nd February, two days ago, in a speech in the United States. In it the United States President made it clear that in the INF talks the proposal for the zero option is not a take-it-or-leave-it offer and that, above all, the United States negotiator has instructions to explore any solution consistent with the alliance's principles of trying to achieve a balance. I think that is a very fair outline of the United States position. Let us hope that we will be able to discover the real intentions of the Russian position as a result of that clarification.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree, even if the intermediate range missiles were cut down to 75 on each side, that, bearing in mind that the Soviet missiles have three warheads, this would make a difference to 235 to 75, so there would not be parity.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if that were to be the case, my answer is, Yes.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he can tell us what is the real intention of the Soviets? Everybody seems to use that phrase but we do not know what it means. We speculate. It is ridiculous.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the intention of the NATO Alliance is to achieve balanced and verifiable reductions in arms so that all the peoples of the whole world can live in greater security and, therefore, with a better prospect of peace. It is that about which we are trying to get agreement with the Russians.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is it not likely that in the process of seeking a balanced reduction in arms—and all of us would welcome a move in that direction—the Russians have undergone a change? May there not be some change of which we should take advantage? Undoubtedly something is happening in Russia now that is more to our advantage than was the position perhaps five months ago.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree that this is possible. That is what we are trying to explore.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while welcoming the more flexible attitude on both sides in the Geneva talks, may I ask the Minister, first, whether it would not be desirable that in public utterances one sought areas of agreement rather than of disagreement and, secondly, whether it would not be reasonable, when balancing the nuclear forces for both sides, to include those of France and the United Kingdom.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to the first supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is that I believe the United States President's speech of two days ago precisely falls into the noble Lord's category of trying to find areas of agreement. My answer to the noble Lord's second question is, No.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, on that point of finding areas of agreement, to what extent would it be true to say that there has been a shift in Soviet policy on two aspects? The first is on site inspections of weapons systems and nuclear test sites. The second, as reported in today's Times, is the banning of chemical weapons. Do the Government feel that this is a realistic and genuine advance? Will the noble Lord be good enough to comment?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, these are of course confidential talks and, although on behalf of the Government I give your Lordships' House as much information as I can, the talks in Geneva in both INF and START are confidential. Therefore, on the first point of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I do not think that I can help very much. So far as chemical weapons are concerned—weapons which of course we destroyed in this country 10 years ago and which the Americans have retained only in a limited stockpile—we know that the Soviet Union have developed a large, modern chemical force which is not matched at all on the NATO side. Let us see whether the intentions which we hope for on the Soviet side regarding these frightful weapons are going to be matched by deeds.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, bearing in mind the very last point that the noble Lord the Minister has made, perhaps I may ask this question: Would he agree that while it is generally acknowledged that the major participants are the USSR and the USA, and that, as he has just said, the Soviet Union have a massive preponderance in these horrendous weapons over all else and all others, it is therefore vital that these talks should not break down? Also, would he agree that the great role that Britain can play is trying to achieve that and maintain the negotiations, show patience—because the prize is so worthwhile—so that something realistic will emerge in the end to make a contribution to the slow crawl back to sanity for all the nations involved?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, on that question. This is why the Government were most anxious to draw the attention of the House today to President Reagan's statement of two days ago, which we believe shows both patience and persistence.

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