HL Deb 31 January 1983 vol 438 cc516-8

2.53 p.m.

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 intermediate range nuclear weapons negotiations in Geneva.bution>

Lord Belstead

My Lords, there was limited progress in the first three rounds of the negotiations because the Soviet Union insisted on trying to justify its monopoly in intermediate range nuclear missiles and was unwilling to negotiate towards the complete elimination of this class of nuclear weapon, as proposed by NATO. A new round of negotiations began in Geneva on 27th January. The United States negotiator, Ambassador Nitze, has our full support in his efforts to continue to examine thoroughly the Soviet position, including the various proposals made since the last round by Mr. Andropov.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the Government might combat unilateralism more effectively by taking a more positive attitude to negotiations than that represented by the scandalous proposal to spend £1 million of taxpayers' money on advertising?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, so far as the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is concerned, the Americans are making the zero offer—meaning no land-based intermediate range missiles in Europe—in good faith, and that is the objective for the negotiations agreed within the alliance. With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, no final decision has been taken on whether to conduct a campaign of the kind reported in the press. The Government are considering ways of increasing public understanding of the issues involved in their nuclear disarmament and defence policies, and this is one of the possibilities being considered.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend consider publishing pictures of the SS20, 300 of which are currently deployed by the USSR against Western Europe? Is he aware that we have seen pictures of the cruise missiles, but we have not seen pictures of the Soviet equivalent? Since these have now been in existence for a number of years, and have been deployed up to the maximum extent, are not the public in this country, and in other free countries of the West, entitled to see some of the pictures which must undoubtedly exist in our intelligence files?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I shall certainly take seriously into account what my noble friend has suggested.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many people are worried about the Government's proposal to undertake what would seem to be party political propaganda at the public expense? Is he also aware that the exclusion of British, French and other nuclear weapons from balance calculations gives rise to false comparisons between the East and the West?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not sure that what the noble Lord said at the beginning of his question presents a very fruitful way forward. The fact of the matter is that under the Government at the end of the 1960s the Administration ran a campaign to promote British NATO defence policies, including possession of nuclear weapons. The campaign involved full-page newspaper advertisements, which invited readers to send for a booklet, and I think that very probably it was a sensible and prudent thing for the Government to have done at that particular time.

So far as the French and the British deterrents are concerned, this is a quesstion on which I have answered the noble Lord on many occasions. The fact of the matter is that the Andropov proposals, so far as this matter is concerned, would give the Russians a monopoly of intermediate range land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. That is something which, for the safety of all people in Western Europe, we really cannot allow.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is not the most important point that real, practical progress should be made in the talks? In view of the fact that the Soviet refusal to make substantial progress on verification has been the stumbling block up until now, can the noble Lord say whether, on the Soviet side, there is any easement on that central issue?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not in any way want to be unhelpful to the noble Lord on what I of course agree with him is the key question, which has been the stumbling block for very many years, but I have not any news to give on this particular point because the negotiators met afresh only four days ago.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is the Minister of State aware that the only two examples of press advertising from the late 1960s, to which he has referred, and to which the public's attention was directed when inquiring from the Ministry of Defence this morning, relate to straightforward accounts of Government defence policy—more of a recruiting nature than of anything else—which could not possibly have been objected to by any party in Parliament at the time; and that that is a very different situation from the use of Government funds on a matter—

Several noble Lords

Question! Question!

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the Minister of State agree that that is different from the spending of Government money on presenting one side of an argument that is now a matter of acute party disagreement in Parliament?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I must make myself clear. I was not criticising the previous Government, in which of course the noble Lord was a Minister; indeed not. I think probably the previous Government were prudent. I say "probably" merely because I began to think about this point only a few hours ago. With regard to the question of the rightness of spending money in this way at the present time, if it is to be spent, the intention would be to create a better awareness of the issues and facts by publicising Government material about disarmament and deterrence.

Forward to