HL Deb 04 May 1983 vol 442 cc71-4
Lord Brockway

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what schedule has been agreed for meetings of the United Nations Committee at Geneva instructed by the Second Special Session to report by 1984 on a comprehensive programme on disarmament; and whether they support the prepared draft for the implementation of disarmament, beginning with the prohibition of nuclear weapons and reduction of conventional weapons in two stages of five years, and a third indefinite stage to plan general and complete disarmament.

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

My Lords, there is no schedule as such but there have been frequent consultations on various sections of the draft. We continue to work towards agreement on the lines of the paper which we and a number of Western states tabled in July 1981.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I thank the Minister, but is there not some inconsistency in the Government declaring their support for multilateral disarmament when at Geneva and at the United Nations they are continually imposing conditions for such disarmament?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we are not party to the Geneva bilateral talks; but, on the contrary, our NATO allies, the United States, are constantly proposing constructive suggestions for disarmament in both the START and INF talks. As regards the noble Lord's Question on the Order Paper, work is going on in the Committee on Disarmament on an amalgamated draft, but we have always made clear that we believe that the Western draft, which was tabled not only by Britain but by Australia, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan in July 1981, is the most realistic and positive way to proceed.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, does not the Western draft insist on verification? Is it not the case that the Soviet Union has now accepted verification in principle and is prepared to discuss this in its talks with the USA at Geneva? Did not the Government even abstain from a motion that there should be a ban on underground nuclear tests when they stressed the need for verification?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if the question of verification can be agreed by all sides, wherever it may apply, no one would be more pleased than Her Majesty's Government. But the fact of the matter is that the Western draft, to which the noble Lord referred in his supplementary question, was based on a step-by-step approach towards general and complete disarmament, with the first phase being the continuation and, where possible, the conclusion of negotiations currently in progress. It is that step which we have not yet taken.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what is her Majesty's Government's reaction to the initiative or proposal made by Mr. Andropov in Moscow yesterday, in which he said that the Soviet Union was prepared to consider a reduction of Soviet warheads in Europe provided the American Pershing and cruise missiles were not established in Europe? Did not the proposal also suggest that the number of Soviet war missiles should match those held by France and the United Kingdom? Can the Minister indicate where this proposal would be discussed as a matter of fact? Will this now become part of the discussions at Geneva, and what would be the response of Her Majesty's Government to it?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we believe it could be a step in the right direction and is to be welcomed if it is a signal that the Russians will now begin to negotiate seriously at Geneva. But as regards the assertion that British and French nuclear weapons must be counted in the negotiations, that remains unacceptable to us and our allies. We believe that is a proposal based on a transparently false premise.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether Mr. Andropov's proposal included machinery for verification?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not aware that it did.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House the assurance that it is the hope of the British Government that the Americans will in due course make a positive response to this proposal?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think I have covered that in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, but I shall repeat it in case I did not make myself clear. We believe that it could be a step in the right direction and is to be welcomed if it is a signal that the Russians will begin to negotiate seriously at Geneva.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that in so far as it was this nation which helped in the creation of NATO, and bearing in mind that we have been realistic ever since, with these horrendous weapons now in existence ought not the voice of Britain be heard at major disarmament conferences if only to challenge and expose, when necessary, the Soviet Union and to put right some of the errors of our major allies, such as the Americans, so that we, with our background and experience, can make a useful contribution not only to verification itself but to setting the world on the road to disarmament?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the British voice most certainly is heard in the Committee on Disarmament, from which the Question on the Order Paper springs. It was in a speech on 10th March this year, at the Committee on Disarmament which is meeting in Geneva, that my right honourable friend Mr. Douglas Hurd launched a new British initiative, putting forward proposals to ensure that the parties fulfil their obligations under a future convention on chemical weapons.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the astonishment with which I heard him say that Her Majesty's Government were in favour of universal and complete disarmament? Have Her Majesty's Government considered the universal chaos which would occur if nobody was equipped to prevent anything!

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord did not hear aright. I did not say that.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, did not the Minister say that the American response was in the right direction, and would it not be more true to say that the American response was in the wrong direction on this issue?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with very great respect to the noble Baroness, I did not say that, either.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Lord who suggested that in this matter we should use our power in debate, just how much power in debate would we have if we in fact disarmed unilaterally first?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Viscount puts his finger on the right point. That is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

My Lords, since Mr. Andropov's proposal is on any view one of the most significant events since the beginning of the Cold War, in order to show good will and genuineness on the part of Britain in this most crucial issue are Her Majesty's Government prepared to put back the date upon which cruise missiles will be established in this country?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would the noble Lord not consider that if the situation were reversed and missiles located in other countries, as well as in the Soviet Union, were targeted upon this country, we would want the weapons located in those other countries to be counted in any international comparison? In these circumstances, is it not entirely reasonable that the Soviet Union should wish to count both French and British nuclear weapons?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Russian concept of a balance between those weapons which can reach their territory from Western Europe and vice versa conveniently ignores the fact that Western Europe is targeted by an unknown, but doubtless very large, number of Soviet strategic missiles, in addition to the intermediate range weapons—the SS20s, the SS4s and the SS5s.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, did the noble Lord the Minister mean, in his previous reply, that there are no circumstances, whatever the Russians may do, in which we would not establish cruise missiles in this country?

Lord Belstead

If the zero option can be agreed, my Lords.

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