HL Deb 23 November 1983 vol 445 cc263-70

4.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will now repeat the Statement which is being made by my honourable friend Mr. Luce in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

"As honourable Members may he aware, the Soviet delegate to the Geneva INF talks has made it clear this morning that the Soviet Union does not intend to continue the present round and has given no date for the resumption of the talks.

"Her Majesty's Government regret this Soviet decision and can see no justification for it. As recently as 15th November the United States tabled a further constructive proposal in the negotiation which was rejected out of hand by the Soviet Union. The Russians may seek to justify their interruption of the talks by the final preparations for initial Western INF deployment. But the House will recall that the West has remained at the conference table while the Soviet Union has increased its own deployments of SS.20s by over 40 per cent.

"The NATO Alliance has made its first priority the achievement of a balanced and verifiable agreement to reduce and if possible to eliminate these weapons worldwide. At the same time, we have made it clear that until such an agreement can be attained the Alliance will proceed in accordance with its decision in 1979 to work towards a balance which would safeguard Western security.

"We will not be deflected from achieving the first stage of this objective by the end of this year.

"But I wish to emphasise that the Alliance remains ready to halt or reverse at any time the deployment of the missiles if only we can secure an agreement with the Soviet Union which would allow us to do so. The achievement of such an agreement remains our unshakeable objective. The Alliance will spare no effort to secure it. We remain convinced that an agreement is possible and that it remains in the interests of East and West that the negotiations should resume at the earliest possible date. We therefore urge the Soviet Union to demonstrate an equally sincere commitment to arms control by returning to the negotiating table."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for repeating the Statement here. The country will be greatly alarmed, although not surprised, that the INF talks have broken down, for the Government were warned that insistence on going ahead with the deployment of missiles here could lead to the Soviets acting in the way they have.

Do the Government not see even now that going ahead and ignoring the genuine concern of people from all walks of life here and in Europe has increased the number of those opposed to nuclear policy, to the evident satisfaction of the Soviet Union? The Government have surely done much more than CND and the women of Greenham Common to ensure that even more people are opposed to nuclear policy. That is revealed by the public opinion poll which has just been announced.

One may ask the question: why in those talks have the allies ignored the Soviet offer to radically reduce warheads; and why did we refuse to allow our intermediate nuclear weapons to be counted in the deal when such a policy would lead to the situation we now face? Does the Minister not agree that the deployment of missiles has not led to any enhancement of the prospects of peace but has led to the first shooting down of the prospects of peace hopes that we had?

In the Statement, the Minister says: I wish to emphasise that the Alliance remains ready to halt or reverse at any time the deployment of the missiles if only we can secure an agreement with the Soviet Union which would allow us to do so". Accepting—with regret, of course—the failure of the peace initiatives up to now, due to deployment and inflexibility, will the Government now promise, as the building up of weapons has not produced the results that we wanted, to cease further deployment until the talks are resumed? Further, with the lessons of Grenada, will the Government themselves take a major initiative of their own and recognise also the increasing importance of dual control of the weapons we have? This is a very grave Statement, and the Government must take a large share of the responsibility; and at the same time, they must have new initiatives to bring us out of the prospects we face at the present time.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, this is a bleak little Statement for what is, after all, a very grave moment in the history of Europe. Was not the East unwise to continue to deploy its SS.20s throughout the four-year period of negotiations: and was not the West unwise to insist that the needlessly alarming Pershing 2s should be included in Western deployment? Is it not instructive that it is the decision of the German Parliament to go ahead which has been the immediate trigger for the Soviet Union to break off negotiations, and not the decision of our own House of Commons?

We do not reject, as I believe the Labour Opposition does, the Government' s conclusion that there is no alternative but to allow our own deployment to carry on. Nevertheless, will the Government now recognise that, as so often before, a disarmament negotiation has failed not because it tried to bite off too much but because it tried to bite off too little? Will the Government, not just stand back and hope that the Soviet Union will one day come back to this particular negotiating table, hut, starting this evening, work towards a disarmament negotiation which will include enough countries and will talk about enough weapon systems, and in which our country in particular will be entitled to speak for itself?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, asked a number of questions. Why was it, he asked, for example, that the United Kingdom and French forces were not to be included in the negotiations? That point has been answered on a number of occasions from this Dispatch Box. The United Kingdom and the French forces are not intermediate range forces but are strategic forces, and they constitute but a tiny fraction of the total forces held by the Soviet Union in that category of weapon.

The noble Lord also asked why Soviet offers—so-called offers—at the INF talks have had to be rejected. The fact of the matter is that the Soviet Union seem to have had but one objective in the INF talks, and that has been to maintain their total monopoly of this category of weapon all the time, while they have been deploying more and more of their SS.20s. In the past two years or so since the talks started in Geneva, they have continued to deploy this category of weapon. At the same time, the United States have remained at the negotiating table there.

The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, referred also to the shooting down of the Korean airliner. I would have thought that nothing would have shown more effectively the need for us to keep up our guard in this area, as in others. The noble Lord went on to ask whether it was not now ripe to halt deployment of the Western intermediate range weapons in Europe. I believe not because, as I have said, at this time the Soviet Union have a total monopoly of this category of weapon in Central Europe.

Moving now to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, he asked whether the East was not unwise to continue to deploy SS.20s during negotiations. Indeed it was; I wholly agree with the noble Lord. There was an alternative option available to the East, but it was rejected. As to the West's position, I believe we had no alternative but to proceed as we have done. As the noble Lord and other noble Lords will know, we shall be effectively deploying these weapons by the end of the year.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, went on to ask whether we should not widen the talks in Geneva. I must say that I disagree with him in that particular argument because we have shown effectively at the various disarmament for a which have taken place in the past 10 or even 20 years that the right approach is a step by step approach. The fact of the matter is that the comprehensive disarmament discussions which have taken place from time to time have all in the end been bogged down in various details. The idea that strategic nuclear arms reductions, for example, could be agreed in a wide forum of 30 or 40 people when only two or three nations actually hold that particular category of weapon is, I believe, a myth, and one not worthy of examination.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, before the Minister sits down may I say without any hint of rebuke that I did not refer to the shooting down of the Korean airliner. What I did say was that in the light of the Grenada experience I wondered whether this was not a reason why the United Kingdom should take some major initiative.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I apologise if I misheard the noble Lord, but I thought that he did refer to the shooting down. The Grenada matter is, of course, something entirely different, and therefore something quite outside the ken of this particular matter.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether the Soviet Government have, publicly or behind the scenes, given any reason for their withdrawal from these talks? Does he agree (as many noble Lords on these Benches, together with many other people in the Conservative Party and throughout the country, agree) that the Russians' withdrawal from the talks makes it imperative that we should calmly and deliberately proceed with our deployment programme of these missiles? Thirdly, will my noble friend comment on the danger of the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, that we should deploy no more missiles until the Russians are prepared to come to the negotiating table again? Does he not consider that if we were to take that step it would mean that in future negotiations we would be negotiating from weakness?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. If we were to follow the course proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, we would be giving the Soviets exactly what they want without getting so much as an iota in return. That would not be fair or successful negotiation. As to what is the present Soviet position, I must say that it is rather difficult to ascertain. For example, they make proposals in Geneva which they then publicly withdraw, attributing them to the United States. From what we understand of the latest so-called offer which they made the other day, they are still proposing to keep more than 120 SS.20 missiles within the range of Western Europe while demanding that there should be no such deployment in Europe of United States missiles. Such a monopoly remains, as I have said, unacceptable to the Western alliance.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, if they can see no justification in the Soviet action in withdrawing from these talks, the Government must be blind? Is he further aware that many analysts of this subject, not only analysts on this side of the fence, had told the Government that this would happen and had explained to the Government in detail why it would happen? Are not the Government, therefore, in the position of refusing to know rather than being unable to know what the Soviet position is? Do not the Government know full well that from the beginning the Soviet Government have said that the British and French weapons must be counted, and is he aware that it is technically impossible for the Soviet Union to know from their radar systems where a weapon is coming from? Is not the only hope at the present time to initiate a fresh series of talks on the START basis, taking into consideration all nuclear weapons on either side? Must not the initiative be asserted by European nations? Is the noble Lord not aware, finally, that the people of this country and the people of Europe have no faith whatever that the American Government are negotiating in good faith?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the United States Government are negotiating in good faith. They have made what has come to be known as the zero option proposal, which apparently was not acceptable to the Soviet Union. The United States then made some adjustments and amendments to that proposal, and those, too, apparently were not acceptable to the Soviet Union. All that seems to be acceptable to the Soviet Union in these talks is a total monopoly on their side of this category of weapons. I do not understand how that could be thought to be fair or reasonable.

As to the knowledge that the noble Lord imparted to us, it is true that Mr. Andropov is reported to have said some weeks ago that there was a risk that the Soviet Union would withdraw from these talks, but the fact that we knew that it was possible does not mean that it was justified.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall the repeated statements of the Government over the last two years that it was only when the missiles were being deployed that the Soviet Union would start negotiating seriously? Does he recall the very opposite predictions made by my noble friends and myself repeatedly in this House and elsewhere?

Secondly, is the noble Lord aware that many of those who oppose the unilateral approach are dismayed at the handling of these negotiations by the United States Government? The noble Lord referred to changes in the zero option proposal, but is he aware that examination shows that there has been no significant move away from the zero option by the United States Government? The zero option is where they stood two years ago before the negotiations began, and in two years there has been no serious change in the negotiating position of the United States. Will the noble Lord, therefore, now inform the United States Government that we shall not agree either to the deployment of the missiles now in this country or to the arrival of further missiles until there has been a decisive change in the negotiating position of the United States?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord has not been following these matters too closely in recent weeks if he says that there has been no change in the United States position in recent days. It was as recently as 14th November that the United States offered the Russians a precise figure in terms of the number of warheads in terms of a global ceiling—420 was the figure. The Russians have refused this as they have refused all previous offers.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree, whatever detailed arguments may be advanced on one side or the other, that this is a deeply disappointing development and will be so regarded by the people of this country and indeed by people throughout the world?

Secondly, can the noble Lord say what initiatives, if any, Her Majesty's Government have in mind to bring about a resumption of these talks as soon as possible? That again will be the desire of the people of this country and people everywhere else.

Thirdly, can the noble Lord say what effect he thinks this development will have on other talks—for example, the START talks—which are equally important?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course, I agree that it is deeply regrettable that these talks have for the time being at least come to an end. I hope the Soviet Union will urgently reconsider its position and return to the negotiating table as soon as may be. In the meantime, I am certain that we must be steadfast in our plans to continue with the deployment of intermediate range missiles so that the monopoly that the Soviet Union possesses can be brought into balance.

As to the implication of the Soviet Union's decision today for the other talks currently proceeding—for example, the START talks—we have no reason to believe that there will be any parallel effect on those discussions.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, as I have frequently in this House criticised the content of the negotiations which are now the subject of this question based on the announcement the noble Lord has made, may I ask the noble Lord this question? Has not our approach been based on a comparison of weapons and not on the political issues involved? Is there any advantage in returning to a conference where they discuss the number of weapons on either side, because we will never reach a satisfactory conclusion that way? Would it not be far better to say to the Russians quite directly, "What are your intentions?". We have some knowledge of what their intentions are, but all the cards should be laid on the table. They have a perfect right to respond by asking the United States of America, ourselves and the other allies what our intentions are. The other side want Communism throughout the world; we do not want Communism throughout the world. Let us discuss those issues, and not assume that, if we reach some conclusion about the number of weapons that either side possesses, it will not lead to peace but will mean war.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the difficulty is matching the Russians' words with their deeds. They have professed all sorts of peaceful intentions, like the Helsinki Final Act and the United Nations Charter, and what do we have? Breaches of human rights left, right and centre in the United Kingdom, not to mention the invasion of Afghanistan.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that the Secretary General of the United Nations this morning foresaw this situation which is expressed this afternoon in this House and tried to take an initiative from his end to bring the parties together? With the discontinuance of the disarmament talks at Geneva we must surely maintain some form of communication. May I say that the Statement made today, with its rejection of all Soviet intentions and approaches, introduces into this question a degree of finality which would be disastrous for all of us if it were to continue?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Statement of the Secretary General of the United Nations this morning. We shall certainly want to study what he has said very carefully and hope that a way forward may emerge from what he has said.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, although the last supple mentary question has largely taken my point, may I say that what alarms the people of Europe is not merely the build-up of nuclear arms but the build-up of nuclear arms in a deteriorating political situation, and it is only the pursuit of some form of detente which will give them any hope during the consequent build-up of arms?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the difficulties to which the noble Lord refers are, of course, in the forefront of everyone's mind. That is why it is important to move forward to achieve an agreement in these matters. That is why we hope sincerely that the Russians will return to the INF talks in Geneva. That is why we also hope that progress can he made in the other international for a to which I have referred.

My Lords, I am told that in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, I referred inadvertently to breaches of human rights in the United Kingdom. I did of course mean the Soviet Union.

Lord Bowden

My Lords, may I ask the Minister one very important question? Has it ever occurred to the Government that it is very probable that the cruise missile will not work when it is tried, and for a fundamental reason? It depends for its navigation on precisely observing the ground beneath it. Small hillocks, and so on, are used to check the inertia navigation on which it basically depends. If you stand on the Malvern Hills and look east, the first hillock would be the Ural Mountains. In principle, even, the missile cannot work because there is nothing to guide it. In any event, the maps have not been prepared and it will take at least two or three years to prepare them. They have not yet been started. It will cost several hundred million pounds to do that, and no funds seem to have been allocated for the purpose. I wonder whether there is any purpose at all in talking about cruise as a viable and useful weapon for the time being.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am sorry to say that the noble Lord is not quite right in all that. The cruise missiles have been very fully tested. I also assure him that they need less than a range of mountains by which to navigate.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, are the Government aware that one feature of the present situation which worries people most is that the two parties have ceased to talk? It is terribly important to go on talking to people when you disagree with them. I suppose that there will be quiet ambassadorial discussions about this; but will the Government agree that it is terribly necessary to promote and encourage those discussions? It is easier for the Americans to do that than for us. An awful lot hangs on these results. Will the Government also agree that one feature of the recent negotiations that has worried people has been the tendency for the negotiations to be conducted at the top of the voice rather than in the quietness of a negotiating forum; and that proposals have been made and rejected within about an hour of their being heard on the other side? Will the Government be able to encourage a quieter approach to this extremely delicate, important and vital question?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I entirely agree that we need to go on talking just as often and long as we can. That is why we hope that the Soviet Union will return to these talks. It is the Soviet Union that has left the table at Geneva and not the United States. But the noble Lord may be reassured that the talks in the other disarmament for a are continuing, as I have said, and we know of no reason to think that they should not do just that. The noble Lord is right: we need to go on talking. I also agree with him that it is sometimes better if these talks are conducted rather more confidentially than has always been the case in the past.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, would the noble Lord the Minister agree with me that if the level of political and economic hostility increases at the rate that it has increased over the past five years (and particularly over the past three), there will probably be military hostilities between the East and the West; and even if those military hostilities start with no nuclear weapons at all being used, it will not be long before that stage is reached? Therefore, does he agree that it would perhaps be a good idea if the Government of the United Kingdom approached the Government of the Soviet Union to talk about détente and to try to establish some common sense in the relationship that now exists between East and West, so that we do not have a situation where the powerful forces in America are determined to stop any economic co-operation between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe by opposing such ventures as the oil pipeline?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there has been no war in Europe for nigh on 40 years. I believe that that has been because we have succeeded in deterring the Soviet Union, or anyone else, from perpetrating aggression upon us. It is our policy to continue to deter, and I believe that we shall be successful in that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that what some of us find most depressing is the negative aspect of his Statement, and what not just noble Lords in this House but people in the country will be looking for is evidence that the day on which the present talks break down is the day on which positive plans must be made for the resumption of new talks?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the negative aspect of the Statement today is of course the departure of the Soviet Union from the negotiating table in Geneva. A positive aspect would be the return of the Soviet Union to that negotiating table, and that is what I hope will happen.