HL Deb 17 January 1984 vol 446 cc927-9

2.56 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that the United States Government is now committed to a nuclear war-fighting strategy and has abandoned the policy of deterrence and in view of the widely held opinion that this will lead to the destruction of mankind what action they will now take to save themselves and the rest of humanity from this ultimate disaster.

Lord Trefgarne

No, my Lords. The United States Administration have made absolutely clear their commitment to a strategy of deterrence. In his annual report to Congress for the fiscal year 1984, Mr. Weinberger reiterated this strategy. He said: First, our strategy is defensive. It excludes the possibility that the United States would initiate a war or launch a pre-emptive strike against the forces or territories of other nations. Second, our strategy is to deter war. We maintain a nuclear and conventional force posture designed to convince any potential adversary that the cost of aggression would be too high to justify an attack".

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the latest air/land battle concept of the American army is even more dangerous than flexible response? Is he further aware that, while it is welcome to hear President Reagan in less belligerent mood, it is necessary for these better words to be followed up by a readiness to discuss the reality of nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the West? Finally, is he aware that the Stockholm Conference can be the start of this process if it is treated seriously on both sides?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly hope with the noble Lord that the Stockholm Conference will produce the sort of results to which the noble Lord has referred; but I have no doubt that it will be a long and difficult process. On the general concept of our defence posture I say again, as I have said to your Lordship on many occasions and as many others of my noble friends have said from this Bench, our strategy is one of deterrence. We seek to avoid war, not to fight one.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the only conceivable point of "deterrence" is to have the assured capacity, on a possible second strike, to inflict totally unacceptable damage on a possible nuclear adversary and that accordingly no attempt should be made to attain what is called "nuclear superiority?"

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has already said, there is a need to have a strategy of flexible response—although I appreciate that the noble Lord does not agree with that. We have such a strategy within the policy of deterrence to which I have referred and we need to be able to respond at any level.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the placing on the Order Paper of this House of allegations of this nature against our most important ally can bring no comfort to anybody but the Soviet Union?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, are for him and for him alone; although I must say that I share some of the views of my noble friend.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, will the Minister give the House the assurance that the Government's defence policy is still based on the use of conventional weapons and that the enormous cost of nuclear weapons will not deprive us of those resources? If he cannot give us that assurance, will he therefore be admitting that in the event of a serious emergency the United States and the United Kingdom will be forced to go nuclear right from the start with the terrifying prospects which that would bring?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I say, our policy is one of flexible response. That includes the capability to respond with conventional weapons if the occasion so requires.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, should we not now concentrate on the opportunity which the European Security Conference gives us in Stockholm? Would the noble Lord say whether Her Majesty's Government have it in mind to take the initiative in seeking to reconvene the START and INF talks in Geneva, which broke down recently? While we welcome the words uttered by President Reagan yesterday in Washington, would the noble Lord not agree that the important thing is to move away from just words and turn to a real dialogue and a real exchange of views? Would the noble Lord give the House an assurance that that is currently the objective of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that it would be highly desirable for the INF and START talks to reconvene. I am not certain, however, that the position is quite so black as the noble Lord suggests with regard to the START talks, because although a resumption date has not yet been set we hope very much that the Russians will agree to the setting of such a date in due course. They say they are reviewing their position, and if that be so perhaps it is not too surprising that they have yet to agree a date for the resumption.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he would not congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, on the very deserving effort that he made to turn a mischievous Question into a serious one?

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the American nuclear posture is of great concern to many reasonable people throughout the country, and that if any noble Lord translates a concern of that sort into a pro-Soviet position it is merely evidence of a closed mind, which itself is dangerous?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am aware that there is opposition to the American point of view in these matters from some people in this country. I believe it is a tiny minority of our people, as evidenced at the last General Election.

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