HL Deb 23 January 1984 vol 447 cc7-11

2.55 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, in view of the report of the Washington Scientific Conference on the Biological Consequences of Nuclear War, they will reappraise their nuclear warfare policy, so as to place less emphasis on the growth of the nuclear strength of the West and more on endeavours to halt the nuclear arms race.

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

My Lords, the horrific consequences of nuclear war are not disputed. That is why NATO's policy is one of deterrence aimed at preventing war of any kind, while at the same time seeking balanced and verifiable measures of arms control.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I wonder whether he has fully taken on board the conclusion of this high level world scientific conference, including four Nobel laureates, that if even a small proportion of the present stock of nuclear arms were launched it might well bring about the extinction of humanity in the Northern Hemisphere, in any event, and possibly even in the world. Is the noble Lord aware that, although this report has received wide coverage elsewhere and is believed by some to be one reason for President Reagan's recent change of tune, it has had very little coverage in this country? Will he make the report available in the Library to noble Lords, and in particular the transcript of the satellite television dialogue which took place between American and Soviet scientists, which ended by the Vice-President of the Soviet Academy describing nuclear weapons as, a cancerous growth which will kill us if we do not cut it out"?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there is always room for speculation about the horrors of a nuclear war and the severity of its effects, but NATO is more interested in ensuring that war does not start in the first place.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, has my noble friend observed that the Question refers to the growth of the nuclear strength of the West? Is it not a fact that while the Soviets have withdrawn a few SS4s and SS5s they have replaced them with 250 SS20s, all with three warheads and a reload capacity? Is it not a fact that during this period the United States of America has withdrawn or intends to withdraw several thousand nuclear warheads? How can this possibly be described in the Question as "growth", except by a distorted mind?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right when he points out that NATO has been reducing the number of nuclear warheads, particularly in the European theatre, in recent times and that we have plans to reduce them even further, Whereas, as my noble friend said, at the same time the Soviet Union have withdrawn just a few very old warheads and introduced new, triple-warheaded missiles.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, in view of the strength of the demand all over the world for the ending of nuclear weapons, not only in Europe but in America and in the non-aligned nations, Japan and Australasia, will not the Government take advantage of the Stockholm Disarmament Conference not merely to demand the monitoring of military manoeuvres and activities but, through its terms of reference as a disarmament conference, to seek to bring about the ending of nuclear weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is, unhappily, not for Her Majesty's Government alone to achieve a reduction or an elimination of nuclear weapons, but we shall certainly support any measure which proves to be both balanced and verifiable.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, further to the question which my noble friend has just asked, could not the noble Lord go a little further and tell the House what will be the main objective of Her Majesty's Government in the CSPM conference? Futhermore, could the noble Lord say whether his right honourable friend sees any hope of a possible resumption of the START or INF talks? Is there any ground for believing, as I believe The Times stated this morning, that the START talks might resume fairly soon, given that that would be an extremely important step forward?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we do not yet have a date for the resumption of the START talks. We hope that there will be a date before long, but, as I believe I mentioned to your Lordships the other day, the Soviet Union are apparently reconsidering their position in this particular area. If that is so, and if it leads to a more constructive attitude of the Soviet Union in these talks, then a short delay in setting a date for restarting them will be well worth it. They have, however, recently agreed to a date to restart the MBFR talks in Vienna, and that is much to be welcomed.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the Soviet Union was bound to leave the talks in Geneva when cruise and Pershing missiles arrived in Europe, because they could not lose face due to their sponsorship of the so-called peace movements throughout the world?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I greatly regret that the Soviet Union found it necessary to leave the INF talks when they did. It is a pity that they had not been more flexible during the time that the talks have continued or that the proposals they ever brought forward were ones which simply maintained the status quo, namely, a monopoly on the Soviet side of these particular classes of weapon, while we on the Western side—or, at least, the United States on the Western side—had been advocating a number of different proposals, including the zero option and variations of it. I hope that those talks, too, will restart although I am not hopeful that they will do so in the near future.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, while appreciate the fact that the noble Lord the Minister acknowledges and recognises the horrendous effects of a possible nuclear war, will he be prepared to consider that, in so far as it was perhaps this country—Great Britain—which had more in common with the Russian people and the American people while we were all allies together just a few decades ago, it could be Great Britain which provides the real meeting together of the Soviet Union, our former allies, and the United States, our allies? Would that not serve to acknowledge that the Warsaw Pact and NATO Pact by themselves mean nothing, but that it is the authority of the USA and USSR that really counts in the end? Would not some intervention and a bold independent stand by the Government on behalf of our people enable sanity to start creeping in and bring both sides together on a realistic basis to stop the growth of nuclear weapons—which growth might be followed by their destruction?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is right when he says that the chief protagonists in these discussions are the Soviet Union and the United States. However, the United Kingdom does play an important part and we shall certainly continue to do so, not least in the current conference in Stockholm, to which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, referred.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister be good enough to explain to his noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that this matter is not assisted by name calling on either side? Will he further recognise that the main issue here is not so much the preponderance of weapons on either side but the fact that even a small proportion of either the Soviet or the American weaponry could virtually destroy mankind? Is that not a fact which ought constantly to be borne in mind?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, nobody doubts that the present nuclear arsenals in the world ought to be reduced. This Government will hasten to support any measure of that kind which was, as I have said, both balanced and verifiable. As to the name calling to which the noble Lord referred, perhaps he will convey his point to Mr. Gromyko following his recent speech in Stockholm.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, in view of the growing feeling internationally that little progress will be made in any nuclear talks in the USA's pre-election period. Will the Government themselves, in support of the comments made by my noble friend, take their own initiatives to see that progress is made and that the future of mankind is assured?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we will certainly, as I have said, continue to play our part in these matters but the chief protagonists—if that is the right word—must remain the United States and the Soviet Union.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, does not the noble Lord the Minister feel that all these questions are along the wrong lines? Homo sapiens has launched upon a career in which he is numerically doubling himself every 30 or 40 years. He is plainly in need of a massive cull. Nuclear weapons will make possible that massive cull—and, even more, they have the special factor of muddling up the genes so that from the new crop something rather better than the present lot may emerge. Ought we not to look to our good fortune?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the originality of the noble Lord's views never ceases to impress me.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that what my noble friend has just said is not Labour Party policy?

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