HL Deb 21 June 1984 vol 453 cc435-7

3.15 p.m.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the Order Paper. May I make one correction? There should be no reference in the Question to Argentina.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the appeal by the Heads of State of Sweden, India, Mexico, Tanzania and Greece to Governments possessing nuclear weapons "to halt all testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, to be immediately followed by substantial reductions in nuclear forces".

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

We join the signatories of the appeal in restating our conviction that there must never be another world war. Our aim is to prevent all war. We believe that security between East and West would be better improved by the negotiation of balanced reductions in the weapons of the superpowers, rather than a freeze. We therefore urge the Soviet Union to resume negotiations without pre-conditions.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that this appeal was initiated by the World Parliamentarians? They are distinguished members of all parties in 31 countries. Is he also aware that they intend to follow up that initiative by sending deputations to the governments of all countries possessing nuclear weapons, and may we have an assurance that such a deputation would be received at high level in the country?

Further, is the Minister aware that almost simultaneously with the making of this declaration the states associated with the Warsaw Pact made an appeal to the states of NATO, To conclude a treaty on the mutual renunciation of the use of military forces' "? Will not these two appeals enable us to initiate a break-through, and will the Government take advantage of the conference on disarmament in Geneva, and of the Stockholm conference, to realise the hopes expressed in those appeals?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if the Soviet Union want to secure reductions in nuclear weapons, then all they have to do is return to the negotiating table in Geneva, which they left so abruptly. May I add, in regard to the earlier part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, that perhaps it would be a good first step on the part of the signatories concerned to try to ensure that those who have not yet signed the nonproliferation treaty do so. For example, India and Tanzania have not yet found it possible to sign the treaty, and in our view it would be extremely helpful if they could do so. As to the reception that will be given to the delegation to which the noble Lord referred, I can certainly give him an assurance that it will be received at an appropriate level.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister say whether there are yet any grounds for optimism that the talks which have been broken off as a result of the withdrawal of the Soviet Union will be resumed at an early date? Can he also say what follow-up action the Government propose to take in concert with our allies to try to resume those talks, following the expressions of hope at the London summit that they will be resumed?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, perhaps the best assistance that the Western powers can offer in that regard is to repeat the assurance that has been given publicly that they are willing to resume those talks without any pre-conditions whatsoever.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that while many people would agree with his point that signatures to the non-proliferation treaty should be appended on a universal basis, there are many others who take a rather different view of his attitude to this question? Does he not agree that during the past 20 years, while everybody has been talking about arms reduction, there has been occurring all the time an increase in nuclear armaments? Is he not aware that the view is widely held that there will be no reduction until there is a freeze? Is he not also aware that the sentiment in favour of a freeze as a preliminary to the possibility of arms reductions is gaining wide support throughout the world—in the United States and in the Soviet Union? Is it not time that the Government had a look at this question?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the trouble with a freeze is that it would perpetuate some important imbalances between East and West in favour of the Soviet Union. It would also remove the incentive for the Russians to return to the negotiating table in order to reach agreements on major reductions in nuclear armaments.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that a freeze on the deployment of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems would be inconsistent with the removal of nuclear bases from this country? Would he also agree that there is now no check whatever on the arms race, no talks on nuclear weapons, and no progress on conventional weapons? May I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he will discuss with the NATO allies the concept of a freeze on these weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the views of our allies in this matter are very close to those of ourselves. A freeze, as I say, would perpetuate some important imbalances between East and West. That is the reason we cannot accept that proposal; but we are ready to return to the negotiating table, and it remains only for the Soviet Union to signify their willingness, too.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister said in reply to me that the Soviet Union can renew talks and that its failure to do so is the reason for deadlock. Would not the noble Lord the Minister agree that the situation is so serious that despite that we must seek every opportunity to look for a solution to the problem of nuclear weapons? Do not the conferences on disarmament in Geneva and Stockholm give the Government an opportunity to do that?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall certainly play our role in the talks to which the noble Lord has referred, which are of course continuing. It certainly would be helpful, in our view, for the Soviet Union to return to the negotiating table for the INF discussions which they broke off and, indeed, for the START talks, too.