HL Deb 08 March 1984 vol 449 cc361-4

3.14 p.m.

Lord Kennet

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 consider that it would be useful for cruise missiles (such as the Soviet sea-launched Shaddock and SSNX-21 as well as United States ground, ship and air-launched cruise missiles) to be included in START, or in INF, or in merged arms reduction talks; if so in which, and if not, why not.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, long-range nuclear-armed ground-launched cruise missiles were appropriately dealt with in the INF talks and following the SALT precedent long-range nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles on strategic heavy bombers were under discussion in START, until the Russians discontinued both negotiations in Geneva. Long-range nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles have not yet been clearly classified for the purpose of arms control negotiations; they are regarded by the United States, and it seems also by the Soviet Union, as strategic weapons.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, do not the Government agree that whether or not a nuclear delivery system has been classified as this, that or the other, is not of great interest to the peoples of the world? What is of interest is that their reduction and elimination should be negotiated about. What is the justification for leaving this category of nuclear delivery system out of all negotiations in the past and, as far as we know, in the future?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the United States Administration has stated its readiness to consider all strategic nuclear weapons in the START talks. It now only remains for the Russians to return to the table.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, since the Stockholm conference there have been sporadic reports that the INF and START talks might be reconvened. There have been recent reports that the Russians might be prepared to attend the START talks as early as April. Can the noble Lords say whether the Government have any expectation that the talks might be reconvened? Indeed, are the Government pressing for the resumption of the talks?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we certainly hope that the START talks can be reconvened. The Soviet Union has not yet said it is willing to do that, but we hope it is and urge it to do so.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, in view of the warmer climate in international affairs now and the fact that there are three conferences meeting at the present time dealing with disarmament, cannot the Government take the initiative to raise proposals at these conferences, particularly in view of Soviet suggestions, for ending nuclear weapons in Europe?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that it is as easy as the noble Lord suggests. We are, of course, willing to play our part in the various discussions to which the noble Lord has referred. However, it must be recognised that the main forum for discussions of this kind must be a forum involving, above all, the two super powers.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, as we have for many years now learned to live with a mutual level of total destruction, what is there left to talk about?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, not for the first time I do not entirely follow the drift of the noble Lord's supplementary question. However, I would like to see a reduction in the level of nuclear weapons across the world provided that that can be achieved in a balanced and verifiable manner.

Lord Renton

My Lords, does my noble friend recollect what my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel said in our debate on 29th February about the importance of verification of agreements on disarmament, and so on, and the Russian reluctance ever to agree to any verification of any kind so far? Can my noble friend the Minister do his utmost to ensure that this point is brought home to the Russians as a test of their sincerity?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right that verification has often proved to be the stumbling block in these negotiations. That is why we made important new verification proposals at the current talks in Geneva in connection with chemical weapons.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that verification of the cruise missile is particulary difficult and that it is, therefore, particularly necessary to bring this type of missile under some form of agreed control? What proposals does the noble Lord have for bringing the cruise missile under generally agreed and verifiable control?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if the noble Lord is referring to sea-launched cruise missiles—as perhaps he is, and which are the subject of this Question—I agree that they are somewhat difficult to verify. That is why we must get round the table and talk about it. We are ready to do that at the START talks.

Lord Carver

My Lords, arising from the last supplementary question, may I ask whether the noble Lord has taken note of a recent report by the British Atlantic Committee, which was approved by an ex-Chief of the Defence Staff—not myself—an ex-permanent under-secretary of the Ministry of Defence and an ex-chief scientist of the Ministry of Defence, which draws attention to the very serious matter that it is at the moment quite impossible to distinguish between a cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead and a cruise missile carrying a conventional warhead?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is of course quite correct that there is a difficulty of that kind. There are other difficulties, too. However, I believe that these difficulties ought to be capable of solution, but we must get round the table to talk about the matter.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the House be correct to infer from the series of answers given by the noble Lord to supplementary questions that his answer to the original Question is, yes, in the Government's view it would be useful if these missiles were considered in disarmament negotiations instead of being ignored?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Answer was as I gave it.