HL Deb 23 April 1985 vol 462 cc1008-10

2.52 p.m.

Lord Molloy

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 will consider the possibility of a special EEC summit to examine the principles of nuclear weapon verification together with Europe's involvement with the Strategic Defence Initiative.

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

No, my Lords; these subjects are primarily for NATO, not for the Ten.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. In regard to summit conferences on thermonuclear weapons—and there are now enough of them to wipe out all mankind—would he not agree that after such summits nuclear weapons have increased? It would appear that the bugbear has always been a foolproof system of verification. If the NATO aspect could entrust itself to the European partners to concentrate on finding some form of verification acceptable to East and West, that may be the great breakthrough. May I also ask the Minister whether he can say what progress has been made in multilateral talks to prevent the arms race in space?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, perhaps I may answer first the noble Lord's second supplementary. I am pleased to be able to say that the 40-nation conference on disarmament in Geneva recently reached agreement to address the present position, including all relevant treaties, along the lines proposed by the Western delegations last year. The United Kingdom believes that these talks could usefully supplement, but not replace, the United States—Soviet talks on this subject, and we certainly plan to play a full part.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the report in The Times today of American pressure, apparently successful, to stop the European Foreign Ministers from issuing a statement after yesterday's discussions on the Strategic Defence Initiative? Is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that the European Governments have a right to reach and publish a joint view on defence matters affecting Europe?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course the European Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers can reach views on whatever subject they like. They are not subject to the kinds of pressures the noble Lord imagines, though naturally they take into account all the views that are relevant.

Lord Renton

My Lords, with regard to verification, do any of the NATO countries object to it, and is my noble friend aware that the countries of the Soviet bloc have always resisted it?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, on the contrary, I know of no NATO country which departs from the proposition that what we are seeking are balanced and verifiable measures of arms control.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, while the exact proposal in my noble friend's Question may not be acceptable to the noble Lord, does he not agree that in principle there is a widespread feeling in Europe that leaving these important questions, the consequences of which will be felt in Europe, to the two super powers is most unsatisfactory? Will he press the Government's voice in favour of a greater intervention by European Governments in this question?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is not totally left to the super powers, though naturally they have a prime interest in these matters. That is why I was happy to be able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, in answer to his earlier supplementary, of the progress that is being made in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister not agree that while the noble Lord's Question may perhaps be eccentric in suggesting that this should be a matter for an EEC summit, there was yesterday a joint meeting of all the Foreign Ministers and all the Defence Ministers of the Western European Union on this very subject? Can the noble Lord the Minister give the House any news of what happened yesterday, and, if he cannot, can he say when we may expect a statement?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to give the noble Lord the information for which he asks; but perhaps I may sound a warning note about the desirability of summits, whether attended by Prime Ministers or Presidents, or even Foreign Ministers or Defence Ministers, dealing with what are essentially technical matters. I believe that technical matters—and verification is most certainly one of them—are best dealt with by technical experts.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is it not a reasonable question to put as to what happened at this meeting of WEU Ministers? Ought we not to know? Is it something very secret?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I merely said to the noble Lord that I was not yet in a position to answer his question.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord the Minister that his reply in regard to the arms race in space is very encouraging? I feel certain that our Government have played an important part, on which they ought to be congratulated. Would the Minister be prepared perhaps to discuss with even the Foreign Secretary whether the European members of NATO, with the brains that they have at their disposal, could examine the possibility of finding some form of verification? That could then be a subject for discussion by all the big nations involved, and perhaps we could give a guarantee and therefore set mankind on the road to sanity.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course there is no question of excluding the European powers from the submission of ideas in this area. Indeed, in the United Kingdom we ourselves have taken a leading role in proposing measures of verification in the chemical weapons discussions.