HL Deb 04 February 1985 vol 459 cc829-31

2.48 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 initiating a conference of member states of the European Community on world disarmament.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the Ten already consult regularly on arms control and disarmament matters and endeavour to concert positions for use in wider fora, such as the United Nations. There is therefore no need for a conference of the sort suggested by the noble Lord. We shall continue to work with our European Community partners for progress towards balanced and verifiable arms control and disarmament.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanatory Answer. However, is she aware that, while all that she has said is very commendable, there is a general feeling that all questions of disarmament are for Russians and Americans only? Would she not agree that there ought to be a specific lead given by the EEC, in which Britain could play a great role, to remind both Americans and Russians that we, too, are interested in disarmament and—who knows?—might be able to make very useful suggestions?

Baroness Young

My Lords, where the British Government have a part to play, they take part in all arms control negotiations. Those negotiations are not exclusively for the United States and the Soviet Union. Where it is a party to the negotiations, the United Kingdom plays a full part.

Lord Renton

My Lords, further to the answer which my noble friend has just given, is she aware that the European countries provide something like 90 per cent. of European conventional defence, but that even so they are heavily outnumbered by the Russian forces? Therefore, will my noble friend confirm that the original Answer that she gave applies as much to conventional disarmament as to nuclear disarmament?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. In the negotiations which are currently taking place on conventional disarmament in the MBFR talks, we are working to have balanced and verifiable reductions of conventional forces.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, as regards the numbers game, is the noble Baroness aware that it is only by excluding French and Spanish forces from the Western calculations that we have managed to persuade everyone that our forces are numerically inferior to Eastern European forces, and that playing the numbers game is really of no value? Would it not be of greater value if we could hear the Government's voice more clearly on these questions of peace and war? A large number of people are—

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that an increasing number of people take the view, which was enunciated by my noble friend Lord Molloy, that it is about time that Her Majesty's Government's voice was heard more clearly on this matter?

Baroness Young

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government's voice is heard very clearly on this extremely serious matter. As regards our East-West policy, we are seeking to increase the frequency and range of contact at all levels. This is the right way in which to build up over time a broader understanding and a new trust and confidence, which we believe will be a basis for achieving lasting progress and avoiding misunderstanding. As I have made plain, we are also taking part in arms control talks.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, more specifically, I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the Government are satisfied with the progress being made in the MBFR talks at Vienna and also in the important talks being held in Stockholm? Perhaps I may refer the noble Baroness to an authoritative report in, I think, last Friday's edition of the Financial Times, which no doubt she read, which states that the talks in Vienna are not going as well as the Government had hoped. I wonder whether the noble Baroness would care to comment on that?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the MBFR talks are continuing. We must, of course, have a starting point to make sensible decisions on the number of reductions that are required to reach the agreed goal of equal numbers on both sides. Of course, there are problems concerned with effective verification, which means that one must have an assurance that an agreement is being observed. However, these talks continue as, of course, do the talks in Stockholm, in which we are also engaged. At those latter talks we have, in fact, made proposals aimed at trying to identify, by greater transparency, the numbers of conventional forces that are deployed.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say why these European governments are not meeting to consider the important implications for Europe of the American strategic wars initiative?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as regards the SDI and as regards relations with the countries of Europe, we have had good consultations with the Americans. In fact, the United States did keep its allies informed, as was noted after the visit from Mr. Macfarlane on 9th January; and indeed we expect that to continue.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, have we not got this a little back to front? Is not NATO's problem that our European allies are far too disarmed already?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that that is just a specific question. I have made the point about both our interest and that of our NATO allies in achieving disarmament.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, will not the noble Baroness answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Mayhew?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have answered the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that much of what she has referred to has now, alas! become run-of-the-mill meetings which do not have any visible or real effect on the arguments of disarmament? In so far as this is a sensitive question, one has to be careful about how one words questions; no one wishes to embarrass the Government. I have always included the phrase "if they would consider". All I want is Europe to give a lead and to have the same important standing as America and Russia: perhaps our country and our Government should give the lead by establishing a specific conference, which would have the attention of and be listened to by the whole of the world.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, introduced a short debate on disarmament fewer than three weeks ago. We also had a short debate on the Strategic Defence Initiative last week. The Government's position on these matters has been made quite plain and, as I said to the noble Lord in the Answer to his original Question, we see no need of the suggestion that he has made.