HL Deb 11 March 1985 vol 461 cc1-3
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 in their consultations with the United States Government on the content of the interrelated disarmament negotiations to be carried on in Geneva, they will ensure that all Soviet nuclear weapons capable of causing "strategic" damage to the United Kingdom (such as certain sea-launched missiles able to deliver multi-hundred kilo-ton warheads, including Shaddock) will be included in the negotiations.

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

My Lords, the Allies were clear and unanimous in 1979 that the longer-range land-based Soviet missiles such as the SS20 were the part of Soviet INF which posed the, most serious and immediate threat to NATO". We believe that the most effective approach to INF arms control involves a step-by-step process. But we do not ignore the threat from other systems in the Soviet arsenal. We remain in close contact with our allies on these issues, especially through NATO's Special Consultative Group.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the Written Answer given by his colleague, Mr. Luce, in the House of Commons on 20th February of this year at col. 467, in which he stated: We welcome United States and Soviet agreement to begin negotiations in Geneva on 12th March on the whole range of space and nuclear arms"? I emphasise the phrase, the whole range of … nuclear arms". Can the noble Lord tell the House which is right? Will the negotiations be about the whole range of nuclear arms or, as he has just indicated, only a part of the range of nuclear arms? Also, for what reason has Shaddock been left out of all arms control negotiations during the last 15 years?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as always, both my honourable friend and I are right. The question of Shaddock which the noble Lord raises ought to be considered in the context that it is very much an obsolescent system and probably would not justify a place on its own in the negotiations. Certainly we do not dismiss the idea of talks covering the whole range of nuclear weapons generally, but in terms of reaching agreement in arms control matters we very much prefer the step-by-step approach. No other has proved to have any kind of potential for success so far.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that all these step-by-step discussions over the past 10 years have resulted in one thing—an ever-increasing number of nuclear weapons that can now wipe out all mankind? Is he not further aware that people of all political persuasions with a deep interest in this subject think it is about time that Great Britain and her European colleagues should tell the Americans, just as they should tell the Russians, that we can no longer stand by and watch the scene being dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union and that the voice of Britain and her European colleagues should also be heard, so as at least to stop the present accumulation of nuclear arms and sincerely work out a method whereby they can be reduced?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am bound to share the noble Lord's disappointment about the progress of disarmament discussions generally in years past, but I doubt whether progress would have been any better with one country or another hectoring the superpowers from the wings.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that whether one takes this stage by stage or attempts an all-over approach, the essential point is that at the end of the day the all-over approach shall win? In other words, would he not agree that one wants in the end to get a reduction in, if not the elimination of, all nuclear weapons? If that is the object of the exercise, will the Western countries go into the negotiations in perhaps a more flexible frame of mind than is indicated by the use of the term "the allies", indicating the Western nations, with its obvious concomitant that the other side is the enemy?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the problem is that we have to face these talks from the point of view of reality, from the world as it is rather than the world as we would wish it to be. I should certainly like to see a world where nuclear weapons are substantially reduced, and even eliminated, but I would countenance that happening only in a balanced and verifiable way and not in a way which exposed us to greater danger rather than less danger.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, as has been reported in the last hour or so, the talks planned to start tomorrow will go ahead as arranged, despite the regrettable death of Mr. Chernenko? Also, may we join Her Majesty's Government in expressions of sympathy to the Soviet Union and to Mr. Chernenko's family?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I understand—and I must confess that my information on this matter is no more up to date than is that of the noble Lord—that the talks are to go ahead tomorrow. I sought to inform myself on this matter a few minutes before I came to the House and I was given the same information as the noble Lord has. I, too, share his regret at the death of President Chernenko.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm to the House that Shaddock is a thermonuclear delivery means with a capacity of some hundreds of kilo-tons, that there is no defence against it, and that it is capable of hitting this country? I ask again: will he explain why it is less desirable to negotiate away that weapons system than to negotiate away other weapons systems?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the answer to the last part of the noble Lord's question is that the system is negotiating itself away. It is obsolescent and not likely to remain in service for much longer.

Back to