HL Deb 27 March 1985 vol 461 cc1029-31

2.58 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 invitations have been received from the United States Government to join in the research programme of the Strategic Defence Initiative, or "star wars" system.

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

My Lords, the United States has confirmed as recently as yesterday that it wishes its allies to participate in the Strategic Defence Initiative research programme. We are therefore now considering what contribution we might be best placed to make.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord the Minister for his reply, may I ask him whether he can confirm that the Ministry of Defence officials at Luxembourg today have been reported as having already agreed to indulge in research if their advice is requested? Would this not seem to be in keeping with the enthusiastic support which the Prime Minister gave to President Reagan when she was recently in the United States, but totally at variance with the views of the British Foreign Secretary? Can the noble Lord indicate to us which is the correct course—that of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office or the Prime Minister's Office?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the British Government's position in this matter, whether it be my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary or my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary, is enshrined in the four points which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister enunciated following her recent meeting with President Reagan. I imagine that those points will be familiar to the noble Lord.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is widespread support in this country for the statement of the Foreign Secretary on the Strategic Defence Initiative, and would it not be quite inconsistent to take decisions about participating in the initiative before some of the very pertinent questions raised by the Foreign Secretary are answered?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the questions which my right honourable and learned friend was posing related to later aspects of this matter. We are at present considering the research phase of this programme and I certainly hope that British companies will be able to participate in that.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, in view of the interest shown on all sides of the House in our developing knowledge and technology and the latest systems, would it not be madness if we missed out on this programme?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it would certainly be madness not only from the point of view of our companies but also from the point of view of the considerable advances which are being made in this area by the Soviets.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, bearing in mind Her Majesty's Government's security record in this field, do they think it particularly likely that they will receive such an invitation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure I wholly grasp the purport of the noble Lord's question, but we certainly hope to make an important contribution to this programme.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, would my noble friend underline the fact that the response from this country and Western Europe has to be pretty rapid since this inquiry as to whether we would like to join in the research phase is to be replied to within 60 days? So it is extremely important that the opportunity should be grasped, and grasped quickly.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I quite agree with my noble friend. That is why I said that we are now considering what contribution we can make.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while it seems that any wish expressed by President Reagan is the Prime Minister's command, the Foreign Secretary does not seem quite so eager? Is it not the case that so far as the Foreign Secretary is concerned he has no desire to participate in the research part of the programme, let alone the further development? Will the noble Lord at least assure the House that there is no question of participating in development?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I invite the noble Lord to examine the actual words that my right honourable and learned friend used, rather than some reports of them.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is it not a fact that we are going to discuss this whole question on an Unstarred Question later in the day? Is it not rather a waste of time to do it twice over?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is hardly a matter for me.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the question whether it is still the case, as the Foreign Secretary said, that although we may be participating in research we have no intention of going any further?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and indeed the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary have made it clear, and this emerged too in the four points which were enunciated in Washington some weeks ago, that we are at this stage concerned only with research.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I wonder whether the House would agree that what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said is really right for this House. After all, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has had one Question and he is going to speak again tonight on the same subject. Is not that really quite enough for one day?

Lord Molloy

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Molloy

There have been fewer speakers on this side, and Hansard can prove it. Now sort that one out!