HL Deb 13 November 1985 vol 468 cc261-3
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 what is their reaction to the Russian proposal to reduce nuclear weapons by 50 per cent. and to approve the details of verification of implementation.

The Minister of State for Defence Support (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we welcome the fact that the Soviet Union has now come up with specific, if onesided, proposals at Geneva. The latest US proposals build both on American proposals which have been on the table since 1983 and on the positive elements in the Soviet counter-proposals. These include the concept of 50 per cent. reductions in each side's forces. Verifiability is fundamental to the implementation of arms control agreements, and adequate provisions will therefore need to be agreed in the course of the Geneva arms control negotiations.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that very full reply. However, does he not agree that to make it a reality there will need to be a strengthening of the anti-ballistic missiles treaty; that some of the questionable Soviet activities will have to be stopped: and that some of the novel interpretations of that treaty emanating from Washington must cease? If those matters could be achieved they could make a reality of SALT I, and then perhaps lead to an approval of SALT II.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the United States has of course made it clear that it intends to follow the provisions of the ABM treaty. We hope that the Soviet Union will do likewise.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, since the major powers without doubt each have enough to make the world uninhabitable two times over, what is the advantage of halving the number?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I believe that there is a serious side to this matter. I agree with the noble Lord that the arsenals of the super powers far exceed whatever may be needed for defensive purposes, but clearly what is proposed would be a major first step.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in a speech which the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary made in the other place on Friday he said that some talks are to take place between him and Mr. Shevardnadze. Will the noble Lord indicate what will be the scope of those talks and when they are likely to take place?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I cannot say when those talks are to take place. However, we have of course made clear on many occasions our position about talks with the Soviet Union, most particularly in connection with our own forces which are not at this stage negotiable.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, since the noble Lord rightly concedes that both powers already have far more of these missiles than they can possibly need either for deterrence or for mutual destruction, will he also agree that if they cannot agree to halve the number of missiles it would be utterly deplorable?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that depends upon what would cause the negotiations to break down. In my view, it is premature to be quite so gloomy as the noble Lord seems to be, but nonetheless I think that the noble Lord would be right not to be too optimistic at this stage.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will not the noble Lord the Minister agree that, while it is certainly within the capability of the Soviet Union and the United States of America completely to wipe out all mankind, it is therefore incumbent upon any Government to try to initiate a reduction of these terrific weapons? Could it not be Britain's role—particularly with Geneva in the offing—to eliminate suspicion and mistrust among the super powers and perhaps help to create a climate of realism within Geneva so that what is being proposed, what is being debated, could ultimately lead to a commencement of the reduction of these horrendous weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it must clearly be right that the talks which are now to take place between the Soviet Union and the United States, and which indeed are already under way in Geneva on these matters, should be between the super powers themselves, who are of course the possessors of the two arsenals to which the noble Lord refers. The position of the United Kingdom in these matters must remain peripheral to the main discussions which are taking place, but naturally, as always, we stand ready to help where we can.

Lord Somers

My Lords, is it not true that it is not merely a question of mutual suspicion between the two powers, because the situation is due partly to the rather well-known Soviet desire for world domination?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly says, that is a feature of the philosophy of the Soviet Union, but I believe that it is becoming more and more obsolete.

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