HL Deb 27 November 1985 vol 468 cc895-6

2.42 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

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 indicate publicly that they favour a moratorium on nuclear testing by the two superpowers and will abandon further tests on Trident warheads if such a moratorium is reached.

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

My Lords, we remain committed to seeking balanced, effective and verifiable measures of disarmament. Our experience since the 1950s suggests that moratoria on nuclear testing do not meet those criteria.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Baroness not make herself aware—indeed, I am sure she is already aware—that the Soviet Union imposed a ban upon itself in August of last year? There has been no suggestion anywhere that that self-imposed ban has not been observed. Are the Government further aware that the ban will cease if it is not matched by the United States by the end of this year and that an opportunity to bring the nuclear arms race to an end may perhaps be lost for ever?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am aware of the ban, but the fact is that limited unilateral gestures are no substitute for long-term, durable agreements.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, can the noble Viscount the Leader of the House say whether there is any difference of substance between this Question and the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, the day before yesterday? What protection can the House be given against this duplicative and redundant type of Question?

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, the answer to the noble Earl's first question is that I do not know. My answer to his second question is that I shall certainly look into the matter.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Baroness would be able to give my noble friend an encouraging answer and say that we will follow the example of the Soviet Union and have a complete ban on tests until we want to do the next one.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, in what circumstances do the Government think it will ever be possible to have a ban on nuclear testing?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, would not expect an answer to a question such as that across the Floor of this House. He knows as well as I do that we are interested in making progress on arms control talks on this matter as well as on other matters. I have described in general terms the circumstances for which we are looking.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, do the noble Baroness and the Leader of the House not agree that my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney had a perfect right to put the Question that he did without interference, criticism or political bias from any other noble Lord in this House? That is one of the traditional functions of this House, and it is one of the privileges of being a Member of this House. Does the noble Baroness not agree?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, perhaps the question put by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is for me to answer. I believe that I gave a perfectly fair answer to the noble Earl who asked the question in the first instance. Of course I did not know that there was anything of the imputation which the noble Lord has suggested, nor do I seek to make one myself. I accept what the noble Lord says, but equally, if a noble Lord asks me to look into a question then it must be for me as Leader of the House so to do.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the subject of this Question is one of the most serious that this country has to face in the world today? In the circumstances, is it not the case that the vast majority of the people of this country desire a ban on nuclear testing and that the Government seem to be alone in their refusal even to consider the matter seriously at all?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have said enough to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for him to know quite well that I take this matter seriously; and so do the Government. There is no more serious question than that of making progress in arms control talks and with matters such as the subject of the Questions which the noble Lord has put down. I do not know what the evidence is for adducing that which the noble Lord asserted in the first part of his supplementary question. I agree with him that many people—possibly a majority of people in this country—hope to see progress made in arms control talks. However, it is important not only that we should recognise that those talks must take place but also that the results of them must be balanced and verifiable.