HL Deb 28 October 1985 vol 467 cc1379-82
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 it is correct that the present world nuclear firepower is 6,000 times greater than the total firepower in World War II and that since the Geneva talks started on 12th March the world's stockpile of nuclear wapons has increased by 100 times the total firepower of World War II and, if so, whether they will take steps to stop this increase.

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

My Lords, I cannot confirm the figures that the noble Lord has given.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the noble Baroness is nonetheless aware that the figures are true, or approximately true? Does she not agree that in this area the increase needs to be only approximate because it is so enormous that the quantity of firearms at the disposal of both super powers today is so great that the entire human race can be eliminated? Does the noble Baroness not agree that it is fundamentally necessary for the Government to take part in this process to halt further increase to ensure that the human race can be allowed to survive? Does the noble Baroness not agree that if the Geneva negotiations go through without any halt or any reduction in nuclear armaments, that would be a disaster from which the world might not recover?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the first point of the noble Lord's supplementary question, I cannot add anything further to my original Answer. On the second point, the Government's position with regard to the negotiations at Geneva is well known.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that these figures are to some extent without meaning in that no one has any way of calculating the firepower in World War II? Would it not be better to stick to the facts, which are that the Soviet Union has twice the megatonnage of the United States of America, if we are talking in terms of the firepower of nuclear weapons; and that since 1976 the Soviet Union has deployed twice as many weapon systems in the nuclear confrontation as has the United States? Is that not the main obstacle to the agreement which we hope to get at Geneva?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for his question. He is quite right in saying that what we are seeking to do is get balanced and verifiable reductions in arms.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that there is another view which might be taken of the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont? Does she not agree that inasmuch as it is constantly said that the Soviet Union has a massive monopoly in all these weapons, one may be entitled to ask what it is waiting for? The fundamental point is this. With the vast amount of thermonuclear weapons now spread over almost every part of the globe, if that lot goes off all the things that we, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and everyone in this Chamber cherish in terms of honour, peace and democracy will no longer exist because there will be no human beings left.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, will know the answer to his own question, because last week he put a question to me in rather similar terms and I answered it.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, surely my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney is being unusually moderate in asking for no further increase when we would all applaud steps to secure a major decrease. Will the noble Baroness accept that Her Majesty's Government's reservations in these matters stem largely from the problems of verification? A technology capable of creating the star wars programme and of detecting the details of the Soviet SS. 25 should be capable of developing effective verification methods.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not want to be drawn into the technical details of this matter, but I should like to assure the noble Lord and the whole House that the Government are as anxious as anyone to achieve arms reductions. However, it is a complex matter, and reductions must be both balanced and verifiable.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the constant reiteration of this Question in various forms by the noble Lord opposite is becoming somewhat wearisome to your Lordships' House?

Baroness Young

My Lords, this is an important matter, but I take the point that my noble friend makes that it is very difficult to add anything new to the Answers I have already given to earlier Questions.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is it not obvious that if we really want to stop an increase in the production of nuclear weapons we must arrange for all concerned to stop testing weapons; in other words, to indulge in what is called a nuclear freeze? That is the only logical way to stop it.

Baroness Young

My Lords, again, the Government's position on a nuclear freeze is well known and I have often given it in this House.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, on the very important point of verification which has been raised by the Front Bench opposite, what is needed is not only technology which can assess what the other side has—I do not doubt that the Americans have that—but that the other side shall accept that assessment so that we can have a mutually agreed system of verification on which both sides would then work for a reduction? That is the problem.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for his question.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, will the noble Baroness be kind enough to explain to the House how it is that she said she did not have the information to corroborate or otherwise the figures given by my noble friend Lord Jenkins, but apparently could accept figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I gave the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, the Answer that I cannot confirm the figures, which is quite true. I shall, of course, have to read carefully in Hansard what I said, but I think that when I read my remarks it will be found that I agreed with what my noble friend said because he was making a general point about arms in the world today.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that all these questions point to the absolute necessity of a successful political agreement in Geneva when President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev meet? Can the noble Baroness further confirm that Her Majesty's Government are taking a full part in the statistical preparation for all these meetings? It really is most confusing when questions on the details of arms are passed to and fro in this House. Can the noble Baroness give us an absolute guarantee that we are playing our proper part in these preparations, in view of the fact that we already possess nuclear weapons ourselves?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for asking that question. It gives me an opportunity to say, first, that we hope very much for a constructive outcome in the direct talks between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, and then that we are in consultation with our American allies both on the political and on the arms control side of these talks.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the total firepower all round is now so huge that its exact distribution between the two super powers is immaterial since each of them is in a position to destroy the other, and the rest of us, several times over? In these circumstances, will the noble Baroness do her best to encourage her colleagues in the Government to take a firm and active step at this time in the cause of peace?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not think that there is any disagreement in the House that we live in a very dangerous world. What the Government are trying to do in all our discussions, both with our American allies and with others, is to make progress in arms control talks where we are a party to them, and in the political dialogue.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I sense that the House feels that this Question has taken up sufficient time from today's Question Time.

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