HL Deb 21 January 1986 vol 470 cc107-9
Lord Orr-Ewing

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 assessment they have made of the extent of Soviet research and development into ballistic missile defence.

The Minister of State for Defence Support (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we are clear that the Soviet Union is embarked upon a major programme of research in these areas. I would refer my noble friend to the paper on this subject which I placed in the Library of the House on 12th December in response to a Written Answer from my noble friend Lord Alexander of Tunis.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is it correct that in connection with that programme the Soviet Union is employing no fewer than 10,000 engineers on laser research and development? Do the Government have further plans to publicise that gigantic effort so that those still critical of the American counter-effort may be more firmly convinced that it is essential that the free world should continue with its R & D?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we believe that the Soviet Union has about 10,000 scientists and engineers, or perhaps more, working in the area to which my noble friend refers. In addition, a substantial number are working in related areas. If we are referring to the Soviet effort in that and related fields, I need only remind your Lordships that the only deployed anti-ballistic missile system in the world is around Moscow.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the United States agreed that the antiballistic missile system deployed around Moscow could remain there under SALT II so long as it was not extended? Is he further aware that, although there is considerable effort going on in that area on both sides of the Atlantic, it is the Soviet Union which wants to stop it and the United States which refuses to do so?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I may refer again to the system around Moscow, it is presently being modernised to include GALOSH missiles, which are nuclear tipped and designed to intercept targets outside the atmosphere—that is, in space.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is there not every reason to suppose that whatever experiments the Russians may now be conducting, they are just as unlikely to be able to establish a leak-proof, space-based ABM system by the end of the century as the Americans? Therefore, is it not possible that the present Russian experiments with lasers, phased array systems and so on, are just as likely to be connected with other spheres of defence as with the probably unrealisable SDI system?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not deny that the scientific hurdles that remain to be overcome before a leak-proof system (to use the noble Lord's words) can be achieved, whether in the Soviet Union or in the United States, are considerable. Nonetheless, I think that history leads us to suppose that sooner or later those hurdles will be overcome.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, is it not the propaganda purpose of the Soviet Government to propose the abolition of anything in which it happens to have a temporary lead?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid that the history of negotiations leads us to suppose that the Soviet Union seeks to find itself in a position of strength before embarking on such negotiations.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to safeguard the anti-ballistic missile treaty? Can he say whether the Government have evidence that the Soviet Union has violated that treaty?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there certainly is evidence to suggest that the Soviet Union has violated the treaty, although in some areas I recognise that there is room for more than one view.

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, can the Minister say what proportion of the amount which is devoted by the USSR of its defence spending to strategic defence goes to ABM and to anti-aircraft? According to CIA testimony given to the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees in June of last year, one-tenth of the total spent on defence goes to strategic defence; but I have seen analyses suggesting that far more than half the sum involved goes to anti-aircraft defence. Indeed, the record of the testimony, which I have read carefully, indicates that there is a blurring of distinction between ABM and anti-aircraft. I wonder whether we have our own views on that subject.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree that there are respectable views along the lines suggested by the noble Lord; but reliable information about Soviet defence expenditure in terms that we can compare with our own is hard to come by.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, will the Minister not agree that, in view of the amount of money that is being spent by the Soviet Union on research and development in this and other fields, he should have a word with his colleague the Secretary of State for Education and Science to spend more money in this country on research and development in all fields?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that this question directly arises from the one on the Order Paper. I can only say that whatever the sum of money being spent by the Soviet Union in these areas, the results in terms of hardware are very substantial.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that there is substantial evidence that the Soviet Union is busy on space-based anti-ballistic missile defence research, as it is entitled to be under the ABM treaty, and that it is quite irrelevant for him, with respect, to quote the Moscow system of GALOSH missiles, which are ground-based, are agreed entirely with the United States and have nothing at all to do with the SDI?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I never suggested that GALOSH missiles to which I referred were other than land-based. The fact remains that they have a role to intercept missiles outside the atmosphere.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, if so much is known of development on both sides in this important field, why are the facts not laid on the table in Geneva following the apparently improved relations between Mr. Gorbachev and President Reagan during their last meeting?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the discussions in Geneva (to which the United Kingdom is not directly a party) are conducted very correctly, and that the United States brings forward all the information of the kind to which I have been referring this afternoon. So far as the Western Alliance goes, we do more than bring it forward in the confidential discussions; we publish it. That is why I placed the document to which I have referred in the Library.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, with regard to whether or not treaties are being honoured, can my noble friend put in the Library a list of those treaties of the past 30 years which the Soviet Union has honoured? Will he include diversions from Helsinki and the circumvention of many others? Will my noble friend also take the opportunity to tell the House how the Government are getting on with negotiating the proposal that British scientists and we, here in the United Kingdom, should share at least part of the American SDI programme?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with regard to British participation in the SDI research programme, my noble friend will recall the Statement on this matter that I repeated just before Christmas. I understand that negotiations between companies and institutions leading to contracts are proceeding very well.

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