HL Deb 02 March 1987 vol 485 cc436-8

2.45 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 they will use their good offices to persuade the two super powers to abide by the terms of the SALT II Treaty.

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

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister confirmed on 18th November 1986 our repeatedly stated view that the terms of the SALT agreements continue to be observed by both sides.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does she not agree that the dramatic statement made in the past 24 hours by Mr. Gorbachev, which was preceded by his ideas at Reykjavik and later at Geneva, seems to indicate that there is a very good possibility of mankind now taking a step towards trying to outlaw nuclear war by beginning to control nuclear weapons? Is this not an ideal opportunity for the British Government to make their contribution thereto?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government welcome the statement by Mr. Gorbachev for three reasons: first, it accepts the alliance's idea of the zero option; secondly, the Soviet leadership appears to have broken the link between INF and SDI; and, thirdly, it makes no reference to the independent nuclear deterrents of both the United Kingdom and France. We shall of course want to look carefully at the fine print in Mr. Gorbachev's statement.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, as one who believes in an independent nuclear deterrent being held in Britain, may I say that we welcome very much what the noble Baroness has just said about Britain being pleased with the remarks of Mr. Gorbachev? Is there not an opportunity for the Prime Minister on her visit to Moscow to make certain that Britain takes a lead and finds out whether this man is really genuine?

Baroness Young

My Lords, although I cannot anticipate what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will say when she gets to Moscow, I have no doubt that arms control will form a part of her talks.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, after the recent setbacks in arms control, with the Americans breaching the SALT II Treaty and the Russians ending the moratorium, does the noble Baroness agree that the news this weekend is particularly welcome, that it should be warmly received not only in this House but throughout Western Europe and that it deserves a constructive and immediate response? Can she assure us that when the Prime Minister goes to Moscow she will put her support behind these proposals and not do what appeared to be the case after Reykjavik when she seemed to be opposed to such a development?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not in any sense accept the noble Lord's last remark about what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said after Reykjavik. I can only confirm what I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. I have no doubt that arms control talks and a follow up from this initiative will form part of the discussions that my right honourable friend will hold in Moscow.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, are the Government aware that we on these Benches share their hopes on Mr. Gorbachev's latest initiative and for the three reasons they gave? Does the noble Baroness agree that even if this is agreed by itself there is still a long way to go, in that this country could still be hit by Soviet strategic missiles, by Soviet strategic bombers and, unless we pay attention to it at the same time, perhaps by some of the longer of their so-called short-range nuclear missiles?

Baroness Young

My Lords, although I welcome the first part of the noble Lord's response to the supplementary answer that I gave earlier, we note with less satisfaction the continued Soviet harping on a nuclear-free world. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has often stated, our security will continue to rest on deterrence for the foreseeable future and this applies to nuclear weapons in Europe as much as elsewhere.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, do not the latter remarks of the noble Baroness cast a little doubt on her earlier welcome to Mr. Gorbachev's initiative? If as she said we are relying in all circumstances upon the nuclear weapon, our readiness to participate in and encourage negotiations for a reduction of nuclear weapons must surely be brought into doubt. Will she endeavour to remove that doubt, because until now there has been at least a welcome unanimity of hope throughout the House?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord should look carefully at Hansard to see what I said in reply to the supplementary question. I have spelt out what we have welcomed and do welcome. The third reason, of course, that the statement is welcome is that it makes no reference to the United Kingdom and French independent nuclear deterrent.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, does my noble friend's interpretation of what Mr. Gorbachev said include his willingness to discuss the tactical nuclear weapons that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned, where the balance currently, due to allied withdrawals in the past five years, is about eight or nine to one?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I indicated, we welcome the statement that has been made particularly because it accepts the idea of a zero option and has broken the link between INF and SDI. That is, of course, only one form of arms control. There are other fora in which we should also like to see progress.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is right that the intiative taken by Mr. Gorbachev to some degree reflects an initiative already taken by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister?

Baroness Young

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that following the meeting with President Reagan at Camp David last November three priorities were set up: cuts in INF; 50 per cent. cuts in the START programme and a complete ban on chemical weapons—all with effective verification. These were endorsed in December by NATO Ministers. Indeed, if it were possible to agree on such priorities it would be an historic achievement. We welcome the present proposals because they refer to one section of the matters which were agreed at Camp David.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Prime Minister would not have agreed in November last to go to Moscow to talk with Mr. Gorbachev if she had not thought that something useful may come of it? Further, does she agree that the announcement over the weekend fits in admirably with the Prime Minister's decision? There is a hope, notwithstanding the confusion in the United States, that the United States may be able to contribute to overcoming the confusion and that we can make a big step forward towards sanity on this earth.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not absolutely sure of the question that the noble Lord has in mind, but it may be helpful for him to know that we expect the United States to explore in detail the implications of Mr. Gorbachev's statement during the remaining days of the current round of the Geneva nuclear and space talks which are due to end on 4th March. We shall be doing the same in our contacts with the Russians, leading to my right honourale friend's visit later this month.