HL Deb 03 March 1987 vol 485 cc513-5
Lord Kennet

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, in the light of the Foreign Secretary's speech on 27th January to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in which he referred to the strategic and political implications of the strategic defence initiative, they will now initiate an open discussion of these implications, lest "research may acquire an unstoppable momentum of its own" and "political decisions are …. pre-empted by the march of technology". (Speech by Sir Geoffrey Howe, 15th March 1985).

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

My Lords, the debate on the implications of SDI has already been in progress for a considerable period, not least in this House.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Baroness's department take care that the Ministry of Defence does not conclude the debate prematurely in the wrong direction? Did the Government notice in The Times last week an interview with Dr. Stanley Orman, director-general of the SDI Participation Office in the Ministry of Defence? The report concluded—

Noble Lords


Lord Kennet

Yes, I am quoting something which is germane to the Question. It concluded, the work now under way is not going to be abandoned just because of political sensitivities over the 'correct interpretation' of the ABM treaty". That is the evidence which lies behind my Question, and I hope the House will agree that I was right to quote it.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am happy to assure the noble Lord that the debate which my right honourable and learned friend foreshadowed two years ago and which the noble Lord mentioned in his Question has been in progress since that time and is continuing and that political decisions have not been pre-empted by the march of technology. The political parameters were set out at Camp David in December 1984.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, do the noble Baroness and her right honourable and learned friend accept the narrow or the broad interpretation of the ABM treaty on SDI? It would be very interesting to know that. To what extent does she think the situation has been changed by Mr. Gorbachev's recent initiative?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government do not interpret the ABM treaty and have never done so. We welcomed the conduct of the SDI research programme within the restricted interpretation. The United States is consulting its allies on the implications of a move to a broad interpretation which it as signatory to the treaty believes is fully justified. We hope that the two signatories will discuss any difficulties through the established mechanisms.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, will the Government at least agree that any proposals in connection with SDI for nuclear tests in space would, in the absence of agreement with the Russians, be a clear violation of the ABM treaty of 1972?

Baroness Young

My Lords, that is a hypothetical question which I cannot answer.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, now that Mr. Gorbachev has belatedly conceded that the strategic defence initiative does not stand in the way of future arms control negotiations, does the noble Baroness agree that it might be as well for us to accept it too and concentrate on the business of achieving serious arms control agreements?

Baroness Young :.

Yes, my Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. What we should all like to see is serious negotiation on lower levels of arms.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would it not be a considerable contribution to achieving satisfactory arms control if the Americans were to decide to help the proceedings by accepting the rather strict interpretation of the ABM treaty which the noble Baroness and the Government accept? Then perhaps we could have a little more harmony in the West.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I made the Government's position quite plain and I indicated what view we take.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell us precisely what is the Government's attitude towards SDI? There appear to be a number of interpretations. The British Foreign Secretary has advised caution with prudence. Is that the official policy?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government's position on SDI is that we are supporting the research programme.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Baroness think again before endorsing the mistaken belief of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that Mr. Gorbachev has said that SDI is not relevant to meaningful progress on arms control, given that he said only that it is not relevant to meaningful progress on INF negotiations, which is not a large part of arms control?

Baroness Young

My Lords, if the noble Lord looks to see what I said in answer to a Question yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, I am quite sure that he will know exactly what the Government's position is on what Mr. Gorbachev said two days ago.

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