HL Deb 25 March 1987 vol 486 cc176-9

3.6 p.m.

Lord Brockway

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 proposals they plan to make to the third United Nations special session on disarmament.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the precise timing of the third United Nations special session on disarmament due to be held in 1988 will be decided by the General Assembly in the Autumn. It would be premature to predict what proposals we may put forward. Our overall approach will be positive and constructive.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recollect that four recommendations were made at the first special session? The first was the abolition of all nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The second—the phased abolition over the years of conventional weapons—led to the third: general and complete disarmament, except for internal security and contributions to the United Nations peacekeeping force. The fourth recommendation was the transference of military expenditure to development to end world poverty. In view of the negotiable offer which the Soviet Government have now made, do the Government think that the time is appropriate to return to those recommendations?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am aware of the conclusions of the first conference. It is too early to say what, if any, British initiatives may be appropriate at a possible third conference. The attitudes we may take, and the attitudes of those attending the special session, will be influenced by a variety of factors. Negotiations and discussions on arms control issues, bilateral and multilateral, are currently under way in a number of fora. The progress of those negotiations and the general state of East-West relations are bound to have an effect on the climate of the special session. It would therefore be futile to speculate at this stage on what specific proposals may be appropriate.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, will the Minister say who will represent the United Kingdom at that conference?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the date of the conference has yet to be determined by the next session of the United Nations in the autumn of this year. It is too soon to give the names of the United Kingdom representatives to a conference the date of which is not yet fixed.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, my understanding is that there is a deadline of lst April this year for the submission of topics to be discussed at the conference. Will the Minister confirm that? If that is the case, surely the Minister and her colleagues have in mind matters to submit. Will she tell us, for instance, whether there will be a submission on chemical warfare? If so, would she care to comment on the publicity to the effect that British universities and polytechnics are currently funded by the MoD to research biological and chemical warfare?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I hope I indicated when I answered the original Question from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, it is too soon to say what, if any, British initiatives may be appropriate. Clearly that will depend on a number of factors, including the international climate which may pertain in the run-up to any special session. I can confirm that the Government are approaching this event in a positive, forward-looking manner. The subject of his second supplementary is wide of the Question.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, would it not be better if matters of this kind relating to disarmament were held over until we see what Mr. Gorbachev meant following the visit of our own Prime Minister and discussions with President Reagan? Let us find out, my Lords, where we all stand. Then we can perhaps talk properly.

Baroness Young

My Lords, as is usual, the whole House has listened with appreciation to the common-sense point of view put by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that while much has been said on this subject throughout the period I and most other noble Lords have been in this House, it has been wonderful to see the way the noble Lord, Brockway, has made such tremendous efforts in this cause, although we may think sometimes that the thrust is not in totally the right direction? Will my noble friend agree that the efforts of the noble Lord have been most impressive?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Young

Yes, I agree with my noble friend. We all admire the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, even if we do not agree with his opinions. Speaking for myself, should I live to such an age as he, I hope that I have that amount of energy to put the causes in which I believe.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the Minister accept that her assurances that our submissions to this important conference will be both positive and constructive are extremely welcome? Can we have some assurance that we shall be made aware of these proposals so that they may be supported or criticised before submission to the conference?

Baroness Young

I can assure the noble Lord that our aim will be to ensure that the meeting focuses on measures which might make realistic and concrete contributions to the arms control and disarmament processes. I have no doubt that in the course of the run-up to the special session, should it take place, there will be opportunities to make the views of your Lordships known.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm what my noble friend Lord Graham suggested? Is the deadline for submission of topics 1st April? If so, is it not now very close to that time? Should not the Government be putting forward to this House and to another place the proposals that they intend to submit?

Can the noble Baroness say whether, in addition to the two topics that she mentioned in her first Answer, the British Government will put on the agenda the issue of transferring military expenditure to development aid—in other words, putting bread before bombs?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not aware that 1st April is the deadline. If I am incorrect in that information, I shall let the noble Lord, Lord Graham, know. However, the fact is that the United Nations General Assembly meeting last autumn recommended that this year's UNGA should identify a time during 1988 when the special session might be held. It is therefore by no means clear what that date would be. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, expects me to agree with his second statement.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, will the noble Baronesss agree that the use by this country of the nuclear option in a dispute with a non-nuclear power is quite unthinkable? If the answer to that is yes—which I am sure it is—what is the point of going for an independent nuclear option?

Baroness Young

My Lords, that is an interesting question but quite wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not aware that although successive British Governments have been totally frustrated at disarmament conferences at the UN, primarily because of the obstinate view of the Soviet Union, there is now a totally different atmosphere? Ought we not to recognise that? Instead of wanting absolute 100 per cent. proof of everything that Mr. Gorbachev is saying, ought we not to accept, in a generous manner, what he feels he can do to create a new atmosphere in order to make these sessions of the United Nations a reasonable success?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is anticipating the debate which will follow Questions today when that issue, and others I think, will arise and there will be an answer.