HL Deb 03 February 1992 vol 535 cc20-6

3.41 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about President Yeltsin's visit to London on 30th January and about the special meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on 31st January. I was accompanied to New York by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

"Both meetings came at an important time in Russia's relationship with the rest of the world and at a critical time for world peace and stability. Russia has, in President Yeltsin's own words, thrown off the shackles of communism. She remains a nuclear superpower. As such, and as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, she has world responsibilities. It is essential for our own peace and security that Russia continues to play the positive role on which President Gorbachev embarked and which President Yeltsin is set to continue and to develop. I believe we should offer them our support in this.

"I called the meeting in New York during our chairmanship of the Security Council so that the council could meet at the highest level to reaffirm and develop its commitment to peacekeeping and peacemaking. The timing was particularly apt following the appointment of a new Secretary-General and with Russia taking the seat in the Security Council formerly held by the Soviet Union. The meeting was successful.

"I would like to highlight the key points. This was the first time in the 47 years of its history that the UN had met at the top level. For the first time ever the Heads of State and Government of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain sat together round the same table and pledged themselves, with the other members of the council, to collective security, to international law and to our commitments under the United Nations Charter.

"A statement was agreed by all the members of the Security Council. Copies are in the Library of the House. In it we reaffirmed that all disputes between states should be resolved peacefully in accordance with the provisions of the charter. We committed ourselves to the fight against terrorism. We asked the Secretary-General to make recommendations for a more effective role for the United Nations as peacekeeper and peacemaker. Under Article 99 of the charter, the Secretary-General may bring to the notice of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. We hope the new Secretary-General will use those powers. He will report to us within six months with his recommendations. We committed ourselves to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and to conclude a chemical weapons convention this year. The council endorsed the idea put forward by the British Government and recently endorsed by the General Assembly of a UN register of conventional arms transfers.

"During his visit to London President Yeltsin noted that Britain had been: the first country to denounce the August coup; the first to recognise Russia; the first to propose Russian membership of the IMF; the first to propose an April deadline for that membership; and the first to support a stabilisation fund for the rouble.

"It is essential that Russia joins the IMF at the earliest opportunity and I believe a stablisation fund may need to follow if Russia is to have a prospect of establishing a successful market economy. There is of course a financial cost in all this. But the cost of failure and a return to dictatorship and the cold war would be infinitely higher. It is in our national interest and in the interests of the West as a whole to help Russia and we shall continue to take a lead in doing so. I undertook to make it one of the priorities of our presidency of the EC later this year to carry through an improved trade and co-operation agreement with Russia.

"In our discussion of arms control issues, President Yeltsin committed Russia to further significant reductions in the Russian strategic and international arsenal. I told him that we had already committed ourselves to a cut of a half in our sub-strategic nuclear weapons and to smaller conventional forces. I told him also that Britain's only strategic weapon would be the minimum deterrent constituted by Trident. President Yeltsin accepted that Trident was indeed a minimum deterrent and that the focus of arms control negotiations should be on the arsenal of the two superpowers.

"We agreed to co-operate in handling surplus Soviet weapons and safeguarding nuclear materials. I offered to send a technical mission to Moscow to assess the immediate needs at first hand. I have also offered to send a small number of officials from our Ministry of Defence to the Russian Ministry of Defence to advise on the restructuring and control and financing of armed forces in a democratic society. We discussed the problem of the possible leakage of expertise from Russia in the field of weapons of mass destruction. President Yeltsin has made proposals for handling this problem and we have offered to help as part of an international effort.

"The President and I agreed to establish a secure telephone link between our two offices. This is not meant as a crisis hot-line. It will enable us to conduct the significant amount of business we have to undertake.

"We signed a joint declaration (the text of which is in the Library of the House) on relations between our two countries. It will form the basis of a treaty which the President and I hope to sign during the official visit to Britain which he will make later this year. It will be the first such treaty since 1766.

"This is a time of great hope in international affairs but also of uncertainty and potential instability. The two meetings on which I have reported to the House have shown our determination to work for a safer world and a new partnership with Russia in the cause of peace".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.49 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. We support the general objectives mentioned in the last paragraph of the Statement and agreed on by the Heads of State in the meeting of the Security Council in New York. The Statement covers an area which we shall be debating in full on Wednesday. I shall therefore be brief.

First, can the noble Lord say whether there is likely to be any change in the permanent membership of the Security Council in the immediate future? Germany and Japan are strong candidates. Can he also say what is Her Majesty's Government's reaction to that? It is understood that in New York Japan pressed hard for a seat on the Security Council. It has a case because Japan contributes more to the United Nations budget than Britain and France together.

The implications of Japan being given a permanent seat are considerable. Perhaps the noble Lord would be kind enough to give the Government's view on that. Secondly, if there is any truth in the reports which appeared in the newspapers on Saturday and over the weekend, can he say whether there was disagreement between President Bush and Mr. John Major on the scale and nature of aid to Russia and the other republics and, if so, what was decided?

Thirdly, the Statement refers to Article 99 of the charter. Can the noble Lord say whether the Government supported the suggestion that more use could be made of Article 43 of the charter, which would result in more effective and timely intervention by a United Nations force to prevent developments which later on might lead to war?

Finally, the issues of a stabilisation fund and of nuclear arms and materials are of the very first importance. We shall go into those problems in detail on Wednesday and shall deal with them fully at that time.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, like the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I too shall be brief in my response to the Statement made by the Leader of the House, for which I am grateful. We shall be debating these matters at greater length later this week and therefore I do not propose to dwell on them now.

I have already raised the question of membership of the Security Council and I shall be interested to know what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has to say about that. I should like to associate those on our Benches with the Prime Minister in his proposal for a UN register on the transfer of conventional arms; also for proposing Russian membership of the IMF; and for supporting a stabilisation fund for the rouble. However, we should like to know what progress the Prime Minister made in achieving those ends. It is one thing to propose; it is another thing to achieve. We should like to know what support he received from other members of the Security Council and what likelihood there is that the deadline of April, which he put forward, will be accepted.

Much of the rest of his Statement seemed to be a series of aspirations rather than achievements. I wholly agree that we hope that the Secretary-General will find ways of giving the United Nations a more effective role. One way in which that could be achieved would be that if those who owe money to the United Nations paid it. Did the Prime Minister persuade the United States and other countries to pay their subscriptions? How can the Secretary-General find a more effective role for the United Nations and how can he engage in preventive diplomacy and further peace-keeping operations if the United Nations is permanently short of money? Had the Prime Minister achieved that at his summit meeting, that would be an achievement worth all these pious hopes and self-congratulation, which I am afraid it is not unduly simple of me to think is an election ploy.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, and Lord Bonham-Carter, asked about the future of the Security Council. Reform of the council would entail reform of the charter. It would be an extraordinarily difficult, lengthy and possibly divisive process, probably a diversion from much of the work which all of us want to see the United Nations carry out. Almost certainly any proposal that Japan and Germany should become members of the Security Council would lead to demands from other countries that they also should be granted permanent membership. One has to bear in mind that the larger the Security Council, the more unwieldy it would become and the less likely that it would be able to take part in all the new initiatives in which we would wish it to take part.

So far as concerns the scale of aid to Russia, we have already made clear our willingness to make a very significant contribution and would wish to see others do likewise. The aid which is already pledged is by no means insignificant.

Article 43 of the UN charter provides for the conclusion of agreements between the Security Council and member states on the provision of armed forces for enforcement action under Chapter 7 of the charter. Such agreements have never been implemented. We do not think it realistic to expect those agreements to be implemented now, or for the council's military staff committee to take strategic direction of armed forces enforcing the council's authority. Experience in the Gulf surely shows that it is more efficient and effective if responsibility is left with national or coalition command and control arrangements. That in no way detracts from the UN authority for the operation.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also asked about the stabilisation fund. That is one of a number of suggestions and initiatives put forward by the British Government and reinforces our commitment to do all we possibly can to help Russia and to ensure its stability.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred to the UN register of arms transfers which was agreed to by the UN Assembly in December. That was following up a British initiative—a suggestion made by the Prime Minister, and we have every reason to be pleased about that.

The noble Lord said that there were many aspirations but not many achievements. That is an unfortunate description of what happened. The very fact that this meeting took place at all is a splendid illustration of the great and important changes which have recently come about in the world. It would have been quite unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago for all the heads of government of the various members of the UN Security Council to sit down together. That is what they are now doing. They are sitting down together with Russia, legally the continuing state of the former Soviet Union; they have given a remit to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to come back in six months' time with suggestions as to ways in which the UN can play an even more significant role in world affairs. Obviously that is not a matter for self-congratulation, and I do not think that the Prime Minister was indulging in that for one moment. But it is certainly significant that for the first time the heads of government should be sitting down together and asking themselves and the Secretary-General what can be done now to give a new impulse to the work of the United Nations. The fact that that is happening is something for which we all ought to be very thankful.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend expand a little on what was said about the disposal of nuclear equipment and arms by the Soviet Union? What assurances have been given that that very important and dangerous material would not be transferred to Middle Eastern and other difficult countries? Has an undertaking been given as to its disposal? Perhaps I may add how proud many of us feel about the way our Prime Minister conducted these proceedings.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his final remarks. There can be no doubt that this was a most worthwhile initiative. President Yeltsin, I understand, made absolutely plain to the Prime Minister his determination to do all he can to see that there is safe disposal of the nuclear weapons which are now to be taken out of commission. He is going to do all he can to ensure that those former Soviet scientists who had worked on weaponry have something profitable to do instead. The Prime Minister offered President Yeltsin help in the safe disposal of those nuclear weapons. In furtherance of that, a mission is likely to travel to Moscow in the middle of this month to see what assistance can he given. Discussion took place as to how we can help Russia to use the talents of its nuclear scientists for peaceful purposes.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, in his meetings with the Prime Minister and with the President of the United States, did not Mr. Yeltsin raise the possibility of developing a joint strategic defence initiative shield against nuclear attack? What replies did he receive? Referring to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was the Prime Minister satisfied that on nuclear weapons proliferation Mr. Yeltsin was confident that all nuclear weaponry in the Commonwealth of Independent States was now under central control? Finally, apart from vague proposals in the pipeline it appears that no financial assistance was given at all. As no aid was offered at this meeting or at the meeting with President Bush, what did Mr. Yeltsin take back to Russia?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, we reaffirmed our commitment to aid for Russia. There is the medical aid that we have pledged. There is the aid in the form of feedstocks that we have pledged to the city of St. Petersburg. We made it plain that we would support entirely the EC initiative to give aid to Russia. We have already pledged ourselves to the know-how fund. In those circumstances, I think that President Yeltsin must have gone away well satisfied that we were going to play our part in providing necessary aid for Russia, and well satisfied when we also said that we supported up to the hilt Russian membership of the IMF. We reaffirmed our willingness to encourage international support for further financial assistance and, if necessary, for a stabilisation fund.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it must be right to congratulate the Prime Minister on what he has done. The most important thing we can possibly do is to ensure that the rouble is a proper currency. I remind my noble friend that the Russian Revolution in this century and the French Revolution in the 18th century were caused by the collapse of monetary policy. Under the Tsar there was food in St. Petersburg in 1917 but there was no useful money to pay for it. Unless the Russians get their money right there will be no market economy and nothing but chaos and misery. Has the American presidency, which appears to be shillyshallying on the stabilisation fund, taken this vitally important point on board?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend said. As we recognise these imperatives we stressed our willingness to encourage international support for further financial assistance and, if necessary, for a stabilisation fund. One of our priorities when we have the presidency of the EC in the second half of this year will be to propose an improved trade and co-operation agreement with Russia.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, according to the Statement the Prime Minister informed Mr. Yeltsin that we had halved our sub-strategic nuclear fire-power. Does that calculation include the big new sub-strategic system to which the Government have surprisingly committed themselves?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I think that that is so but I shall write to the noble Lord on that point.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Lord has apparently studiously ignored the crucial question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. It is all very well to utter pious hopes that the Secretary-General will make a stronger United Nations presence felt in the world, but what about the money? What the noble Lord has not answered is whether the Prime Minister, as chairman of the Security Council on this occasion, has done anything to bring pressure to bear on those who are in debt to the United Nations, in particular the United States, in order to make it possible for the new Secretary-General to carry out his duties.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, we need no reminding of the financial difficulties facing the United Nations at the present time. Our own record of prompt and full payment of our dues is second to none. I can only tell the noble Lord that we shall continue to urge other member states to do likewise.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, the list of very desirable projects which my noble friend put forward included animal feedstocks. Does he agree that one of the greatest shortcomings and tragedies for the Soviet people over the decades has been the almost complete failure of their agriculture, which has been largely due to the pernicious system of collectives? Within perestroika they have made little progress in that respect —much less progress than the Chinese have made in reorganising their agriculture. Does my noble friend not agree that one of the greatest contributions—in a way an altruistic contribution—the European Community and Britain could make is to help the Russians and the Soviet people to produce enough food, to distribute it properly and thereby create for themselves a higher standard of living?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right. I am sure that we can do a great deal in the way of advice to help Russia in that regard. We can also help practically. My noble friend mentioned at the beginning of his remarks what we are already doing in regard to feed grain.