HL Deb 13 January 1992 vol 534 cc4-8

2.48 p.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the latest developments in what has been known as the Soviet Union.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Government have recognised as independent states eight former Soviet republics and are establishing full diplomatic relations with them. We consider Russia itself to be the continuation of the Soviet Union. We are intending to build up relations with these newly independent states in close consultation with our partners and allies with the aim of encouraging as orderly as possible a transition from central rule. We welcomed assurances given by the former republics on such key questions as control of nuclear weapons and human rights.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the volatile situation in the former Soviet Union calls for careful pragmatism in our response? Does he also accept that this is no time for insistence on dogmatic economic theory? Does he agree that more imaginative support should have been given to President Gorbachev last year? Will he explain to the House what effective measures are being taken to prevent the leakage of military nuclear technology, personnel, fuel and weapons into the adjacent Middle East, and what measures are being taken to safeguard the environment?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I agree that this is a time for pragmatism. I do not accept that our policy was wrong in respect of President Gorbachev. As regards arms, there is clearly a danger that disintegration of the former Soviet Union will lead to proliferation of weapons, weapons technology and materials and the movement of key scientists. Close Western co-ordination on recognition has taken place to help bring the republics to a responsible approach on those subjects. Given the unprecedented events which have taken place, Her Majesty's Government and the Western partners and allies are satisfied with the assurances given so far, but we need to keep up the pressure.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, the Minister has explained that the Security Council and Her Majesty's Government have decided to accept Russia as the natural successor to the Soviet Union. Does he consider that to be wise? The charter refers to the Soviet Union, which does not exist. In view of the uncertainty of the situation in what was the Soviet Union, about the new republics and even about Russia itself, does not the Minister think that it was a rash move to take a decision which pre-empts further debate? Will he also say why the Prime Minister has decided to preside at a special meeting of the Security Council before the end of this month?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I cannot answer the last question. It scarcely needs saying that the abrupt dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of last year presents daunting and unprecedented problems, and risks may exist. As regards the status of Russia, Russia is assuming the former Soviet seat among the five permanent members of the Security Council. We felt that that was necessary to avoid an intolerable international legal vacuum, especially for the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council is working well at present and we do not want to see its work disrupted by squabbling over the former Soviet seat.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, is there not some difficulty in trying to arrive at a reasonable and sensible solution in dealing with Russia at present? Is it not a fact that that country having been served by Communism for many years it will be very difficult for its rulers to settle down under a form of democracy and that therefore we have to give them every sympathy? Noble Lords may not be aware that it has been my privilege to listen, in my home, to broadcasts direct from the Soviet Union at various times and that there appears to be considerable difficulty in coming to what appears to us to be a sensible decision. Does the Minister agree that Russia needs our sympathy and understanding?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I cannot but agree with my noble friend. I hope that it will interest your Lordships to know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Alma-Ata, Kiev and Moscow at the end of next week and will use his discussions with the leadership in each capital to re-emphasise our anxieties on nuclear questions and to discuss a wide range of matters.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, does the Minister recall that on 11th December last he explained to the House that Mr. Appleyard would be leading a mission to the capitals of the recognised new independent states? Will he now inform the House what were the major anxieties which Mr. Appleyard reported back to Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, Mr. Appleyard had a very testing and energetic trip. As a result, a basis was found for recognition of the states and matters relating to the various assurances we needed leading up to recognition were discussed.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the Question refers to the latest developments in the Soviet Union and I am sure that the Minister will agree that there is a great deal of uncertainty about those developments. For example, can he say who the British nuclear deterrent is supposed to deter?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, in such a fast-moving situation it would not be wise to unscramble our nuclear deterrent this week in anticipation of a wholly different future state of affairs. Everything remains uncertain. I can see no reason for changing our policy on nuclear deterrence.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Lord define Her Majesty's Government policy towards extending diplomatic recognition to the new republics beyond Russia and the Ukraine? Given the very grave events developing in Moscow and beyond in the economic field and in the form of serious shortages this winter, will he say whether Her Majesty's Government have any proposals to make in this week's meeting of the European Community's Foreign Ministers?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, on 31st December we recognised the eight former Soviet republics as independent states. We did not recognise Russia as independent because we felt that there was no need to do so; Western governments are treating Russia as the continuation of the Soviet Union. Three republics were not recognised. Kirgizstan has transmitted its assurances to the EC presidency and those are still under consideration. We are still awaiting assurances from Tajikistan and expect them shortly. We have not recognised Georgia where the position is extremely confused following the overthrow of President Gamsakhurdia.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, perhaps I may revert to the question of nuclear weapons. According to the information I have received the Russians are having difficulty, strange though it may seem, in finding the necessary financial resources to dispose of the nuclear weapons they have promised to destroy and also the technical capacity to destroy them. In particular, as the Foreign Secretary is visiting Russia in the near future would the West consider an initiative offering Russia not only sympathy and help but also financial assistance and, if necessary, technological assistance in order to destroy those weapons?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is entirely right about those problems. I believe that the matter is being addressed by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, what is the attitude and policy of Her Majesty's Government towards three of the new republics—Kazakhstan, Byelorussia and the Ukraine—all of which have nuclear weapons on their territory and under their control? Is our recognition of those republics contingent in any way upon their accession to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Secondly, will the Minister confirm that there are still 27,000 nuclear weapons in the four republics of the Soviet Union—the three I have mentioned and the republic of Russia? Does he agree that that answers the question of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, as to why we are maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, that is why we wish to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. I cannot confirm the numbers which the noble Lord mentioned. The assurances we have been given by those states which we have recognised have been contingent on their intention to join the NPT.

Lord Cheshire

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether the rumours are true that there are organised international criminal elements in the republics attempting to pass military expertise and unpleasant military weaponry to the Middle East? If that is so, will those republics collaborate with us in trying to identify those attempts so as to safeguard the world?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the same reports about which the noble and gallant Lord expressed anxiety have reached me. Every effort is being made with the republics and our allies to find ways of dealing with the problem.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in view of the acute instability in the Middle East and pending a peace settlement in the Middle East as a whole it is impossible to give too much priority to the control of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and to their effective dismantling?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper is extraordinarily broad but I hope that I have said nothing which would diminish the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to the issue.