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Arms Control

Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has made to the United States of America Administration regarding the arms control talks in Geneva.

The Government have been in close consultation with the United States Administration on their approach to the arms control talks at Geneva, most recently when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary took part in President Reagan's meeting with the North Atlantic Council after his meeting with Mr. Gorbachev. They made it clear that we welcomed the successful outcome of the meeting, and fully supported United States positions at the Geneva negotiations.

Does the Secretary of State accept that we are now in a new situation with the atmosphere that was created at last week's summit? Does he agree that it is now time to consider asking the Americans to stand down on the issue of the strategic defence initiative research programme and the further deployment of cruise missiles in Britain, in order to give the Geneva talks a chance to achieve the radical reductions in nuclear arsenals that we all want to see?

The hon. Gentleman signally fails to understand that the reason for the better relationship between the superpowers is that we did not follow that advice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the policy advocated by the Opposition were to be implemented—the unilateralist approach—that could substantially undermine the negotiations now taking place in Geneva?

My hon. and learned Friend is correct. If the Western Alliance had followed the advice of the Labour party there would be no negotiations, because it would have thrown away all the cards in advance.

The Secretary of State and his right hon. Friend will be aware that the two superpowers have been close to agreement for some time on non-proliferation and a chemical ban. Does he not think that those are matters on which urgent representations might have been made so that at least something could have resulted from last week's talks?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who has much experience of such matters, will realise that widespread and wide-ranging advice has been available on all matters. There has been the closest consultation in the Western Alliance on all issues of arms control.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a gross error of judgment, whatever concessions may be made in later negotiations, for SDI to be conceded at this stage? Does he also agree that the more pressing priority is to give real impetus and concrete terms to an interim agreement on a reduction in intermediate nuclear forces?

I am sure that all those matters will be weighed within the consultative process of the Alliance. The House must realise that no agreement is possible now or at any time, on the research programmes involved in the strategic defence initiative, because many of those programmes will continue into the technologies that will be at the heart of the civil and military capabilities of tomorrow, whether or not there is a defence initiative.

Is it the case that one area where progress might be made following the summit is on an agreement covering intermediate forces in Europe? In that context, is it not unreasonable to expect the Soviet Union simply to ignore Britain's missiles? Will the Government review their policy of refusing to count Polaris or Trident among the number of missiles and warheads in Europe?

I cannot see what interest the hon. Gentleman thinks he serves by persuading Britain and, I presume, France to trade in their intercontinental deterrence systems to try to persuade the Russians to reach an intermediate agreement. We have always made it clear, from the date of the 1979 twin track decision, that an agreement was available on the intermediate range nuclear weapons systems. It still is.

Does my right hon. Friend recall Winston Churchill's famous words: "Peace through a balance of terror"? Does he agree that the talks will be successful because we are negotiating with a balance of terror?

Will the Secretary of State give the House some information about his discussions with the United States on United Kingdom participation in SDI? What percentage of the £26 billion over five years does he expect to get for British industry? What effect does he expect it to have on scientific research and development in the United Kingdom?

I have had very detailed conversations with my colleague Caspar Weinberger of the United States about two issues in connection with the research programme for the strategic defence initiative: first, that there should be a proper reflection of this country's technological capability and recognition of the dangers of a one-way flow of technology across the Atlantic; and, secondly, that it should be recognised that, for Britain to play a part, it has to be significant. I am glad to be able to tell the House that Mr. Weinberger and I reached agreement to recommend to our respective Governments the form of undertaking that we could enter into. I hope very much that we shall be able to make positive progress on that matter in the near future. In that case, I have no doubt that there will be substantial opportunities for British industry.

We welcome much that has come out of Geneva, but will the Secretary of State assure us that the views of Caspar Weinberger on this issue are representative of the Reagan Administration, because, in other areas relating to Geneva, they were not representative? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us of the Government's position in relation to what the Foreign Secretary said about star wars last March? In the absence of any debate or statement on star wars, what is the Government's position?

The Government's position is precisely as it was when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met the President of the United States at Camp David and made it clear that we believed that research into the programme was inevitable and that any further advance in the context of the programme would come within the ABM treaty. That remains our position.