HC Deb 12 December 1984 vol 69 cc1037-8
3. Mr. Robert Banks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards the proposed Soviet-American negotiations on weapons in space.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Richard Luce)

We are pleased that the Soviet Union has agreed to discuss outer space arms control with the United States. We are strongly committed to arms restraint policies in this area. Together with our other allies, we shall continue to support United States efforts to achieve progress in this field, but the need for Western patience and perseverence is as great as ever.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Bearing it in mind that the two super powers are at the start of a race to develop weapons in space at gigantic cost, will my hon. Friend undertake to do all that he can to improve the understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union on the desirability of reaching an agreement to ban the stationing of all weapons in space? Will he say what the Government's policy is towards the United States's strategic defence initiative?

Mr. Luce

I agree with my hon. Friend about the urgent need for measures, which are agreed between East and West, and principally between the United States and the Soviet Union, for arms restraint in outer space. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talked about the dangers of a new and terrible theatre of war in that regard. I am sure that the United States goes into these preliminary discussions in the new year with the clear objective of trying to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend has just had discussions with the United States Secretary of State about these and other issues and will shortly do so with Mr. Gorbachov in London next week.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Will the Minister reconsider that answer, as it must contradict the Government's main purpose for maintaining nuclear weapons? The House has often heard the Government explain that their justification for having nuclear weapons is their deterrent value. If weapons in space are successfully developed with a view to finding a satisfactory defence against nuclear weapons, will that not minimise the deterrent value of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Luce

The Soviet Union and the United States are undertaking some research on strategic defence and ballistic missile defence, but the United States has made it plain during this year that it is willing and anxious to talk to the Soviet Union about research on both sides, with a view to reaching some form of understanding. That is a sensible way in which to proceed and I hope that that is what they will do.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my hon. Friend agree that American space weapons are designed primarily for the defence of the United States, not for Europe, and, therefore, that their deployment would uncouple Europe from the American strategic deterrent? Does he further agree that on those grounds alone West European Governments should resist the development and the deployment of space weapons by either side?

Mr. Luce

As I have already made plain, the Government believe that we must get urgent progress, if possible, in arms restraint in outer space. I reinforce that view strongly. Nevertheless, I believe that it is the view of the United States that the Alliance as a whole should remain completely united in these matters. We are in the closest possible consultation with them on the important issues of outer space.

Mr. Healey

Is not the question of unity the question of the policy upon which that unity exists? Does the Minister agree that the American strategic defence initiative, if it were successful, which most American experts think is most unlikely, would undermine the whole basis of nuclear stability as it has existed since the second world war? If he does not accept that, does he agree that if the Americans give their knowledge to the Russians it would make a farce of the Government's policy of maintaining a national nuclear deterrent? For those reasons, will the Minister strongly urge the United States' Government to accept the Soviet proposal to ban weapons in outer space?

Mr. Luce

I agree that the implications of research and prospects in outer space are extremely far-reaching and serious. That is why it is important that we should support strongly the statement of the United States' Government that they are willing to discuss both their research and Russian research in outer space with a view to reaching some understanding about restraints.

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