Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Stmnt: [US Visit]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [105/441-48]
Editorial comments: 1548-c.1609.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4588
Themes: Executive, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands), Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Northern Ireland
[column 441]

PRIME MINISTER (Visit to Washington)

3.48 pm

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on my visit to the United States on 14 and 15 November for talks with President Reagan at Camp David. I also had separate meetings with Vice-President Bush,Secretary of State Shultz and the Defence Secretary, Mr. Weinberger.

The main purpose of my visit was to discuss with the President issues of defence and of arms control, in the light of his meeting in Reykjavik with Mr. Gorbachev. We agreed upon a statement of our views, and a copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

President Reagan and I agreed that priority should be given in the arms control negotiations to an INF agreement with restraints on shorter-range systems, to a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic offensive weapons and to a ban on chemical weapons, all to be subject to effective verification. We also reaffirmed the need for effective nuclear deterrence as a cornerstone of NATO's strategy.

The President explained that the United States would proceed with its own strategic modernisation programme, including Trident. He confirmed the United States' full support for the arrangements made to modernise Britain's independent nuclear deterrent with Trident.

We also discussed the situation in the middle east. I thanked the President for what the United States had done on Syria. We agreed on the need for fresh impetus to efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israel conflict.

On Iran, we share the aim of bringing Iran back into better relations with the West and of bringing about an end to the Iran-Iraq war, without taking sides. The President reaffirmed that the United States does not pay ransom for hostages. That is our policy, too.

We discussed the situation in southern Africa, following the tragic death of President Machel. Both our Governments remain ready to contribute to stability and an end to violence in the area.

I explained to the President the reasons for our recent decision to establish an interim fisheries management and conservation zone round the Falklands; I told him that our preference remained a multilateral solution provided that the Argentine Government were prepared to co-operate.

This was a very useful visit. The agreed statement confirmed the Government's policies, which I set out in my speech in the debate on the Address, for achieving balanced reductions in nuclear and chemical weapons, while maintaining and modernising Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. That is a policy which is good for the NATO Alliance and good for Britain.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

During the Prime Minister's talks with President Reagan at the weekend, did she express her support for President Reagan 's repeatedly stated objective of abolishing all strategic nuclear ballistic missiles within 10 years, or did she not tender such support? Why does the Prime Minister think that any United States President would continue to provide an 800 per cent. increase in British strategic nuclear missiles by supplying Trident when the United States of America was getting rid of such missiles? Will the Prime Minister [column 442]explain why, if she wishes to remove disparities in the conventional balance in Europe, as we all do, she is diminishing conventional defence to buy Trident?

Did the Prime Minister associate her Government with the stated position of Chancellor Helmut Kohl that any future work on star wars must lie firmly within the narrow interpretation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty? Will the Prime Minister explain precisely what she meant when she said that star wars research should continue “up to feasibility” ? Did the Prime Minister seek or receive any undertakings from President Reagan that the United States would continue to adhere to the provisions of the SALT II treaty?

On the other matters which the Prime Minister discussed with President Reagan, three weeks after rightly acting against Syria and rightly securing international co-operation because of its sponsorship of terrorism, is it not obvious that the Prime Minister severely discredits such efforts by so readily endorsing the President's trading with terrorism and his completely unconvincing explanation of his action? After Grenada, star wars, Libya and now arms for Iran, when will the Prime Minister realise that a special relationship is one thing, but sycophancy is another altogether?

The Prime Minister

As we said in our statement, priorities were set out for an intermediate nuclear forces agreement for a 50 per cent. cut over five years in United States and Soviet strategic offensive weapons and a ban on chemical weapons. We also made it clear that a nuclear deterrent is an essential part of the strategy of NATO. We made it clear that that is a very large programme and that we must tackle it. In the meantime, the modernisation of ballistic missiles must continue. Before there can be any further advance on the matters, there must be a system of effective verification. At the moment, despite the talks at Reykjavik, there has been no change in reality in the position.

With regard to diminishing conventional defence, the right hon. Gentleman must know that, if we took all the money on Trident, which is only 3 per cent. of our total defence budget, it would buy very few extra tanks, frigates or weapons and would not buy a fraction of the deterrence that the nuclear weapon buys. The right hon. Gentleman wants fundamentally to undermine Britain's defences by doing away with the independent nuclear deterrent, by discarding the American nuclear umbrella and by throwing out all American nuclear bases.

We did not discuss the provisions of the SALT II treaty on this occasion. They remain as before. They must be observed by both sides, and I hope that they will be observed by both sides. Difficulties will arise if both sides do not observe them and there are accusations against one side. That will mean that the provisions should be discussed in the relevant committee provided for in the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

With regard to Iran, may I point out—I know that the right hon. Gentleman never loses a chance to attack the President or the United States—that the President said in his broadcast, in which he set out the position:

“The United States has not made concessions to those who hold our people captive in Lebanon. And we will not.”

He went on to say:

“The United States has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages.”

He went on:[column 443]

“And we will not” .

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the sense of relief which will be felt by many that the United Kingdom's defence will continue to include the nuclear weapon, which is the only thing which will deter our only possible enemy, and without which we would return to the dangerous instability of the 1930s?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. The nuclear deterrent has stopped both nuclear and conventional war. It has kept the peace, and that is the most important thing for the future—a peace with freedom and a peace with justice. To throw it away would be utterly futile and rash.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Is it not an act of folly to tie a British independent nuclear deterrent to the very ballistic missile system for whose total elimination not only the United States President, but the chiefs of staff, have authorised the negotiators at Geneva to negotiate with the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the statement which the President agreed with me said that the United States will continue to go ahead with the modernisation of strategic nuclear weapons.

Dr. Owen

Of course they will.

The Prime Minister

That is absolutely vital. We shall continue to get Trident. [Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that cruise will be an alternative, but that is utterly wrong. We considered that when we went for Trident. The right hon. Gentleman does not like the fact that we shall modernise with Trident, that the United States will continue to modernise with Trident and that the position has not in fact changed since Reykjavik.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what her visit did to clarify the way forward on arms control and disarmament negotiations in the West? But when she hears the great know-all, the Leader of the Social Democratic party, trying to cast doubt on the readiness of the Americans to help us modernise our deterrent, does it ever strike her as odd that the right hon. Gentleman is so willing to think that the French will lend us their deterrent so long as we want to use it?

The Prime Minister

I think that the result of the visit to Washington was to clarify the position absolutely; to make it clear that Britain's independent nuclear deterrent will be modernised with Trident and that the United States will also modernise her strategic nuclear system with Trident. In the meantime, we shall continue, as a matter of priority, with the other things—negotiations on the INF agreement, on the 50 per cent. cuts over five years in the United States, provided, of course, that the Soviet Union will unlink the whole matter from SDI. The President was absolutely right to go ahead with SDI. I was asked, I think on a previous question, “What about research?” . Research to me, in common-sense terms, means research up to feasibility.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Why, for the purposes of the Prime Minister's conference with the American President, was it necessary that officials of the Northern Ireland office should be kept on constant availability to supply emergency briefing?

[column 444]

The Prime Minister

If they were, it was not for me.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)

Following the question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), does my right hon. Friend think that our independent deterrent is safer in the hands of our allies, the Americans, in preparing it, or in the hands of the Liberal party?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend makes his own point very effectively. Opposition Members lose no chance of undermining our great ally, the United States, and take every chance of undermining Britain's defences, and, therefore, making us a possibly fellow-travelling nation.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Did the Prime Minister have any discussions with the President on the desperately urgent question of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons and applying some ban on nuclear tests, or does she think that such a discussion would not go very well with her new well-found discovery of the advisability of selling weapons to terrorist states? If she agrees with the President of the United States on that subject, why does she think that the Secretary of State in the United States does not do the same?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman also continues his usual policy of undermining our alliance with the United States. With regard to a comprehensive test ban, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the question there is one of verification. Verification is absolutely crucial to any negotiations that we have with the Soviet Union on arms reduction. If we agreed without verification, we should be undermining the security, and therefore the freedom and justice, of Britain.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Although we all welcome the news that new attempts will be made to get rid of all medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe, on both sides, and subject to proper verification, can my right hon. Friend confirm that that process of reduction and ultimately, we hope, removal, will also apply to the so-called short-range nuclear weapons? The Soviets now have a clear superiority of 9:1, and many of those so-called short-range weapons can reach and destroy substantial parts of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister

Yes, that was part of the statement that we made. A zero-zero agreement on intermediate nuclear forces would be subject to effective verification and to strict control of the missiles replaced in the far east on Russian soil and in the United States. We are talking of about 100 missiles each. It would also be subject to negotiating at the same time on shorter-range systems. As my hon. Friend has said, the Soviet Union has an enormous preponderance of them, and a far greater number than NATO has. As my hon. Friend also pointed out, Britain is within their range, so that would have to be part of the INF negotiations.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Is the Prime Minister aware that some of us think that she skated far too quickly over the question of the United States giving arms to Iran? Can she tell us what exactly was said about that? Did the right hon. Lady make it clear that British people feel that no one should be selling or giving arms to Iran, which has a worse human rights record than any other nation in the world at present?

[column 445]

The Prime Minister

This country's policy on weapons to either Iran or Iraq has been set out. I make it clear that it is that

“We should maintain our consistent refusal to supply any lethal equipment to either side;

(ii)Subject to that overriding consideration, we should attempt to fulfil existing contracts and obligations;
(iii)We should not, in future, approve orders for any defence equipment which, in our view, would significantly enhance the capability of either side to prolong or exacerbate the conflict;
(iv)In line with this policy, we should continue to scrutinise rigorously all applications for export licences for the supply of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq.”
—[Official Report, 29 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 450.]

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

What steps do my right hon. Friend and the President intend to take to give a fresh impetus to resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute?

The Prime Minister

We had some discussion of that. Many of us are very worried that there appears to be a gap at present in the negotiating stance. We think it important that, some time during the coming year, the impetus should be renewed in order to try to obtain negotiations between King Hussein and representatives of the Palestinians and the Israeli Government, against the background of an international group of people, as we have tried to do in the past. The difficulty arises in trying to obtain proper representatives of the Palestinian people. So far, we have not succeeded, but I imagine that efforts will be renewed.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Did the President make any criticism, however mild, of the reckless decision to impose a fisheries zone round the Falklands, or did he offer his support to the Government over their foolish decision?

The Prime Minister

As I explained to the President, the decision was absolutely justified.

Dr. Godman

What did he say?

The Prime Minister

Since April 1985, we have tried to negotiate a multilateral fishing agreement.

Dr. Godman

What did he say?

The Prime Minister

We have not succeeded, because Argentina would not co-operate through the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I therefore explained to the President that when Argentina made bilateral agreements over waters that affected us, we had no option but to declare a 150-mile conservation zone. I think that perhaps for the first time the President understood the precise position. I also pointed out that it was Argentina that, within 200 miles of the Falklands, had shot at a Taiwanese fishing boat and killed some of those on board.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Was there any discussion of the dollar fund for Ireland? Does the President know of the deep resentment felt over this, in Northern Ireland because of its link with the Anglo-Irish agreement?

The Prime Minister

No, that matter was not discussed at all; nor were Irish matters really on the agenda for that meeting.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Did the Prime Minister consider, while she was in the United States, that General Vernon Walters, on his visit to London to disseminate the President's disinformation campaign [column 446]about Libyan activities, was actually lying to her? Has the possibility not crossed the Prime Minister's mind that the President, as regards hostages and Iran, was probably treating her likewise?

The Prime Minister

No, I reject what the hon. Gentleman has said. Many Opposition Members take every opportunity to try to find fault with the Americans.

Mr. Faulds

Was Vernon Walters lying?

The Prime Minister

I should make it absolutely clear that the Americans are our most important allies in NATO. Under President Reagan, the Alliance has gained in strength and, therefore, Britain and NATO's members have gained in security. By their attitude, Opposition Members do everything that they can to undermine Britain's fundamental security.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

When my right hon. Friend and the President discussed the consequences of the withdrawal of United States bases and of the unilateral abandonment of the British nuclear deterrent, did they also consider the consequences of the threatened resignation from any future Labour Government of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)?

The Prime Minister

I did not go into that detailed matter. I think that the President, and indeed many members of the Alliance, are aware that the Opposition's present policy would fundamentally undermine not only Britain's security but NATO. That shows that they would never be fit to govern Britain.

Mr. A.J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

How is it an act of friendship to our ally, the United States, to support the President on a venture that was not only wrong but was not supported either by some of the key members of his Administration or by the majority of the American people? Is that the sort of subservience that the Prime Minister expects from the President over the Falklands negotiations issue, or does she expect him to adopt a better view of the latest Argentine Government initiative than the Minister in the other place who, earlier this afternoon, said that it was just old wine in new bottles?

The Prime Minister

I have made our fisheries policy clear with regard to the Falklands. May I make our policy on sovereignty absolutely clear? We are not going to negotiate the sovereignty of the Falklands. I understand that Liberal Members, and perhaps SDP Members—although I am not quite sure about them—are prepared to negotiate sovereignty, but we are not. Perhaps that meets the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is it not a major plank of Soviet propaganda to seek to equate the stationing of nuclear weapons and bases in eastern Europe with their stationing in western Europe? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a fundamental bit of disinformation, and that until countries such as East Germany or Czechoslovakia have the same opportunities as are found in democracies such as Britain or West Germany to choose whether they want allied bases stationed in their countries, she should remain extremely wary of such unfortunate comparisons?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the INF negotiations, we are talking about zero-zero in Europe with, subject to effective verification, 100 SS20s in the far [column 447]east of the Soviet Union and 100 missiles in the United States. It is therefore a global agreement. As I have said time and again, it will have to be subject to effective verification, and obtaining that will not be easy.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

When the Prime Minister met Mr. Shultz, did he express support for the President's policy?

The Prime Minister

I had a long talk with Mr. Shultz, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will know that he has made a long speech. I think that Mr. Shultz understood our position perfectly. He was at Camp David, and he agreed with the statement which was put out.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

Notwithstanding the view of the Leader of the Opposition, which on defence seems to come straight from Moscow, I ask my right hon. Friend to reaffirm that she made it clear to the President of the United States that there was no question of our surrendering or discussing the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, or the surrounding 150-mile zone?

The Prime Minister

At that time I think that the proposal had not been made, but I shall make our position clear now. It used to be the position on both sides of the House—this was before certain leaders of the Opposition parties met Mr. Alfonsin—that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders were paramount and that self-determination was the policy. The wishes of the Falkland Islanders were paramount. I understand from what Neil Kinnockthe Leader of the Opposition said when he met Mr. Alfonsin, and what he said at a press conference, that that is not his policy, and that it is the interests of the Falkland Islanders, interests determined not by the islanders but by other Governments. We stand by the policy that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders are paramount, and we have no intention of negotiating the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands with the Argentines.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

May I return to the supply of arms to Iran? Will the Prime Minister assure the House and those outside that the armaments supplied are not those that could be used against British seamen in the Gulf? Have the Government any intention of reviewing instructions that are given to the seamen who sail the Gulf?

The Prime Minister

We are watching that extremely carefully because obviously, if need be, those seamen will have to be protected. The position on the supply of armaments either to Iran or Iraq is as I set out in detail. I was reading from a statement made to the House by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary in answer to a question on 29 October 1985. That is still the policy.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must take into account the fact that we have a heavy day in front of us. I shall call two more Members from each side of the House and then we must move on.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Did my right hon. Friend explain to the American President the Government's abhorrence of the Iranian regime, especially its mass executions of the Bahai people? Did she explain also to President Reagan that we would not allow Land Rover to export to Iraq?

[column 448]

The Prime Minister

We share my hon. Friend's views on human rights in Iran. As he knows, we frequently make statements about them. As my hon. Friend knows as well, we have diplomatic representation in Iran to follow up these matters and to let us know about them.

What was the second part of my hon. Friend's question?

Mr. Ashby

About Land Rover exporting to Iraq.

The Prime Minister

That would fall within the fourth criterion to which I have referred. As far as I am aware, we have not yet received any request for an export licence.

Mr. D.E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The Prime Minister has mentioned verification about six times. Does she accept that it would be scientifically feasible to verify the exploding of nuclear devices for the test purposes to a low level of yield? Will she therefore tell the House what aspect of verification she is still concerned about?

The Prime Minister

No, I do not accept—I have answered in detail questions on this matter in the House—that we can absolutely verify testing sufficiently for a full comprehensive test ban treaty. I believe that it can be done sufficiently, however, for two minor treaties that have yet to be ratified by the United States.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us on the Government Benches who are increasingly concerned about the present and prospective military imbalance within Europe were relieved to learn that one result of her talks in Washington was to confirm that, while supporting the idea of 50 per cent. cuts in strategic missiles by 1991, she is now attaching what I might call the French condition to further cuts, which is that the Soviet Union should make disproportionate and naturally just reductions in its conventional superior forces in Europe before we would agree to go beyond that point?

The Prime Minister

Yes, the statement read:

“reductions in nuclear weapons would increase the importance of eliminating conventional disparities. Nuclear weapons cannot be dealt with in isolation, given the need for stable overall balance at all times.”

I stress again to my hon. Friend that the discussions at Reykjavik have not altered so far the position on the ground. I believe that the programme of priorities which I have set out would take a long time to complete. The first step would be to see whether these matters could be verified effectively.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Is the Prime Minister aware that in seeking to convince us against all logic that the way towards peace between Iraq and Iran is to send arms to one side, and the way towards world peace is to arm ourselves to the teeth, in the meantime increasing our nuclear weaponry as much as we can, she has convinced the British people that her protestations about being a multilateral disarmer are just so much nonsense, and that she is only a rubber stamp for the President of the United States?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, and he knows it. The hon. Gentleman's policy is for Britain to give up her weapons unilaterally and for the Soviet Union to keep its. That may be his policy, but it is not ours.