HL Deb 21 December 1972 vol 337 cc1207-10

11.27 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 9 [Interpretation and supplementary provisions]:

LORD KENNET moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 6, line 30, at end insert— ("( ) The term "explosive nuclear device" shall not include any device intended to cause, control and contain any series of nuclear explosions and to remain in existence for those purposes.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I return for the third time to the question of the control by the Secretary of State over civil fusion research. Since it is my third shot at getting an Amendment which will make sense, I propose to be even briefer than I have been before. The Bill forbids the Atomic Energy Authority to research or develop into any explosive nuclear device except in accordance with arrangements made with the Secretary of State for Defence. Civil fusion research at present rests mainly on an explosive nuclear device—a series of small explosions. The Amendment I propose is a "definition" one which simply excludes from the term "explosive nuclear device" …any device intended to cause, control and contain any series of nuclear explosions…

This is a new approach to the problem. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to accept this Amendment. If he cannot do so, I hope he will be able to answer the following questions: why does he think that the Atomic Energy Authority must not research into civil fusion, except under arrangements made with him, as Secretary of State? If the question of security comes in, I would ask him: Why does he think the Atomic Energy Department is incapable of its own mere motion of maintaining security on its civil research programme because of possible military implications? My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, I genuinely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on trying to devise an Amendment which meets this point. He knows as well as I do that I am sympathetic with what he is trying to do, but the difficulty is—and I am equally sorry to have to say this for the third time—that really this latest attempt will not do either. It runs into the danger which is almost always encountered when one tries to proceed by way of defining exclusions, namely, that those devices which are not specifically excluded must be regarded as coming within the category of "explosive nuclear devices" in the Bill. This would almost certainly have implications for the work at Culham which neither the noble Lord nor I would wish to see.

My Lords, I have gone into this very carefully—I hope the noble Lord will accept that—and having done so I have come to the conclusion that we get into very difficult waters when we attempt to arrive at a definition in an area where international experts failed to reach agreement when they were dealing with and drafting the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We are dealing here with a very complex and rapidly evolving technology, and I am advised by those who know this subject that even if we were successful in arriving at a definition which was appropriate to-day, it is most improbable that such a definition would fit to-morrow's circumstances. And I should be reluctant, as I think your Lordships would be, to see an ephemeral definition written into the Statute Book. I feel it would be best to accept the Bill as presently drafted since it is exactly in keeping with the position accepted under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Government's obligation under that Treaty to 'prevent dissemination of nuclear weapons know-how. This, I think, answers the question which the noble Lord asked me in his very short statement on his Amendment. I think we have a very particular need as a Government to make sure that we carry out the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and certainly the terms in which the Bill was drafted will make it easier for the Government, when dealing with classified matters, to accept their obligation.

As I said at Report stage, the word "device" is an internationally accepted term in relation to nuclear weapons technology and forms the basis of undertakings given by the signatory countries to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The lack of a precise and all-embracing definition does not mean that the undertakings and objectives of this Treaty are not well understood and are not being implemented; because they are. I believe that the aims of the present Bill are equally clear and workable in the use of the term "explosive nuclear device" and I emphasise, if I need to (and I do not think I do because I know that the noble Lord accepts it), that there is no disagreement between my Department or the Department of Trade and Industry or the Authority about this matter. I have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in what he has been trying to do, but I do not think it would be right for me because of that to accept any definition—and certainly not this definition—unless I was quite sure that it was a watertight definition. I am afraid that in this case it is not watertight, and I hope the noble Lord will accept from me that the Amendment will not do.


My Lords, what the Secretary of State has said requires some answer. First of all, I do not think the Non-Proliferation Treaty comes in at all. I cannot see why he should contend that it has anything to do with this matter. It seems to me that Her Majesty's Government can fulfil their obligations under the Treaty whether or not the Secretary of State has control over research into civil fusion. What on earth has it got to do with it? I believe that that is a complete red herring. Moreover, the definition of "device" does not come in. The word "device" stands in the Bill; it stands in the Treaty, and it stands in my Amendment. There is no difference between us about that.

Leaving those points aside, it seems to me that the Secretary of State has given only one reason for resisting the Amendment, and that is that it would have implications for the work at Culham which would be welcome neither to noble Lords opposite nor to noble Lords on this side. Unless the Secretary of State can tell us what those implications are, as I am sure he can, I do not feel inclined to withdraw my Amendment this time. I believe that the definition, as the Secretary of State himself admits, is as good as can be got at the moment. I believe that it would be wrong to subject civil research to a defence veto simply because the definition of a technical matter may change in the future. It seems to me an insufficient reason to achieve a rather large effect. But first may we hear what are the implications of the work at Culham which would be unwelcome?


My Lords, perhaps I may repeat again that the noble Lord in this Amendment has tried to proceed by way of defining exclusions, with the result that those devices which are not specifically excluded must be regarded as coming within the category of explosive nuclear devices for the purposes of the Bill. This means that anything not mentioned in the exclusion would thereby be included. I did not want to go into the technicalities of this but perhaps, by leave of the House, I may just add that I do not think his words will do, for this reason. The noble Lord has sought to exclude from "explosive nuclear devices" all devices which remain in existence for given purposes. It follows that devices which do not remain in existence—and this includes Culham's pellets and similar devices which undergo some change as a result of releases of nuclear energy—would be regarded, if this Amendment were accepted, as "explosive nuclear devices" for the purposes of the Bill, and therefore subject to control by my Department. And this is precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is trying to avoid.


Yes, my Lords; I accept that. I think the Secretary of State has me on the refinements of definition. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move that the privilege Amendment be agreed to.

On Question, Amendment (privilege) agreed to.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.