HL Deb 24 June 1981 vol 421 cc1060-2

2.52 p.m.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the effectiveness of British foreign policy in assisting to find solutions for the problems of various danger areas of the world and to maintain peace would be greater or less if the money proposed to be spent on Trident were devoted to the modernisation and expansion of the conventional forces of the Crown represented by the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that the United Kingdom's foreign policy objectives, which of course include reducing tension and maintaining peace, are best supported by the combination of an effective and independent nuclear deterrent and well trained, properly equipped conventional forces.

Lord Alport

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, first, whether Her Majesty's Government consider that there could be any eventuality in which the nuclear deterrent of the United Kingdom would be used unilaterally, before the nuclear capability of the western world was committed? Secondly, does my noble friend not think that the confidence of our allies in the United Kingdom's contribution to the defence of the West would be greater if our resources were employed in the extension of our conventional forces rather than in very large expense involved in the continuance of Britain's own nuclear deterrent? And thirdly, would my noble friend not agree that, from the point of view of diplomacy, the influence of the United Kingdom in the world would be increased if the £6,000 million involved was spent in the development of British arms, on the armament industry, and employed in the development of our economic capacity here in the United Kingdom, which would automatically assist in the strength of the stand which he is able to take in the discussion of international problems when he has occasion to do so?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the object of a nuclear deterrent is to deter war and I believe that the possession by Britain of an independent nuclear deterrent makes war that much less likely. With regard to my noble friend's second point, I am satisfied—as I imagine all your Lordships will be when they have heard the Defence Secretary tomorrow—that the British contribution in conventional forces to the NATO Pact is not only adequate but as good as it can be given the amount of money we spend on defence, which, as we are constantly reminded by noble Lords opposite, is a greater proportion of our GNP than applies to any other country in Europe. Thirdly, I do not think I agree with my noble friend that our influence would be increased if we did not have an independent nuclear deterrent. Nor do I think that employment would be greatly affected, since a very large part of the expenditure on the new Trident programme will be spent on work in this country.

Lord Peart

Nevertheless, my Lords, is the Minister not aware that in the last defence debate there was strong feeling about the importance of not harming our conventional forces? I am sure that view was endorsed as the result of a visit by a group of noble Lords to the Army of the Rhine. Will the noble Lord bear in mind that the Army of the Rhine is an important part of our conventional defence, meaning that we must be very careful not to do something which could be disastrous?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the noble Lord would not expect me to anticipate the Statement which will be made tomorrow by the Secretary of State for Defence. But perhaps without trailing what he will say too obviously, I might point out to the noble Lord that the object of the Government is to improve the capacity of our conventional forces.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that this great matter cannot be discussed profitably on a Parliamentary Question and that, rather, we should await the Statement which is to be made tomorrow?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am, as always, grateful to the Liberal Party.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the ever-increasing anti-Trident Lobby in this country is being built up by very clever propaganda from the Kremlin? Would he further agree that it would be a very good idea if a robust public relations campaign was started to counter that campaign, in the interests of the security of this country and for this country's voice throughout the world?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I would not care to say where any campaign is coming from, and there are certainly differences of opinion about whether or not it is a good thing for us to have an independent nuclear deterrent. I happen to believe very strongly that it is, and having over a period of years had something to do with the matter, I am more than ever convinced it is a good thing and I believe that, if we put the arguments clearly in front of your Lordships' House, the vast majority would agree.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while welcoming the contributions to peace made under the influence of the noble Lord, may I ask whether he is aware that successive public polls have shown a large majority against the installation of the Trident? Instead of transferring its cost to other armed forces, particularly nuclear weapons, may I ask if it would not be better for the Government actively to support in the Geneva Committee the recommendations of the United Nations Special Assembly for progressing world disarmament and transferring military costs to ending poverty in the world?

Lord Carrington

That would be very nice, my Lords, and no doubt we should all wish to see that happen, and perhaps in the lifetime of some of your Lordships we may see it, but I am inclined to doubt it. If I may say so, I think it a great mistake for one to rely on public opinion polls in arguing whether or not there should be a nuclear deterrent. It depends entirely on what question is asked and how informed those are who are asked the question. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, whose opinions I both know and respect, would perhaps not follow the results of a public opinion poll about the death penalty so readily.

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