HL Deb 25 February 1987 vol 485 cc206-41

3.2 p.m.

Lord Mayhew rose to call attention to the dangers of the extremes of unilateral disarmament and of escalation of thermo-nuclear weaponry; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The future of the strategic nuclear deterrent, as I am sure we will all agree, is a matter of first importance to our country and to its relations with its allies and possible adversaries. It is also a matter of importance—again, I think we will all agree—to the fortunes of our respective parties at the coming general election. The Alliance policy has been plainly set out in the agreed policy document of the Alliance, The Time Has Come. But since attempts are still made from time to time to misrepresent what it is, not least on the front page of The Times on Monday, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if, once again, I quote the exact authoritative statement: In government we would maintain, with whatever necessary modification, our minimum nuclear deterrent until it can be negotiated away, as part of a global negotiating process, in return for worthwhile concessions by the Soviet Union which would enhance British and European security. In any such modernisation we would maintain our capability in the sense of freezing our capacity at a level no greater than that of the Polaris system … We would cancel Trident because of its excessive number of warheads and megatonnage, high cost and continued dependence on US technology … There are a number of possible options including different ballistic and non-ballistic air and submarine launched systems. A final choice could not be made without access to classified information and the advice of the Chiefs of Staff available only when in government". That is the policy on the deterrent, quite plainly stated, of the Alliance parties. Briefly, as long as there is a question mark over whether the United States guarantee to Western Europe will remain indefinitely, we believe that the British deterrent should be maintained and if necessary modernised pending disarmament. In this we differ strongly from the Labour Party. At the same time we oppose the escalation of the deterrent, and in this we differ strongly from the Conservative Party.

Naturally, our policy has been attacked by both sides. To begin with, Labour argued that our policy will in practice turn out to be much the same as the pro-nuclear policy of the Government. The Conservative Party has argued that in practice our policy will turn out to be much the same as the unilateralist policy of the Labour Party. But these lines of attack have been changing recently. For example, on 3rd December last year during a debate on defence capability and nuclear deterrence the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, informed us: This policy amounts to nothing less than one-sided nuclear disarmament".—[Official Report, 3/12/86; col. 848.] But this month the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mr. Stanley, was saying in another place: We welcome the commitment of the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties to the continuance of the British strategic deterrent". One reassuring feature of a democratic assembly such as this is that if one continues patiently explaining one's policy then eventually one limits the scope of one's opponents for misrepresenting it. One subjects them to what might be called the law of diminishing mendacity. This law is operating exceptionally well in connection with the new defence policy of the Alliance parties.

Our opponents are changing now and are arguing that the trouble with this policy is not that it is unilateralist or that it is the same as the Government's but simply that it is not practicable. A few weeks ago the Government issued an entire open information document purporting to demonstrate this; to prove that the Alliance policy will not work because there is no practicable alternative to Trident. As I shall try to show, the document proves no such thing. It proves in fact that there are alternative options, that the choice between them is complicated and difficult, and that the Alliance is right not to decide on them until, hopefully, after the election, we have access to classified information and the advice of the Chiefs of Staff.

The main burden of this document is that Trident cannot be replaced by cruise. The main reason given is that as cruise has only one warhead, too many of them would be needed and too many submarines or aircraft would be needed to carry them. The key passage is in paragraph 7: Our assessment is that Britain would need at least 400… cruise missiles of the type currently available to provide an assured minimum deterrent equivalent to Trident". Paragraph 11 says: To achieve the deployment of the 400… cruise missiles … would require a force of five Trident submarines on patrol at all times, assuming 80 missiles per submarine". Finally, the document argues that to keep that force at sea, 11 Trident submarines would be needed with 800 cruise missiles. Noble Lords may feel that this puts cruise out of court as a possible option for the Alliance. But, of course, there is an obvious fallacy in this argument. Alliance policy is not directed to replacing the capacity of Trident but the capacity of Polaris. When the noble Baroness comes to reply, perhaps she will give us the correct figures of this equation because she, I am sure, will have spotted the fallacy in the paper.

This error invalidates a good half of the document but it also argues that cruise would be too vulnerable—too vulnerable to interception and too vulnerable because, owing to its shorter range, the submarines carrying it would have to operate closer to the coast. But here again, there is an obvious fallacy. I read that quotation once again: Our assessment is that Britain would need at least 400… cruise missiles of the type currently available". I repeat again, of the type currently available". That means that the Government are assuming that for the next eight years, until the mid-1990s, there will be no improvement in cruise missile technology. That is all it can mean. At the same time the document assumes that Soviet defence technology will increase by leaps and bounds. Intense research and development on cruise are going on in the United States for longer range, greater accuracy, electronic counter measures and guidance systems, but according to the Government all that is going to fail. They give not reasons whatever for supposing that it will. That is one reason why, by the time Trident is operational, there will be 101 United States submarines equipped with cruise and 82 surface vessels equipped with cruise; and why long before Trident comes into service there will be 180 B-52s equipped with cruise.

There is another point in that connection. It may well be that by the time Trident comes into service in 1989 the Americans will have decided that with the advance of technology cruise is a better bet than Trident. If that happens the British Trident project is sunk. No one will then remember the promises made by Mr. Reagan, the former President, to Mrs. Thatcher, the former Prime Minister.

The final argument against cruise in this extraordinary document is that there will be less sea room available because of the short range of cruise missiles. That may be so, even if the range is extended. But if those submarines are vulnerable what about the cruise missile sites at Greenham Common and Molesworth? The Government are enthusiastic in establishing cruise missile bases there, but if the submariners are vulnerable what about the inhabitants of Berkshire? Or is it the Government's belief that the Russians can pinpoint a Trident submarine in the North Sea but have no idea of the whereabouts of Berkshire? Is that the Government's argument? That argument, too, completely falls to the ground.

The final piece of misinformation in this document is that it grossly understates the degree of escalation involved in the Trident project. We all know that the Government are not proposing to deploy the full capacity of Trident. If they did deploy the 14 warheads on each missile—bigger warheads, greater accuracy, independently targeted, with longer range—the degree of escalation could be assessed at not less than 10 or 15 times. Therefore, the Government are not going to deploy the full capacity but only eight warheads per missile. Trident has turned out to be too big for the Government and too big for Britain, as from the start its critics always said it would be. Moreover, the Government will be paying large sums of money for a capacity that they are not going to deploy, which is breaking every rule of cost-effectiveness.

What justification is there for any escalation at all? The Government make no pretence that international relations are changing or that they will change by the mid-1990s in order to justify escalation. They fall back on the one argument that the missile will become increasingly vulnerable to Soviet interception. Ironically, they use the same argument to defend Trident as they use to attack cruise, but in both cases their statements are totally unconvincing and are not supported by facts or figures.

Since there is no official information, we have to fall back on other sources. The best source seems to be the very authoritative American journal Scientific American, which reported in August last year that, after allowing for improvement in Soviet defences until 1990, a Trident project with a government ceiling of 518 missiles would be capable as follows: Britain would be able to inflict between 24 million and 68 million Soviet fatalities and to incapacitate up to half the Soviet production base.". Further improvements in the Soviet defence may in the long run materialise and they will come more readily. I may add, if the Government fail to prevent the Americans from destroying the ABM Treaty, which it looks as though they are about to do at present. But it is plain that the degree of escalation in the Government's plans is far in excess of that needed to inflict unacceptable damage on the Soviet Union.

The special pleading in this document, and its obvious political purpose, raises the question of the legitimacy of using public money for publications of this kind. We agree that sometimes it is necessary to use public money to inform the public of the impact of decisions by the Government or local authorities; but it is always wrong to spend rates and taxes on propaganda. Just as it is wrong for Labour-controlled borough councils to spend ratepayers' money on tendentious attacks on the Government, so it is wrong for the Government to use taxpayers' money to make tendentious attacks on the Alliance.

Indeed, the offence committed by Conservative Ministers is worse. The emblem on this document is not that of Camden borough council or Conservative Central Office; it is the emblem of the Defence Council. It is a particular scandal to drag the armed services into propaganda on behalf of the Conservative Party. I am afraid that defence Ministers need reminding that their duty to the services comes before their duty to the Conservative Party.

In the time still available to me I turn briefly to the Labour Party's policy of unilateral abandonment by Britain of all nuclear weapons and nuclear bases. I shall be brief because there are so few supporters of that policy in this place, or, indeed, anywhere else. Labour policy does not deny that while the Russians have nuclear weapons the West must have them, too. It does not explicitly deny that. How could it? How could even the Labour Party advocate a policy which would present on a plate to the Russians military and, therefore, political domination worldwide?

However, once having accepted that, there follow inevitable and awkward questions. For example, if it is right for the West to have a deterrent, why is it wrong for Britain to help with it? We have never had an answer to that question from the Labour Benches. If it is right for the West to have a deterrent, does not it follow that a nuclear deterrent can sometimes deter and that the possession of nuclear weapons is not necessarily futile or immoral?

Finally, I think we all agree that on questions of national security such as the British deterrent political parties should be willing to lead public opinion rather than to follow it. Nevertheless, it is gratifying when one discovers that the policy one is accepting on its merits also proves to be popular.

I should like to quote a Gallup Poll carried out a few months ago which asked people to choose among three different policies on the deterrent which corresponded—unlike The Times on Monday—to the policies advocated by the three parties. The question was: If you were planning Britain's defence strategy for the next 10 to 15 years, which approach would you be most inclined to follow?". Three choices were given: Britain should get rid of all its nuclear weapons and require the Americans to remove theirs from bases here". That is Labour Party policy. Thirty-three per cent. agreed. Britain should maintain a nuclear deterrent as powerful as the weapons we have now". Broadly, that is Alliance policy. Fifty-four per cent. said yes. Britain should have more powerful nuclear weapons". That is the policy of the Conservative Party. Seven per cent. said yes.

We salute the courage of the Conservative Party, going into an election with a policy on the deterrent which is not only manifestly wrong but grossly unpopular, too. We salute its courage. That is the fate which was predicted for the Alliance parties by some noble Lords opposite.

I recall the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, to whom I have given notice of my intention to quote him today. Last December he said: Maybe that is why we see the Alliance backing in the most recent poll yesterday slumping to only 18 points. I suspect that it may well end up at 12 or 14 points if it goes on the way it is going at the present time in its attitude to its nuclear and defence policy".—[0fficial Report, 3/12/86; col. 877.] For my noble friends these were chilling words indeed. We anxiously await the results of the by-election in Greenwich tomorrow, hoping against hope that, despite the fact that he supported Trident, we shall defeat the Conservative candidate there.

However—and I end on this note—the fact is that the voters now have three choices: they can escalate the deterrent; they can scrap the deterrent; or they can maintain the deterrent pending disarmament. My noble friends and I are entirely confident that the policy that we are recommending is the one that is the best for Britain and the one that the British people want.

3.21 p.m.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I should like to start my eight-minute contribution to this debate by saying that on all sides of the House we must be very excited about the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union at the present time. Any remarks that I make today will certainly be conditioned by the fact of the efforts that are clearly being made by Mr. Gorbachev, and I think that all of us have to make sure that we discuss disarmament again and again in order not to discourage these exciting changes. A cautionary word must be added, however, that not only since the revolution but before it the people of that great country have never had freedom as we understand it with the power that comes from freedom of expression. One must watch with bated breath to see how far the changes go and one must realise that there are enormous differences still existing.

Let me waste another moment by apologising to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, whom I see in the Chamber, for an inaccurate statement that I made during a debate on 3rd December when I said that he had been the Chief of Defence Staff until 1978, the date at which the then Labour Government approved the development of Trident. That statement was inaccurate. The noble and gallant Lord resigned in 1976. I have apologised to him and I have already written to everyone who took part in that debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has followed an attractive political line in the terms of the Motion. Nobody claims to be in favour of extremes. It is nice for the Alliance to end up in the middle. That is a nice posture. The reality of the situation is that until 1978 the two main parties of alternative government in this country worked on a broadly agreed bipartisan policy. In 1978, after approving the development of Trident, the Labour Party moved away from that position to a major extent.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to interrupt, I should like to say that the Labour Government did not approve the purchase of Trident in 1978, or at any time at all. The question was open, as was made quite clear in the 1979 election manifesto.

Viscount Trenchard

Development expenditure, my Lords. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, for whom I have the greatest respect, that design and development expenditure was approved in 1978. It was no great amount but it was approved under the Labour Government. The truth of the matter is—

Lord Diamond

My Lords, will the noble Lord correct the statement that he previously made?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, that is the truth of the matter, as we shall see later. Sadly, the bipartisan policy that existed all through the post-war years has now ceased to exist and the latest policy statement from the Labour Party, which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned toward the end of his speech, entitled Modern Britain in a Modern World, departs from almost everything that the Labour Party has believed in for a very long time. Not only have we departed from a bipartisan policy as a result of a movement in the Labour Party but we have also started to present different impressions of the facts about the defence situation.

At this point I must comment on the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the Government should not produce open documents on defence issues with public money. Foreign affairs and defence are matters upon which in the past the electorate has, quite naturally, found it pretty hard to make a judgment. It is quite difficult for an ordinary British citizen to be aware of what the Russians have and to know what the Foreign Office believes may be threats from around the world. That is why in the past it has been very important to have a bipartisan policy and a common presentation of the facts, and in the past government documents have not been seriously challenged. I hope that there will be a return to that situation. I do not believe that the parallels or the comparisons that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned have relevance.

Moreover, I do not believe that the Government since 1979, or NATO, or the USA have adopted an extreme position such as the terms of this Motion suggest, either in actions on armaments or in their statements. I shall not weary your Lordships with the facts culled from any source of statistics that one wishes to take, including the International Institute of Strategic Studies, to prove that the conventional balance has not improved since 1979. If anything it has got worse and we have lost our technical edge to a greater degree, as was said in the institute's last two technical publications. The chemical balance has become infinitely worse and the tactical nuclear balance has worsened substantially, which is particularly important when one talks about the removal of intermediate-range weapons such as the SS.20 and cruise, and Pershing. These things have not been extreme.

While I do not agree with quite a lot of what the United States has been saying lately, I cannot accuse it of being extreme. If agreement had been reached at Reykjavik—and I shall come to star wars in a minute—we should have moved on a pretty fast path toward the removal of intermediate-range ballistic missiles while the conventional chemical and tactical weapons balance remains as bad as I have just described.

While there is much propaganda about star wars, it is not disputed that the Soviet Union has an ABM system. It is not disputed that the Soviet Union is far advanced in the production of satellites, and, at the moment, larger satellites than in the USA. It is said that the Soviet Union has been working and researching on lasers for a long time. Taking just those three areas, I do not think that either side can hold the position that it has taken up on the star wars issue. In free democracies we find ourselves continually guilty of using our freedom to criticise our own stance, and that makes negotiation very difficult.

Let me end with one other main point on deterrence which I have mentioned before. I feel that there is a bit of a muddle, not only in the minds of well-meaning organisations such as CND but even in the minds of professional military men between the long history of the rules and experience of war fighting and the modern politics of deterrence, including nuclear weaponry.

Most of us believe that the weapons today are so awful in their destructive power, and so relatively economical in terms of cash and people, that the possibility of their use is, in most of our minds, credited with giving us the long period of peace that we have had in Europe since the Second World War. It is becoming agreed between all of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and myself, that there can be no winner in a nuclear war. Surely that fact, if it sinks into the head of a potential aggressor, will show that the threat of the possible use of nuclear weapons may be of use in advancing the cause of either a potential aggressor or of democratic defenders. Bearing in mind that there can be no winners, and that an aggressor presumably wants something, the actual use of such weapons is of no use to an aggressor.

If such an aggressor miscalculated, the use of nuclear weapons could, in some circumstances, be of value to a defender. That is logic. It is admittedly theory because we have never had a situation where both sides have nuclear weapons and one has used them; nevertheless, if that situation is logical and it is believed that a defender will use such weapons or could or might use them, then no aggressor, knowing that there could be no winner in a nuclear war, will aggress. That being the case, we will keep the peace. We shall keep the peace if there is more than one worry in a possible aggressor's mind. Our independent nuclear weapon, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, must be an effective deterrent. I am delighted that he will keep an open mind until he can consult the service experts and others who raised no point—

Noble Lords


The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend when he is winding up his speech, but we must keep to the arrangements which were made. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, went slightly over time and I think that my noble friend has done so. Perhaps we could now try to stick to the timetable.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, may I finish my sentence?

Noble Lords


Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the finish of my sentence is that in my time in the Ministry of Defence no service chief or civilian quarrelled with the open documents on Trident that we produced.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, several years ago the late Lord Mountbatten made a powerful and much-remembered speech about defence in which he drew attention to the fearful consequences if the human race were to become involved in a nuclear war. That part of his speech is often quoted and used as an argument one way or another. He then went on to ask what in those circumstances we ought to do. He then immediately said, in effect, that one thing we must not do is to upset what is called the balance of terror that exists between the two great power blocs in the world.

It is as well that everyone who quotes his speech also remembers that part of it. I am convinced that that is true. There has been a good deal of argument about what it is that has kept the peace for these many years. One reason the peace has been kept is that both the great power blocs know that if they went to war they would suffer unspeakable damage. The fact that that is true of both sides and is known by both sides to be true is what has helped to keep the peace. There are other reasons at work, but that is a powerful one. If that balance and mutual knowledge of possible destruction disappeared, the danger of war would be much greater.

If this country is asked to pursue a non-nuclear policy, does that mean, as I am told it is supposed to mean, that we should be not only non-nuclear ourselves but should endeavour to persuade NATO to be non-nuclear? If we produce that result and NATO has no nuclear arms but the Warsaw Pact still has, we shall have a recipe for disaster or surrender. One must turn that aside.

If that is not what is meant, if what is meant is that this country should be non-nuclear but should still be part of NATO and that NATO should still have nuclear weapons, let us notice what follows from that. First, as we pointed out last time we debated this subject, it would put British troops in Europe in great danger. They would be alone among the troops on the Western side unprotected by the nuclear umbrella. I do not think we can put our troops in that position.

Secondly, it would deeply upset the whole organisation, and the set-up of nuclear power and weapons in NATO. It is sometimes said that Denmark, Norway, this country or the other in NATO has no nuclear weapons, so why should Britain have them. The answer to that of course is that we are not Norway or Denmark; inevitably we play a great part in the North Atlantic alliance and if we became nonnuclear and refused to give nuclear facilities to the United States it would inflict a fearful twist on the whole structure of NATO's defences.

There is another moral reason. I am always a little hesitant to bring that word into the argument because one should try to credit everyone with good intentions in this matter. What would be our position if we said that we were going to be non-nuclear but were still going to be a member of NATO? Trade unionists have long been acquainted with the man who is glad to draw increased wages won for him by the strength of his trade union, but does not join the union. He has never been regarded, except possibly on the Benches opposite, as an admirable figure. If we say, "We are going to remain in NATO, but we are not taking any of the risks that may be involved in having nuclear weapons anywhere near us", we are saying something new. We are saying that we want to belong to the union but we do not propose to pay the subscription. That is not a credible or creditable stand to take.

If we believe in defence, and if we believe in NATO, we must accept that this country continues to play an active part in it, not only by having nuclear weapons of our own—though that I think is not the most important issue—but by resolutely co-operating with the United States in the preparation of the nuclear part of NATO's defences.

I agree therefore with what is said in the Motion about the undesirability of the extremes of unilateral disarmament. But what about the other extreme that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned—the extreme of excessive nuclear weaponry? I am not sure that I was fully convinced by his argument about Trident, but I think that he put it forward very powerfully, and I shall listen with great interest to see what answer the Government give.

The danger of the world loading itself with so much nuclear weaponry as to threaten the peace will not come about as a result of anything that this country does; we are not large enough in the whole pattern to have that effect. The danger of excessive piling up of nuclear weapons or excessive threats of nuclear power comes from one or other or both of the two very great powers. Our concern therefore with the United States must be, through the ordinary channels of diplomacy, to try to wean it away from policies that will involve the excessive piling up of nuclear weaponry. But let us notice this. If we hope to have any influence in that field, it is no good beginning by telling the United States to take all its nuclear weapons out of this country and not to expect any co-operation from us in nuclear matters in the future. We can say that if we like, but we cannot expect after that to have any effect at all on United States policy.

If the situation remains so that we may have some effect on United States policy, I would suggest that we should concentrate on these things. First, is it necessary for it to proceed from the testing and development of SDI to its deployment? There seems to be a difference of opinion in the United States on that question. I hope that we shall be able to keep it on the right side of deployment. Secondly, let us hope that there will be no more rushing into summits with inadequate preparation, leaving a result where nothing practical is achieved and a number of ingenious journalists are writing articles to prove that it has been one of the major successes of this generation. I hope that we shall not have repetition of that kind of unreal thing. Thirdly, I hope that the British Government will continue to press on with the question of verification in every field of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons because the more efficient we can make the methods of verification the greater chance there is of genuine reduction of armaments.

Bearing in mind what has been said about previous speakers and seeing what the time is, I propose to leave the matter there.

3.43 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for tabling the Motion, though discussion of thermonuclear weaponry has a certain nightmare quality about it when one talks about the number of casualties or the number of warheads that each side possesses. I should like to focus on the word "dangers", thinking of dangers not only as physical dangers or the dangers of an outbreak of this terrible conflict but as dangers to our consciences.

There are many people in the country who ask: can it possibly be morally right to possess and threaten to use these frightful weapons of mass destruction? It would be a pity if in a debate of this kind that particular note were not heard. Many people in my own diocese find it difficult to understand how I as a Christian leader am not prepared unequivocally to condemn any possession or threat to use thermonuclear weapons. Some of those who take this view are of course pacifists, and there is a long and distinguished tradition of pacifism in the Christian Churches. Perhaps it may find some expression in the speeches to follow this afternoon.

There are others who criticise the Churches and their leaders for not coming out more strongly against the possession of nuclear weapons who are not pacifists. They believe in conventional deterrence, but they feel that nothing can possibly justify the use of such terrible weapons. They must be taken seriously, I submit to your Lordships. To them the danger is to conscience and they are prepared to accept other dangers in unilateral disarmament rather than go against conscience in this matter.

There are some people who argue that nuclear weapons are really no different in principle from other conventional weapons. They point to the horrors of the bombing of Dresden or of Tokyo during the last war when 200,000 people were killed largely as a result of fire. But they are different in extent. Consider that the tonnage equivalent in explosive power of what fell over Hiroshima was, I believe, 12,000 tonnes, and we have now more than 9 billion tonnes equivalent in explosive power represented in nuclear weapons. It is not only that, but we are aware that we are talking about the potential end to civilisation as we know it. I know that that is a hackneyed phrase, but after Chernobyl and what that represented who can doubt it?

However, those who protest against the way in which the Christian Churches accept the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrence do not represent the mainstream Christian thinking in the country at present. Most of us are prepared, sadly, reluctantly, with tortured consciences, to accept that there remains some place for a nuclear deterrent.

Troubled consciences were evident in the debate that we held in General Synod across the road back in 1983. Your Lordships will remember that this was as a result of the report of a debate chaired by the Bishop of Salisbury under the title The Church and the Bomb.. It was not, I hasten to say, a completely unilateralist report as it was represented. It accepted continuing membership of NATO armed with nuclear weapons. I take the points that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, was making on this matter, and of course the report was tackled on those grounds.

It called for the phasing out of Polaris, the cancellation of Trident, a discontinuation of all nuclear weaponry independently possessed by Britain itself and the negotiation of an end to nuclear bases on British soil. The recommendations were defeated in General Synod by 100 votes to 338. In their place there was passed a motion calling on the Government to make a clear declaration that in no circumstances would they use nuclear weaponry first in any conflict—no first use.

We may perhaps argue that that debate was a few years ago and we are now in a changing situation, yet the debate continues not only in Britain but throughout the world. If one looks across the Atlantic to the United States, one finds that the Catholic bishops have taken an increasingly strong stand against the possession by their country of nuclear weapons, something that goes against some words that the present Pope has himself spoken.

The point that I put in front of your Lordships is that we must go on agonising in our consciences about the possession of nuclear weapons. From the point of view of a moral theologian, one of the most effective contributions was made in the debate by the present Dean of Durham, who pointed out that there have always been two types of ethical theory in the Christian Church, one of which says that any act, no matter what its consequences are, if it is immoral should not be engaged in. The other tradition says, no, one must take account of consequences of any act. That type of ethical theory is the one that would justify the continued possession of nuclear weapons because we cannot agonisingly see any way out of our present dilemma without possessing them.

The Dean of Durham said at the end of his speech: So long as we keep the threat to the minimum that we can keep it to, then we can take into account that end; namely, the preservation of peace, which the threat is intended to secure. It becomes then justifiable to do something which is unjust". I personally accept that second ethical theory, to which the dean referred. The possession of and threat to use nuclear weapons is, I believe, utterly inconsistent with a religion of love, yet it becomes justifiable to do something that is unjust if the aim is to preserve the peace.

I take also the words of Professor Michael Howard: to concern oneself in ethical values to the total exclusion of any practical activity in the dimension of power is to abdicate responsibility for shaping affairs". I believe that the Christian tradition in this country must continue to try to play its part in the shaping of policy in this terrible and distressing field.

I come back to the moral argument—"as long as we keep the threat to the minimum". British possession of an independent nuclear deterrent does not in my opinion do this. It adds to the dangers of proliferation. I hope that when the noble Baroness comes to sum up she will say something about proliferation.

I do not take the point of view of a former Government Minister whom I heard on radio one day saying that it was perfectly all right for a civilised, organised country such as Britain to possess these terrible weapons but that every effort must be made to avoid their going to others. What is sauce for the goose is surely sauce for the gander if needed for our defence. It adds to the enormous waste of resources on military expenditure. Mutual deterrence is becoming less stable year by year, and we make our own contribution to that.

What we now see is an escalation in the form of the strategic defence initiative known as star wars, which seems to me to be a thoroughly dangerous fantasy. Nor do I believe that parity of weaponry is the name of the game, because this is also dangerous and leads to escalation.

Where do I stand on this spendidly moderate, mediating Motion put before us by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew? I believe that the main view taken by the report The Church and the Bomb is the correct one, though I can see the problems and that we ought indeed to move to the abandonment of the British independent nuclear deterrent in consultation with our allies but still with continued membership of NATO and reluctant possession of a nuclear deterrent there.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, I believe that many people in this country are at this moment rather confused and indeed rather apathetic about defence, which is thought to be terribly complicated and controversial. No doubt it is. The fear of nuclear war is less than it was. Even CND seems to be losing some of its emotional appeal. Like my noble friend Lord Mayhew—whose excellent speech I warmly support—I do not mind if CND loses its appeal. But I worry about existing apathy, for I feel the situation is now much more dangerous than is commonly thought.

What is the danger? It is not that war is likely to result from some excessively provocative action. No—that is possible but still unlikely. I do not believe, for instance, that the Soviet Union will regard almost any action by the United States in Latin America—apart perhaps from Cuba—as a reason for even breaking off talks on arms limitation. Both sides will do their utmost not to get involved in local wars, more especially in the Middle East. Both will continue to put up with the patrolling of their coasts by potentially hostile nuclear submarines. Nor will disregard of human rights—where, incidentally, the Russians seem to be making very considerable progress—do more than put some strain on normal East-West relations. No; I believe that the danger—the not so very long-term danger of war—lies in a very different direction. In other words, it lies right overhead, in space.

Many people in America, perhaps some in Europe and no doubt the Soviet Union, nevertheless feel that the two super powers are set on a collision course: one philosophy, or Weltanschauung, must prevail, the other being abandoned or gradually renounced. This might, so they would say, take place without a world war but one could well occur as a result of the one side being about to possess a vast preponderance of power which, if ever it had to be employed, might possibly result in what they call "victory". Alternatively, it is imagined by some that if the West spends vast sums on nuclear armaments it will oblige the Soviet Union to follow suit, thus resulting in the collapse of the Russian economy. I believe that to be a very dangerous delusion.

At Geneva both leaders said that in their joint view no nuclear war could be won and therefore must not be fought. Nevertheless, an appalling arms race still goes on. Perhaps, apart from its cost, even this might not matter so much provided it was clear that neither side could conceivably knock out all, or nearly all, the offensive nuclear weapons of the other, as it were, in one fell swoop; in other words, that each side retained the assured capacity to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary on what is called a second strike. This is the old doctrine of MAD, or mutually assured destruction. Unfortunately MAD has now apparently been replaced in America by the novel doctrine of MAS—mutually assured security—as a result of this disastrous project called star wars.

Why is it disastrous? It is because, whatever may be said in its favour, star wars is clearly, in effect, a conscious attempt to occupy (before the other side occupies it) what used to be called the high ground in space where, it is thought, the United States can be largely protected from nuclear bombardment and whence it could also, if necessary, destroy or threaten to destroy with comparative immunity the Soviet Union itself. Evidence of such intention, I believe, even if unacknowledged, can be found in the latest Weinberger plan for permanently stationing a large number of so-called killer satellites over the Soviet Union.

It is only natural therefore that unless the ABM treaty of 1972 is abided by, in the sense of agreement on what exactly is implied by research, and not effectively repudiated by what is called the broad interpretation, the Soviet Union will take such precautions as are open to it, none of which, to say the least, will be consonant with any possible agreement on the limitation of nuclear arms. The outlook therefore at the moment is sombre. But that is not all. As has already been said by a speaker, the SDI research may well be useful in preparations for the destruction of the satellites of the adversary. All ASAT—anti-satellite activity—therefore should, consequently, by agreement henceforth be banned. I think that the Soviet Union would agree to that. Observance of such a ban could easily be verified.

What conclusion do we draw from this deplorable situation? The first is that the Russian leadership under Gorbachev will not prejudice Soviet claims to be what it thinks is an equal super power and thus a potential rival of the United States. A kind of modified cold war, and in any case the maintenance of some kind of Soviet empire (short of an unlikely internal collapse), will therefore continue. We must assume that that will be so. But the time has now come when there simply must be agreement on arms limitation if the danger of war and mutual destruction is to be averted and, indeed, if the maintenance of the Western alliance is to be assured.

Gorbachev is at least right on one essential point. If nuclear tests now take place in space we shall all be in some danger of annihilation. Her Majesty's Government therefore must make it absolutely clear that they are entirely opposed to what is called the broad interpretation of the 1972 treaty and, in principle, opposed also to any efforts to prepare for the holding of nuclear tests in space. They must say that they are totally opposed on both those issues. If we publicly take this line we shall not be simply siding with the Russians but trying to keep together the Western alliance which otherwise Mr. Gorbachev one day—perhaps with the assistance of Left-wing governments in Europe—may have a good chance of breaking up.

A really first-class book has just been published by an American professor called Seweryn Bialer. It is entitled The Soviet Paradox, External Expansion, Internal Decline. It analyses with great objectivity the problems posed by the existing Russian empire. Towards the end of this work, he says: The time for fundamental decisions with regard to arms control has been reached, a time which may only last a few years … the central decision has to be taken by the United States which … has two options. The first is to press for mutual, verifiable and equitable reductions of offensive weapons. The second is to press forward with unilateral plans of missile defence—the SDI. These cannot be reconciled". I repeat those words: "These cannot be reconciled".

Mr. Bialer prefers the first option. He says: A commitment to SDI will both intensify the arms race and preclude terrestrial arms reductions, carrying with it an unavoidably dangerous destabilisation of the nuclear balance". In the light of these wise words what general line will the Prime Minister take in Moscow? Unless she favours the broad interpretation of the treaty—which I should have thought was inconceivable—she can, while still remaining a devoted member of NATO, hardly avoid being to some extent an intermediary between the two super powers. She will presumably have to listen to what Mr. Gorbachev has to say about the concessions he may make on arms limitation, always supposing that he agrees with her that the broad interpretation of the treaty must be abandoned, and she might well ask him whether he can make further concessions as well.

If this should annoy some members of the tottering United States Administration, well, that just cannot be helped. However, it would surely appeal to a majority in Congress, and it is on that that we must now rely if the ailing President is to be persuaded, possibly to resume the summit talks but at least, by reverting to the narrow interpretation of the treaty, to further the negotiations at Geneva, on the success of which the future of all of us in the Western hemisphere now so obviously depends.

4 p.m.

Lord Soper

My Lords, I am attracted to the Motion on the Order Paper for a number of reasons, not least that it takes place at a time when there is obviously movement in the international sphere. That is true not only in Russia—as regards which it would be excellent if we tried to support the Russian situation as it is now developing—but also in the chaos which is likely to emerge on the other side of the Atlantic.

However, it is for a much more important reason that I believe this debate is timely and imperative. As I listened to what was said I had the uncomfortable feeling that it was largely a discussion by a number of prisoners in the condemned cell, occasionally visited by the prison chaplain. I honour him for the candour, if he will allow me to say so, and the sincerity of what he said, but I do not believe that an agonised conscience is the only factor that can contribute to practical conversation in the condemned cell.

My problem is a moral one and I share with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester the apocalyptic nature of the threat which now faces us all. It is a threat which is not confined to the deliberate actions of super-powers. As a result of the proliferation of nuclear capacity, there is the prospect of terrorism using nuclear powers to its own advantage, to say nothing of another matter which I believe must find some inclusion in an informed debate this afternoon. I notice—and I hope it is a calculated noticing—many people today, young and old, becoming increasingly cynical. They are finding it very difficult to put up with the kind of world in which they live, except by escaping as best they can from any commitment to it. That is a very dangerous situation and the danger is likely to increase.

The Motion on the Order Paper concerns three kinds of danger. There is the apocalyptic danger to which reference has already been made and I shall not repeat what has been said so eloquently on the matter. We are in imminent danger of a collapse which is far greater than even the scientists have recognised. The Chernobyl catastrophe is only partial evidence of something which goes far deeper; it is the capacity which we now have—the do-it-yourself capacity—to destroy almost anything in this world that can be destroyed.

The second danger is that it would he foolish to assume that in the present situation there is some kind of practice and programme which will be without danger. I speak professionally and I know that my ecclesiastical friends will agree with me when I say that if one persists in things which are wrong for sufficient time, one will lose a measure of the capacity to put them right and there will be a danger in whatever one endeavours to do. I believe that must be reconciled with the present situation. I am prepared to recognise that there are innumerable dangers facing those who seek peace in this troubled world today.

There is a third danger to which the Motion makes reference, but it is not dealt with in any composite degree; namely, the danger of unilateral excessive or extreme action. There seems no purpose in unilateral action which is not sufficiently powerful to do any good. The Russians unilaterally halted their tests but they started them again because it was a comparatively trivial unilateral action which carried no real punch behind it.

It will be no surprise to those who have suffered such speeches as I have tried to make previously that I believe that unilateral action is the only course reconcilable with the Christian faith to which I should like to adhere. However, there is no virtue in saying: "I will if you will". We must make sure that the result of our common action produces something agreeable to both sides. There is now paramount need in view of the increasing danger of the present situation to face a unilateral action which, in my judgment, must go further than a diminution of offensive weapons or the nuclear threat; I am referring to its abolition.

I know that I speak for a small minority in this field, but it would only be honest to say that I am more convinced as the days go by that the essence of the Christian faith finds no substance whatever in the idea of privatisation in economics—to which I shall not refer now—and the idea of the deterrence of terror. There is not place in the Gospels for the deterrence of terror; no place at all.

It seems to me that unless we are prepared to renounce the whole concept of the Christian faith we must take it as intrinsically it is rather than water it down or develop it in terms of what would be suitable or what we think would be practical. I hope that I shall not be accused of arrogance when I venture to say that the essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is obedience rather than the calculation of results which may follow from our own interpretation of what we think would be better for the world and what apparently is the purpose of God for it.

I therefore make my witness very briefly, and I shall not take up the whole of the eight minutes which I have been allocated. I make my witness as clearly as I can to the possibility of one country taking the initiative and believing that by a renunciation of its capacity to take part in the deterrence of terror that will open the door to all kinds of new approaches which I believe are burgeoning within the peoples of the world and are to some extent represented in Gorbachev. Above all, they are represented in the hope, which is now being threatened; that we live in a world where, by the grace of God, we can have peace on earth and good will among men.

What I have said may sound a little like a sermon, but this is the kind of contribution which must be included if we are rigorously and realistically to approach the forthcoming problems which seem to increase in their intensity and in the dreadful consequences that they prophesy. It is in the context that I invite your Lordships to consider again within the framework of this Motion not some kind of partial deterrent which flows from a unilateral renuciation of certain weapons, but that one country—and, please God, it will be this country—will be prepared unilaterally to translate the Gospel of non-resistance and the profession of the love of God. In my estimation that is an infinitely greater opportunity. Whatever the dangers I believe that it would be guaranteed finally in its success in the very nature of the world as I believe it to be.

Therefore I advocate again that the consequences are of secondary importance to the commitment. The commitment to violence today is a commitment to death; a commitment to unilateral and total disarmament is the bellwether of life.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the debate today was originated by the Alliance for a special reason; namely, to make quite sure that people understood the important policy on defence and where we stand. It was reinforced in my mind at a recent NATO briefing I attended for delegates to the Western European Union Assembly where a Conservative member asked the American chargé d'affaires whether he was aware that two of the main parties in Britain advocated unilateral disarmament and the removal of American bases and what effect that would have on the alliance. I hope that the noble Baroness on the Front Bench will assure me that Conservative Back Benchers are informed of the policy of their opponents. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, certainly appeared to be informed upon it. He criticised it. He said that we are in the middle—not a bad place to be—but he did accept that the policy was different from the Labour Party's.

This piece of misinformation in the Conservative Party is, to put it mildly, not very good for democracy. You can criticise an opponent's policy on the technical details and on the alternatives to Polaris. But it is quite wrong to equate it with Labour Party policy which that party can defend. Labour's policy is not our policy. I hope that the Conservative Party will take this on hoard. In any democratic system, you really must criticise your opponent's policies on the facts and not on misinformation. The noble Baroness smiles which I take as a very good sign.

I am not going to take up the whole of my time. Most people who say that go on to exceed their time. I would like to say, however, that I was desperately pleased with the briefing that we had with the leaders of NATO. I am not giving away any secrets when I say that the general line there pleased me. It was the policy we are adopting. It was, "Keep up your guard but take advantage of the tremendous internal changes which are going on inside the Soviet Union which might" —and indeed, I believe, must—"lead to a change in its foreign policy and attitude to disarmament."

It was Goering who said that the German people preferred guns to butter. But once you actually give people butter—which, of course, we in the EC do—they begin to prefer it. It is, quite seriously, foolish of us not to recognise that great changes may be taking place inside the Soviet Union. We must stand with our guard up but ready to reassure the Soviet Union in respect of the paranoia it has about security, and to make genuine advances in disarmament.

That is, briefly, the policy which we in the Liberal Party and in the Alliance as a whole have had since the unfortunate defeat or stupid mistake at Eastbourne. We have gone round the country. We have gone to the sources of democratic power in the party. In each and every one—in Scotland, for example—we have received backing for this sensible policy set out for everyone, including the Conservative Party, to read. I have the honour to be president of the Scottish Liberal Party. At the council meeting where we passed this policy, the votes were 110 for and 6 against. This was repeated in the Welsh party and repeated in the English party. Our opponents should recognise that we have a sensible policy, one which will work in the modern world, one which is backed by the Alliance—both parties—and one which is practical. It should not be misrepresented.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the first point to which I want to draw the attention of the House is that if this Motion is aimed first at the Labour Party, it is quite inaccurate. The Labour Party does not stand for unilateral disarmament. The Labour Party stands for the removal of British nuclear weapons, for an increase in our conventional weapons and an increased influence in NATO.

It puzzles me, particularly listening to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, as to who the members of the Alliance are, and who they are speaking for. Are they speaking for the SDP? Are they speaking for the Liberal Party? Are they speaking for the Liberal Assembly? Are they speaking for the SDP Liberal Defence Commission report which has been rejected? Who are they speaking for? Where is this Alliance? Surely there are more divisions between members of the Liberal Party and the SDP than there are even in the Labour Party or the Conservative Party.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, we are speaking for the Alliance, the policy of which is set out in the document named by my noble friend, Lord Mayhew, in his opening speech.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, that is dependent on whether one can recognise an alliance between two sets of politicians who constantly disagree with each other and who have been represented at the Liberal Assembly by a resolution which is much closer to the policy of the Labour Party than it is to the document that has been referred to.

We have weekly seen Dr. Owen—who is supposed to be one of the leaders of the Alliance—staking his political future on the continuation of the British bomb. What is this policy? It is a contradiction of the resolution passed at the Liberal Assembly. It seems to me that the only description that fits the defence policy of the so-called Alliance is that it is a marshmallow policy occasionally spiced with Dr. Owen's brimstone.

Where do the Government stand? The Government stand apparently four-square behind Trident. I would like to ask the noble Baroness who is to reply whether she agrees that the possession of Trident would greatly escalate the nuclear power that has been centred on Polaris. I asked a member of the Government whether the logical conclusion of their policy was that, whereas today's nuclear warheads could obliterate the whole human race, by the 1990s, with the possession of Trident, the human race could be obliterated five times. I was told by the member of the Government, with his normal inflated pomposity, that it was a question not worth answering. Is it the policy of the Government that deterrence needs the human race to be obliterated five times?

I wish to deal for a moment with what is happening in Europe. It is not just the Labour Party that is under attack. We have seen the defence policy of the Labour Party under attack by General Rogers. Now we understand that General Rogers is to be replaced by General John Galvin who has made no secret of his belief that the world is polarised and that policy must be geared to the acceptance of that polarisation. We do not accept that polarisation. I would remind noble Lords that when the Danish right-of-centre government unilaterally decided to move to a more defensive nuclear policy it was immediately under pressure from the Americans.

When the Right Wing Dutch coalition government unilaterally decided to scale down its nuclear tasks, and when it reopened the issue of its acceptance of cruise in the farce that followed Reykjavik, it was under attack by the Americans. Now when the Canadian Liberal Opposition supports the ban on United States testing of cruise over its territory and declares that it believes that Canada should be a nuclear-free zone, once again that pressure is brought, just as it is now being brought on the Labour Party because of our defence policy. Since Chernobyl, the exposure of star wars, the attack on Libya and also the sinking of the Soviet submarine in the Atlantic, opinion in Europe and all over the world is changing. This can be shown from public opinion polls sponsored by the United States.

The polls show that in Western Europe opinion is rapidly changing in its attitude towards the whole nuclear issue. We on these Benches believe that the bomb has never been a ticket to any top level conference—that is a pose or a macho policy. We are a middle-strength state and we should recognise that fact and act accordingly and act constructively, as do Norway and Canada, who are both members of NATO. Neither countries have nuclear weapons. Our action should be through the United Nations, the EC, or the Commonwealth. We do not believe that the Soviet Union, with its ramshackle economic system and grave internal and external problems, would be so mad as to even contemplate absorbing 300 million Western Europeans.

We demand and will demand the removal of Soviet nuclear weapons and occupying forces from Eastern Europe. We support and shall continue to support those struggling for their freedom in Eastern Europe. But we reject the deception that British nuclear weapons can in any way influence the Soviet policy. Such weapons can only threaten the survival of the British people.

Our policy is to concentrate and extend the use of diplomacy, discussion, increased trade and above all international institutions to encourage the liberalisation of the Soviet Union. This can be achieved by setting an example from this country together with the increasing number of Europeans and peoples of other continents who are rejecting nuclear weapons as a solution to the human problem. We believe in setting an example. There is a distinct and coherent policy of defensive deterrence which can reduce the possibly fatal European tensions. That is the clearly worked out policy which has been laid before the country by the Labour Party and is the policy which we believe will be supported by the people of Britain.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, in the limited time available I should like to confine my remarks to a few observations on unilateral nuclear disarmament, and then to consider the Alliance's bargain basement alternative.

First, I should like to say that as Parliamentarians it is our duty to support policies most likely to prevent another world conflict, and to ensure that if ever one should erupt that our country is as well prepared as possible.

If those proposing universal disarmament, namely, nuclear disarmament, were only from the loony Left, as it has now become called, I might be able to sympathise with them—if not to absolve them. But, I fear that there is an element among the advocates with much more sinister motives. I am sure that many members of CND are sincere in their beliefs, however misguided. But there is also a cynical element using these idealists for their own ends. However, if we stay simply with these idealists, how short are their memories? Are they not advocating very similar policies to those that prevailed before the last war? We buried our heads in the sand then and we very nearly lost them.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for one moment? Was that not the policy followed by the Conservative Government?

Lord Rodney

That is quite correct. We have learned by our mistakes: hut, unfortunately some other people have not. I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, I was waiting for it.

My Lords, the name of the game then was appeasement from all sides. I was rather young in those days, but if I remember rightly it was from all parties. The policy was: do not do anything to upset the Nazis. Now the policy is: get rid of all our nuclear armaments. Rid our soil of these nasty things and any nuclear bombs or rockets flying around the place will not come our way. What a pipe-dream!

Following the same line of reason, if we had scrapped all our bombers during the last war the enemy would not have bombed us. But, we go further still now—we have nuclear free zones. I admit that I have never had a lucid explanation as to how one maintains such zones, although I understand that some councils are spending quite substantial sums of money in promoting them. Surely, if we have learned nothing else from the Chernobyl catastrophe, we have come to realise that nuclear clouds are no respecters of frontiers, or even of council boundaries. The whole concept of unilateral nuclear disarmament, which to me is today's equivalent of appeasement, appears so illogical that I find it hard to believe that anyone who subscribes to such a concept really has the interests of our nation at heart.

I was happy to note from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that at least we have one point in common: we both disown and condemn unilateral disarmament. But I think that is about as far as we can go together. I referred earlier to the Alliance's bargain basement policies. As with many apparent bargains, I think they will not turn out to be such a great bargain. As I understand the matter, they have cobbled together a plan which at least has resulted in some agreement among themselves, but which really seems to give us the worst of all worlds. The plan would mean continuing with Polaris beyond its effective lifespan, using cruise missiles and French ballistic missiles, which possibly will not be technically compatible.

I do not wish to be disrespectful to the noble Lord, but when he was speaking there was a little jingle going through my mind: If 'if's and 'ands' were pots and pans we wouldn't need a tinker. If I may say so, the impression I had was that we wait and see. But how long can we wait and see? Surely decisions have to be taken now. We cannot wait until the opportunity arises, if ever, of getting the information from the right sources. A decision has to be made now.

In contrast, this Government have adhered to a logical and rational plan of maintaining Britain's own effective independent nuclear deterrent, which they are now proposing to up-date in time for the 21st century. They are not proposing to wait and see. How is it possible to put a value on national security? Our present policies have secured us against world conflict for over 40 years. Should we now put all this at risk and follow the Opposition's plans for scrapping our whole national deterrent, and that of our allies on our shores, in exchange for some increase in conventional weaponry which has never proved to be a deterrent to an aggressor in the past? Or, should we follow the Alliance's policy of a nuclear deterrent on the cheap, which to me seems to me to be neither fish nor fowl. I think not, my Lords. I believe that the very finality of a nuclear war, even to the most aggressive, is its greatest deterrent. With conventional weaponry, wars have always existed. With the ultimate in destruction, which regrettably nuclear weaponry is, I believe that we have a means to eliminate world conflict—that may sound slightly high falutin'—but we have to maintain our position or we will lose that deterrent.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I am concerned with nuclears, not as weapons but as deterrents. I wish nuclears long life and success as a deterrent, for the continued survival of the human race depends upon the success of the nuclear deterrent. That is what we have to face up to.

If one believes in a deterrent one must also believe in being deterred. I hereby declare that I am deterred, and so I believe is every sane man and woman in this country, because we are totally indefensible. The Russians know that very well. We could never in any circumstances use the deterrent for the simple reason that we live in a glass house, and the Russians know very well that we live in a glass house.

When I was spokesman for my party, I went as the guest of the American Air Force to the Rand Institute of Strategic Studies. One of the things they studied was the amount of nuclear attack capable of killing a nation. By killing a nation they meant the same definition as we have of killing a human being; so injuring the brain that all control of the body ceases, and ceases permanently.

What is the scale of the attack that can bring that about in each nation, my Lords? I said, "What about England?" They gave me a figure. The other day I told this to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and I asked him, "What do you think the figure will be?" He said, "About 10." Actually the Rand figure was 11. That is the degree of our vulnerability: 11 nuclear bombs—and those were bombs much smaller than existing ones—from which we have no possible defence. This would make us cease to be a unit as a nation capable of management or capable of government. Who can accept that?

The condition of a deterrent is that it should be credible. If we seriously want to make our deterrent credible, the only thing we can do is to send for the Yorkshire Ripper and make him Prime Minister, because only a well-established homicidal maniac could possibly use the weapons when we are in a position of vulnerability.

What then is the deterrent? In my view it is in fact NATO. But not NATO as a military alliance. As a military alliance it is a joke. The Americans are drying out; the Belgians and the Dutch are home at weekends; the French have gone home altogether. We are the only effective army there. Nobody who seriously studies these matters imagines that NATO, if it were attacked by the Russians, would be out of the bag for more than a week.

But what happens then? What do the Russians do then? What do they do when they get to the coast? They find themselves at war. At war with America; at war with the great god Poseidon in all the seas of the world around them. Is that a position the Russians want to get into: a hostile population; no trade; a perpetual blockade? China is a bit of a menace there. It is a formidable deterrent. It is that threat that there will be a war in which America and all the seas are against them.

What do we do about this? What is the sensible position for us to take? I certainly do not think that it is to spend our money on a weapon that we cannot possibly use. But unless we have a homicidal Prime Minister nobody could believe that we could use it. I certainly do not think that the wise thing to do is to say, "Now we are in government, Americans get out". That is a nonsense. Of course it is.

I personally believe that it would not be all that difficult to negotiate with the Americans and say, "Is it really sense for NATO to have its nuclear weapons in an indefensible position? We cannot defend them here. We cannot defend you here. We must really spread further off". I think that would be sensible.

I have also always believed in conscription. I just do not think that it is healthy for a society to have three generations which have never pulled a trigger. When you get into that sort of state, nations do not live long. People ought to have a responsibility, and sense of responsibility, for defence within their country.

I also believe that it is perfectly good sense to say, "We are a far more effective partner in NATO if we have in fact a unit which cannot, unlike the rest of you, be immediately overrun; which is firmly defended by forces organised very much on—what is the word for it, my Lords?—formal lines. There is much prospect there of convincing the Russians that we can give them at least as much trouble as Afghanistan—and they have not liked that at all. That seems to me to be the sensible way in which we should be thinking.

4.38 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I always listen with fascination to the orations of the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton. I did not quite gather whether he regarded conscription as the ultimate deterrent or not, but I entirely agree with one point he made. Any defence policy must necessarily be credible. The real issue before us is: what is a credible policy for our time, our age, given the differences that have now arisen?

It is now 42 years since the end of the last war. Given the aggressive policies of Stalin, the very dubious greyness of Brezhnev and the erratic era of Krushchev, it is almost certain that Russia was prevented from expanding into Western Europe by one thing, and one thing only. That was the existence of NATO, backed by the American deterrent.

It may be one of the regrettable facets of life—and although I so much admire him I disagree entirely here with the noble Lord, Lord Soper—but I believe that we have had 42 years of peace in Europe because of the existence of the alliance, backed by the ultimate deterrent. It was not regarded as a weapon. It is only in recent times that people have started to talk of the nuclear weapon. It was always the nuclear deterrent, the possession of which made the use of other weapons inconceivable because it might have led to the use of the deterrent.

A credible policy for our day has to pay regard to what has happened since that time. Clearly, the first requirement is to guarantee, so far as we can, the security of our country and of Western Europe. Therefore, it is very important to consider what has preserved peace. Secondly, it is equally important to make sure that our defence position is not so hidebound as to prevent progress from a state of collective security to one of common security for which the whole world yearns and which Russia needs as much as we need it.

I believe therefore that the Alliance defence policy is credible for our time. We have to pay regard to the fact that you cannot have massive armaments for 42 years without building up in our country, in the United States, in Russia and in every other part of Europe, whether to the east or to the west of the Iron Curtain, powerful vested interests in the armaments industry, in the armed services and so on. I have no doubt that Mr. Gorbachev, whatever efforts he is making to change the approach of Russia in foreign affairs, just as he is trying to change Russia internally, is faced with enormous reactions from vested interests within his own country. Likewise, we know that in the United States there are very powerful vested interests in armaments, and so on, as there are in our own country.

What, then, is the right posture for a country like ours to take at the present time? First, I think that most of us believe in collective security through NATO. It is impossible to subscribe to NATO and refute our obligations as a member. NATO is the best guarantee of our security. But the obligations—and here I speak to the Labour Party—include acceptance of the allies' bases on our soil; that is American bases. We should insist on full consultation and joint decision-taking with regard to the use of those bases.

How is it possible for a country like ours, which has sheltered behind NATO and the American nuclear deterrent, to say, "We will clear out your bases from the United Kingdom: we want your deterrent and we want to be part of NATO, but we do not want to be sullied in any way by having your bases on our land"?

That is an impossible position. It would lead to the break-up of NATO. This policy threatens its very existence. I am sure that the Labour Party policy, by its extremism, threatens the very existence of NATO. That could produce the most enormous consequences in the USSR as well as in our country. It could change the balance there and lead to the emergence of hardliners dominating Gorbachev. And it would mean changes certainly within the United States.

On the other hand, it seems to me—I am trying to keep my remarks very short—that the danger of the escalation of thermonuclear weaponry is enormous. I deplore the present lack of leadership in the United States. I think it is shattering Western Europe and faith in the alliance. The deterioration we have seen in the last year or two in European-American relations, particularly in regard to American pressure for wide interpretation of the ABM Treaty to enable the deployment of star wars, as well as its research programme, is reprehensible.

If the cry should go out from Western Europe to the United States for positive, more sensible and more enlightened leadership there and the cementing of the alliance, then this country should not go along with the United States. We are in a position to have enormous influence on the United States at the present time and I think we could take the lead in Western Europe. Surely, it is high time that the western pillar of NATO—the European pillar—pulled itself together and had a common policy, a common attitude. The Alliance policy in time leads to that.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I wish I could believe what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, quite sincerely believes: that it is the nuclear weapon that has kept the peace. Quite other factors have preserved us from war, and we might perhaps remember in passing that in this so-called peaceful era 40 million people have been killed in wars all over the world—

A Noble Lord

Not in this country.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

—and that the nations participating in those wars, in spite of the fact, if I may refer to the seated interjection, that some of them have been armed with nuclear weapons, have not used them. They have not stopped the wars and they have not stopped the killing.

The notion that nuclear arms, by themselves, will keep the peace has not been borne out by the facts. All that has happened is that we have been fortunate enough in Europe not to have a third world war. But the situation is getting more and more dangerous all the time, and most people who have mentioned this point agree. They do not dispute that we are getting more and more weapons and are reaching a situation in which, if we move into star wars, we shall probably be unstoppable. They recognise this.

I extend my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, on introducing this Motion. I applaud his courage for doing so in the circumstances in which we find ourselves this evening. But my congratulations are modified by the fact that the Motion talks about "unilateral disarmament". Nobody in this House, with the sole exception of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, believes in unilateral disarmament; and that is what the Motion says. If the debate is between the noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Soper, I must regretfully tell the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that I think he has lost it.

However, most of us are not arguing about what is in the Motion: what we are talking about is unilateral nuclear disarmament. This smudging over, this moving to the idea that the nuclear weapon is different from anything that has existed before and must be treated as the special weapon that it is, and because of that one automatically does not want any weapons at all, is not Labour Party policy. Therefore I venture to say that in introducing a Motion which seeks to suggest that it is, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is not acting with that standard of accuracy with which I have always credited him in the past.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I should just like to say that this is a drafting error, for which I apologise.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am most grateful but it is an unfortunate drafting error because it seems to me to have spiked the noble Lord's argument. I am sorry that in introducing the debate he did not make it clear, at any rate to me, that the Motion contained a drafting error. He seemed to me to go out of his way to emphasise the error and to talk about Labour Party policy and about the Labour Party as though it believed—and perhaps it would be a good idea if it did, but it does not—in the policies advocated so eloquently and movingly by the noble Lord, Lord Soper.

I am sorry that we are not that kind of party, but we are not. We are a party which believes in strong conventional armaments in this country and in maintaining our position inside NATO. If my noble friend Lord Stewart wants to know the answers to his questions, curiously enough, the questions set out in the latest Labour Party defence policy are almost precisely those which he asked. Why does he not read the document issuing from Walworth Road? When he has done that he might dispute the answers; then we should hear a very interesting speech from him, and I look forward to it.

During our last discussion on these matters the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred at col. 901 of the Official Report of 3rd December to what he called my "usual scaremongering efforts". In that debate the case against Trident was put most effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, from the Government Benches. I followed the noble Lord in pointing out that beyond Trident was the case against nuclear weapons as a whole. I referred to nuclear weapons as a means of terminating our civilisation. This is what the noble Viscount called scaremongering.

But if he wants more effective scaremongering than I have been able to produce, let him look at what Lord Mountbatten of Burma said. There, indeed, was effective scaremongering. The fact that Lord Mountbatten was not a unilateralist, and I never suggested that he was, does not affect the fact that he recognised—and carried that out in what he was saying—that we were in the face of something which was no longer a weapon. We were in the face, for the first time in human history, of the means of totally destroying ourselves and all that we have done and represent, and of reducing this earth to something like the moon. That is within our power.

If we go on saying, "We recognise this but are not going to do anything about it, like the Alliance. We are just going to qualify it and try to carve up an agreement which will bring the policies of the Alliance together. We will try to get it together and push something over which does not mean anything but will somehow please the public", it will not please the public. It will not achieve the object which is sought and it will destroy the credibility of both members of the Alliance if they go on like that.

It was reasonable at one time to do this counting, which the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, is fond of, to add up how much we have on this side and how much there is on that side. When the things being counted were Messerschmitts and Spitfires I was very interested in that count, and I think it was entirely valid in the war that we were carrying out then. But it is absolutely useless when what we are counting up is whether we can destroy the world five times over or 10 times over. We have reached a stage of total nonsense and the danger is that, when we have it in our power to destroy mankind and all that we have done, we are messing about with the detail of the matter and forgetting about the situation which we are truthfully in at this time.

I have more that I could have said, but I say only this. I do not think there is a perfect policy capable of being carried out by any party under the sun in this situation. All I would say to your Lordships is that the calm factual policy now being put forward by the Labour Party is the only one which seeks to carry into practice the recognition of the special lethality of the nuclear weapon that I have talked about. It is because of that that I commend the Labour Party's policy to your Lordships.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, today Mr. Perle and Mr. Nitze are in London for the inside of a day to consult us on the reinterpretation of the ABM treaty. They are to report back on Monday. A week or two ago, the State Department was to take six months over this work. We must wonder what is now the great hurry. Last week, Mr. Weinberger said to Congress We should try to develop … and deploy strategic defences as quickly as possible". He must be understood to speak for the Administration. He is talking about a space-based weapon known now as a kinetic kill vehicle. The way to deploy these would be to garage them in armed satellites over Soviet territory or indeed ours. The preliminary system would comprise some 11,000 weapons. These or others could of course in time be able to strike down to earth as well as into space.

Deployment is obviously against the ABM treaty and so is testing. The Foreign Office lawyers cannot be telling the Government anything else. Senator Nunn has said that there will be a great constitutional crisis in the US, if the Administration tries to reinterpret the treaty to allow testing. It cannot do this: neither the Russians nor Congress will agree. Breaking the treaty would signal to the world that the United States will deploy its SDI or such part of it as works. It would follow on the breach of the SALT II terms, the mining of the Nicaraguan harbours, the contempt of the World Court's ruling on that, the betrayal of the West's anti-terrorist policy, the reported attempt to kill a head of state with bombers based in this country and the illegal gun-running by companies funded under the so-called democracy programme launched by the President in this building.

It would signal an arms race in space. It would also cause the Soviet Union to respond far beyond its present research. It is most unlikely that this response would not put paid to the deterrent effect of any ballistic missile system this country might have. Lastly, reinterpretation would destroy the disarmament negotiations. President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev agreed at Geneva that these should cover three things: strategic nuclear weapons, intermediate nuclear forces and preventing an arms race in space. The US negotiators in Geneva have already been ordered to cease negotiating on space.

Why the increased haste? Come to think of it, why the sudden imposition of General Galvin of Central America fame to replace General Rogers? The Pentagon used to think that they could get an irreversible momentum behind the SDI before the end of President Reagan's term. They now understand they will have to do it quicker. And all along for three years now our Government have been dragged along behind the SDI, weakly producing agreed statement after agreed statement with President Reagan, which he then tears up. Will today be the day they speak out? Now more than ever it is urgent for us to change the system whereby the United States, whatever it does, formally negotiates with Russia for the whole of NATO. We must now join the negotiations. I wonder whether the Minister of State will be able to give us some news of this morning's talks in Downing Street.

So much for the ABM treaty and SDI. Now for our own so-called independent deterrent—so-calleder and so-calleder; that is, if we ever get it at all. We are discussing defence and that means worst case analysis. That the United States is what our own Minister of Defence, Mr. George Younger, calls "Our greatest and closest ally" does not absolve the Government from responsibility for Britain's national interest. We on these Benches have often expressed our doubts about Trident II. The Government once had their doubts, too. The open government paper of 1982 said they were going to build hulls larger than required for the Trident I which they had earlier intended to buy, in order to retain the flexibility to switch, if necessary at some later stage, to a later missile whether it be Trident II or some successor system". So at that time anyhow they were not all that sure themselves about what to get. Now in the most recent open government paper they say that they are building a warhead that can only fit Trident II.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic various events are taking place. The Government should be considerably less sure about Trident II than they were five years ago. There is the United States internal budget deficit, put at 169 billion dollars this year, and there is "Gramm-Rudman". The congressional budget office is already looking at alternatives to Trident II for America, including reliance on Trident I up to 100 per cent. It is clear where that would leave us. Trident II is too many eggs in one too vulnerable basket.

What is the legal standing of the agreement between the Prime Minister and the President for the sale of the Trident II missiles to us? It is in fact just an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President. It has no Senate ratification. It is no more than an executive agreement in United States law. What, anyway, is United States law for this President? And if there is anyone here who does not know what happened to the Hyde Park and Quebec agreements after the Second World War, and to the agreement to sell us Skybolt, all of which were executive agreements, they should not be responsible for the defence and independence of this nation.

There was no historian of nuclear affairs on the small group of defence experts who advised the Prime Minister to opt for Trident I and then for Trident II. Had there been the Government would have been reminded that our nuclear weapons were developed as much to establish our independence of the often oblivious US decision-making as they were against Soviet threats. Nor was there a lawyer to guard against the possibility of reinterpretation of our agreements.

The Government do not have Trident contracts with US firms. They rest on the good pleasure—and good faith—of the United States Administration only. The Government are presumably thinking about that every day now. Yet they sail on regardless, as if they are not putting our national security in the hands of others whose extraterritorial claims are often excessive.

Then there is what happened at Reykjavik. Her Majesty's Government must also be thinking of the bright idea of two quite subordinate US officials. Mr. Perle who is today's visiting advocate of the breaching of the ABMT was one of them. This bright idea was passed up the table to President Reagan and put straight to the Russians, without the least attempt to contact the United States chiefs of staff, the allies, or anyone else. The idea was that all ballistic missiles should be abolished by 1996. If Mr. Gorbachev had not saved the Government by his opposition to SDI, we would not have Trident II. Moreover, the President has said that everything he proposed at Reykjavik remains on the table. But perhaps he misspoke.

The Government have, I think, welcomed the proposal for a 50 per cent. reduction of ICBMs. Is any such agreement conceivable without a no-transfer clause? The latest Trident open government document is very poorly argued indeed. I believe that my noble friend Lord Mayhew has dealt with that matter sufficiently. The only point I should like to make is that the new Soviet sea-launched land-attack long-range cruise missile—the SSNX.21—has a 3,000-kilometre range. There is another missile on the stocks which is half as big again. Yet the Government are still judging cruise missile technology by the present 500-mile standard.

To expect the future of strategic weapons to stay with ballistic technology and with that only for the next 30 or 40 years is absurd. That is what the Government are doing and that is what we refuse to do.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I also wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject today. There are 50,000 missiles in the world, equivalent to 1 million Hiroshimas. The Home Office has estimated that if ever such weapons were fired, 29 million people would die in the United Kingdom alone. We believe, as do many people who have looked at the subject, that we cannot continue, as Henry Kissinger said in 1979, to base our security upon the credibility of mutual suicide. What we attempt to answer with our policy is the question of what we in Britain can do about it as members of NATO, which is, and which will remain for the foreseeable future, the only possible basis for our defence and security.

For us, the biggest threat to peace lies in overwhelming dependence on nuclear weapons which are sustained at the expense of our conventional forces. NATO strategy is increasingly based on untenable assumptions. The chief among these is the strategy of flexible response, which obviously includes the readiness to make first use of nuclear weapons. This means the acceptance of a strategy of limited nuclear war. This arose from the laudable desire to prevent massive or early use of nuclear weapons in a European conflict by introducing the threat of gradual escalation, which would be stopped by a cry of, "Enough", from the enemy. That has been erased by the fact that the electro-magnetic effect of nuclear explosions would completely disrupt command control of communications and by the recognition that the strategy of deploying sub-strategic nuclear weapons in the front line is inherently unstable because it would require a first use of them or to lose them action in any European conflict.

It is also clear that for us in Western Europe proximity and population make the idea of limitation a fantasy in any case. The tragic example provided by Chernobyl was, to say the least, disastrous. But the discharge of even a tactical nuclear weapon in Europe would be perhaps even more devastating both to the population and to our troops. Even if a nuclear war could be confined to Europe, it would still be an irreversible cataclysm on a continental scale.

It is not surprising that Henry Kissinger and others have called the NATO threat of the early use of nuclear weapons suicidal. It has long been obvious that limiting a nuclear war is extremely unlikely. Many people have concluded that the doctrine of first use is flawed and must be rejected in favour of a doctrine of no first use. Our policy is to get rid of British nuclear weapons and of American weapons in Britain, to cancel Trident, to decommission Polaris and instead to make qualitative and quantitative improvements in our conventional forces. The policy is deliberately to combine nuclear disarmament with increased conventional credibility. That would provide a non-provocative defence policy.

We give the highest priority to nuclear disarmament. We believe that it would be a tragedy if we failed to respond to what could be one of the most dramatic changes in history taking place in the Soviet Union. We are not talking about taking unacceptable risks with our security. Arms control must be accompanied by proper verification, and the Soviet Union will have to learn that lesson if it wants its changes to be accepted as genuine.

We are pleased that Mr. Reagan has confirmed that the proposals of Reykjavik are still on the table. We believe that the threat to progress comes from Mrs. Thatcher's unwillingness to support total nuclear disarmament and her determination to keep a British independent nuclear deterrent.

First, it is highly questionable, despite the promise made by Mr. Reagan (which contradicts his statement), that the proposals made by him are still on the table, that we should get such a deterrent anyway. In the view of Professor Laurence Friedman, who is an adviser to the Select Committee on Defence in another place, the prospects of Britain getting Trident if the Americans agree to a cut of 50 per cent. are, in his words, "dodgy". Few people other than the Prime Minister believe that the Americans would stand by placidly and allow Britain to increase its nuclear capacity by 800 per cent. while over five years they were engaged in a cut of 50 per cent.

The noble Lord, Lord Carver, has said more than once that he can see no conceivable circumstance in which a British nuclear deterrent could be used without the concurrence of America. The combination of the cut imposed by the cost of the Trident programme and the effect of other reductions in spending mean that between 1985–86 and 1988–89 spending on non-nuclear equipment will be cut by 30 per cent.

In 1986, the Labour Party Conference once again committed itself by an overwhelming vote of five to one to our country's membership and participation in NATO. Not only shall we direct the money saved by cancelling Trident but we shall also spend what is necessary in order to maintain our conventional commitment. We stand for strong national defence and for a strong contribution to NATO. Ninety-five per cent. of our defence spending is in NATO and 5 per cent. of our gross national product is committed. It could not be said that a government with the firm intention of continuing this level of spending, while also devoting the money saved from the cancellation of Trident, are not seriously committed to NATO.

Adam Roberts, Professor of International Relations at Oxford, although he does not accept Labour Party policy, has nevertheless said, complaints about … Labour's proposals do not mean that the extreme charges so often made—that they might wreck the whole structure of NATO—have any validity. An alliance that could withstand de Gaulle's headlong assault in 1966, not to mention all the ructions of the past decade, is not likely to collapse because of what Labour proposes". As to the suggestion that the United States could decide to pull out of Europe, our decision to maintain a high level of spending on defence will be most welcome to many Americans.

We believe that the facts will speak for themselves. Poseidon is being phased out and its removal is only a matter of time. But when American nuclear weapons have been removed, that will still leave 135 US military facilities in being or planned in Britain. There are other facilities in Britain of even greater importance to America. The assumption of a conventional role for the F-111s will strengthen our security in Europe. Nor will American nuclear warships be excluded from British waters.

Labour is far from being alone in wanting a fundamental review of our defence programme. The leader in The Times of 11th December 1986 said: There of course exists a respectable case for cancelling the Trident missile. We do not accept it—but those who do include a number of senior officers and politicians of all parties". In his article Professor Roberts went on to say: Many have rushed in with criticisms of Labour's proposals. But whatever faults there may be in their formulation they represent a response to real problems. One is that NATO is far too heavily committed to the first use of nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack by the Warsaw Powers. Labour is facing up to the over-extension of limited defence resources by putting its emphasis on conventional forces and it is responding, however inadequately, to public concern about nuclear weapons and bases". Our proposals are a serious contribution to a debate which has not taken place for 40 years and which is now urgent.

Mrs. Thatcher and the Conservative Government not only are doing no new thinking; they are taking action which is an obstacle to full nuclear disarmament, which Mr. Reagan and many others would like to see; which provides an incentive to the proliferation of nuclear weapons which could be made more difficult to control; and finally which is weakening the defence of Europe by failing to meet our full NATO conventional commitment.

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, nuclear arms control is an aim we can all endorse in one form or another. No one questions the catastrophic effects of the use of nuclear weapons, a point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Mancehster; no democratic state would wish to spend money unnecessarily on escalating thermonuclear weaponry, a point made by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. But there are some forms of nuclear disarmament that are wrong. This would certainly be the case if Western nuclear powers were to be significantly cut back unilaterally. There is no reason to suppose there would be any response. The Montebello decision of 1983 led to overall reductions of a third in NATO's stockpile of shorter-range nuclear warheads in Europe. There was no Soviet response. The United Kingdom has not produced chemical weapons since the late 1950s. This has not deterred the Soviet Union from building up a substantial chemical weapon stockpile.

Unlike the unilateralists of the Labour Party, we do not believe we can change the world by opting out, by washing our own hands of nuclear weapons and asking others to do likewise. The fact is that we face nuclear weapons across the East-West divide in Europe. We need to ensure that neither nuclear blackmail nor nuclear weapons themselves are ever used against us. The fact is that they do deter, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Paget, said.

Given present military realities, which of course include the Warsaw Pact's superior numbers of conventional forces and substantial stockpiles of chemical weapons, nuclear weapons are an essential element in the NATO strategy of deterrence and in the United Kingdom's contribution to that strategy. European security is inconceivable without them. But this is a factor for stability, not instability.

Since the possession of such weapons by both super powers, Continental Europe has enjoyed one of its longest periods of peace in recent centuries. It is no accident that there have been recent signs that the Soviet Union is willing to consider a significant scaling down of nuclear stockpiles. I doubt whether this is a result of a sudden conversion to the principles of unilaterism. On the contrary, I believe it reflects evident Western readiness to maintain effective defences. Without INF deployment we should not be so close to an agreement to remove SS.20s from Europe. Perhaps I may say how glad I was to hear the wise remarks of my noble friend Lord Rodney, who set out this argument.

This Government, unlike noble Lords on the Benches opposite, are not prepared to undermine Western security on the hazardous and uncertain byways of unilateralism. We believe that security is achievable at lower levels of armaments. We remain committed to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world through significant, balanced and verifiable measures of arms control. I listened with care and interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. I shall read it with interest tomorrow and draw it to the attention of my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lords, Lord Hatch and Lord Jenkins of Putney, that they might, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. It would be good for them.

That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister agreed on a number of arms control priorities with President Reagan in November of last year, including a 50 per cent. cut in strategic weapons and an INF agreement. These priorities are both radical and sensible. What such an agreement would do—and it would be an historic agreement of the greatest significance—would be to reduce the existing levels of the super powers' nuclear arsenals to a much lower level. Contrast this with the agreements of the 1970s which sought simply to control permitted increases in nuclear systems. In the present circumstances the Government believe that the approach now envisaged is the correct one to adopt.

This is an immensely ambitious and difficult undertaking. But the priorities of 50 per cent. cuts and an INF agreement are built on areas of convergence in United States and Soviet thinking. As such they are infinitely more realistic—and thus more important —than more distant goals such as the complete elimination of broad categories of weapons. On that, it is clear that the positions of both sides are far apart. The strategic implications require careful thought. The basis of this Government's approach has always been to pursue what is practical and achievable. Significant progress has been achieved, in part as a result of the two meetings between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev. We look to the two sides, in a practical but far from unambitious way, to build on the progress achieved and to turn it into concrete results.

What can Her Majesty's Government contribute? First, we are in close and regular contact with the United States Administration both bilaterally and within NATO. Secondly, we have also maintained a dialogue on arms control with the Soviet Union. Thirdly, but not least, we continue to play an active part in the multilateral negotiations on disarmament, including chemical and conventional weapons, which are a major factor in the overall strategic equation; and in the work to maintain and strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Renton, visited Moscow in January and had extensive discussions on a wide range of arms control issues. No doubt arms control will be one of a number of subjects which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will discuss during her forthcoming visit to Moscow. As a major member of NATO and of the European Community and as a nuclear power, our views carry weight and our opinions are sought—something which, if I may suggest to the Labour Party, is unlikely if the Americans are asked to leave Britain and we disarm unilaterally.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way?

Baroness Young

My Lords, no; I am not giving way. I listened with great care to others and time is limited.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked a number of questions. He referred to killer satellites, which is totally irrelevant to the debate, if a fascinating subject. The Camp Daivd discussions identified priorities for arms control. The noble Lord will be aware of them: first, an INF agreement with restraints on shorter range systems; secondly, a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic nuclear weapons over the next five years; and, thirdly, a complete ban on chemical weapons—all with effective verification. These have now been endorsed by NATO Ministers at their December meetings. This is an illustration of the influence that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has had in her conversations with President Reagan when she has met him.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, also asked me about views on SDI and the ABM treaty. I can do no better than quote what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place on 19th February: First, we have no locus in interpreting the ABM treaty. Secondly, deployment is clearly a matter for negotiation, as we have agreed. Thirdly, we have received satisfactory assurances from the United States that there will be consultation about any significant change of policy in relation to SDI research. Fourthly, the Government fully support the SDI research programme, which is permitted by the ABM treaty. It is vital to our defence that the West should always be at the forefront of new technology.".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/2/87; col. 1054.] The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me what consultations there might be, with the visits of Ambassador Nitze and Mr. Perle. I know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary had good discussions this morning. These form part of continuous consultations which stem from the Camp David meetings. We look forward to pursuing this over the next few months at the Geneva negotiations and as the United States strategic research continues.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, also asked me about the position of Trident. The most helpful thing I can do is refer him to the policy statement which came out on 15th November 1986 following the second Camp David meeting, in which: The President reaffirmed the United States intention to proceed with its strategic modernisation programme including Trident. He also confirmed his full support for the arrangements made to modernise Britain's independent nuclear deterrent with Trident". Why Trident? We think it pitches our deterrent at the right level for the period during which Trident will be operational. It is no escalation of our relative nuclear capacity; that is, in relation to the threat we face—a point which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, did not make. The number of warheads carried by Trident compared with Polaris when it entered service will be increased by two-and-a-half times at most—not eight times, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, or fourteen times as its opponents like to claim.

By comparison, notwithstanding its superiority in conventional forces, the Soviet Union has increased the size of its vastly superior strategic arsenal fivefold since 1970. Trident is the minimum force which will be required to maintain the deterrent which has been supported by all governments of the past two decades. It is a deterrent which if left to Polaris—and few dispute this—would become increasingly ineffective and more expensive to run.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, quoted from a poll, but I notice that the questions did not include whether we should let our deterrent become obsolete or whether we should seek to preserve its capability in relation to what others are doing—two crucial questions. By contrast, Trident's technology will last well into the next century. It has a greater range, giving submarines more sea room and offering greater flexibility in the number of warheads and missiles. Trident is also cost-effective. At an average of only 6 per cent. of the defence equipment budget it represents outstanding value. Put another way, over the life of the programme only three pence out of every pound spent within the total defence budget will go to pay for Trident.

Let me answer in more detail the points which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made in his opening speech. He began by quoting his party's statement on defence. He said, "In Government we would maintain with whatever necessary modernisation our minimum nuclear deterrent until it can be negotiated away". Even though the leaders of the Alliance claim to be keeping their options open, the Liberal/SDP pact has decided in advance that it would cancel Trident. It has managed to do that although it says it cannot make up its mind about anything else until it has had access to classified information. Dr. Owen seems to think that French ballistic missiles might be adapted to British use. I am not sure how the French or indeed the Liberal Party would regard that, but the system could not be developed in time to replace Polaris in time for the mid-1990s.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, floated the idea of a sea-launched cruise missile to replace Polaris; but cruise missiles have a more limited range, as I have already said. Furthermore, they are more vulnerable to the existing and potential air defence system of the Soviet Union. In fact, in an exchange about Trident in your Lordships' House on 19th February the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, used an analogy involving a motor car. I shall continue it. One can say that the Alliance's policy of extending the life of our existing Polaris deterrent would be like keeping an old car; it would be ever more expensive to run and ever less effective. In practice, does not that amount to unilateral nuclear disarmament by the back door?

Those who claim that Trident has had or will have a negative impact on the arms control process are deluding themselves or allowing themselves to be deluded. Mr. Gorbachev acknowledged at Reykjavik that the United Kingdom and French deterrents could increase and be further improved. He was right to conclude that they constitute no obstacle to a substantial programme of nuclear disarmament by the two powers whose armouries are preponderant.

There is a long way to go before that will be significantly less true. But also we have never said that we would never participate in the nuclear arms control process. This would be conditional on substantial cuts in the arsenals of the super powers and no significant change in Soviet defensive capacity. I should remind the noble Lord, in case any doubt remains, that even if 50 per cent. cuts in the super power arsenals were achieved Trident would still represent a smaller proportion of Soviet strategic warheads than did Polaris in 1970. Those noble Lords who are mesmerised by the simple increase in the numbers of British warheads should look at the increase in the numbers of Soviet warheads. In that light, increase does not mean escalation since the increase in Soviet warheads has been even greater. What matters in deterrents is capability against threat.

Armaments would not exist in an ideal world; nor perhaps would the need for insurance policies. But we are where we are and we live in a world which remains full of risks and where the need for insurance policies remains. That is why it is prudent for the Government to maintain an effective deterrent. This leaves us with no better option than to pursue nuclear arms control but not at the price of laying ourselves open to aggression; and to maintain our own deterrent but not above a level dictated by prudence. The arguments may not be comfortable ones but I believe they are compelling, that they are responsible and that this Government's policy rightly reflects our awareness of the two theoretical dangers to which the noble Lord's Motion calls attention.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down may I put this point? She made great play of the effect of British possession of nuclear weapons on American policy. Can she say how it has affected American policy towards, for example, Nicaragua, SALT II and Libya?

Baroness Young

My Lords, if the noble Lord had followed what I was saying—and from his observation it does not appear that he did—he would realise that the point I made is that nuclear weapons have made a contribution towards giving us the longest period of peace in Europe this century, and indeed in Europe as a whole for centuries.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords—

Baroness Young

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will not interrupt me and will let me finish my argument. That is apart from the fact that America is within NATO. That is what I was talking about and that is what I was referring to. Nuclear weapons of course have not been used in Central America or anywhere else.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting debate. On these Benches we have listened with the greatest care to the arguments used on both sides about the Alliance's policy towards the deterrent and particularly to the noble Baroness the Minister. I think we can say that the nature of the arguments used and not used has been a source of great encouragement to those who sit on these Benches. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.