HL Deb 26 July 1990 vol 521 cc1619-21

11.27 a.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they share the Labour Party's aim of a nuclear weapon-free world by the end of this century.

Lord Reay

My Lords, we support arms control agreements, whether nuclear or conventional, which enhance stability and maintain security at lower levels of forces. At the London Summit, NATO Ministers agreed that for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces, kept up to date where necessary, would remain essential to NATO's, strategy of preventing war, but that Soviet troop withdrawals and the implementation of a CFE agreement would also permit a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons, especially systems of shortest range.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that is a better Answer than I have had for some time on this subject? However, the Government still seem to be a little confused. Does he know that on the one hand they declare themselves—I am glad that they have done so because they do not often do it—to be ultimately wishful to be rid of nuclear weapons but on the other hand seem ready to commit themselves freely to them on all occasions? Does he agree that it would be very welcome if we were to hear from the Government more often on the subject of nuclear disarmament and less often on the subject of nuclear modernisation?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord is comparatively pleased with my reply. In the London Summit the declaration makes clear that nuclear weapons will continue to fulfil an essential role in the overall strategy of the alliance by ensuring that there are no circumstances in which nuclear retaliation and response to military action might be discounted.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the late Winston Churchill once observed that the peace of Europe had been preserved for many years by the balance of terror?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I take note of my noble friend's remarks. Certainly we believe that nuclear weapons have kept the peace in Europe for 40 years.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that such a situation cannot come about until there is a utopian situation not only with regard to the big powers but also with regard to all the other powers which are striving to obtain nuclear weapons and which we cannot trust, such as Libya and other such nations?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we believe that as far ahead as one can see our defence will depend on nuclear weapons.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, in his Answer the noble Lord said that the Government supported negotiated limits on arms. Will he tell the House whether the Government intend to put the four-boat Trident submarine force into any future nuclear arms limitation talks? If that commitment were made, does he consider that it would help the progress of the renegotiation of the non-proliferation treaty?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we believe that the fourth nuclear boat provides a guarantee that one boat can be kept on patrol at all times and that our nuclear deterrent is the very minimum required to be credible.

So far as concerns the circumstances in which we could envisage a UK contribution to arms control progress, there would have to be very substantial reductions in the United States and Soviet arsenals, no significant improvements in Soviet defensive capabilities, and United States and Soviet reductions going much further than currently envisaged.

Lord Renton

My Lords, does it not come to this: a massive reduction by the Soviet Union of conventional weapons would be a much greater contribution to world peace than any reduction on our part of our modest nuclear artillery?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we welcome any Soviet reductions of nuclear weapons and the withdrawal of their forces. However, it remains the case that the Soviet Union has not hesitated to modernise its weapons and continues to increase its rate of weapons production.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that this Question refers to the Labour Party's policy of the total elimination of nuclear weapons by the end of the century? Whether or not that is desirable, it is plainly entirely impracticable. The implications of verifying all the countries of the world make the mind boggle. Does the noble Lord also agree that in addition it is impossible to separate out the elimination of nuclear weapons from the elimination of other weapons of mass destruction? It cannot be expected that Israel would abandon its nuclear weapons while the Iraqis keep their CW capacity, and the reverse is true. The whole thing makes no sense.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord has made his point but the Question relates only to nuclear weapons. I agree with his first remarks: we too consider this to be an unrealistic aim.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I wish to raise one point on business of which I have informed the noble Lord the Leader of the House.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I have not finished my Question. I have one final question to put. On the one hand the noble Lord says that the Government will rely on nuclear weapons as far ahead as they can see, whereas on the other hand they are committed to the nuclear non-proliferation agreement which envisages total nuclear disarmament. Are those statements not incompatible? The Government on the one hand are committed internationally to one aim and continually utter another across this Chamber.

Lord Reay

My Lords, we do not believe that those are incompatible positions. The historical background is different. We are committed to the new non-proliferation treaty, but at the same time we believe that the maintenance of the United Kingdom deterrent is essential for the prevention of war.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, whom I did not see rise.

Forward to