HL Deb 16 May 1990 vol 519 cc329-59

5.15 p.m.

Lord Monkswell rose to call attention to the case for eliminating all nuclear weapons by the year 2000; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I should say a few words of clarification at the start. When I say "eliminating" nuclear weapons, I mean just that—not putting such weapons in cold storage or mothballing them, but getting rid of them totally. When I say "all", I mean all in the total global context. I define nuclear weapon as any device that goes bang and generates nuclear radiation.

The reason for holding the debate at this time is to start the last decade of the 20th century on the right note and to highlight the importance of the subject. I contend that there are no military or defence reasons for having nuclear weapons and, because of the risk of accidents, there are powerful reasons why they should not exist at all.

My interest in nuclear weapons started in 1962 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The whole world was scared that both sides would rain nuclear weapons on each other. I wanted to do something to prevent our destruction by nuclear weapons, so I joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I should like to pay tribute here to CND. Although it has not yet achieved its objective of securing nuclear disarmament, the public awareness that CND has generated has meant that nuclear weapons have not been used in any of the conflicts that have erupted around the world since 1945.

I have also taken an interest in defence matters and have studied some military and general history as it pertains to periods of war. It is interesting to see how history repeats itself The weapon of mass destruction in the First World War was gas which caused a great deal of pain and suffering to both sides but produced little military advantage. It was not used in the second world war because military tacticians and strategists appreciated that it would confer no military advantage.

I have listened to my fellow engineering workers who worked through the bombing of Coventry and Manchester, and of Hanover in Germany, during the last war. It was interesting to learn from them that war production was not affected very much by the bombing. That admittedly anecdotal evidence was confirmed when I studied the trends of military production during the second world war. If we consider the effects of the bombing of civilian targets, we see that from Guernica in Spain to Coventry in England and from Dresden in Germany to Hanoi in Vietnam, the result has, if anything, been to strengthen the resolve of the civilian population to fight on.

So what was all the bombing in aid of? My belief is that it was a response to the politicians' urge to do something immediately, anything that was visible, rather than take some alternative course of action, which in some cases might have been to do nothing. It is very difficult for politicians to do nothing in the face of a crisis or problem. Another argument is that it was a technological fix—war at long range—which, following the horrors of the first world war appeared to be a way out for the politicians who, as younger men, had seen those horrors.

Having expended so much by way of resources, men, materials and energy, the course of action has to be justified, especially in view of the physical destruction, carnage and loss of life that result. Unfortunately, until fairly recently most of the world's senior politicians served, or were involved in some capacity, in the last war and therefore were fairly keen to justify the actions of that war.

Another argument that is used to justify nuclear weapons is that they deter aggression. However, it is clear from the evidence that in virtually every year since the end of the last war British servicemen have been killed in military conflicts. From Korea to Northern Ireland and from Kenya to the Falklands, our men have died even though we had nuclear weapons. The same can be said for American, French, Russian, Chinese and Indian servicemen. Their nuclear weapons have not protected them. I hope that this debate will spread the message that the possession and possible use of nuclear weapons confers no military advantage.

At this time in history we have a window of opportunity. There is a new generation of politicians who were born after the Second World War and who have no need to justify past actions. There is a new generation of citizens who are better educated than were their parents. Through the actions and campaigns of bodies such as CND and with the advent of world-wide communications media and television pictures that go around the world in a matter of seconds, the peoples of the world have a far greater understanding of the possible effects of the use of nuclear weapons than was the case 30 or 40 years ago. There is also the declared aspiration of two of the major super powers, signified by Reagan and Gorbachev, to rid the world of nuclear weapons by the end of the century. Sensible military strategists realise that nuclear devices are of no military use.

We must remember the reasoning behind the development and deployment of nuclear weapons. If we look at some of the countries involved, we can see similarities and differences. The nuclear bomb was developed by the British and Americans initially to prevent the Nazi regime in Germany stealing a march on the Allies. The testing and use of the bomb were justified as helping to bring the Japanese to the point of surrender. However, if we look carefully at the history of that period, we see that the Japanese were going to surrender anyway. The atomic bombs had virtually nothing to do with the end of the war. It was the entry of the Russian army into Berlin that finished the war in Europe and it was the American marines taking Okinawa that brought an end to the war in the Pacific. In more recent times it was the British infantry men marching into Port Stanley that ended the Falklands conflict.

In Britain the activities of Bomber Command had to be justified—not only the destruction of Dresden but more significantly the delay in opening up the second front to take pressure off the Russians. It is interesting that to this day the achievements of Hugh Dowding in leading Fighter Command are consistently downgraded in comparison with the achievements of Bomber Harris. The result was that British politicians and the military hierarchy welcomed the atomic bomb as a bigger and better addition to their arsenal.

With the advent of the Cold War, the Russians needed a weapon that could affect America across the Atlantic. They had been conned, I suspect, by British propaganda that the bombing of Germany from Britain was a major factor in weakening the German war effort and a valid reason for delaying the second front. France, for reasons of national prestige as well as fear of a German attack, also had to have the bomb. Unfortunately for the people of France the evidence now shows that their nuclear weapons are unusable against the Germans because they would cause almost as much damage to France as to Germany.

China, following the schism with the USSR, appeared to need the bomb for national defence. I suspect that for reasons of national pride it had to demonstrate its ability to use and harness advanced technology. India also had a need to demonstrate its technological achievement. In terms of the perennial antagonism between India and Pakistan, it probably appeared to do no harm to demonstrate India's nuclear capability.

As we seek to develop a strategy to get rid of nuclear weapons, those factors need to be taken into account. We also need to recognise that the actions that we take will send messages to others and we must be careful to send the right message. Specifically, the commitment to get rid of nuclear weapons must be recognised as a commitment to effective defence and not a commitment to pacifism or a surrender. We saw how the decision to scrap a survey vessel in the South Atlantic led the Argentinians to think that the British were not interested in defending the Falklands. Such a message must never be sent again.

Yes, we want peace. Yes, we recognise the lowering of international tension. But those are not the reasons why we seek to get rid of nuclear weapons. We must get rid of nuclear weapons because they are of no use for military defence. In fact they are a threat to our environment because of the environmental damage that would be caused were a nuclear accident to occur or, heaven forbid, were nuclear weapons to be used intentionally.

Significantly, we had the experience of Chernobyl. We must continue to make clear the message of Chernobyl. The release of radioactivity from that accident, although small in comparison with the release of radioactivity from a nuclear weapons explosion, nevertheless contaminated countries right across Europe. To this day, several years after the event, there are still areas of our country where grazing livestock becomes unfit for human consumption.

Another interesting lesson of Chernobyl is that it is not just totalitarian regimes which doctor information. It was interesting to see a map, generated from information provided by different nation states, showing the nuclear fallout. Virtually every country in Europe was affected to a greater or less extent depending on wind patterns and rainfall. For some inexplicable reason the fallout seemed to stop at the frontiers of France. The map showed fallout all across Europe except in France. Noble Lords will appreciate that the reason was not that fallout did not occur in France but that the French authorities did not want to publish that information.

At each stage of the development and expansion of nuclear weapons the world has held its breath. A new source of instability has been added to the world scene and the Pugwash clock has ticked closer to the armageddon of nuclear midnight. We must recognise that change brings with it the risk of instability and that instability can be threatening if wrongly interpreted.

To minimise the threat of instability leading to conflict, we must all be prepared to be open in our negotiations. We must recognise that nuclear weapons for the most part are deployed as part of wider defence strategies and scenarios. To change those will take time. Some nuclear weapons are deployed by international groups of nations and the agreement of all the members of the group must be obtained to attain meaningful nuclear weapon elimination.

There are several advantages to be gained from setting the deadline of the year 2000 for the elimination of nuclear weapons. First, it gives ample time to achieve the understanding and changes to defence strategies that will be needed. Secondly, it sets a target deadline—effectively an end point to the massive changes that need to occur. Finally it gives a significant date for that which in the history of the world will be a truly historic occasion. I beg to move for Papers.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Monkswell is to be congratulated for raising the issue and for the very clear and moderate tone that he used in doing so. His good fortune in winning a slot for this topic has been very timely; and it is our good fortune too.

The debate is, sadly, necessary because the hoped-for rapid progress in eliminating nuclear weapons after the changes in eastern Europe has not occurred. With communist parties on the defensive or in full retreat, and the Warsaw Pact in disarray, the danger of a conventional attack from the East has virtually disappeared. It was in order to deter that attack that the nuclear structure of NATO was created.

The proponents of the "flexible response" held that if an attack from the East seemed to be succeeding it should be countered, first, by tactical, then possibly by intermediate or strategic nuclear retaliation. The supposition was, I gather, that the Warsaw Pact military command might think again and cease its attack, and possibly not retaliate with nuclear weapons. It has always been an incredibly dangerous strategy and not accepted by many military thinkers as a plausible stance. The danger now of an attack from the East—which in the minds of many of us was always an unlikely event—is virtually over. The talks at all levels on nuclear and conventional weapons should start to move forward at a faster pace.

Noble Lords opposite may well say that the situation in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe is still very unsettled. That is certainly true. But now ordinary people have a bigger say in government. I believe that no party or faction even within the Communist Party which supports a military build up would get far in the present mood, especially in the USSR after the Afghanistan experience.

A military coup by the Red Army —by the military in the Soviet Union—is pretty unlikely despite recent rumours that we have read and which were then scotched about certain events that happened in Moscow. The likelihood of the military starting a foreign adventure on its own is remote in the extreme.

I suppose to stretch the imagination it would be possible to postulate that a mad or maverick senior military person or group might take over and threater a nuclear war to gain its end. But if that occurred, would it not be much better for nuclear weapons by then to be well on the way to being eliminated, as President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev agreed at Reykjavik?

As a doctor I am tempted to remind noble Lords of the medical effects of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilisation which could ensue. However, I shall forbear. The size of the catastrophe, both immediate, latent, and widespread geographically, is hard to imagine, even after an explosion of a smaller device than that which exploded over Hiroshima. Noble Lords who saw the television screening of Raymond Briggs' moving account in "When the Wind Blows" of the slow death of the retired couple from radiation after an attack will have got the message.

My main anxiety is not that a nuclear war would occur as a result of a Warsaw Pact-NATO conflict but that the possession of nuclear weapons will spread to other countries which may use them irresponsibly to gain their own ends or even to turn them on us. We are a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968. Article VI states the following: Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control". It is my contention that if the nuclear weapon states now seriously follow the intent of that article, rather than merely going through the motions, of making reductions in one category of weapon, for example, cruise, but replacing it with another air-launched cruise missile or tactical air to surface missiles (TASM), then the treaty will have much more force in controlling the spreading of the ownership of nuclear weapons to other countries.

By intercepting at Heathrow a few weeks ago the nuclear detonating devices which were on their way to Iraq, this country was acting under Article I of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (although I believe that the reason for intercepting those was because of contravention of another regulation.) Article I requires signatories to the nuclear weapons treaty not to transfer nuclear devices or control over such weapons to any non-nuclear weapon states.

The supergun affair shows that certain states are in deadly earnest in building up a threatening power by which they may influence other states. Because of that I am sometimes rather alarmed when I see large lorries going by with heavy calibre pipes. The other day I saw a lorry which had three huge pipes balanced at an angle of about 30 degrees on the back of the cab. It looked a little like a Russian Katyusha rocket launcher. I wondered where the trajectory of those missile pipes was going to be pointed.

Finally, I hope that the noble Earl who will answer can agree that the time has now come finally to end the nightmare presence on earth of nuclear weapons. It is something that this country could do very effectively, if we were to take a leading role rather than a trailing role in that exercise.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for introducing the subject. I do not agree with everything that he said, but believe that he represents a view that exists in this country and which needs to be answered. For that reason, I am taking part in the debate. Wherever we sit in this House, we are united in our desire to ensure a balanced and steady reduction of all kinds of armaments—that is, conventional, chemical and nuclear. Since the Second World War the window of opportunity for that has never been open more wide.

My second reason for speaking in the debate is that I detect some of the wishful thinking which existed in this country during the 1930s. Why were we not ready and armed at that time? It was because too many people had not faced the fact that Hitler was a real threat and was building up a big armament force in every direction. I well remember the rumours that all his tanks were made of cardboard. There was an enormous faith in the League of Nations. There were all kinds of reasons for saying, "Do we have to do it? Don't let's do anything that will bring us closer to a war. The League of Nations will put everything right and it will interfere". I remind noble Lords that 11 million people in this country signed the Peace Pledge Union believing that somehow it would avoid a war. The BBC, which was then a monopoly, did not allow Winston Churchill on television. He was banned from broadcasting a warning about what was happening and describing the arms that were being manufactured under Hitler's regime.

I wish to summarise the case for maintaining our nuclear capability at least until other forces have been seriously run down. I do not know whether noble Lords have read the recent statement on defence. It is extremely revealing. The nuclear position is summarised on page 15. It makes clear the fact that at the moment the balance of nuclear forces between NATO and Soviet Russia is between two and four to one in favour of Russia. There is a huge preponderance in all types of nuclear weapons.

As regards conventional weapons, there is nothing more startling than the difference in the number of tanks. Page 11 gives the stark facts. The NATO forces are producing about 500 main battle tanks per year while the Warsaw Pact is producing 2,000 per year. Mr. Gorbachev has been in office for five years, but only in the past six months has Russia's production rate on battle tanks been turned back. Approximately 1,750 are being produced each year, but that is twice the number produced by NATO. Last year the Soviet Union had 51,000 battle tanks but we had 16,500; that is a ratio of three to one. It is disturbing to note that Russia has not turned down the wick in the conventional field. Last year it built 10 nuclear submarines to join the forces, 50 long-range bomber planes and 500 fighter planes. That is five years after the Gorbachev doctrine of peace and a more liberal regime.

It is encouraging to look at page 9. It states that we are now negotiating in Vienna and elsewhere to reduce the total number of battle tanks to 20,000. We must build up our strength, but Russia must get rid of almost 40,000 tanks. The agreement ensures that all the stockpiles are to be destroyed. That is a slow and laborious process and we are negotiating for a seven-year period. After two years there will be verification of the progress made in all fields. There will be further verifications after four and six years to measure progress and ensure that agreements are honoured.

Compared with those of the past, there is now a liberal dictatorship in the Soviet Union. However, during the 70 years that the party has been in power, it has never kept to any peace agreement, the most recent being made at Helsinki. It has always cheated and been able to keep that quieter than would be the case in a democracy. We must also remember that the situation in the Soviet Union can change quickly. With modern satellites it will be more difficult for Russia to build up its forces in a clandestine way—that is, conventional forces which could make a sudden attack—and that is an improvement. However, it can switch as it did in the 1930s when to us it was unthinkable that the black socialists would join with the red socialists in the partition of Poland and the start of World War Two. That was done when we were trying to negotiate a peace agreement with Russia. Within a few weeks it changed and became allied with Germany. That remained the case for two years before Germany attacked Russia. It had neglected all our warnings of attack and said that they were part of our propaganda. For that reason, it was caught off-side and Hitler's forces made such progress.

One must face the fact that the nuclear deterrent has been a considerable force in the background. It has discouraged an adventure or a nibble along the Iron Curtain. Despite non-proliferation agreements, several small countries such as Libya, Israel and Iraq have a small stockpile of nuclear weapons. Despite other agreements, China and India also have nuclear weapons. We made a gesture when we destroyed all our stocks of weapons for biological warfare. However, that did not deter others from carrying out the research, development and production of chemical and biological weapons. Therefore, I cannot accept the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that again we should make a gesture and lead the way by abolishing nuclear weapons. It would be folly to throw away our nuclear deterrent at a time when the future is desperately uncertain and during negotiations when a flexible response is especially important.

Lord Rea

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I wish to point out that he did not hear me correctly. When I said that this country should lead the way I implied that it should do so by multi-lateral negotiations. I did not mean that we should throw away our weapons unilaterally but that we should initiate and facilitate continuing negotiations.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, we are trying to do that and we are doing our best in Vienna. I hope that the interruption means a drawing back from and an opposition to the proposals put forward by the NATO countries, particularly the USA. It was reported yesterday that its military personnel appear to be less enthusiastic about pressing ahead on all fronts than it was a few months ago.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, it would be tempting to take a few minutes commenting on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, particularly his account of the supposed continuing Soviet conventional superiority, the scale of it, and his allegation that the Soviets are notorious treaty breakers in that field. The House will know well that both those points are open to serious criticism, but now is not the time for that.

I believe that the Motion of my noble friend Lord Monkswell is very reasonable if only because it applies to nuclear weapons in exactly the same way as the whole world, without any exceptions, proposes to proceed in the case of chemical and biological weapons. We have long been trying to secure their total abolition throughout the world as weapons of especial horror. Nuclear weapons are of no less horror than the other kinds, and what applies to the fomer should also apply to nuclear weapons. Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Monkswell said, it is merely to remind this House of the agreement of Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan that this should be attempted.

That would be reasonable so long as the political aims and structures within which such a move is carried out are reasonable in themselves. What would they be? We must ask ourselves what is to be NATO's next strategy and when it is to be adopted. Is it to be adopted in June or are preparations only to be commenced in June? What kind of discussions are there to be and with whom? How will those discussions fit in with the CSCE discussions which are bilk d for later this year? That is a complex field and I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will be able to expound on it later. Given that public support is important, is it sensible to develop Britain's contribution to those talks behind the new fortifications in Downing Street? What decisions have been taken so far?

My noble friend Lord Rea raised the problem of the new proliferation treaty. Israeli nuclear weapons have now, as was always to be expected, conjured up whatever it is that the President of Iraq is trying to obtain. Israel has also been developing anti-ballistic missile defences in the star wars manner, and the United States has been helping it to do so. That makes a regional settlement more difficul; just as President Reagan's own star wars made a world settlement more difficult at that time.

Mr. Slhamir has also spoken about a Middle East disarmament settlement, but he complains that he can find no one among his neighbours to speak to about that. However, Sadam Hussein has now proposed nuclear, biological and chemical disarmament throughout the Middle East. Perhaps the Government could introduce them to each other.

We should look also at the two Koreas and Taiwan where the United States and Soviet Union are gradually withdrawing their nuclear guarantees, with consequent domestic pressure there to go nuclear in the familiar pattern. In the southern part of South America the World Bank continues to turn a blind eye to nuclear weapons development. Western governments control the World Bank but continue to turn a blind eye. As the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mr. Archie Hamilton, said in the other place yesterday: It is a tragedy that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty has not been so successful as it might have been". I echo what my noble friend Lord Rea, said. It is time we faced up to the fact that the United States' complacency and even connivance with Israel's nuclear weapon programme has much to do with the situation in the Middle East, and the complacency which has allowed all the nuclear powers to break their undertaking in the NPT to get on with disarmament has a lot to do with the situation worldwide.

In Europe our enemy has been taken away from us. We tend, some more than others, to act like a child whose toy has been taken away. However, it is not a toy but a great danger and we should rejoice. We should not go shopping for another toy. We must take peace when we are offered it and we must avoid switching our arms budgets into new military expenditure.

We must note the first reaction of the Pentagon to the new world. That is a passionate desire to switch to something called Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict—SOLIC. That is not the name of a new under secretary at the department of defence with a Croatian name, but is an acronym with which we may become unpleasantly familiar. It means more Vietnams. The next is already booked for Peru. Even Senator Nunn (who is no fool) is salivating about American low intensity activities in the Middle East, complete with "pre-positioned" weapons. The opening to a nuclear war is also through that door, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government are reminding the United States' administration about that.

The immediate precondition of nuclear disarmament is the political settlement in Europe. Rational aims cannot include a reunited and heavily-armed Germany in NATO. When one side of a military confrontation collapses, golden bridges become necessary. The golden bridge is a piece of traditional Chinese wisdom. When your enemy is retreating, you must do what you can to build a golden bridge behind him. A Germany such as I have described is not compatible with a golden bridge policy, and to go for it is simply to say to the East, "Thank you for your kind collapse. I think I shall take that bit". That would be unjust and must therefore be rejected, since injustice breeds disaster.

What about a united Germany in NATO, but having Western troops and nuclear weapons in one half and Eastern troops and presumably nuclear weapons in the other? What does that make of Germany? That would reduce Germany from a society of thinking people who can freely choose their own condition into a piece of territory, a mere piece of map, on which outsiders choose to draw an ideogram of forgotten conflict. The proposal is for collusive hegemony, colluding to prolong conflict, and should therefore be rejected.

The Soviet idea is that an armed single Germany should belong to both alliances at once. But, both alliances are solemnly sworn by the text of their constituting treaties to exist solely for collective defence against an attack on any of their members. Let us follow that through. Germany would be bound to rush to the defence of the Soviet Union if it was attacked by the United States, and vice versa. If war continued between the two alliances, it would be expected to fight on both sides. Equally, the United States and the Soviet Union would be each bound to rush to the defence of Germany if it was attacked by the other and to fight to the death on German soil, no doubt ending up once more on the Elbe and wondering what to do next. And Germany would presumably be bound to rush fastest of all to its own defence if it attacked itself. That proposal is neither unjust nor hegemonistic but is simply absurd. We must do better. And of course we can.

The idea of a united, disarmed and neutral Germany has long been resisted in the West on the grounds that it would be militarily dangerous for us to do without the strength of its prosperous and determined Western part. But, that ground is no longer as conclusive as it was. The prospect of major arms reductions and troop withdrawals is now good, and it would no longer be right to reject that idea out of hand. A military vacuum in the centre of Europe, as it is called, need no longer appal us so long as we are thinking of a continent all of which is subject to careful arms reduction. Into such a continent a substantially disarmed Germany will fit safely.

There is then our fear that a peaceful and united Germany might increase its economic advantage over the rest of us by releasing a large peace dividend and using it intelligently. That depends upon our own willingness to give ourselves the same advantage. It would not be necessary to leave a disarmed Germany alone in the middle of a European arms dump. We should all get down to an arms level which would allow us the same economic benefits.

Now, what are the preoccupations of our own Ministry of Defence at this extraordinary and historic moment? Mr. Archie Hamilton was saying yesterday that he "sincerely hoped that a tactical air-to-surface missile would be introduced" —presumably here. Mrs. Thatcher was the last to give up on Lance replacement. She will no doubt be the last to give up on short-range nuclear weapons, and will no doubt be alone in offering house room for TASM, or whatever the US military-industrial complex next proposes.

What a bitter and stupid thing it would be if our Government were to hang around the door of this new Europe too, whining for the great destructive capacities of the past, while all the others are competing to find ways of safely divesting themselves of those capacities. Our ingenuity should not be wasted in that way. A kind of goodwill has been forced on us by the revulsion from Communism in eastern and central Europe, and by the US internal deficit and external debt. But the technicalities of arms reduction are intrinsically as complicated as they ever were and thus a few countries, or even one country alone, can block progress as easily as ever. That must not be us.

On the contrary, we must do many things that we are among the best placed to do. We must start by agreeing to naval arms control and by urging the United States to do the same. That would be in the interest of western Europe, and according to the current US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Trost, it could also be in the interest of the US, even in brute military terms. We should then mount a diplomatic network exercise to ensure that the forthcoming arms reduction negotiations, both nuclear and conventional, on both long- and short-range weapons are related to the world situation: that means China, the Middle East, Korea and Argentina. Then on the political level we must quickly join the imaginative interchanges which are now going on between for instance, the presidents of France and the Soviet Union. Mr. Gorbachev proposes a European security structure. How do we see that? Do we accept the phrase? Can we suggest flesh for the bones? Mr. Mitterrand proposes a European confederation, and Mr. Gorbachev accepts the proposal. Do we? And can we find practical suggestions to make about it?

The Government are now enacting a terminal parody of practical British common sense. These foreign ideas are not bombast now. They have become practical, and that is the true measure of the events of last winter. To keep carping does not suggest caution; it suggests sleep.

6.3 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, some people would wish that our nuclear capability had never been invented. I disagree, because I believe that it has rendered conventional war in Europe impossible for the past 40 years.

None of us likes the vast nuclear capability that now exists. If we are lucky it could be greatly decreased in Europe, certainly on a tactical basis. However well and sensibly we may deal with the situation in Europe, it is now only a part of a worldwide problem. It is on that larger scale that I wish to speak tonight. I believe that in the future nuclear proliferation may prevent complete nuclear disarmament.

Already there are probably eight countries with nuclear capability. Never mind how they could deliver a nuclear bomb; one remote controlled bomb planted in a European capital could be devastating. There are three routes by which the smaller countries can develop nuclear capability. One is by separating out uranium 235 from the bulk uranium 238. In the last war that was done by gaseous diffusion. It required quite a major engineering project. Now separation is made by high-speed centrifuges which can be hidden relatively effectively. On the horizon is the possibility of separation by lasers, which might make the process much easier.

At present the second and most likely approach is obtaining plutonium from a nuclear reactor. Normally such plutonium is not of weapon grade, but could produce a very dirty fizzle bomb. However, if the time which the fuel rods remain in the reactor is shortened, that difficulty is overcome. The next step is to separate the plutonium from the remaining uranium and other products in the fuel rods. There is plenty of published information on how that can be done. Admittedly there is also a know-how about doing that safely, but it is not too difficult if the risks are accepted —as they would be by some countries.

To me the frightening statistic—albeit fairly rough—is that a 1,000 megawatt electrical reactor, which is the size we have in this country, could produce around 800 kilogrammes of plutonium in one year. It is generally accepted that eight kilogrammes of plutonium is a reasonable figure for an atomic weapon. On that basis the large reactor that I mentioned could provide enough plutonium for 100 bombs a year. Those figures can be scaled down correspondingly for smaller reactors.

The third route towards an atom bomb would be stealing plutonium from storage or in transit. Efforts have been made internationally to account for the plutonium being produced in nuclear reactors and to prevent weapon grade plutonium being produced. Those measures may have helped, but have clearly not prevented the considerable growth in nuclear capability. I do not believe that in the future effective enforcement is likely. Only Isreal has achieved that by bombing the Syrian nuclear reactor.

First, I conclude that in the future nuclear proliferation will be the biggest threat to be faced. Secondly, unless we can—in the unlikely event—control nuclear proliferation, it will be absolute folly for Europe not to retain an effective deterrent against a nuclear threat from elsewhere. If the very worst happened one must be capable of replying in kind.

6.8 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I join those who thanked my noble friend Lord Monkswell for introducing this perhaps most important of all subjects. As is not unusual, attendance is in inverse ratio to the importance of the subject. I look forward to the occasion when we shall have a full-scale debate on this subject in which our two Front Benches may becone engaged. We shall perhaps, in a longer period of time, be able to deal more fully with some of the points raised than we are able to do in the short debate this afternoon.

I an tempted to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. He and I are both yesterday's men. But I intend to concentrate on today rather than to exchange statements and mis-statements with him on what did or did not happen in the past. It will be more useful to try to see where this country stands internationally at this moment rather than to rake over the still disagreeable ashes of what took place in times in which, I think, both of us played some minor role.

I should like to ask, therefore, what is the position? It would be useful if we remind ourselves where we stand. In order to do that perhaps one might say that proliferation is the general term used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, pointed out; but it is also used to describe the increase in the number of weapons produced by those who already possess them. It is that type of proliferation —vertical proliferation as it is called —which tends to stir up and encourage non-nuclear states to indulge in the horizontal proliferation —as the alternative is called—by spreading nuclear weapons to more and more countries.

If those countries which possess nuclear weapons regard them as so valuable that far from getting rid of them they continue to increase or modify them, as the phrase goes, then the non-nuclear states not unnaturally say, "If it is good for them and they are not prepared to reduce capacity in any way; if they want to increase; if Trident must come; for what reason are they not good for us? Can we not have a little of what they so enjoy having?"

It is useless for us, a country which takes the lead in retaining nuclear weapons—though we are in theory devoted to getting rid of them—to try effectively to prevent proliferation all over the world if in practice we retain them. The two stances are incompatible.

What is this non-proliferation treaty? My noble friend Lord Rea quoted from it, but perhaps I may repeat one or two phrases: Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament". That is an extract from the treaty of 1968. It became operational, if I may remind your Lordships, in March 1970. It has now been signed by 141 nations. It is the most extensive arms control treaty in the world and it attempts to stop non-nuclear countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency carries out technical inspections of nuclear facilities with a view to enforcing the treaty. As we have seen, it has not been exactly successful.

I should like to examine briefly why that is so and what I think we should do about it. The main problem, as I have said, is that vertical proliferation continues, which undermines the credibility of the NPT. It is not true to say that we have broken the letter of the treaty by our vertical proliferation —I do not make that accusation—but it is fair to say that developing new nuclear weapons (described as "modernisation") is against the spirit of the treaty. I am sure everybody will agree with that. Whether one argues one way or the other as to whether we are in breach of the letter of the treaty, it is not surprising that the non-nuclear states regard us as being not only in breach of the spirit but also of the letter of the treaty. Of course, the Government deny that.

Nuclear testing is an essential part of the modernisation process. It enables those countries that already have nuclear weapons to develop new, more powerful and more accurate weapons. Currently, we as a country—the voice of the present Government, of course —insist on the right to order more modern, more dangerous and more accurate nuclear weapons.

In August this year, the non-proliferation treaty comes up for review. In Iraq —hitting the headlines at the moment—fears are being raised about the enforcement of the treaty. Given the modernisation of European nuclear weapons, the non-nuclear nations point out with some justification that the nuclear states have exploited the treaty simply to consolidate their own military power while seeking to limit that of smaller states.

One way to stop nuclear weapons proliferation would be a complete ban on testing. We have at the present time a partial testing treaty which prohibits atmospheric testing. If I am referring to facts which noble Lords recognise as perhaps unnecessary to repeat because they are generally known, I beg forgiveness; it is sometimes useful to remind ourselves exactly what is the position. A conference has been arranged for next January in New York to vote on an amendment to ban nuclear testing as such. Forty states have signed a call for the treaty to be converted into a comprehensive test ban treaty which would end all nuclear testing. At present this country is wholly opposed to that. If we retain that position we can give up all idea of preventing proliferation not only vertically but also horizontally. As I said, the two attitudes are incompatible.

A comprehensive test ban treaty would bind those countries which are close to producing weapons—there are about eight, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said—to a no-testing policy which could be verified by an independent international body, thus halting the spread of nuclear weapons. Argentina, Brazil, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel and Pakistan have all signed the partial test ban treaty. Therefore, if that treaty can be brought effectively into being next January we have the only possibility left to us of bringing proliferation to an end. To do that, we must also halt nuclear modernisation. Without testing, the new silo-penetrating systems—Trident and other weapons—cannot be developed further. Therefore, a complete ban would put an end to both horizontal and vertical proliferation.

Verification of a comprehensive test ban treaty is now possible. After the success of the INF treaty and various joint US/Soviet experiments, a verification regime that consists of seismic satellites and on-site monitoring is now possible. The Verification Technology Information Centre—an independent body—is currently devising such a regime. This is a real opportunity. It may be the last opportunity for nuclear disarmament. Both the Soviet and the French authorities are prepared to abide by a comprehensive test ban treaty if the United States and Britain agree to do so. If the United States and Britain choose to exercise their right of veto they will stop the comprehensive test ban going ahead. If they do, it could pave the way for a huge growth in the number of nations seeking to acquire nuclear technology. The situation would become totally out of hand and that bodes ill for the future of mankind.

British support is absolutely crucial. In November, together with the United States of America, we voted against such a comprehensive test ban treaty amendment to the partial test ban treaty at the United Nations. The vote went against us and America by 108 votes to two. That is the position we are in. We and the Americans are holding up the possibility of the disappearance of the nuclear weapon. If we do not change our attitude not only shall we not get rid of it by the year 2000, but the real question will be whether we shall reach the year 2000. That is the situation we shall be in unless we seize the opportunity that is now before us to bring this business to a halt.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Office must be pressed to make Britain vote "yes" to a comprehensive test ban amendment in January 1991 as a safeguard against proliferation. I wish to add one further point. Recently I read a book by Frank Barnaby who is a man widely respected on this subject. The book is called The Invisible BombThe Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East. In that book he says, if large-scale reprocessing takes place, there will, to say the least, be a considerable risk that sub-national groups will get hold of enough plutonium to make nuclear weapons". I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, pointed out that only eight kilogrammes of plutonium are needed to make a nuclear explosive. He is probably right. By the year 2000 there will be about 160,000 kilogrammes produced each year. It is a gravely dangerous situation which we are in. Unless we take the actions that I have just described there is no way out. We are within range of bodies such as the IRA possessing the capacity of making the nuclear weapon. We are within the range of irresponsible dictatorships all over the world having the power to create and use the nuclear weapon.

We are living in a state of illusion. Because there is peace in Europe and we feel more comfortable that the United States and the Soviet Union are talking to each other, we are living with the idea that everything is now all right and that we need not bother. We are gravely not all right. I hope that the Government will take the situation very seriously and say to themselves that we have to do something about this problem for the sake of the future of mankind.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney, I cannot resist briefly replying to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. I do so because I was one of the 11 million signatories to the Peace Pledge Union. I do not regret that. That pledge was made in about 1932 at a time when Hitler was a small despot. It was not the signatories to the Peace Pledge Union who made him into the powerful monster that he became. I would like to take the opportunity at some other time and in some other forum to debate the subject with the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. It was certainly with the active connivance of both the British and French that during the 1930s Hitler and Nazism, and Mussolini and Fascism, became the danger to the rest of Europe. They were not so at the time when Dick Sheppard initiated the Peace Pledge Union.

But a more relevant issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. It is on that subject that I want to spend the time available to me. The speech of the noble Lord would be echoed by the vast majority of spokesmen all over this country and the world placed in the same situation as we are tonight. We are living in revolutionary times: situations are changing very rapidly and fundamentally.

However, there is still a widespread war psychosis which goes into every corner of the public consciousness. It is based on what we have been brought up to believe from infancy—that there is always an external threat. We have been educated to believe in the permanent possibility of war. The economic system of the world is based on military confrontation. There is constant massive military expenditure. Those who criticise and who ask for cuts in military expenditure are frequently the victims of the electorate.

A vast industry is devoted solely to the production of machines of destruction. Millions are employed in that industry in order to produce what are essentially unproductive products and machines. That fact represents the popular mood not only in this country but virtually in all countries. It is backed by the media and by politicians.

The past is debatable. The effect of atomic weapons since the disaster of 1945 is debatable. I do not p:"opose to debate that. I simply say that, on the one hand, there are those who have argued that the presence of atomic weapons has brought peace; there are others, with whom I associate myself, who say that atomic weapons have been a waste of resources and a threat to humankind.

Much more important than debating what has happened over the past 40 to 50 years is looking to the future. There is a new danger in this new future; this new kind of world and the new relations within which we are all living. There is a very great danger that the phantom enemy is distracting the real one which is the national mentality based on the concept of defence. The sanctity of defence is blinding people to other and more dangerous threats to ourselves and to the whole of humanity. Countries are destroying themselves. And they are combining to destroy our planet on which the human race depends.

It is much more difficult and challenging to argue about issues concerning the environment such as roads, housing, education, dangerous emissions, the ozone layer and the destruction of tropical forests. It is much more difficult and challenging to debate those matters and the dangers that they create than the very simplistic notion of the dangers of war. When we argue on these grounds we are arguing against vested interests. We are arguing in the public interest. We are arguing for short-term costs for long-term gains.

One of the major tasks facing the politicians of this and the other countries is to find the means of transforming the manufacture of arms into the manufacture of civil products. There are opportunities for new markets and for retraining those who have been engaged until now in the production of destructive machines. I am glad to say that the Labour Party is researching this issue and is seeking the means by which this essential transformation can be achieved not only here but in other countries. In addition, a conference is to be held in Moscow this summer on the problems of converting arms factories to peaceful production.

It is not only those who have been in, one might say, the peace lobby for so many years who are seeing this new opportunity, this new necessity and this new challenge for mankind which has so suddenly come upon us. I quote Robert McNamara, a former United States Defence Secretary and a former president of the World Bank. At a North-South round table conference in Costa Rica at the beginning of this year he stated that the United States could reduce its military expenditure from 6 per cent. of gross national product to 3 per cent. over the next six to eight years. If Britain were to reduce its military expenditure to the same proportion of national wealth as our allies, we would save £8 billion annually.

What is to be put in the place of what so far has been assumed to be the essential military machine? I suggest that we work out a system of collective security depending not on national armies but on offering to the peoples of Europe and to the peoples of other continents a safety and a protection which certainly no atomic weapons ever have done or ever could do. They have offered only the alternative of suicide. What I suggest is not easy. It is an international challenge.

I can quote from other sources outside the conventional peace lobby. Perhaps noble Lords have read the statements of General Powell, the chairman of the United States Joint Chief of Staff. General Powell, a military man, has seen the new situation. General Powell has told the military forces in the United States that they have to learn to adjust to a world in which the Soviet Union is no longer considered an enemy. That is the context and perspective in which the debate should be taking place. It is the context in which all politicians should recognise the new challenges, opportunities and responsibilities facing us.

As my noble friend Lord Rea said, the conventional strategy of flexible response is anachronistic. The Soviet Union is no longer capable of mounting a conventional attack on Western Europe. It is impossible to visualise. It could not happen in the circumstances of today or in the circumstances of any possible successor to Mr. Gorbachev in the foreseeable future. It could not happen because the Warsaw Pact has disintegrated. Who can imagine Soviet tanks sweeping into Western Europe? That is an anachronism. And so the argument that nuclear weapons are necessary to counter Soviet superiority in conventional forces no longer holds. Those nuclear weapons are expendable. As they are expendable, as nobody claims that they are safe and as everyone recognises the danger that they present to humanity, it should be clear that every effort must be made to get rid of nuclear weapons wherever they exist.

This requires a tremendous effort of imagination and willpower. I hope that we shall hear tonight from the noble Earl who is to reply where the British Government stand in this new situation. What are their visions? Where do they believe they should be leading the people of this country? Our task is to change the consciousness of peoples about the real threat to their existence. That requires all the efforts of educators. It requires the efforts of all forms of the media, of the Churches, of voluntary organisations, of trade unions, and above all —this is essential—of politicians. Unless we are prepared to give a lead we shall not measure up to our responsibilities.

In the United States people now talk about the existence of a peace dividend. There could be a peace dividend with disarmament. There could be a peace dividend if we rid ourselves of nuclear weapons. That dividend could be used for world development. It could be used to protect our planet. It could be used to remove world poverty. Not least, it could be used to remove what has already been referred to by a number of noble Lords—the danger of nuclear proliferation and the spread of the arms race in the third world, where it can least be afforded. It could be used to remove the danger that comes from the proliferation of nuclear weapons among third world countries, where, as we have heard from the noble Viscount, it is so easy today to build nuclear weapons. That demands from all of us a depth of imagination and of willpower. It demands that we recognise that we are living in a totally different environment from that of this time last year.

6.39 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for introducing this debate. Some of us may have felt that his tribute to the influence and achievements of CND was a trifle over-generous, but at least it reminded us that the organisation continues to exist—a fact of which, otherwise, not all of us might have been aware.

The noble Lord asked us to treat his Motion literally: The total elimination of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. Even if I am setting a precedent, I should like to speak to the Motion and try to explain why I think that this is wholly impracticable and outline what I believe we should be doing instead.

Is this to be a watertight, verified elimination? Plainly it must be. If not, it would be absurd to expect Western democracies to divest themselves of all their nuclear weapons while, let us say, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi maintain theirs. That situation is unthinkable. Further, is it possible to verify the total absence of nuclear weapons and the inability to build them? My noble friend Lord Hanworth made perfectly plain how easy it is now to conceal the possession and the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons.

I concede to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that in a genuinely open democratic society it would be very difficult to possess nuclear weapons secretly. I cannot see the French or British Cabinet declaring that it agrees to divest itself of nuclear weapons and its means of manufacturing them, and making a declaration to that effect, while secretly maintaining a horde of such weapons. That is not practicable; nor would it be practicable for the British Prime Minister or the French President to do the same without informing the Cabinet. Indeed, too many people would be involved in keeping such a monstrous fraud secret.

In Israel, where there is considerable freedom of speech and freedom for the media, the authorities tried for a long time to keep secret their possession of a nuclear capability. But, of course, that proved to be impossible. Therefore one can concede that point. But, so far as concerns dictatorships where there is no freedom of speech and no freedom for the media and where there is centralised power in a dictator, concealment is positively easy. The problem which would then arise is: should the Western democracies totally disarm themselves, while they suspect that other countries still keep their nuclear weapons? It may be that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear weapons and declared that fact. But many people would not believe this and would not trust such a declaration. That also applies in respect of many other dictatorships. Thus we would never get the situation demanded by the Motion of the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Let us suppose, and concede again to the noble Lord, that all the countries in the world became open democracies and that they all agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons and trusted each other to do so. A great problem would remain: what about the other weapons of mass destruction; for example, chemical and biological weapons? Is it suggested that nuclear weapons should be eliminated in the Middle East but not biological or chemical weapons? One could ask the Israelis to agree to that; or, conversely, ask the Arabs to agree to the elimination of chemical and biological weapons, but not nuclear weapons. There is a point I should like the noble Lord to clarify in this respect. Indeed, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked him to do so. The Egyptians have suggested the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. That is the only possible way to go about the matter. I should like to know whether the Government support that Egyptian initiative.

The first conclusion has to be that we cannot achieve elimination of all nuclear weapons while other weapons of mass destruction still remain and while parts of the world are dictatorships capable of hiding the possession of and the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. The aim of this project, which I understand is the official policy of CND, is to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said that there was ample time for the whole world to become democratic and ample time for the destruction of all weapons of the nuclear, chemical and biological kind. Obviously, there is not enough time.

What then should we look for? We must look for drastic, agreed and verified disarmament not only of nuclear weapons but also of biological, chemical and conventional weapons. The outlook for this is more promising today than it has ever been. That is a policy with which we can and must press ahead. We can also look forward with greater hope than ever before to the spreading and strengthening of democracy worldwide, which we see more clearly than ever before as the instrument of international understanding and of peace.

Finally, we can look forward—and here the European Community is the great example to the world —to a greater degree of political and economic interdependence worldwide which, as the European Community has proved, can make the countries that achieve that psychologically and physically incapable of making war with each other. Those are the roads ahead which I believe are attainable targets for the year 2000. My noble friends and I support them and, as I said, they are attainable.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I join with all other speakers in acknowledging that we have been well served by the inclusion of this item on the agenda today. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Monkswell not only on his timing but also on—and I ask the House to accept this—the reasonable way in which he put forward his views.

We can all have ideas about what is relevant at any one time. In my view, because the world situation is changing so swiftly and because technological advance is moving so rapidly, to review the situation is never a waste of an opportunity. Indeed, that is what we are doing today: we are reviewing the situation and we are looking at a proposition. I believe that all speakers in the debate are what I call members of the disarmament and nuclear club of the House. We are all old lags; we have all served time; and we have all taken part in many debates.

I can sense that there has been a remarkable change in the House over the past six years. Sometimes that causes embarrassement to my party and sometimes it causes embarrassment to the Government. But it also encourages reflection and reassessment of the situation. We arc all grateful to my noble friend for putting Forward the Motion.

Reference was made to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. I believe that his contribution was just as valuable as any other. It demonstrated that not only is there as difference in thought but there is also a difference in attitude of mind. The noble Lord brought to this House—as, indeed, everyone is entitled to do—his experiences, his history and his assessment of what is required.

In my view we need to pay particular attention to one of the concluding paragraphs of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. He said: We must recognise that nuclear weapons for the most part are deployed as part of wider defence strategies and scenarios. To change these will take time. Some nuclear weapons are deployed by international groups of nations and the agreement of all"— I stress that phrase— the members of the group must be obtained to attain meaningful nuclear weapon elimination". I accept not only the sense but every word of that paragraph. I believe that it is the core and the kernel of what the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, sought to persuade the House to accept.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, mentioned a date. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is entitled and is right to be sceptical about the ability to keep to a timetable as precise and definite as this. However, I remind the House that reference has been made more than once during the debate to the most significant background against which we are discussing the subject. There was a statement by Mr. Gorbachev in January 1986 concerning the attempt to speed up the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. It would be helpful if I reminded the House of the significance of the declaration that was made by Mr. Gorbachev five years ago. He said: the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee and the Soviet government adopted a resolution on a number of major and fundamental foreign policy actions. Their point is to promote to the maximum extent the improvement of the international situation. They are dictated by the need to overcome the negative and confrontational tendencies that have built up in recent years and clear the way for the curtailing of the nuclear arms race on Earth and its prevention in space, a general reduction in the change of war, and the establishment of trust as an inalienable component of relations between states". He went on to say: The Soviet Union proposes, acting gradually and consistently, the implementation and completion of the process of freeing the world of nuclear weapons within the next 15 years, before the end of the present century". That is the timescale Mr. Gorbachev set as an objective—laudable, I believe. It is reinforced by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. Mr. Gorbachev continued: The 20th century has given mankind the energy of the atom. But this great achievement of the mind cannot become an instrument of suicide for people. Can this contradiction be resolved? We are convinced that it can. Finding effective ways to eliminate nuclear weapons is a feasible task if its solution is tackled without delay". Mr. Gorbachev went on to take his objective in three stages. Five years ago, he said, the first stage was this: Over a period of five to eight years the USSR and the USA will halve the nuclear weapons which can reach each other's territory. No more than 6,000 charges will be retained on the delivery vehicles of this kind which they are left with … The second stage: during this stage which must begin no later than 1990 and last five to seven years, the other nuclear powers will begin to join in nuclear disarmament. They would first adopt a pledge to freeze all their own nuclear arms and also not to have them on the territory of other countries … The third stage will begin no later than 1995, during which the elimination of all remaining nuclear arms will be completed. By the end of 1999 no more nuclear weapons will be left on Earth. A universal accord on ensuring that these weapons are never revived again will be elaborated". I believe that when the history of the past five years and the next 10 years is written, recorded and re-assessed, it will be shown that Mr. Gorbachev is a remarkable man. He has vision, ambition and also the imperative.

In this short debate we are attempting to nudge those whom we can influence on the margins—that is, in this House, our Government and public opinion —towards that aspiration. We remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that all kinds of things can happen; we are not masters of our own domain. We are only masters to the limited extent of what the British Government and British people are prepared to tolerate.

The Government have great responsibilities. I say to the Minister—but not in a cavalier way—that I appreciate the enormous responsibility that lies upon any government in 1990 to protect the interests and defend the realm, as this Government must.

The Minister will be privy to far more information about realities than we who are not in government. Nevertheless it is our job to ask the Government a number of pertinent questions. The Defence White Paper which was published last month should have addressed the challenge of the new Europe and examined the opportunities that disarmament will bring. Having read it, we believe that it entirely failed to do so. Over the past few months we have seen the complete redrawing of the European political map. The opportunities for disarmament have never been greater and Britain must take as much advantage of them as possible.

What we should do is to set the likely timetable for disarmament over the next few years and what Britain's contribution should be. Many noble Lords behind me—in more senses than one, I hope—have asked the Minister to be precise as to the plans, programmes and schedules that the Minister and his colleagues have.

By the end of this year the cuts in the Soviet armed forces will reach 500,000 troops. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, was quite right: we can take a range of statistics and pick the ones that suit the argument on the imbalance and the disparity. But one must look at the reality too. The Soviet Union certainly wishes to reduce its armament capability and the terrible drain on its resources. It wants to get on with the proper job of a government and nation: to provide for the wellbeing and welfare of its people. I believe that the Russian people are as sick as any other nation of the drain on their resources. Obviously the reduction of 500,000 troops will go a long way in that direction.

The CFE treaty, which aims to reduce Soviet and NATO forces to a common ceiling of 195,000 and limit the number of tanks in Europe to 20,000 on each side—the figure of which the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, reminded us earlier—will probably be signed by the end of this year. Implementation will start shortly afterwards. The political pressure for disarmament means that negotiations on further cuts in conventional forces are likely to begin in the late autumn of this year.

In brief, therefore, the 10 to 15 per cent. cuts in CFE I will not start for another 12 months and then will probably be overtaken before the end of 1992 by opportunities for more radical and deeper cuts within agreed guidelines.

The departure of troops from Czechoslovakia and Hungary will be completed by the middle of 1991, although for a number of reasons the Poles have less desire to see Soviet troop reductions. I believe—the Minister may say that I am wrong—that at present the situation is not clear. The Warsaw Pact is dead but has not yet been interred. There is still a continuing need for NATO. The emerging democracies in central Europe want a continuing NATO military presence in the Federal Republic of Germany. None of the West German political parties is now advocating neutralism. So long as there are NATO troops in West Germany it is essential that West Germany should continue to participate in both the military and political committees of the NATO structure.

The collapse of the East German army has led to an urgent reappraisal of the need for a new type of military presence in the former East German "Lander". After unification, it is hoped that this area will have a conscript militia, responsible only for border patrols and local defence. Whatever security arrangements are finally made for a unified Germany, it is clear that the NATO strategies of flexible response and forward defence will have to be renounced. It is not possible to have a flexible response strategy that is dependent upon nuclear weapons that are politically unacceptable to most NATO governments.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, reminded us of an important problem. The elimination of nuclear weapons and the withdrawal of troops pose the problems of how one retools and brings people back into civilian life. The noble Lord reminded us that this is not just a problem for those in the West but that in Moscow there is perhaps an even greater problem. I am indebted to the noble Lord for raising that point. I believe it is naive to expect instant benefits from savings on defence expenditure.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, also reminded us of a remarkable change in attitude, tone and words emanating from the United States. General Colin Powell has said in respect of the Soviet Union, I don't have to think of them as my enemy … as a clear and present danger who is coming at me tomorrow". The problem we have now is that everyone wearing a uniform has spent the past 35 years up to last year thinking about this matter in a different context. We want to hear the Minister explain the Government's thinking in respect of these matters over the past five or perhaps even two years.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, emphasised a crucial element here, which is adherence to the non-proliferation treaty and the comprehensive test ban nexus. It is a nonsense for this Government or any other government—our Government did this as far back as 1946—to be signatories to the original nuclear non-proliferation treaties and yet be a party to replacing outmoded and obsolete nuclear weapons with other weapons. The noble Lord used a telling phrase when he said that the weapons were described not as being upgraded but as being modernised. That is a nonsense of course. I hope the Minister can tell us to what extent the Government attach importance to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

It would be helpful to the House and to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation if the Government were to cancel the fourth Trident boat. A Labour Government would not have a great deal of room to manoeuvre in terms of cancellation in that respect. However, the Labour Party has recognised the principle of negotiated disarmament. We would enter negotiations along those lines as quickly as possible.

I am conscious of the conventions of this House. I, like every other speaker, could cheerfully—that is not perhaps the best word—spend a long time on this matter. By the end of the debate 10 speakers will have spoken. Of those, six will have come from the Labour Benches, two from the Government Benches, one from the SDP and one from the Liberals. That indicates the strength of feeling and concern on these Benches. We are anxious to ensure not that the Government should become angry or dismayed but that they are reminded that the greatest prize of all lies ahead of them. That is peace and security not only for the people of this country but also for the world. In the context of this Motion, which explores the policy for the remaining 10 years of this century, we ask the Government what they intend to do in this matter.

7.4 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I wish to say straight away that this has been a useful and timely debate. All of us look forward to the conclusion of a number of major arms control agreements this year and to the prospect of further negotiations in order to reduce both conventional and nuclear weapons. I give thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for his understanding of the complexities and the responsibility that the British Government face at this time from the point of view of the defence of the ream.

In the nuclear field, we have seen the continued implementation of the provisions of the treaty eliminating intermediate range nuclear weapons. In the strategic field we hope that the United States and the Soviet Union will be able to achieve their objective of reaching an agreement by the end of this year to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals. If the Soviet Union accepts the offer by President Bush a fortnight ago, we can look forward to negotiations to achieve reductions in the number of short-range nuclear weapons deployed in Europe shortly after the signature of a treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe. It is therefore clearly right that we should pause for a moment, as the noble Lord. Lord Graham, has said, to reflect upon the way in which we might most effectively continue the process of reducing tensions and securing peace at lower levels of arms in the light of the achievements of previous negotiations and the dramatic changes that have taken place in Europe over the past year. However, I am sure that it will come as no surprise if I make clear now that we believe that nuclear weapons will continue to form an essential part of NATO's strategy of deterrence. That strategy has helped to preserve the peace in Europe for the past 40 years.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, that the comprehensive concept, endorsed by NATO heads of government at their meeting in May last yea r, sets out clearly the grounds for this belief. The fundamental purpose of the strategy of deterrence is to deter war by demonstrating that NATO has the military capability and the political will to use all the forces at its disposal in response to any aggression, with the aim of inducing an aggressor to terminate his attack and to withdraw.

It has been suggested that the conclusion later this year of a treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe might remove the need for NATO to rely upon nuclear weapons for its defence. A CFE treaty on the lines of that now under negotiation in Vienna will have the effect of eliminating the considerable advantage which the Soviet Union has long held in key areas—in tanks, artillery and aircraft. And it will, through treaty limitations, help to ensure that this advantage cannot be restored. By any measure, an agreement on these lines will be a major gain for security and stability in Europe. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has now had to leave the House, and he has made his apologies for that. He spoke eloquently about the dangers of dropping our guard and on the need to maintain the strategy of deterrence to prevent all war.

But the sad fact is that history has taught us that conventional forces alone do not deter aggression. Of course we need effective and up-to-date conventional forces to prevent a potential aggressor concluding that he might be able to achieve a limited territorial objective quickly and easily. But reliance on conventional weapons alone might prompt him to calculate that he could achieve those gains at acceptable cost. Only the possession of nuclear forces, with their immense destructive potential, coupled with the clear expression of the willingness to use them if necessary, demonstrates to a potential aggressor that he faces unacceptable risk in launching an attack. The subject that we are debating this evening springs from a challenging proposal made by President Gorbachev as long ago as January 1986.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves his last point when he said that only nuclear weapons can deter any aggressor from an attack, does he agree that if that applies to this country and to other NATO countries, it must apply equally to every country in the world, and is it not in that case a recipe for proliferation?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am talking about nuclear deterrence from the point of view of preventing war across the world. The Government's position, which I have just outlined, is well known.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, outlined comprehensively in his speech the challenge made by President Gorbachev in 1981.

Perhaps there are indications that the Soviet Union is beginning to come round to our way of thinking. Over the past two years we have seen the development within the Soviet Union of an interesting debate on the concept of "minimum deterrence". Your Lordships will recall that President Gorbachev spoke on this subject in his speech to the Council of Europe in July last year. The theme was taken up again by Foreign Secretary Shevardnadze in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At the moment, Soviet spokesmen present the concept as a half-way house on the way to a nuclear-free world or as a means of reconciling the differing strategic concepts of NATO and the Soviet Union. Perhaps we may see the further development of Soviet thinking over the next few months. We certainly look forward to hearing a fuller exposition of Soviet views in due course. However, welcome as a move in Soviet doctrine in that direction would be, it would represent no more than a recognition of the validity of our own policies. Our aim has always been to maintain only the minimum level of forces necessary to fulfil the strategy of deterrence.

While the Soviet Union has made great play of the unilateral reductions it has made in the past in its conventional and nuclear forces, it is worth stating again that NATO has already unilaterally withdrawn 2,400 nuclear warheads from Europe without replacement over the last decade, reducing the number deployed by over one third in that period. NATO's nuclear stockpile in Europe is now at its lowest level for over 20 years. Of course we welcome the Soviet withdrawals, but we challenge the Soviet Union to go further and match the reductions that NATO has already made.

The full implementation of the INF treaty will add to the number of nuclear weapons which have been removed. Within the United Kingdom, RAF Molesworth has already been closed as a base for US ground-launched cruise missiles and half the missiles at RAF Greenham Common have been withdrawn. The remaining missiles will return to the United States by the end of May next year, by which time the removal of all US and Soviet intermediate-range missiles from Europe should be complete. Their return is, of course, prohibited by the provisions of the treaty.

Furthermore, the political and military changes now taking place in Europe, together with the prospect of the conclusion of a CFE agreement, will provide NATO with the opportunity to adjust its force structure in Europe. It may be possible, with those developments, to reduce the number of our stationed forces in Europe, although of course we would only do so in full consultation with our allies.

The changes will also provide NATO with the opportunity to reduce further its short-range nuclear forces. Indeed, as a first step, President Bush announced only a fortnight ago that the United States would not be continuing with its programme to develop a successor for the Lance missile, nor would it be modernising any more nuclear artillery shells. He also proposed an early start to preparations for new nuclear arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union and that those negotiations should start shortly after a CFE treaty had been signed.

We warmly welcome the content of President Bush's speech, on which we were consulted beforehand, and fully support his decisions, as do our alliance partners. His proposals show that NATO recognises that the dramatic and welcome spread of democracy in Eastern Europe radically affects the numbers and types of weapons needed for nuclear deterrence. They provide a robust response to those who have hitherto criticised the alliance on that point.

We look forward to the prospect of further negotiated reductions. However, we should not let recent developments lull us into a false sense of security. An effective US nuclear capability in Europe will remain vital for NATO's security.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point perhaps I may ask him this question. If the Government are so completely wedded to the nuclear weapon as he suggested, why do they not withdraw honestly from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, denounce it and say that they are no longer a party to it? Why do they pretend internationally to be anti-nuclear and here to be pro-nuclear?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will permit, I shall come to that point.

Coming closer to home, it has been suggested that in the light of recent changes in Europe the United Kingdom should not order a fourth Trident submarine and that a three-boat deterrent force will suffice. That is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, made. Indeed, some have gone further and argued that we should cancel the Trident programme altogether.

Like Polaris, Trident is planned to be a four-boat force, providing us with the guarantee that one boat could be kept on patrol at all times, whatever might happen in the future. Trident is designed to provide a minimum independent UK deterrent and, as such, is the ultimate guarantee of our security. It would make no sense to cancel the programme or take chances with the effectiveness of that deterrent.

Our independent strategic nuclear force makes a vital contribution to the security of NATO and is the ultimate guarantee of our own security. The Polaris force continues to give us good service, but it is ageing and cannot last indefinitely. That is why we are introducing Trident, to provide a force that will sustain deterrence into the next century. We believe that no other use of the resources to be spent on Trident could contribute so significantly to deterrence.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me one question? Given that it was the aspiration of President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev at Reykjavik to eliminate nuclear weapons by the end of this century, and given—as I reminded the House —the intentions of the Russian leaders and the moves that President Bush is now making, will the Minister accept at least the possibility that, if not by the end of the century then shortly afterwards, a position could be reached in which nuclear weapons could be totally eliminated? Is the Minister really saying that despite that it would be the Government's intention to continue to be one nation, if not the only nation, which retains nuclear weapons?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, knows the answer to that question. The Government believe in the facts at this moment. We do not cater for future possibilities. We do not speculate. That is our policy on Trident.

We have never ruled out the possibility that the Government might wish in due course to consider including our deterrent force in arms control negotiations.

The introduction of Trident will provide us with the minimum necessary capability to maintain an effective independent deterrent into the 21st century. It bears repeating that, even after implementation of reductions in US and Soviet arsenals of the size now being discussed in Geneva, our Trident force would still represent a smaller proportion of Soviet strategic nuclear warheads than did Polaris when it entered service.

However, if US and Soviet arsenals were to be reduced very substantially, and if there had been no significant improvements in Soviet defensive capabilities, we would consider how best we might contribute to the arms control process in the light of the changed circumstances. Reductions in US and Soviet arsenals would, however, have to go very much further before we could consider including our deterrent in any future negotiations on strategic offensive weapons.

In my remarks so far I have concentrated on the balance of forces in Europe. However, we should not, as a number of noble Lords have reminded us, overlook developments elsewhere in the world. The recent evidence of attempts to contravene our export laws has demonstrated all too clearly the dangerous nature of that world and the need to maintain our guard. We must face the fact that, despite the efforts of the international community, some countries may be tempted to develop their own nuclear capabilities. We shall therefore continue to support fully the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and the practical measures it contains to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Several noble Lords have raised the question of the NPT. Regarding the point of the noble Lord, Lord Pea, we share the concern to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. That is why we have worked so hard to support the provisions of the NPT.

With regard to the provisions of Article 6, clearly, as the US and the Soviet Union possess by far the largest proportion of the world's nuclear stockpiles, it is for them to make the greatest reductions. That is why we fully support their efforts to reduce their stockpiles in the strategic arms reduction talks in Geneva.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, suggested that we were setting bad examples. Evidence to the contrary abounds—unilateral reduction of over one-third of NATO's nuclear stockpile; the INF treaty; talks on strategic arms between the US and the Soviet Union which, we hope, will soon come to fruition; and, we hope, talks on short-range nuclear forces once the treaty on conventional forces is signed.

As a depository power of the treaty, the United Kingdom has always worked to strengthen it and to secure the adherence to it of the maximum possible number of states. Several countries still have nuclear programmes that are not within the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency. We shall continue to call on them to adhere to the treaty and to place their programmes under IAEA safeguards. We also intend to play an active role in arrangements for the review conference which takes place later this summer and in its proceedings.

We look forward to the conclusion of arms control agreements that enable us to achieve the goal of ensuring peace with freedom at lower levels of arms, but those hopes should not blind us to the enduring realities which were well illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew.

Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented; we simply cannot put the nuclear genie back into the bottle. Sadly, history shows us that, until now, mankind has never retreated from the technical advances that have given him tactical superiority on the batlefield: from the invention of the stirrup, which revolutionised the use of cavalry over a thousand years ago; to the enormous advantage offered by the use of the bow and arrow to English archers at Crecy; and, more recently, the dramatic use made of tanks and aircraft in the Second World War.

The complete elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2000 is simply not achievable. Proposals for a Europe free of nuclear weapons would not reduce, still less remove, the risk of military conflict. Indeed, by removing the very weapons which have been such a key factor in keeping the peace for more than 40 years, we would be making Europe more vulnerable to the kind of conflict that has scarred the continent to such devastating effect twice already this century.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, spoke of the horrors of war, including the loss of life of British servicemen in the conflicts since the Second World War. The possession of nuclear weapons had made a fundamental contribution to the deterrence of war in Europe and thus spared us those horrors. Nor could we hope to isolate a nuclear-free Europe from the rest of the world, for there can be no guarantee that Europe could not be targeted and placed under threat from nuclear weapons based elsewhere.

Proposals such as these simply do not make practical sense; and worse, they divert attention from the real priority: to ensure that Europe is kept free from war. If we were to trade a war-free Europe for a nuclear-free Europe, we would have struck a most unsatisfactory deal.

Although strong conventional forces in Europe are an indispensable element of the strategy of deterrence, they cannot be relied upon to prevent aggression. It is only through the possession of nuclear weapons that we can present anyone who might consider aggression against the West with the degree of risk out of all proportion to any possible gain that he might hope to make.

In the nuclear age, we cannot simply jettison the essential element of our defence strategy which, as I have reminded noble Lords, has so successfully kept the peace for the past 40 years. The contribution of nuclear weapons to the effectiveness of the strategy of deterrence will be of equal importance in the world of tomorrow as it is today. There is no alternative strategy that offers us equal assurance of meeting our aim of preventing war, in whatever form it might arise.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in concluding the debate, I must thank very warmly all those noble Lords who have contributed. You might think that I would want to take exception to the contributions of various noble Lords, but I do not think that that is my job. It is important that we learn from each other. Everyone who has contributed to the debate has a point of view which is valid from his or her perspective. Although I believe that those who have argued that there has been peace in Europe for the past 40 years because we have had nuclear weapons are wrong, that does not mean to say that it is not a valid point of view. It is held by many people. We need the 10-year window of opportunity to persuade people of the reality of the situation.

When I tabled the Motion at the beginning of the year after seeing the immense political changes that had occurred in the previous six months, I wondered whether 10 years was too long a timescale. However, unfortunately, given the nature of the contribution from the Conservative, Liberal and SDP sides, I must conclude that 10 years is probably about right. We shall need all the time we have. When I say "We", I mean that generation which has come on to the planet since the end of the Second World War and which sees the threat not from the Americans, Russians, Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis, Arabs, North Koreans or South Koreans, but the threat to our environment and our living space on this planet. We must tackle and counteract that threat. I hope that over the next 10 years we can make some progress in tackling that threat. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.