HL Deb 09 March 1992 vol 536 cc1169-70

3.3 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they share the view of the German Social Democratic Party that global protection against limited strikes would be ineffective and costly and that protection from nuclear war will be best achieved by a complete ban on both atomic testing and production of fissile material.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, GPALS is consistent with our policy of preserving peace through effective deterrence and with our efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons through the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty. A comprehensive nuclear test ban or an end to production of fissile material by the nuclear powers would not prevent clandestine efforts by countries like Iraq to acquire nuclear weapons. Nor are they preconditions for progress in nuclear arms reduction and non-proliferation.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Will he address himself to reports that the view that GPALS (as the Americans call it) is ineffective and grossly expensive is not confined to the German SDP but is shared by Foreign Minister Genscher and is also widely held in other parts of Europe? Is the Minister aware of that view? If so, will he comment upon it? What do Her Majesty's Government think about it?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am aware of the various remarks attributed to Herr Genscher and the SDP. The UK's position on fissile material is different from that of the superpowers. We do not have large stocks of surplus material upon which to draw. In the event of an agreement between the US and Russia to cease production, UK production would have to continue, but only at the minimum level necessary to satisfy our nuclear deterrent and naval reactor needs. We believe also that the SDP's estimate of the cost is greatly exaggerated.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that GPALS, as he refers to it, covers not just the United States but the United States' allies as well? In other words, it is NATOwide. Will he also tell us whether that system will be based on the Patriot missile? If so, what has happened to the replacement for the Bloodhound missile which is now out of commission? I understand that Bloodhound was pulled out of service last year, and Her Majesty's Government announced a replacement. When will that replacement be operational?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, on the first point, my understanding is that GPALS is going forward with all the allies. On the second point, it is far too early to say what the replacement will be.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, but it is recognised, is it not, that countries such as Iraq and others will completely ignore any such ban? They will be the only ones left with atomic power. What kind of a daft position are we getting into?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords. I have to agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that President Yeltsin, whose socialist credentials must be at least as respectable as those of Mr. Genscher, welcomes the GPALS initiative? Does he also agree that one of the enduring mysteries of life is why it is that the people who are most vociferous about the dangers of nuclear weapons are the most violently opposed to any attempt to defend people against them?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, Mr. Yeltsin is in favour of GPALS and also recognises our independent nuclear deterrent. With regard to the noble Lord's second point, I am sure that the House will wish to draw its own conclusions.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if GPALS, as is widely believed, is likely to be totally ineffective, it will be a complete waste of money? Will the Government further address themselves to the efficiency of the proposition?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it is far too early to say what will be the effect of GPALS until it has been worked out fully. It is a reorientation of the SDI programme. There is no reason to believe that it will be ineffective.

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