§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Further to the reply given by Viscount Cranborne (HL Deb. 1st July, col. 932), to which enemies comfort and aid would be given were Her Majesty's Government to say in what circumstances they would consider it safe to give up nuclear weapons.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, despite the changes of recent years in the strategic environment many uncertainties remain. We are committed to maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as it is required for the security of this country.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, the noble Viscount's observations are, of course, of great interest but he does not happen to have answered the Question. Will he be so good as actually to answer the Question on the Order Paper?
My Lords, the persistence with which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, pursues matters nuclear does him great credit, if I may say so. However, he reminds me increasingly of Cassandra in his persistence. Unfortunately I suggest to your Lordships that he does not resemble Cassandra in one important respect which is that, unlike Cassandra, he is never right. I would merely point out to the noble Lord that if he believes that the world and the strategic environment have substantially improved during the past two or three years, he and I are living in a completely different atmosphere.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, given that Ministers have admitted, first, that the warhead for Trident is safe and reliable; secondly, that the warhead for the existing WE177 free-fall bomb is safe and reliable: and, thirdly, that the development of a new sub-strategic warhead could be completed without any further nuclear testing taking place, will the Minister add the Government's support to President Clinton's extension of his testing moratorium and his objective of achieving a comprehensive test-ban treaty by September 1996?
My Lords, again, I think that we have cantered over this particular course many times before. However, I point out to the noble Lord that we have made it indeed absolutely clear, as he suggested, that we are satisfied that Trident is already one point safe and that any subsequent tests that we might have made would be focused on preparedness 520 for subsequent test bans and long-term safety assurance. However, we are not entirely wedded to this and there are alternatives which we are exploring.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, is not the nub of this Question this: the technology required to make nuclear weapons of one kind or another is easily available to those with scientific knowledge and the means to do so are also equally available to those with scientific knowledge? We do not know how many powers may be in a position to obtain them before a few years have passed. It would be insane to regard it as safe to give up our own nuclear weapons so long as that situation lasts.
My Lords, as always my noble and learned friend is absolutely right and I can add nothing to what he has said.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, the Minister seems not to like the questions being asked by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney. But surely it is right that my noble friend should ask questions about the nuclear deterrent, especially at a time when our ground forces in the Army are being reduced and also our naval presence is being reduced. Is it not right that there should be a proper balance between those forces and any nuclear forces which we might decide to have? My noble friend is therefore doing the country and indeed the Government a service in asking these questions.
My Lords, far be it for me to have the impertinence to suggest either that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, or indeed the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, should be guided in any way by me as to the questions that they might or might not ask. I would be the first to concede that the nuclear deterrent is a perfectly proper question for noble Lords to address. Indeed in view of its importance as the bedrock of our strategic defence policy, far from complaining about the noble Lord asking these questions I welcome the opportunity once again to put the Government's policy. As regards the noble Lord's point about balance, of course he is absolutely right. The balance is important and we endeavour to get it right.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that Britain and her allies cannot possibly renounce nuclear weapons unless they are absolutely certain that no other country has them or is likely to acquire them? Does he also agree that as a minimum requirement there must be an international authority with effective powers of inspection and enforcement? Finally, does he agree that, therefore, unfortunately this Question is academic at present?
My Lords, it gives me unaccustomed pleasure to be able to agree with every single word the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said. I shall not tempt fate by commenting further on what he has just asked.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question of testing. If the three hypotheses put to the Minister by my noble friend Lord Morris are 521 correct—and I think that they are because they seem already to have been accepted by the Government at different times—what on earth is the point of Britain not welcoming President Clinton's moratorium and not sharing his objective of a comprehensive test ban treaty by 1996? If the bomb works—and we know that it works—why can we not go along with that?
My Lords, I have already said, not only this afternoon but in previous exchanges with other noble Lords if not to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that we do not rely entirely on testing for the purposes which I have already explained. There are other alternatives, which we are endeavouring to perfect in the wake of the President's decision. Testing would indeed be a convenience for us in this country, but we do not rely on testing alone. If we did, we would be a great deal more worried than we are.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, does that mean that the Government go along with the objective of a test ban treaty by 1996?
My Lords, we have always regarded a complete test ban as a laudable and desirable objective. At the same time we have to be perfectly clear that it is not the fact of a treaty which matters. The question is whether it works. It is perfectly clear that those who have signed up either to non-proliferation treaties or test ban treaties have it within their power to cheat. Therefore, it is equally important that not only the treaty should be signed but that proper machinery for verification should exist.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that we have had an interesting discussion but the Question remains unanswered? Is he aware that this is Question Time and the purpose of his being at the Dispatch Box is to answer questions? Will he be so kind as to answer the Question?
My Lords, as always, I rely substantially on my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham in these matters. It seems to me that he has already given a very clear answer to the Question, even if my own attempt at an answer did not satisfy the noble Lord. I shall merely give the noble Lord one example. It is one that 1 have given to your Lordships before. We estimate that in the former Soviet Union alone Russia has about 7,000 strategic warheads which remain operational, the Ukraine about 1,500, Kazakhstan 1,200, and Belorussia 80. They are not alone in the world in having those facilities.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that there are also at least 10 other countries in the world which have nuclear weapons potential and many others which have the potential to manufacture ballistic missiles to deliver those weapons? Is that not relevant to the Question which the noble Lord asked? Does not the Minister also think it relevant to point out, in the light of one of his previous answers, that no one who knew what the facts were ever paid the slightest attention to what Cassandra said?
My Lords, I agree in principle with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. would pray in aid the example of South Africa which has now, as I understand it, destroyed its nuclear capability. However, that capability was produced successfully under the noses of the international community.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that, in addition to our possession of these horrendous weapons helping to maintain peace and keeping peace on the agenda, it is possible that the fact that we have nuclear weapons enables us to go to the conference chamber and start world discussions on when we can begin to dismantle them and get rid of them?
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, are the Government aware that the philosophy expounded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, effectively provides an incentive for every other country in the world to acquire nuclear weapons? In effect, we are saying that such weapons are important for our defence. Is that not a lesson which other countries can learn and will they not unfortunately go down that road? Would it not be much more beneficial for the future stability and peace of the world if the Government were to commit themselves to getting rid of nuclear weapons on a worldwide basis and involve themselves in discussions to that end rather than saying that we shall hang on to ours because they are needed for our defence?
My Lords, the ultimate objective is certainly a ban on nuclear weapons. However, getting from here to there is a little more difficult than the noble Lord suggests. I say to the noble Lord that, in terms of getting rid of our nuclear weapons meanwhile, he ought to remember that we are accepted as a nuclear power in the nonproliferation treaty, which in itself does not preclude other countries from acceding to that treaty and not acquiring nuclear weapons of their own.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that neither the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, nor I propounded a philosophy? We simply tried to persuade people of the facts of life.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, the Question asks the Government:in what circumstances they 'would consider it safe to gave up nuclear weapons".Does the Minister not realise that the reasons he has given seem to imply that there are no circumstances under which we would give up nuclear weapons?
My Lords, I was riot aware that what I said meant anything of the kind. Circumstances change. At the moment I find it difficult to envisage that they will change sufficiently to achieve that state of nirvana which the noble Lord suggests.