§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Which countries might launch a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom but are deterred from doing so by the knowledge that the United Kingdom has nuclear weapons.
My Lords, British nuclear forces are the ultimate guarantee of the country's security, and contribute to the overall security of the alliance. They demonstrate that aggression of any kind, from whatever quarter, is not a rational option.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, can the noble Viscount be a little more specific on the matter? For example, can he say whether he or the Government consider that the Iraqi nuclear threat is diminished by them becoming accessories to President Clinton's decision to become a war criminal?
My Lords, I shall not attempt to dignify the second part of the noble Lord's question with an answer. I merely point out to him that even signatories of the non-proliferation treaty are at least under suspicion for developing nuclear weapons. With a little bit of a great deal of circumvention is possible.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that the fact that we have nuclear weapons has helped to keep peace in the world for a very long time? Would it not, therefore, be an abominable crime to send any future Foreign Secretary naked, as it were —that is, if we had no nuclear weapons—into any conference chamber?
§ Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, represents the finest traditions of Bevanite thinking in the Labour Party.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, is it not the case that the Government have announced that there will be a maximum of 512 warheads on Trident as opposed to a maximum of 192 on Polaris? Can the noble Viscount tell us which countries will be deterred by 512 warheads as opposed to those which will. be deterred by 192?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, knows as well as I do that we have stated the figure of 128 warheads per boat as a maximum. I should also like to draw his attention to previous exchanges on many occasions in your Lordships' House as regards the other categories of nuclear weapons which this country has cut since the Berlin Wall came down. I merely repeat the advice that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, on the last occasion that we discussed the matter during Question Time: one must look at the question in the round.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, in asking a supplementary question I have to declare an interest—as, indeed, I always do—as chairman of VSEL. However, can the noble Viscount confirm to the House that there are 12 to 15 countries in the world at present that have either a nuclear or a potential nuclear capacity; that a similar number have either chemical and biological weapons or the capacity to produce them; and that a similar number will over the next five years develop a ballistic missile capability? In such a world, would it not be the height of foolishness to do away with our own nuclear deterrent?
My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that there is an unfortunate number of countries worldwide which possess nuclear weapons beyond the restrictions and the registrations of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that that in itself is a potential for great instability in the world. 583 I should also like to draw the noble Lord's attention to previous exchanges in the House in which I think I detailed the number of nuclear weapons that we estimate are in the hands of former member states of the Soviet Union.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that certainly some of us on these Benches are puzzled at what conceivable constructive purpose such repetitive questions can serve in terms of the proper defence of the realm?
My Lords, perhaps I may leave that to your Lordships' imagination and to that of my noble friend Lord Campbell. I welcome these exchanges because they enable me not only to listen to the sound of my own voice but also, more importantly, to reiterate the policy of Her Majesty's Government on these matters, which seems to me to be entirely rational.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, in view of the alarming state of affairs disclosed by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, with which the Minister seems to concur, does he agree that in future the United Kingdom must be very careful to whom it supplies arms?
My Lords, I neither concurred, and nor did I not concur, with my noble friend Lord Chalfont. The short answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is yes, and it has always been so.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)
My Lords, I believe that we have time for both sides. Perhaps we could hear first from my noble friend on this side of the House and then from the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it would be pointless to answer this Question as many noble Lords opposite, including the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, never understood that the Soviet Union was a threat during all the decades that it was indeed a major threat to this country?
My Lords, yes. Of course, when rockets are pointing at one it is always more difficult to be courageous about defending oneself.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, with reference to a previous answer which the Minister gave, is he not aware that it is not only the right but the duty of Parliament to keep a close eye on the Government's nuclear weapon; policy? Does he agree that, on the one hand, there is little or no international opposition to the possession of nuclear weapons by this country but that, on the other hand, there is growing opposition, not least in the talks on non-proliferation, 584 to the Government's proposals for an overall increase in our nuclear fire-power and to our go-slow on a comprehensive test ban?
My Lords, I am grateful for the first part of the noble Lord's question. I merely refer him to the remarks made some time ago by the Russian leader who accepted that the British deterrent was a minimum one.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, is the Minister aware that if ever the occasion arises when my Questions please the Government and their supporters I shall begin to believe that I have been overtaken by senility? The Minister referred to the non-proliferation treaty. Does he agree that it is hardly compatible that, on the one hand, he should take refuge in that excellent treaty, which I hope he will soon discuss and improve while, on the other hand, we are increasing the size of our own nuclear weaponry and simultaneously asking other people to reduce theirs or not to have them at all?
My Lords, as regards the first part of the noble Lord's question, we have a mutuality of interest. Despite the great respect which I bear the noble Lord, the day when we agree will be the day when I shall have reached my dotage. As regards the second part of the noble Lord's question, I refer him to the exchanges which have been taking place, it sometimes seems to me, for months and months.