HL Deb 11 March 1993 vol 543 cc1139-42

3.18 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their reaction to Lord Zuckerman's article, "Prospects for a Comprehensive Test Ban", in Nature, 4th February 1993, and whether they will support President Clinton in concluding a comprehensive test ban treaty by 1996.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we welcome Lord Zuckerman's emphasis on the need for strong and effective international means to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. We would contest his conclusion that a comprehensive test ban would itself be an effective counter-proliferation measure, and we continue to see the need for some testing as the best means of maintaining the safety and credibility of our deterrent. We shall continue to consult closely with the United States on all these issues.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that that is not my conclusion? It is the conclusion of the American Government that no testing is needed after 1996. It is the conclusion of the French Government. It is the conclusion of the Russian Government. It is the conclusion of those advisers of the Government who are free to speak, like Lord Zuckerman. It is the conclusion of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Why, therefore, do the Government prefer to remain alone and obstinate on the issue? Are they not tragically mistaken?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first of all, the UK Government are not alone. United States' policy is not yet clear. We have continuing talks with the United States. It very much wants our view. Let me make it absolutely clear that our highest priority is to pursue effective measures to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. So I cannot agree with those who say—I number the noble Lord among them—that a comprehensive test ban among existing nuclear powers would be sufficient to prevent others from pursuing the acquisition of a nuclear capability. We know from the United Nations inspectors in the post-Gulf situation that Iraq, which signed the partial test ban treaty, the non-proliferation treaty, had that nuclear capability.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend make it clear that Her Majesty's Government attach prime importance to preserving an effective instrument of national defence?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, entirely. Also, an indefinite extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1995 needs further strengthening in terms of global participation and more intrusive verification procedures. Those will be the most important measures in helping us contain this awful possibility.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that nobody has ever said that a comprehensive test ban treaty is sufficient cause to achieve non-proliferation? I recall the 1980 defence White Paper which stated that it would be helpful toward non-proliferation. Will she cast her mind back to the record of previous Conservative governments in this field, which showed a great deal more realism and sense of responsibility than is seen in the policy that we now have?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord completely ignores what we have done in this country. Let me remind the House of it. We have reduced our stockpile; we have given £30 million recently to Russia for the safe storage and transport of its nuclear capability; and our Prime Minister told the Ukraine Prime Minister only last week that we are willing to offer security assurances to the Ukraine when it accedes to the non-proliferation treaty. Not only are we taking steps such as giving up the Lance short-range missile and the maritime substrategic weapons; we are also at the forefront in trying to bring a nuclear age to an end. It would be foolhardy to give up our means of defence until we are able to verify that all other nations have done so as well.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I was one of the two Members of this House who took part in the 1963 negotiations. Is my noble friend aware that, although we tried but failed to get a comprehensive test ban on that occasion, the situation with which we were then confronted has altered dramatically since the collapse of communism? Does she recall that we were then faced with a confrontation between two power groups? And will she agree that we are now faced with something rather like a number of loose cannons rolling about on the quarter deck and running into each other? Fragmentation is the danger. Does she allow that that dramatically alters the nature of the argument that we are now pursuing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The problems of verification which are particularly acute in relation to the emerging states of the former Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are concentrating our minds particularly. We must consider not only how to help them get rid of their nuclear capability but ensure that they and other nations which still have a nuclear capability, and some nations that are still developing one, do so as well.

Lord Healey

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he was Foreign Secretary, telling the United Nations Association in 1980 that we could not expect the non-nuclear signatories of the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty to observe their obligations unless the existing nuclear powers honoured (that is the word he used) their commitment (that is the word he used) to work for a comprehensive test ban treaty? In view of the disasters which have followed the present Government ignoring the noble Lord's advice on Yugoslavia, will they not return to his equally wise advice on a nuclear comprehensive test ban?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not believe that our policy and what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said in 1980 about this matter are inconsistent. If we are to work towards a comprehensive test ban treaty, the world at large has to have the means of verification. It also has to have the commitment of all nations to abide by it. We do not have that yet.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, the noble Baroness will probably not be surprised to hear that many noble Lords differ from her on this matter and on the question of where the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, stood in 1980. Wherever the noble Lord stands now, I do not know. Certainly he was in a very different position then. Is the noble Baroness not concerned about the fact that the President of the United States has said in a letter to Senator Hatfield that he is reviewing questions for negotiating a comprehensive test ban treaty? Let me read his exact words from the letter, which has his signature at the bottom: to review questions relating to the forum and modalities for negotiating a CTB [comprehensive test ban treaty]". If, as he says in his letter of 12th February, he is doing that, does the noble Baroness feel that it would be wise for the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the British Government in general to review this matter again? We were close to such a test ban in 1977 and again at the beginning of Mrs. Thatcher's Administration. Does she agree that it is of no use to use whirling words about this matter? Testing, among other things, has moved on, as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has said on many occasions. Is it not time that we had another Statement from the Government following a review of whether it is possible to cease testing and preserve the efficacy of the deterrent?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can well understand why the noble Lord, in view of that letter, has so posed his question. I have not seen the letter. I know that talks are taking place in the United States at this very moment. We certainly do not believe that that comprehensive test ban would be sufficient because, as I said earlier, it would not prevent other nations from pursuing nuclear acquisition. It may be that with a comprehensive test ban treaty in the future we can find a way of enforcing it. We are not at that stage as yet.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Baroness recognise that in talking about safety she is not talking about the Trident warhead programme? That is already safe, whether or not there is any more testing, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, told us. She is therefore talking about the safety of a future programme some time after 1996. Is it the case that there is no alternative technology? As explained in a Written Answer by Mr. Jonathan Aitken on 23rd October 1992 in another place, alternative technologies exist and their development is a matter that will now be considered. Are those alternative technologies ready? If so, can we not do without testing after 1996 and still have a positive nuclear deterrent?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I regret to tell the noble Lord that the technologies referred to in another place are not yet adequate.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, we ought to move on to the next Question.