HL Deb 18 October 1995 vol 566 cc744-6

3.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will carry out proposals A, B, C and D, under the heading "Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World" on pages 62 and 63 of the Pugwash Report entitled Does Britain Need Nuclear Weapons as a mark of esteem towards Professor Rotblat and his colleagues on their award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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

My Lords, we congratulate Professor Rotblat on his award. We do not believe that his proposals represent a realistic approach to nuclear arms control. We do not consider that his project for nuclear disarmament would be consistent with our national security requirements, or those of NATO.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that she has just thrown away the chance of winning the next general election? Is she further aware that there is now, for the first time, internationally and nationally a real tide towards nuclear disarmament? That is particularly taking place in the South Pacific, and one can now pick out pretty easily the countries which are pro nuclear weapons. This country is one of that decreasing number. I am therefore, in a way, not too sorry, but I wish only that the Front Bench in another place of the party I represent were a little more eager to seize the opportunity which is before it, and I hope that it will take it.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I see that the noble Lord is another gloom and doom merchant today. If I were to agree with him, or, indeed, with Professor Rotblat, who is an eminent scientist, and who has contributed a great deal to our understanding of nuclear physics, I should not merely be in disagreement with my own Front Bench but with the noble Lord's Front Bench. I noticed two weeks ago that Dr. John Reid, an Opposition defence spokesman in another place, said that calls to scrap Trident, something for which the noble Lord has called, were "pious slogans". He went on to say on an anti-Trident Motion that it was pretty useless, because it is one-sided disarmament and by definition it places us outside world moves towards de-escalation". This Government are working for nuclear disarmament and a comprehensive test ban treaty. We are playing a major role in that. Following the noble Lord's advice, he will be in conflict with his own Front Bench and he will certainly be going against common sense.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Pugwash conferences were methods by which Soviet propaganda against our nuclear deterrent was disseminated? They never at any time suggested the reduction or abolition of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union itself. The idea that they should share a peace prize is one of the oddest things that has happened during a very odd period of politics.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I cannot but agree with my noble friend. What has been extremely interesting is that, while we have been working away for the comprehensive test ban treaty, others seem not to have been working in the same direction. We are already reducing the number of our deterrents to take into account new minimum security requirements. It is important that we set priorities for reductions which reflect the levels of arms that we and others hold. But I have to say, in agreement with my noble friend, that we shall be realistic and we shall work for a comprehensive test ban treaty. Frankly, I cannot see that following the ideas of the Pugwash conference will advance that, but our work certainly will.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, was not the Minister perhaps going a little far in joining in the vigorous condemnation of the Pugwash organisation by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff? Does she agree that, on balance, unlike the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the Pugwash organisation probably made a positive contribution during the Cold War? What progress have we made towards agreement on a text?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear in the answer to the first supplementary question that we recognise that Professor Rotblat has been a distinguished scientist with a long record of applying science to public affairs. While we share the goal of nuclear disarmament, for which he has fought, we cannot agree with the means that he proposes or with the time-scale that his arguments imply. If I am critical of the Pugwash conferences that have been taking place since 1957 it is perhaps because they do not seem to have made much progress in that time as they have not been based on a realistic assessment of the situation. That is why I am not critical of Professor Rotblat, as I said previously. We want nuclear disarmament which is sustainable and to make it sustainable we must have all the countries involved in a meaningful way.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will the test ban treaty which the Government propose to support have in it effective and enforceable verification provisions? If not, will the Government ascribe to it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have always said that a comprehensive test ban treaty must be enforceable; that means that it must be able to be monitored. I agree wholeheartedly, with my noble friend.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the House will have been interested to hear the Minister's supplementary answer in which she mentioned that the Government were working towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament and not one-sided nuclear disarmament. Perhaps I may press the Minister a little further on that point. During last week's Conservative Party Conference the Secretary of State for Defence appeared to suggest in his speech that the Conservative Government, with him as Minister of Defence, would hang on to nuclear weapons forever. May we have clarification of the Government's policy in that regard?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, not for the first time, the best answer that I can give to the noble Lord is to go back and read the speech again.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I must be allowed to correct a couple of mistakes that have been made—

Noble Lords


Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough to resume his seat. If he could be sufficiently ingenious to state his facts by way of a question that would be acceptable.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I shall study the noble Earl's reply.