HL Deb 21 May 1997 vol 580 cc379-81

2.54 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, having regard to their commitment to nuclear disarmament, they will support the gradual internationally agreed and verified reduction of nuclear weapons to zero, as recommended by the Canberra Commission.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government will press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. When satisfied with verified progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations. We are considering how best to implement this policy.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that excellent Answer. May I seek to clarify a point? Inevitably, in such negotiations there is a stage of agreement and a stage of implementation. May we assume from her Answer and from what she said in her notable contribution to the debate on the humble Address (col. 131) that that is recognised and that the reservations as regards the British nuclear weapon will apply to the second stage? May we also assume that the Government will wish to be fully represented in the first stage of agreement, but will be making reservations about our specific implementation of such an agreement in the second stage of the proceedings? Perhaps I may give an example of what—

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, then I shall leave my noble friend to give an example, instead of trying to anticipate what she might say.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, our goal is clear: the global elimination of nuclear weapons. As I said a few moments ago, the Government are considering the best way that we may implement that policy.

Earl Howe

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is one major obstacle in the way of complete nuclear disarmament and that is the simple fact that nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented? Does she also accept that in the context of NATO's strategy of preventing war, the United Kingdom's minimum nuclear deterrent makes an important contribution to that strategy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government have made it clear that we will retain Trident, while our overall objective will be the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Our overall objective remains a strong defence against the new security challenges and against the challenges of the post-Cold War world.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, if the object of total elimination were achieved how would Her Majesty's Government guard against a country with no such weapons making them without anyone else knowing?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we wish the negotiations to be on the basis of a verifiable scaling down of nuclear weapons. In relation to countries which as yet do not have nuclear weapons, we will be urging them to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty and to do so as soon as possible.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, perhaps I may seek further clarification from my noble friend. Part of the second stage of the implementation may well be that the United Kingdom will seek to secure a reduction in the larger stockpiles of the United States and Russia before implementing any reduction in our weaponry. Is that the kind of action that the Government might reasonably have in mind?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, in recent years, the United States has made tremendous reductions in its nuclear forces through bilateral agreements with Russia. The two countries have also agreed to begin early talks on further reductions through the START process. The Government are firm in their commitment to strong defence links with the United States across the board. I reiterate what I said to my noble friend earlier; the implementation process will be a matter for further consideration.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the possession of nuclear weapons is a deterrent not only against their use by other people but against other forms of aggression, including the use of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons? Have the Government really thought this through? Have they understood that in the total absence of nuclear weapons everyone is at the mercy of the strongest, those prepared to commit aggression and to bully with conventional weapons and with other weapons of mass destruction? Have the Government really thought this one through?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, not only have the Government thought that one through but I think that the people of the United Kingdom have had the opportunity to think that one through and, indeed, did so by voting in the way that they did in the last election, when there was a very clear commitment in our election manifesto to the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how we can be certain that a country does not have nuclear weapons nor has the capability of manufacturing such weapons?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, perhaps I may stress the point that I made in my original Answer. We shall proceed on the basis of verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. The verifiable element is extremely important and I stress it to noble Lords when answering their questions.