HL Deb 15 March 1999 vol 598 cc467-9

2.45 p. m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty"s Government:

Whether they have given assurances to non-nuclear states that under no circumstances will they be attacked by a British nuclear weapon and that these assurances will not be unilaterally withdrawn.

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

My Lords, we have long given assurances to non-nuclear weapon states that we shall not use nuclear weapons against them unless they first attack us, our allies or a state to which we have given a security commitment, in alliance or association with a weapon state. These assurances have been given to the 182 non-nuclear weapon states parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to many non-nuclear weapon states through protocols to regional nuclear weapon free zone treaties. In giving such assurances we make clear that we do not regard them as applicable if any beneficiary is in material breach of its own non-proliferation obligation.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer which I think the House will find informative. Can my noble friend tell us whether other nuclear states are following Her Majesty's Government's steps in this matter? What other action is being taken to discourage non-nuclear states following in the footsteps of India and Pakistan?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the 1995 non-proliferation treaty review conference agreed that states should consider further steps to assure non-nuclear weapon states as regards the use of nuclear weapons. These steps could take the form of an internationally legally binding agreement. However, there is no common view as to what form any such international arrangements might take. Discussion on the issue should continue in the ad hoc committee on negative security assurance when it is re-established at the conference on disarmament in Geneva. Of course, Her Majesty's Government will take a full part in those discussions.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important that any potential aggressor, nuclear or non-nuclear, should be left in no doubt that we would defend ourselves with any weapons at our command? Is it not true that we have consistently refused to accede to non-first use agreements for that very reason? Will the Minister also assure the House that none of the assurances given to the 182 states concerned will apply if those states are engaged in an act of aggression against this country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, reads the initial Answer I gave to my noble friend he will see that those assurances were clearly stated. Our security assurances also contain the standard supreme national interest provisions on withdrawal. That is the important point. Of course the supreme national interest must be maintained in all the arrangements we have. As regards first use, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation continues to reserve the right of limited first use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances of self-defence to persuade an aggressor to desist if no other means are available. I hope that that assures the noble Lord on both the points he raised.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, is my noble friend saying that, having persuaded the non-nuclear powers to renounce a nuclear future in the non-proliferation treaty, there may still be circumstances in which we would nevertheless attack them with nuclear weapons? Is that not to say not only that we claim the right to use nuclear weapons but that we want to ensure that we do it unilaterally?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not believe that that is the case at all. I hope that my answer made clear that, in all cases where we have given assurances, we have made clear that those assurances are not applicable if any beneficiary is in breach of its obligations.