HL Deb 19 January 2000 vol 608 cc1110-3

2.40 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which elements of the New Agenda Coalition resolution, approved by the United Nations General Assembly on 13th October 1999, they found unacceptable; and why.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the resolution to which my noble and learned friend refers contains many elements that we strongly support, including its calls for faster progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament. But it also included proposals which go beyond the internationally agreed way forward; for example, the conclusion of a treaty giving negative security assurances to all non-nuclear weapons states, before that issue has been properly discussed in Geneva.

We had a specific difficulty with the proposal that nuclear warheads be removed from delivery vehicles. We examined that question in detail in the Strategic Defence Review and concluded that it was incompatible with a credible submarine-based deterrent.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, which was substantially more informative than the uncharacteristically dismissive answer which she gave me last week. Does she appreciate that at stake is the confidence of the non-nuclear powers in the whole non-proliferation process and that at the forthcoming review conference, the whole process may collapse? Even if the Government are undismayed that 121 countries disagree with us, will they, in future negotiations, at least consider it possible that the American Senate may be wrong?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, perhaps I may say straight away that if I appeared to be dismissive to my noble and learned friend, then I wholeheartedly apologise. All noble Lords will know that my noble and learned friend must be commended for the resilience and persistence with which he has pursued this quite right issue. But I must reiterate that Her Majesty's Government are entirely committed to disarmament. We have made that absolutely clear in what we have done. It is of great sadness to us that the New Agenda resolution contains so many issues with which we agreed, but a number with which we disagreed and, therefore, we felt obliged—honour-bound—not to vote for it. That does not in any way detract from our total commitment to pursuing nuclear disarmament with vigour.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the matter is becoming disturbingly urgent? The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is effectively no longer supported by the United States. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be reviewed in April this year, and there are some worries about whether it is likely to be renewed. We now know that the Start II Treaty is still completely stuck in relationships between Russia, the United States and others. In addition, the first conversations are now starting about the possibility of a major amendment to the ABM Treaty, which some of us regard as almost the last real obstacle to proliferation. Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government are addressing this whole group of issues and, if so, what opportunities there may be for later discussion and debate on this crucial matter?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises all those issues, which are causing us a great deal of concern and, if I may respectfully say so, frustration. We all had hopes and aspirations that the process would be more quickly addressed. As I have said previously to your Lordships, the reality is that we need to take our partners with us. However, agreement is necessary for negotiations. We cannot negotiate with ourselves; we need others to engage in the process. Therefore, we are taking all the opportunities available in Geneva and elsewhere to push the issue and to encourage all our partners to look at the matter in a way which will be most conducive to bringing about the long-term aim; that is, nuclear disarmament in an environment which guarantees international safety.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is no more than prudent for the Government to take note of the fact that, many years on, the Russians have still not signed the Start II Treaty, that they are producing new nuclear weapons, and that they show no sign whatever of taking proliferation seriously? Will the noble Baroness agree that in those circumstances the Government are behaving with the utmost prudence?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly agree with the last statement that we are behaving with the utmost prudence. However, we hope that the new Russian Duma will at last ratify Start II, opening the way to early negotiations with the United States on a Start III Treaty. We are very keen to obtain an early agreement on a work programme in the conference on disarmament so that negotiations can finally start on a fissile material cut-off treaty. We are working with our key international partners for the success of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review at the conference in April to which I have already referred.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the Minister agree and, if so, will she underline in the interests of clarity for everyone concerned that our nuclear deterrent now consists entirely of Trident submarines? We have no other nuclear delivery systems. Will she agree that to remove the warheads from those missiles would make the whole Trident system incredible and virtually useless?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will understand when I say that I support what he has said. I underline that the strategic review was very clear that Trident is the most effective way to guarantee our security and that any signature in relation to the New Agenda will make that less easy to deliver.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's initial response. Can she go further and agree that defence policies cannot be decided upon by anyone other than the states concerned? Does the Minister agree that resolutions such as the New Agenda Coalition, which could result in members of the international community determining the defence needs of others, risks contradicting the United Nations Charter, which acknowledges the right of all states to self-defence? Will she give an assurance that the Government will not allow our defence policies to be decided upon elsewhere?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can certainly give that assurance. Her Majesty's Government will continue to put the needs and security of this country at the centre of their policy and development.