Nuclear Weapons

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 11th January 2000.

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Photo of Lord Jenkins of Putney Lord Jenkins of Putney Labour 2:30 pm, 11th January 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they reconcile their maintenance of nuclear weapons with their claim to support nuclear disarmament.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, the Government pledged in their election manifesto to retain Trident while pressing for multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. That policy was reaffirmed in the Strategic Defence Review. There is no contradiction in this policy. The Government have made clear that when satisfied with progress towards verifiable, balanced reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the major nuclear powers, Britain's nuclear weapons will be included in multilateral negotiations.

Photo of Lord Jenkins of Putney Lord Jenkins of Putney Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer but I think that she will appreciate as well as I that that kind of Answer could mean a more or less permanent situation in which a government is firmly in favour of nuclear disarmament while remaining firmly armed with nuclear weapons. Is not this a somewhat unsatisfactory situation? Does my noble friend know of any reason to believe that it will ever come to an end?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have been resolute in pursuing nuclear disarmament. But of course one of our most important criteria must be the safety of this realm. We will continue to press our partners to work with us to bring about nuclear disarmament, but we must do so in an atmosphere of safety for this country.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that when the new agenda resolution was passed by the General Assembly on 13th October the United Kingdom delegate explained his opposition by saying that the resolution was incompatible with a credible, minimal deterrent? Who is to be deterred from what? Is a non-nuclear attack to be deterred by threatening to turn it into a nuclear war? If the deterrent is against a nuclear attack, what was the difficulty in supporting the resolution, which was calling for progress towards multilateral disarmament?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I have answered the question in relation to the new agenda on a number of occasions. The answer that I have given in the past remains the same. I shall not tire your Lordships by its repetition.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, accepting that the United Kingdom now has a minimum nuclear deterrent, I ask the Minister whether he can tell us anything about Franco-British conversations, so far on defence co-operation, as to whether the provision of a minimum deterrent might be aided by closer Franco-British co-operation.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord anything specific. Your Lordships will know that we are working energetically with our partners. Britain is now the most transparent of all the nuclear powers. We are trying to make sure that we are keeping the numbers to the minimum possible and we are encouraging others to do the same with us.

Photo of Lord Burnham Lord Burnham Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness has been fairly robust in her reply to the noble Lord. Can she give an absolute assurance that Her Majesty's Government will retain nuclear weapons so long as they are necessary for the defence of the realm?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I can assure all noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government place the security of this realm at the top of their agenda. We will do nothing that would put this country in peril.

Photo of Lord Jenkins of Putney Lord Jenkins of Putney Labour

My Lords, does not my noble friend appreciate that if all nuclear nations give the same kinds of answers to their respective parliaments there will never ever be any nuclear disarmament?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I do not accept that. We are working with our partners. We have seen change; change is possible. We are leading and urging others to look creatively at what other kinds of change we can bring about for nuclear disarmament. But this is an issue on which we need others to come with us. We cannot do it on our own and we cannot put this realm in danger by so doing.