Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 29 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 3:06, 29 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In view of the absence of any agreement at the recent Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, what steps they will take to ensure that decisions are reached on the recommendations in the United Nations Secretary-General's report In Larger Freedom to counter the risks of proliferation.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the United Kingdom and other EU member states welcomed the recommendations of the Secretary-General's report In Larger Freedom in the EU statement to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York on 2 May. General Assembly President Ping recently released his draft outcome document for the millennium review summit, which is taking forward the work outlined in In Larger Freedom. We are studying the outcome document closely in order to contribute positively towards a successful outcome for the summit.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In the list of priorities for the September summit that he gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the other day, there was no mention of an objective in the non-proliferation field. Does he not think that that risks sending the wrong message? Does he not feel that it is time for Her Majesty's Government to take a more prominent role in trying to set up an international scheme for the provision of enriched uranium and reprocessing facilities to underpin a possible moratorium on the further construction of such facilities, which is one of the highroads towards obtaining fissile material for nuclear weapons?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, there is a great deal of merit in pursuing the course of action that the noble Lord suggests. However, across the report, there are very substantial areas and, as Kofi Annan said, if every one of them was a priority it would be hard to define priority effectively. I can confirm that Her Majesty's Government will support and commit themselves to implementing a new security consensus of the kind that the report calls for. We pledge full compliance with all of the articles of the treaty on non-proliferation as part of our approach to the conference. We resolve to bring an early conclusion to negotiations on fissile material cut-off and its treaty. We are committed to making sure that uranium enrichment and other processes are governed by international treaty and are used for peaceful purposes only. All these measures have the strong support of the Government.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, since the nuclear powers are under a treaty obligation to negotiate in good faith for the total abolition of nuclear weapons, and since some of the non-nuclear states regard their failure to do so as absolving them from compliance with the treaty, is there a prospect that such negotiations might be opened, at least after some of the other steps my noble friend mentioned have been taken?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I do not see much sign that the powers that possess nuclear weapons are prepared at the moment to entertain such a discussion. Indeed, a number of other countries are not prepared to entertain other discussions around nuclear issues. I think that that is why the conference was not as successful as it should have been, and certainly not as successful as the conference held five years previously. We can do a lot in this upcoming conference, but I fear that that is not one of the factors.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

My Lords, if the Minister is unable to go as far as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, would wish, does he at least agree with the Secretary-General when he says in the report that,

"the unique status of the nuclear weapons states also entails a unique responsibility".

He goes on to say that they should all reaffirm their commitment to negative security assurances. That is, if you are a nuclear weapon state you will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. Will the Minister confirm that that is the UK Government's policy, given the remarks that the previous Defence Secretary, Mr Hoon, tended to make in the last Parliament?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the United Kingdom has stuck scrupulously to all the obligations under nuclear treaties to which we have committed ourselves. It is not contemplated that we will be a first user.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I have a problem in that the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, has alighted on exactly the same quotation from the report we are discussing that I was going to raise. Following the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, the report goes on to say that the responsibilities for the nuclear weapon states must include, but not be limited to, further reductions in their arsenals of non-strategic weapons, pursuing control agreements that entail not just the dismantlement but irreversibility.

What sort of propositions are we prepared to put on the table in respect of those items, which I do not think the Minister mentioned in his original list?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, my understanding is that there have been significant reductions in the nuclear weapon stockpiles of all the major nuclear weapon-holding countries. Our view has been that only the stock which is essential for the security of our country should be retained. I believe that that position was understood in the last conference. I have no doubt that it will be debated again but I hope that it will be understood again in the upcoming conference.