Nuclear Posture Review — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:56 pm on 28th June 2010.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub-Committee F - Home Affairs 2:56 pm, 28th June 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the scope and timing of the proposed nuclear posture review announced by the Foreign Secretary on 26 May.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

My Lords, the review of the UK's nuclear declaratory policy announced by the Foreign Secretary will take place as part of the strategic defence and security review. We will re-examine all the factors that make up our declaratory policy to ensure that it is fully appropriate to the circumstances we face today and into the future. The Government expect to report their findings from the strategic defence and security review in the autumn.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub-Committee F - Home Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is very helpful that that will be brought together with the other matters in this very broad security review. Can he confirm that the nuclear posture review, which is the object of my Question, will include a critical analysis of the justification for the "continuous at-sea" aspect of our present nuclear posture? Does he agree that that requirement was related to the Cold War need to deter the threat of a Soviet first strike and that, as that threat is no longer considered to exist by the NATO alliance, the grounds for maintaining the requirement of "continuous at-sea" no longer exists either?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

No, I cannot confirm that. The nuclear posture review, which will be in the context of the SDSR, will include questions such as our approach to nuclear-free zones and our assurances given to non-nuclear states who have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The review of Trident will focus on value for money and will be separate. It will look at whether it is possible to stick to the constant at-sea deterrent system, to which we are committed, with three boats rather than four. That is what it will examine. It will be a separate review from the SDSR plus nuclear posture review, which will be plugged together.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

Will the Minister confirm that the parties to the nuclear non-proliferation t0reaty undertake to enter into negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament and, afterwards, for a treaty on general and complete disarmament? Are the Government proposing any steps to initiate such negotiations, or at least to encourage them? If not, why not?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

As the noble and learned Lord knows well because he follows these things closely, the advances and progress made at the recent review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty pointed in that direction. The general desire, which is long-term but to be achieved step by cautious, realistic and practical step, is a non-nuclear world. That is what we all want to see, but progress towards it has to be through the kind of arrangements and protocol developments that were organised at the non-proliferation treaty gathering the other day. That was a considerable advance, and I am very glad that we were able to report our own decisions to reinforce it further with our declaration of the number of maximum stockpile warheads we would close. It is the right direction, but we have to move carefully.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does Minister agree that it is important to maintain the momentum towards nuclear disarmament? In particular, will the nuclear posture review look at the alert status of our deterrent? Obviously moving towards having a longer period in which people have time to consider their reaction is a very important part of moving the momentum towards disarmament.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

I agree with the noble Baroness that this is an important part of the developments. The review conclusions were very encouraging-they were not all-embracing, but certainly took us some steps forward. I will note what the noble Baroness said.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, the United States is making its posture a legislatively mandated review. Given the sensitivity of the subject, would it not be appropriate to do so in the United Kingdom in line with our consideration of UK future declarations of war?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

I am not quite sure that this relates directly to what we are discussing at the moment, but I note what the noble Viscount said.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Labour

My Lords, the Government's approach to the future of Trident is central to any nuclear posture review, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, intimated. Will the Minister tell the House how the strong preference of one of the coalition partners for alternatives to Trident renewal will be taken into account in a future review scrutinising spending to ensure value for money?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

There will be a review, as undertaken in the coalition agreement, and the coalition partners will be free to express their views, as they have said they will. I have no doubt that there will be a very healthy, realistic and sensible analysis of the situation, but the overarching commitment is that, however we organise the matter, there must be a constant-at-sea deterrent that works, rather than one that does not work or costs a lot more money and involves a lot more missiles, as some alternatives would.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, given that many of the most significant developments in relations between nations in the past 30 or 40 years have been unpredicted and sometimes unpredictable, is it not important, in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about the deterrent being focused on the Cold War period, to recognise that if we were to lose the capability, it might be very difficult to get it back again if it were to be needed?

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee

My Lords, is it not also reasonable to assume that had neither India nor Pakistan had nuclear weapons within the past 10 years, it is probable that they would have gone to war? Because they had nuclear weapons, they thought it would be a silly idea and so did not.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

My noble friend is quite right. That could be a good example of the theory of mutual deterrence working. Perhaps, if we look back over the history of the past 50 years, it has worked.