Nuclear Disarmament — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:39 pm on 24th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 2:39 pm, 24th January 2013

My Lords, I very much appreciate the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in tabling this debate. It has attracted the attention of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who is making his final speech, as, we find with some regret, he described it. I, too, would like to mention not only the noble and learned Lord's distinguished record from the D-Day landings through to being Chief of the General Staff at the time of the Falklands, but the fact that he is a neighbour in Crondall. One day he said to me, "I don't know. You're called Lord Lea of Crondall. Why aren't I Lord Bramall of Crondall?". I think the answer is that no one else around the place has a name like "Bramall" but there are plenty of Leas around, and that makes me Lord Lea Crondall, so I am sorry about that.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has been on a sort of odyssey, if I may call it that. I will not say that it was a conversion on the road to Damascus, because Odysseus had to deal with new changes in the climate on his way back to Troy or wherever he was trying to get to. It is interesting how someone can be a senior serviceman and Member of this House for 25 years and still be fresh for new analysis. We all know the relevant quote from John Maynard Keynes in the economic field: "When the facts change, I reconsider. What do you do?".

In many ways the noble and gallant Lord's odyssey was paralleled by someone who influenced me very much. I refer to Lord Garden, a former nuclear bomber pilot and the author of a book on nuclear strategy, who sadly died some years ago. He made an analysis in a publication by the Royal United Services Institute when he was Liberal Democrats defence spokesman in the Lords. He was arguing for leaving the decision on replacing Trident as late as possible. Incidentally, he attracted me to become involved in the group that he set up and chaired for some years, the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, which is now chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who we look forward to hearing from later in this debate.

I shall refer to three points made by Lord Garden. First, he noted rather ruefully that the UK retains some leverage in the process of non-proliferation while it has some weapons, so you have to have some weapons to be involved in non-proliferation. I say "ruefully" because he was more than hinting at the Alice in Wonderland quality of the logic that we are all trying to grapple with.

Secondly, he noted that the opportunity costs of other conventional capabilities are considerable and that the lack of knowledge about conventional needs and available resources so far in advance argues for decisions at the latest possible stage. In a week when we have seen what has happened in Algeria, I think that the truth of the trade-off of conventional, non-nuclear ways of dealing with threats could not be better put.

Thirdly, he noted:

"Nor is it clear that such systems could contribute to our security needs beyond deterring indeterminate future nuclear threats. The constraints of the NPT would cause further complications".

I find it hard to disagree with that and I cannot think of anyone in this House who would disagree with that. That shows that we have come a long way in the thinking of two very distinguished former military people from the rationale that we bomb Moscow and kill 10 million people as long as they bomb London and can kill 10 million people here.

The Trident replacement study clearly has to be distinguished from the main gate study. Sometimes I wonder whether there is confusion in some minds over what the Trident replacement study is. It certainly does not mean, "Do we replace Trident?". I think that people are confused about what it means, but it just means looking at what the alternative ways are of delivering nuclear missiles. I can put both the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, right. It is partly my fault that I did not draw this to the noble Lord's attention. There is nothing wrong with what the noble Lord said about the Written Answer in December but it was only late last week that ordinary mortals saw the text of the coalition agreement, which refers to a decision to publish the report of the alternative review. It was not in the public domain before then. It was announced separately in the House of Commons, even later than the coalition mid-term review at the end of last week, that the review will be published in May this year.

We know that there is a double meaning of "alternatives to Trident", but at some point we must turn to seeing how this relates not just to alternative ways of using a nuclear warhead but to alternatives to Trident itself. The question arises of how this fits in with multilateral disarmament or a multinational contribution to the non-proliferation process. Common sense would suggest that a contribution to a multilateral process would be along the lines of, "If we do this, will you do that?" That is what normally happens, from being at school onwards. That is what a trade-off is. However, I have not seen any sign of such a proposition, let alone a trade-off in practice. We are told that it is perfectly logical for there to be twin tracks: the track of the nuclear powers looking at their weapons systems and the track of non-proliferation. The trouble is that the non-proliferation industry has become exactly that-it is self-perpetuating and could quite happily go on without anything much being done.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, tried to make the case for saying that quite a lot was being done under the treaty and that it was not just a question of people flying around to conferences. The fact is that there is a great danger in letting the present position drift. I refer to the case of Brazil, which has forgone nuclear weapons on the grounds that it believed what it was being told-that we would respect our commitments under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. If it thinks that it has been duped and that its agreement was not worth the paper it was written on, that will be very bad for world relationships.

Then there is the argument that we cannot really do anything much of substance. That means that we independently put our nuclear weapons system on the table but the French will not do anything at the same time. This is tantamount to saying, "If the French have got one, we've got to have one too". I can understand our friends across the Channel needing a Gallic symbol-I nearly said a phallic symbol, although it may be that as well. As with two tribes in the South Sea Islands some years ago, it is there to be worshipped. It is never to be used, of course, but it is nice to be seen dangling from the long room roof. However, that is not satisfactory in the present world as a rationale for having Trident.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is the chairman of the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, is a great expert on this issue. He will no doubt tell us about the non-nuclear zone in the Middle East. In all of this, that is where I would put my finger on something being very urgent. Huge importance should be attached to the problem of inspection within the regime and the role of the IAEA. When some of us were in Vienna-I have got a long history of being involved with the IAEA for various reasons-and were discussing Iran, it seemed to me that the nuclear powers wanted to push the IAEA procedures to one side. However, we have to recognise the use of the proper procedures in the treaty obligations to which we have signed up and not make things up as we go along.

I look forward to consultation on the main gate decision. Can the Minister say what kind of timescale for consultation there will be on that decision? I do not think anyone in the Chamber would happily contemplate that decision being taken by default.