Nuclear Disarmament — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 24th January 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 3:07 pm, 24th January 2013

My Lords, earlier this week I asked myself why a debate of this importance has attracted relatively few noble Lords to speak in it. Is it because the debate is seen as one really for the big boys with military, defence or diplomatic experience, who can easily examine these complex issues and get their minds around the treaties? Having heard the quality of the speeches in the debate, I would have to say yes, and I am sure that the speeches to follow my own will doubly prove the point. However, I am afraid that it is also because many of your Lordships are stuck in a time from before that at which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has arrived. I explored this view anecdotally at the Long Table on Tuesday, when I asked many of my neighbours why they were not going to speak today. The answer volunteered was that nuclear weapons have kept the peace since World War Two and there is nothing more to say on the subject. I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord has again made such a powerful speech today and I hope that Members of the House will read it. In a way, I wish he could have done a warm-up to encourage more debate. I am sure that the Trident debate will help as it progresses, because it will force people to engage with the issue.

I want to spend a little time talking about why parliamentarians really must get more involved in the debate. In this House we have tended to put nuclear matters rather in a silo. We have had debates on the strategic defence and security review, but there is no real place for these issues to be discussed in those. We barely mention them in debates on European defence matters because, of course, they are not a European competence. However, today is the day and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing the debate. It is one in which, as parliamentarians, we all need to engage because traditional nuclear deterrence means targeting major centres and aiming to destroy cities and civilian populations. That is one of the reasons why the organisation Mayors for Peace has such a vibrant and growing world-wide membership.

The legality of the nuclear deterrent is now highly questionable and is exactly the sort of issue that the legal minds in your Lordships' House should start to examine. In the rest of the world, the non-nuclear states are becoming more convinced that nuclear weapons are contrary to international law. The International Court of Justice ruling in 1996 said that,

"the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law".

Since 1996, that argument has been gaining ground. Already whole regions of the world are declaring themselves nuclear-free zones-regions that are likely to be future forces in development and growth and therefore much more powerful, such as Latin America. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned Brazil in particular. He is right. Countries in these nuclear-free zones are going to start questioning why the P5+1 are not taking seriously their obligations under the NPT. Other nuclear-free zones include south-east Asia, central Asia and Africa.

I meet many parliamentarians from these regions through the international organisation Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament-PNND-which exists to facilitate dialogue on these issues. It has just published a handbook. The handbook is not a route map or a document espousing one particular policy or solution any more than a recipe book is a definitive guide to what you must eat, but it is a toolkit of what parliamentarians can do within the scope of international treaties and in their own domestic situations to make a nuclear world safer step by step. If those steps lead to a nuclear convention and nuclear zero that will be terrific, but there are many steps we can-and should-take before that.

The handbook aims to enable us as legislators and scrutinisers of our Governments to do a better job with regard to the nuclear weapons debate. I welcome it because it is quite intimidating to speak in a debate where everyone else is such an expert, but I feel that we have an obligation to get more involved. As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says in his introduction to the PNND handbook:

"The rule of law is coming to nuclear disarmament, and parliamentarians have important contributions to make in advancing this historic process ... Yet disarmament and non-proliferation can also appear to legislators as remote from daily concerns".

I hope that as the debate advances on whether to renew Trident-and whether nuclear weapon possession is even legal under international law-the next debate of this sort in your Lordships' House will attract speakers to the point where it is a two-day debate.