Nuclear Disarmament — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:48 pm on 24th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Wood of Anfield Lord Wood of Anfield Shadow Minister without Portfolio (Cabinet Office) 3:48 pm, 24th January 2013

The noble Baroness has interrupted just as I was about to come to that issue. There are also issues around Britain's own deterrent which have been widely discussed today. We must ensure that disarmament activity is conducted in a transparent and verifiable manner. That is why the previous Government initiated their work with Norway on verifiable warhead dismantlement, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and hosted the first P5 consultations on disarmament in London in September 2009. The dangers of nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and insecurity around nuclear materials should make us more determined than ever to achieve co-ordinated disarmament but they also continue to justify our retention of the minimum capacity needed to achieve our deterrence objectives. Coming to the noble Baroness's point, we in this party have said that we are open to examining any new evidence since our review of Britain's nuclear weapons arsenal in 2006 and we will consider its findings alongside other studies, such as the cross-party BASIC Trident Commission, which is chaired by my noble friend Lord Browne, to see if there are credible alternatives.

In our view, that examination should have two priorities-capability and cost. With that in mind, we look forward to the publication of the Trident Alternatives Review, which Danny Alexander tantalisingly said this week,

"will set out a clear, credible, compelling, set of arguments for alternatives".

He flagged up that there may be seven or eight alternatives in the mix. Will the Minister clarify how open her part of the Government is to the alternatives that might arise from that?

Lastly, there is a group of more conceptual although equally crucial issues around the doctrines that make up our security concepts. I appreciate that there are limits to what the Minister can say on UK thinking on these issues but perhaps she will say whether the Government are alive to making progress on defence concepts that are less dependent on nuclear weapons and whether NATO is planning to address this issue in any way.

John F Kennedy remarked:

"The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution".

He also said:

"Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment ... The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us".

That was more than 50 years ago at a time in history that now seems a world away. But it was a time that was, if anything, more ordered in terms of nuclear security than the one we live in now. The nuclear era in the wake of the Cold War is much more hazardous and more economically burdensome. The goal of a world free of nuclear weapons may seem a dim prospect at the moment. But just as the difficulty of preventing nuclear proliferation should inspire us to redouble our efforts to contain the spread of nuclear technology, so the difficulty of maintaining momentum on multilateral disarmament should inspire us to be leaders among nuclear weapons states in the future.