Nuclear Weapons (International Relations Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:53 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:53 pm, 16th July 2019

I hear the noble Lord, but he will understand as well as anyone, with his distinguished experience in these matters, that we cannot comment on specific security measures and I do not think he would expect the Government to do that. But I hear his detailed questioning about the funding. I have no specific information available this evening, but I undertake to make further investigation and write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised a couple of issues about policy and strategy—essentially, why the UK maintains a nuclear deterrent and what our commitment to disarmament is. I suggest that actually the two are not mutually exclusive. It is clear from the evidence that the committee received that the Government have a strong record on nuclear disarmament. We have significantly reduced the size of our own nuclear forces since the Cold War peak and we have about 1% of the total global stockpile. But it is absolutely clear that the independent nuclear deterrent remains essential to our security today and will do for as long as the global security situation demands. It has existed for more than 60 years to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life and I submit that it is helping to guarantee our security and that of our allies. But the commitment that we have to the NPT is manifest. Noble Lords will understand my suggestion that the two positions are far from mutually exclusive.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the matter of Russia and the strategic approach. His specific question was about whether at the recent meeting between the Prime Minister and President Putin any discussion had taken place. Apparently, a wide range of issues was discussed, including global security issues, but I have no more specific information than that.

My noble friend Lady Anelay raised paragraph 197 of the report and how the Government proposed to respond in practical terms in their dealings with nuclear possessor states. We have regular and frank exchanges on such issues through the P5 and bilaterally and we encourage all possessor states to recognise their responsibilities and to refrain from destabilising rhetoric and destabilising technology.

A number of noble Lords raised Iran, including my noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. The UK expressed deep concern that Iran is pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments under the JCPOA. We did that in a statement with France and Germany earlier this month. The UK remains committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We think it is important for our security and for neutralising the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. We and remaining parties are working hard to ensure that it is upheld for as long as Iran meets its commitments, including full IAEA access. I say to the noble Baronesses that the Government regret the United States’ decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions, but we continue to work with our European partners and Iran to try to find solutions to support economic relations.

I think my noble friend Lady Anelay also raised the Gulf of Oman and the Straits of Hormuz. We are concerned at tensions in that area and we are doing everything we can to de-escalate them by diplomatic means. However, international maritime law must be respected and upheld. We shall protect British shipping in the region. The recent escort of a British tanker by HMS “Montrose” demonstrated our resolve to offer that protection.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, raised the issue of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We remain fully committed to the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and to the establishment of a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in the Middle East. We believe that realistically that is going to be possible only when political solutions are found to the tensions in the region. We believe that the convening of a conference has potential but we think it will be worth while, valid and achievable only if it is on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by all states in the region, as set out in the 2010 NPT review conference plan.

It is clear that the NPT has made a substantial contribution to international security and prosperity. It succeeded in all three of its pillars and has earned its place as the central pillar of the arms control architecture. This Government remain committed to multilateral disarmament. We will continue to work tirelessly to uphold the NPT and to explore practical ways to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.

This has been an extremely helpful and interesting debate. I once again commend my noble friend Lord Howell and his committee for their hard work in producing this report. It is a very useful report. I realise that this was difficult for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, but the report and what we have debated this evening indicate what is possible when people are bonded by the same objective and motivated by the same desire. Perhaps perversely, she and I have the same objective; we just have different ways of arriving at it.

I conclude with the words of my noble friend Lady Anelay still ringing in my mind: a watched pot never boils. I think we all agree that this is a situation and a subject where we do not want the pot ever to boil.