I am delighted to introduce a debate which I believe is timely in its scope. Perhaps I could begin by making the rather outlandish claim that mankind has probably come up with only two ways in which to destroy the capacity for human life on this planet: one is through climate change, which I hope will be dealt with in Copenhagen; and the other, of course, is weapons of mass destruction generally, and nuclear weapons specifically.
The approach taken to nuclear weapons in recent decades, post-cold war, has been one almost of fatalism; it says that we have learned to love the bomb and to live with it. However, we should consider some of the statistics on the capacity of nuclear weapons systems in the world. At present, there are probably 23,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, in the hands of nine countries. There is the ever-present danger of proliferation: North Korea and Iran are either in the process of achieving nuclear weapons capacity or have already done so, and that is likely to be followed by other state actors, which, prompted by their near neighbours, may choose to go down the same path.
Terrorists will almost certainly draw the same conclusion as new proliferating state actors have: that possession of nuclear weapons is a viable way forward. Furthermore, we know of 25 occasions in the past two decades-perhaps there have been more-on which nuclear weapons material has been lost, stolen or mislaid. Given all that, we ought to begin to rage against fatalism and say that the time has come when we do not simply accept fatalism as a way forward for this world.
In that context, it is worth my quoting two distinguished Americans. The first is Senator Sam Nunn, who testified to the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which was appointed by Congress. He stated in his testimony that
"the risk of a nuclear weapon being used today is growing, not receding."
Sam Nunn, for those who do not know him, has impeccable credentials as a defender of America's position during the cold war.
Senator Bob Graham wrote in the commission's report:
"The Commission believes that unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013."
From a commission composed of senior members of the American political and military establishment, that comment of itself ought to frighten everyone who hears it. That august body considers that it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used.
We now have the capacity to begin to rethink the whole process, and it comes down to one simple thing: does this generation have the political will to say that we can make the change that will confine nuclear weapons not simply to the silos or even to levels of deactivation but, more importantly, to the past? I believe that that political will has begun to grow, and it is being led by some interesting voices who would not normally be associated with such a debate.
George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, who are all battle-hardened cold-war warriors-they all have badges and decorations from that era-wrote an article in January 2007 about a world free of nuclear weapons, and, in so doing, began to lead a debate that has echoed around the world.
It is certainly the case that our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, quickly took up the challenge and committed Britain to following the pathway to a nuclear-free world. I could quote many people, but, most recently, President Obama, who chaired the Security Council of the United Nations in September, laid out a genuinely ambitious programme for the United States. Let me say that my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn would not necessarily applaud its every aspect, but it has several features that all of us, even the people who have been talking about the capacity for nuclear de-escalation, ought to applaud and watch with interest.
For example, President Obama has begun to speak about a total review of America's nuclear posture. The posture review will report to him by the end of this year, and more widely in the early part of next year. It could lead to a very different way of looking at America's security needs-one that does not rely primarily on nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of the safety of America or its allies.
President Obama and President Medvedev have committed themselves to looking at how to replace the strategic arms reduction treaty, which is due to expire soon. Those talks are already taking place. START was the effective limiter of the number of missiles and weapons systems that the Russians and Americans could possess. President Obama has spoken about ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. He will meet stiff opposition in the Senate from people who are known opponents; nevertheless, the fact that he is putting his moral authority behind it is tremendously important.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this most important matter to the House. The debate is timely. I am sure that he will not mention my contribution in the magazine Red Pepper several years ago to this debate, in which I called for the Government not to go ahead with Trident, but we all share in his welcome for President Obama's shift in policy.
Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that at a time when the British public look with consternation at the fact that our Government followed the American Government to conflict areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan, people would see it as fantastic leadership by the Prime Minister if he were now to follow Obama by softening his policy on Trident, or at least putting it on the back burner?
The hon. Gentleman leads me in two different directions. The first is to confirm that I was not going to mention his article in Red Pepper. May I return to his second point later, because I want to make one further point about President Obama?
President Obama announced that in March next year there will be a nuclear summit in which he will bring together the main actors for several important reasons-among them, to discuss two important issues. The first is the security of nuclear material: how do we lock it down and ensure that it is not available to the rogue state or rogue terrorist? That is an important step. The second issue is the lead-up to the non-proliferation treaty review conference, which will take place in May next year.
I turn back to the hon. Gentleman's point. He is right. Actually, our Government have already made some significant steps in the non-proliferation direction, but we could go much further. Part of the conversation that we need to have, not just today but in the weeks and months to come, is about how far Britain can go in achieving consensus across our political system, or at least beginning to build that kind of consensus. Trident replacement has been put back, in effect, until beyond the next election, and the Prime Minister has begun to speak about the capacity for moving from four to three Trident submarines in any case. What that means is that many decisions about Britain's contribution that would have been unthinkable two years or a year ago are now thinkable.
The NPT review is not a British issue but a global issue. Frankly, if this generation of politicians does not seize the political opportunity globally, it will not matter what is done here in Britain. The world can be destroyed from many other places, without a contribution from Britain-although I freely concede that Britain can play a part in destroying the world, if we do not get our own contribution right.
The NPT review conference next year will be of fundamental importance in the process. The treaty is significant in that it placed obligations on non-nuclear states, but it also placed important obligations on nuclear states. The bargain, which has been betrayed by the nuclear powers, was always that the non-nuclear states would not choose to proliferate on the basis of the nuclear states agreeing that they would actively seek a pathway to disarmament. The nuclear states' failure to grasp the disarmament nettle has bedevilled this treaty. That is not the only reason, but it is at least one reason why there has been proliferation since the treaty first came into operation.
The treaty has three pillars, which I will mention in the traditional reverse order, because that will help me make my case. The third pillar guarantees to all states access to the peaceful use of nuclear materials, so that applies in respect of nuclear energy, which can be controversial in itself. Let us not dwell on the philosophy or theology of nuclear power; let us simply say that it is widely accepted. For example, in the debate about Iran, few people argue that the country should not have access to a peaceful nuclear energy programme. However, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise that, in respect of the four countries that would like to seek access to that nuclear fuel cycle, there are grave suspicions about those that already have it: about whether access to nuclear power opportunities would be allowed on a basis that would not be commercially restrictive or, possibly, politically restrictive in future. That is a difficult argument, but I can sympathise with those seeking to enter the field of nuclear power who feel that they may, in future, be told that for political reasons-perhaps they do not subscribe to the highest standards of human rights legislation or practice-their access to the nuclear fuel cycle may be withdrawn.
We have to accept that the price we pay in terms of matters nuclear is so high. However, even though in different circumstances we might argue that there is a price to be paid, it ought to be paid in respect of access to nuclear fuel only when people are abrogating their obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. That needs to be established beyond all doubt, to encourage the non-aligned states and others to accept that they can buy into a deal on the NPT treaty.
The second pillar of the NPT concerns the guarantees given to the non-nuclear-power states. Historically, we have not moved a long way in that direction. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise two things. First, if we want to build in a high cost for those non-nuclear powers that would seek to withdraw from their treaty obligations-if we are to make the Irans and North Koreas know that there is a big price to pay, including expulsion from access to peaceful nuclear technologies and perhaps tough sanctions regimes-and if we are to say to the rest of the world, "You've got to be part of shoring up the process of penalising the withdrawers from the NPT process," we have to go back to what I have said about the third pillar. We have to guarantee that people see that peaceful nuclear power and the treaty issue are locked together and that the cost is proportionate and borne only by those who seek the arms route and not the civil technology route.
Secondly, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look seriously at the development of negative security assurances, because although the world has gone down that road in some areas we have not explored fully enough the capacity to give security assurances to those who agree that they will not take the nuclear route. It is important that we explore that. I will mention a particular instance in which that is fundamental: I think that my hon. Friend can probably guess which region I will talk about in that context.
The real drama in all this is in the first pillar, which deals with what the nuclear powers do. What commitments are they prepared to give? There are things that must happen, although I do not intend to go through a checklist. A lot of specific points can be made in a shopping-list way, but some things have to be hammered out in the long, patient debate between now and the NPT review conference.
We have to ensure that people can see that the theology of nuclear weapons has changed-that we devalue nuclear weapons as security systems-and make it clear that nuclear weapons play a different, lesser role in security for the long-term future of Britain and the world. Unless we devalue nuclear weapons, we will continue to make them prime in the security structures of the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel-and now perhaps Iran and North Korea. We must get beyond that.
We also have to build in a recognition for the non-nuclear states that the decisions made by the nuclear powers now are going to be irreversible, because if people believe that this is simply a technical lull to be reversed by changes of Governments, regimes and even changes of climate, the treaty process will be undermined.
I want to finish by talking about a particular region. One thing that bedevilled the last review conference in 2005 was a belief on the part of states such as Egypt that the bargain that they signed up to had not been kept. Egypt worked hard to persuade other Arab states to sign the treaty, on the basis that Israel would be brought into the ambit of the non-proliferation treaty. Egypt felt, rightly, in 2005 that not only had that bargain not been kept, but there was not even any pressure to see how the issue could be moved forward.
Interestingly, the present Administration in Washington has said publicly and loudly to Israel that it must look at its role in signing up to the NPT. That will be so fundamental in moving the agenda forward if we want to persuade the Egypts of this world, and others, to take the NPT seriously. I am not saying that my hon. Friend the Minister needs to make a declaration today about the role of the middle east, but there has to be some framework within which it is taken seriously as part of that treaty review process.
My hon. Friend has mentioned Egypt and Israel and said that it would be unfortunate if Iran and North Korea obtained nuclear weapons. May I suggest that Pakistan's and India's attaining nuclear status a few years ago and spending a great deal of money on those weapons is already killing people in those countries? Despite the economic boom in India and improvements in Pakistan, people are still dying in those countries because they have no fresh drinking water, no proper housing, no education and no health care. Those countries are unable to afford those sorts of luxuries because they prefer to spend their money on nuclear weapons. I hope that the Minister will touch on that issue when replying. We have done nothing to encourage the likes of Pakistan and India to refrain from obtaining nuclear weapons and from arming themselves to the teeth to attack each other at some point, and instead look after the welfare of their citizens.
I am inevitably sympathetic to the point that my hon. Friend makes. She is right about the crippling cost of these weapons systems in both India and Pakistan. However, it is worth making two other points. The logic of India's having the bomb was, at least in part, because China had a nuclear weapons system and the logic of Pakistan's nuclear system was entirely determined by the logic of India's. But, of course, the two countries that came closest to nuclear war in recent times were India and Pakistan, which is a salutary message to us all. Nuclear weapons are not just toys that stay in the military kitchen: they are so dangerous that they can plunge regions and the globe into unimaginable conflict. My hon. Friend's point is well made.
I want to move from Israel to talk about the situation in Iran. A problem that has bedevilled negotiations is that we have not been able to generate the total commitment from the rest of the world to put pressure on Tehran in terms of its own nuclear system and say that it is unacceptable for Iran to move in that direction. We would shore up pressure on Iran if we told its friends and neighbours that its nuclear weapons system would be unconscionable. They would exert pressure if they believed that there was pressure more generally on Israel and other parts of the world to shore up the whole NPT system.
The point that I want to establish is that actors throughout the world have made huge changes in the culture of and the debate on nuclear weapons systems. This generation can make an historical and practical break with the intellectual past, and move in a direction that we have been unable to take for many years, although the end of the cold war may have signalled that capacity. It is up to this generation to make those decisions. The NPT will be fundamental, because this is the one time when non-weapon states will be able to measure the credibility of nuclear weapons states throughout the world. It is the one time when we can set a direction not to conclude the issue instantly or even in a short time, but to take the world to a future nuclear-free position. The situation is brutal, and history may not be able to judge us if we get this wrong, but I hope that history will regard the NPT review conference next year as the platform on which a nuclear-free world was built.
I welcome today's debate, and I thank my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd for securing it and for introducing it as he did. My hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer summarised the situation in her intervention; any country that goes down the road of possessing or developing nuclear weapons brings on itself enormous costs and thereby denies opportunities to many other people. India and Pakistan both have an enormous number of poor people, and the obvious calculation is that money spent on developing weapons of mass destruction aimed at each other inevitably denies education, health and clean water to much of their populations. We should be fully aware of that, and not afraid to say it.
I declare an interest in that I have been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament all my life, and have no plans to leave it. I am a national vice-chair, and chair of its parliamentary group. On its behalf, I attended the preparatory committee for the NPT review in New York earlier this year. That review was very different from previous ones that I attended in Vienna and elsewhere. They were almost desultory, in that the five declared nuclear weapons states turned up, restated their position on the non-proliferation treaty and then proceeded to state the exact opposite-that they had no intention whatever of fulfilling their obligations under the treaty to begin steps towards disarmament. People often went away from those events in a frustrated frame of mind.
Two PrepComs have made a difference: the one in 2000 and the last one in New York. The one in New York was so different because of the completely different approach by the United States. The US ambassador, Mrs. Gottemoeller, made her position clear on behalf of President Obama, and read out a lengthy letter. In addition, this year President Obama in his Prague speech envisaged-as far as I can recall, for the first time by a US President-a world free of nuclear weapons. Sadly, he went on to say that it would not happen in his lifetime, and as he is such a young man, that is deeply depressing. Nevertheless, he was prepared to take that step and suggest that there could be a significant difference.
The New York review was fascinating, interesting and hopeful. The previous year's review in Vienna had been a series of ritual condemnations of Iran, and each speaker tried to outdo the others in the rituality of those condemnations. This time, there was a much more serious approach towards dialogue, understanding and developing the non-proliferation treaty.
There are problems with the NPT, which I will come to, but also opportunities. It was an amazing document of its time. It was amazing to achieve a commitment from the five declared nuclear weapons states in 1970 that they would take steps towards eventual disarmament, and that all the other signatory nations would not seek to develop or possess nuclear weapons. It has been effective in a number of ways, and some countries deserve particular praise. I am thinking mainly of South Africa, and its denial of a nuclear weapons programme following the election of President Mandela, and its total disavowal of nuclear weapons, so that Africa can become a nuclear weapons-free zone. A similar process happened in Argentina, and other countries, which deserve particular credit, such as Ukraine, have moved away from the nuclear route. We should recognise that some countries have made a fundamental step towards nuclear disarmament.
However, there are problems with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Its membership is restricted to the five declared nuclear weapons states, and to the majority of the rest of the world's states who do not possess nuclear weapons and are not attempting to acquire them. Those who have nuclear weapons outside the nuclear non-proliferation treaty are denied membership, and that category clearly includes India, Pakistan and Israel.
I deeply regret the fact that India and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons. With the current instability, particularly in Pakistan, there is serious cause for concern about the safety of those nuclear weapons. As my hon. Friend said, they have been an enormous economic burden on both countries. However, the issue is a south Asian one in that both countries developed those weapons because of animosity towards each other, and they are targeted at each other and not at anyone else. It would be unbelievably crazy to use them because if one side fired a nuclear weapon at Lahore or Delhi, the people who died would not have known which weapon killed them because the effect would be the same on everyone. One hopes that there can be a continuing good relationship between India and Pakistan, de-escalation, and eventually agreement on mutual disarmament. We should support and encourage that.
The situation in Israel is slightly more complicated because it is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and has never sought to be. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central pointed out that Israel's possession of nuclear weapons makes the concept of a nuclear-free weapons zone in the middle east extremely difficult. There are also problems with many of the neighbouring countries, which believe, understandably, that if Israel has nuclear weapons and the west cannot persuade it to disarm, they may feel pressure to develop them one day. I had a similar conversation to that of my hon. Friend, with ambassadors from a number of countries, particularly Egypt.
There are some interesting signs, and I want to quote from a document that may be of some interest. The Paris summit of Mediterranean countries was held on
"regional security by acting in favour of nuclear, chemical and biological non-proliferation through adherence to and compliance with a combination of international and regional nonproliferation regimes and arms control and disarmament agreements such as NPT," the chemical weapons convention, the biological weapons convention, the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, and so on.
The document goes on to say:
"The parties shall pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems. Furthermore the parties will consider practical steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as excessive accumulation of conventional arms; refrain from developing military capacity beyond their legitimate defence requirements, at the same time reaffirming their resolve to achieve the same degree of security and mutual confidence with the lowest possible levels of troops and weaponry and adherence to CCW"- the convention on certain conventional weapons-
"promote conditions likely to develop good-neighbourly relations among themselves and support processes aimed at stability, security" and so on.
The reason why I quote from that document is that at that conference, which was hosted by France and attended by Britain, there was participation by Israel that appeared to envisage a process towards some degree of nuclear disarmament or adherence to some kind of international convention. We should seize on that and try to encourage Israel in that direction, because the implications of not achieving nuclear disarmament by Israel are that the pressure is then on in other countries, from the military, from industries and from lots of super-nationalist people, for those countries-be it Egypt, Iran or anywhere else-to develop their own nuclear weapons. No one wants that; no one wants that armament happening.
The problem of the lack of capability of the NPT to bring about disarmament must be dealt with. Therefore, I strongly advocate that the Government recognise what President Obama is doing in calling together the nuclear weapons states-I assume, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm whether I am correct, that that would involve all the countries that possess nuclear weapons outside the NPT-in the pursuit of a nuclear weapons convention. That has been strongly supported by the Canberra commission, by Australia and others. The idea would be that a weapons convention involves all states and has a series of phases for the elimination of the weapons.
The convention would outline a series of five phases for the elimination of nuclear weapons: first, taking nuclear weapons off alert; secondly, removing weapons from deployment; thirdly, removing nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles; fourthly, disabling the warheads and removing and disfiguring the "pits"; and fifthly, placing the fissile material under international control. It seems to me that the way forward, towards nuclear disarmament, must be a combination of next year's NPT review and what can be achieved from that and the participation by the five declared states and all the others, and of promotion of and support for the concept of a nuclear weapons convention that can help to achieve that degree of disarmament.
I was coming to that anyway, but I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says in that respect. I therefore ask the question: what contribution is Britain making? Britain is not the biggest holder of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world; it does not have the largest number of warheads. It is, on one level, secondary to the big holders of nuclear weapons, which are primarily Russia and the United States. Nevertheless, we hold nuclear weapons; we are one of the five Security Council members; we are one of the five declared nuclear weapons states. The Minister will be well aware of the strength of parliamentary feeling concerning nuclear weapons and the strength of feeling in our own party, but also of the strength of feeling concerning the whole programme of Trident replacement, the vote that took place in the House on replacement of the submarine system, the initial gate decision that has to be taken and the final decisions, which I assume will be taken in the next Parliament.
I hope that, as part of our contribution towards the NPT review conference next May, we shall do a number of things. One is to say that we are not proceeding with the incredibly expensive replacement of Trident. Greenpeace and others estimate the cost to be £76 billion upwards over its 25-year lifespan, which is £3 billion a year. I am thinking of the message that that gives the rest of the world when perhaps we are on the threshold of nuclear disarmament-that is the atmosphere and the opportunity. Therefore, not to proceed with replacing Trident would be a very good thing.
I recognise the taking of submarines off patrol. I recognise the reduction in the number of warheads. I recognise the Government's willingness to develop an arms reduction laboratory and to take part in a number of serious discussions and conversations about a nuclear-free world. That is welcome and a change, but we must take a significant step ourselves. The NPT review starts on
The implications of not doing so are very serious. We should never forget just how evil and immoral nuclear weapons are. They are a weapon of mass destruction. They cannot be targeted at an individual military establishment or a specific bridge or whatever. A nuclear weapon is, by its very nature, blind to who it kills and what it destroys, because it is so huge. The nuclear weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were tiny compared with today's weapons, killed several hundred thousand people in the first few hours and many more in the years to come through the fallout and the results of that explosion. The weapons available today could wipe out this planet several times over. Is it a good idea to have them? Obviously not. Is it a good idea to disarm? Obviously, yes. Is there a process available to do that? Yes, there is. The process is the NPT; the process is the nuclear weapons convention, but above all, it requires a sign and a commitment from the five declared nuclear weapons states that they are prepared to move towards disarmament and to envisage a nuclear-free world.
None of the threats that are around, of instability and all those issues, can be solved by the possession of nuclear weapons, but the more we have big, powerful nuclear weapons, the more others are encouraged to develop them. I am not in favour of any country developing its own nuclear weapons, be it North Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel or Iran. I am therefore in favour of an inspection regime that inspects all civil nuclear power facilities, and above all I am in favour of an openness about and the inspection of fissile material, so that there is no production of fissile material that can then be converted into weapons-grade plutonium. It is very important to achieve those things, and we achieve them through dialogue, inclusion and a nuclear weapons convention.
I hope that the Minister can give us some optimistic news, that Britain will play its full part in the run-up to the NPT review conference and that there will be a further parliamentary debate on this issue in the early part of next year, so that we can have some parliamentary input into that. Members of Parliament have a role to play; we have an important part in the debate and the message that we give out can be very important.
I hope above all that this country does not go down the road of replacing Trident and creating a new generation of nuclear missiles, but says yes, we are prepared to take the step necessary to take away the threat of a nuclear holocaust around the world, because that is the direction in which we should go. If we miss the opportunity at the NPT review conference next year, rearmament around the world and proliferation of nuclear weapons could-I hope that it does not-follow, so this debate is timely and important and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central for securing it and for what he said today.
I pay tribute to Tony Lloyd for introducing the debate. His remarks were calm and considered, but he was also extremely knowledgeable in his presentation of the facts. Given that this is such an important issue, which rouses considerable passions, he deserves quite a bit of credit for that. Jeremy Corbyn, too, deserves credit. I always listen carefully to what he has to say, although we do not always agree. However, his passion and the incredibly detailed information that he has fully embraced are quite incredible. I am glad that he goes to the non-nuclear proliferation treaty meetings and the NPT conferences; I hope that the various Governments there will have listened to him, because he has a considerable amount to contribute.
I have been enthralled by today's debate, although I am not sure that my speech will reach the standard of previous contributions. However, I shall try my best. What is different this time about the period in advance of the NPT review is the contributions made by significant figures in America. It is all about politics, relationships and trust, so the leadership that we have in place is crucial. Senators Sam Nunn and Bob Graham, and William Perry, George Schultz and Henry Kissinger-significant figures from the American establishment-are not normally associated with this kind of debate. Having them take part is of great assistance.
We constantly praise President Obama. His tone, his demeanour, his approach and his emphasis on these matters is impressive. He has opened doors that his predecessors slammed shut and padlocked, determined never to open them again. We can now have sensible discussions rather than megaphone diplomacy with Russia, Iran, North Korea and China; and even France is being considered for discussion, a country that the Americans were never greatly enamoured with in previous years. I believe that President Obama, too, deserves credit.
I pay tribute, as I said, to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central for introducing this timely debate. It is important that we consider these issues.
I would not normally intrude into such a speech, but the hon. Gentleman may have missed paying tribute to someone else-as, indeed, I did. One country that sometimes gets obscured in the process is China. Its premier, Hu Jintao, has stated that China also supports the international community in developing long-term plans, including the conclusion of a convention on the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons. It is not only the conventional list of people involved in the debate; it includes other interesting but important characters.
China is looking beyond its borders. In the past, it was quite isolationist. It is now looking abroad-to a certain degree controversially so with Africa-but if it is operating in a more global sense there may be opportunities. With a man like Obama at the helm, and with the great support of the establishment in America, we might well make significant progress.
I also pay tribute, uncharacteristically, to a constituent of mine-the Prime Minister. He deserves credit for the priority, time and consideration that he has given to the matter. He has made a number of high-profile keynote speeches, and made specific contributions to the debate. I agreed with him when he said that
"we cannot expect to successfully exercise moral and political leadership in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons if we ourselves do not demonstrate leadership on the question of disarmament of our weapons".
He has come up with a disarmament package, and has been considering the technology and a nuclear bank. However-there is always a "but"-the foundation upon which he is building that dialogue is fractured.
Bob Spink, who is no longer in his place, mentioned the debate of a few years ago on the renewal of Trident. We made the case strongly at the time that such a decision was premature. We did not need to make it then. We thought that the main gate was a more appropriate time. However, it is not simply a party political debate for us in this country; we are also sending out the message to partners throughout the world that we are carrying on regardless.
The Prime Minister also spoke of cutting the number of missile tubes from 16 to 12, but for a number of years the Trident submarines have all operated on 12, so it was not a substantial commitment. He must be careful that his commitments are substantial and recognised. The audiences that listen to such debates and hear such commitments understand the details. Another important matter is the strategic defence and security review. Not to include Trident in that review will again send the poor message to the rest of the world that we are carrying on regardless. None the less, the Prime Minister is committing time and political capital to the issue, which is what it deserves. Along with the major figures in America, we might therefore make some progress.
The next important thing is to have an early discussion about the initial gate for Trident. The debate has been put off, which I regret, as I believe that it would be worth having such a debate before the election. However, I am glad that it has been recognised that the decision should not have been snuck out during the summer recess.
Since the vote two or three years ago the domestic and international reality has been radically transformed. In the light of the economic recession, it is incumbent upon us to review our priorities. It has even put into greater focus the £76 billion cost of running Trident. We have also moved on significantly regarding the threats posed to this country. We no longer have a cold war.
People say that, because we can never predict the future, we should never change our strategy; but unless we try to project into the future and predict what the threats might be, we will be hamstrung. We will constantly be going for the gold-plated option. We will never be considering in a smart or intelligent way how to deal with the threat that is posed. President Obama is opening dialogue with other countries, but it is important that we follow with action.
We must also consider whether, in our dealings with Iran and North Korea, it is possible for us to provide any motivation or incentive for those nations to act differently. Will Britain's continuing to have nuclear weapons have an impact? The hon. Member for Manchester, Central rightly referred to incentives and sanctions. It is an important consideration. The grand bargain has been broken: we did not complete our part of the bargain of constantly striving towards disarmament.
Although my party is not in favour of nuclear power, we recognise that part of the bargain was that other countries would have access to the nuclear cycle for civil nuclear power. That part of the bargain, too, has not been progressed. It is little wonder, therefore, that those countries have lost faith in the non-proliferation treaty and are now seeking to go their own way. If we are to encourage those countries to act more responsibly, we need a package of incentives and sanctions.
It is no good coming up with alternatives just in advance of the NPT. We need longer-lasting initiatives and ideas if we are not to end up with countries saying, "We are fully committed to the NPT," and then going on to say that they will never get rid of their nuclear weapons because they cannot predict the future and therefore need their gold-plated protection to remain in place. We must act on our words. We need much more effective delivery over the long term if those countries are to have any faith in commitments made by NPT members.
We Liberal Democrats have reviewed our position in the light of changing international and economic circumstances. We have also reviewed our position on Trident. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell has been commissioned by our party leader to consider the alternatives. I shall not go into them now, because I do not want to prejudge what my right hon. and learned Friend will say. Nevertheless, if the Government took a similar approach, they could send out to the rest of the world the message that we were seriously considering changes to our nuclear weapons systems, so that there could be more trust in what we were committing to.
As hon. Members know, article VI of the treaty relates to nuclear disarmament. It states:
"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
The 2000 NPT review conference agreed 13 practical steps, of which No. 6-I hope hon. Members will forgive me for reading it out-refers to
"an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states parties are committed under Article VI".
I would challenge those who believe that, as we can never predict the future, we must always have a system, about whether they are truly committed to the NPT conference, the NPT treaty and the 2000 review conference, and to the 13 practical steps that were outlined. I have heard other parties say, "As we can never predict, we will never get rid of it," but I think that that position does not comply with the treaty. I would like to hear from the other parties whether they will consider removal of our nuclear weapons systems, and not adopt the argument about never removing them because we can never predict.
That is an important consideration, because if we do not act on our words, use the right language and have the right commitment, it will be no surprise when other countries deviate from the provisions according to which we believe they should be operating.
I, too, congratulate Tony Lloyd on securing the debate and on the quality of his opening speech. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of travelling with the hon. Gentleman and Des Browne to Washington, where we met various representatives of the United States Administration to discuss the matters we are debating today. My conversations with the hon. Gentleman during that visit left me in no doubt about not just his expertise in dealing with this subject, but his deep and long-standing commitment to the cause of non-proliferation and multilateral disarmament.
When we look at the history of the non-proliferation treaty, we can take some pride in the fact that it has helped, in its way, to keep the peace in the world over recent decades. Most importantly, the existence of the treaty and the framework of inspections and controls it incorporates have provided mechanisms that have prevented proliferation. In trying to imagine how the world might have developed if the NPT had not existed, I think we would today see a world with many more powers in possession of nuclear weapons. The NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency have also provided a mechanism for allowing certain countries-the ex-Soviet republics of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and also South Africa-to dismantle nuclear weapons programmes that they had on their territory.
Nevertheless, the NPT arrangements are now under strain as never before. That derives from a number of different trends, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. At its most basic, nuclear know-how is much more widely spread throughout the world than in the 1960s or 1970s, and that knowledge of details of nuclear technology can be transmitted from country to country on a disc or at the click of a mouse. Because of rising hydrocarbon prices and concerns about climate change, more and more countries are looking to develop civil nuclear energy programmes, as they are entitled to do, but which adds to the risk of creating a further spread of nuclear knowledge and materials around the world. That makes it ever more important that systems of physical control and of inspection are fit for purpose.
As the hon. Gentleman said, there are now not only sovereign states that have developed or are seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty, but terrorist groups that make no secret of their wish to obtain weapons of mass destruction and use them to create as many victims as possible. Today the ambition and example of North Korea and Iran are testing to the limit whether the controls embodied in the NPT actually work and will provide a safeguard against further proliferation.
My party is utterly committed to making next year's NPT review a success. My right hon. Friend Mr. Hague has spoken on a number of occasions about the critical importance of the review and his fear that if it were to fail or be seen to have been a failure, it would in practice present a green light to other nations with regard to starting to develop nuclear weapons programmes of their own.
[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]
We would like to see the parties to the treaty set themselves a number of objectives next year. One should be to strengthen the inspectorate by, for example, making the additional protocol, with its provision for unannounced inspections, mandatory for all signatories to the treaty. Another should be to make it easier for action to be taken against violations of the treaty or defiance of the IAEA. For example, there might be provision for automatic reference to the Security Council if a country acted in the way that Iran has done, having withdrawn from the additional protocol after originally subscribing to it.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not in favour of anybody developing nuclear weapons, but will he concede that although Iran has not signed up to the additional protocol, it has maintained membership of the NPT process itself? That is quite valuable, because it provides an opportunity for negotiation, discussion and debate. If Iran was driven out of the NPT, it would not be very helpful.
It is certainly important that Iran remain within the NPT process and that inspectors can carry out checks, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, one of the major anxieties about the Iranian Government's conduct is that they still refuse to co-operate fully with the IAEA's requests to be allowed to inspect the facilities that it wants to examine or to have access to the individual Iranian scientists and other officials to whom it wishes to speak. When Iranian Government spokesmen say or hint that if they are pushed much further, they will walk out of the NPT altogether and chuck the inspectors out of their territory, it sends a message saying that one has reason to mistrust the Iranian Government's intentions. Whether or not that is the message they intend to convey, that is how such an attitude is interpreted elsewhere in the world.
Another important item on next year's agenda should be efforts to internationalise the nuclear fuel cycle. Again, that is very much a live issue in respect of Iran. Different Governments, including our own, have made various proposals such as international banks of enriched material or guarantees from existing nuclear weapons states to supply the enriched material required for the civil nuclear programmes of countries that are not nuclear weapons states but that wish legitimately, within the treaty framework, to develop civil nuclear energy programmes. Establishing some form of international control over the nuclear fuel cycle is essential if those countries seeking to develop civil nuclear energy are to be able to press ahead while retaining confidence that adequate safeguards against weapons proliferation remain in place.
I strongly agree with this part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. Does he accept that a country considering gaining access to civil nuclear energy would want absolute guarantees that it would not face massive commercial disadvantage as a result of internationalisation or the possibility that, for reasons outside the ambit of the NPT, people could try to use the process as a way of interrupting the fuel cycle? It must be a system secure enough to allow those who buy into it to trust the regime.
I agree. Confidence on the part of those countries that are not nuclear weapons states but wish to develop civil nuclear energy that they will not be put at a permanent disadvantage in the security of their legitimate energy supplies by arrangements designed to stop weapons proliferation will be crucial to the success of the review which we all hope for. That is an important point.
The other item that has to be addressed next year, though I do not underestimate how difficult it will be to achieve, is finding a way of extending the NPT regime to those nuclear weapons states--India, Pakistan and Israel--that have nuclear weapons but are not party to the treaty and recognised as nuclear weapons states. One big problem we will face next year is that any change or new and binding arrangement will need unanimity. Looking around the world at the tensions in various regions, one sees how easy it would be for even a relatively small number of countries to disrupt proceedings for their own reasons and make it impossible to reach a unanimous and constructive conclusion.
The political climate in which the review will take place is certain to be influenced by other developments, not least what happens between now and then in North Korea and Iran. I hope that the Minister will bring us up to date on the Government's assessment of the situation with both those countries. From the outside, it seems that the challenge posed by North Korea has calmed somewhat in recent months. The language of the North Koreans is not quite as belligerent as it was earlier this year. Does the Minister believe that there is cause to hope that there is a way forward in persuading Pyongyang to return to the NPT and to suspend and then abandon its weapons programmes?
With Iran, from where I stand, it seems to be a case of pessimistic assessments becoming more powerful. A couple of weeks ago, we were all hoping that the compromise proposal for Iranian nuclear material to be sent abroad for enrichment might be agreed by all parties, but the reluctance of Tehran to sign up to that compromise is disheartening. That causes us to wonder about the good faith of the Iranian Government in the nuclear negotiations. It would be helpful to have the Minister's assessment of how the Government see the state of play there.
As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out, the context for next year's review of the NPT will also be affected by progress, or the lack of it, in other nuclear negotiations and agreements. I do not think that he and I have ever in our political lives been on the same side of a debate on nuclear weapons, but I make it clear that we accept that all nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT are bound by the obligation to seek multilateral disarmament. In response to the call by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Sam Nunn for setting an objective of abolishing all nuclear weapons, we said that we would sign up to it while remaining cautious about the time that it will take and the enormous difficulty of achieving such an objective, however desirable.
The first step that might be taken towards a new round of multilateral disarmament and creating a propitious climate for the NPT review would be if the United States and Russia were to agree on a replacement for the strategic arms limitation treaty when that expires next month. Do the Government believe that such a deal between Washington and Moscow is likely and, if so, what time frame might it be achieved in? Do they think that a START--strategic arms reduction treaty--agreement might then lead to a further round of multilateral talks in advance of the review of the NPT next summer? I hope too that the Government might be able to tell us something about the state of progress on international agreement on physical control of nuclear materials and the idea of a fissile material cut-off agreement.
Finally, I hope that next year the Government will encourage our friends in the United States, particularly our friends in both parties in the US Congress, to accept that American ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty would be a major signal of US commitment to the process of multilateral disarmament. It would undoubtedly help towards the achievement of a successful review of the non-proliferation treaty, which it is profoundly in the interests of this country to secure and which, clearly from today's debate, commands the support of all sides of the House.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd on securing such an important debate and by paying tribute to him, as one of my predecessors as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister and in his role as a parliamentarian, for being a long-standing champion of a nuclear-free world.
As my hon. Friend said, we are facing a year of unique opportunity, but also one of unique challenge in some ways, which will be a test of political leadership and political will. In the same way as this generation's response to the challenge of climate change will determine the destiny of future generations-that is generally understood-the question of nuclear proliferation is very much up there as one of the top issues about which this generation of politicians must make difficult choices that will determine the destiny of the world in the long term.
Today's debate has been measured, mature and an important contribution to raising awareness of the non-proliferation issue as we face a year of unique opportunity and challenge. The issue needs a lot more of the oxygen of debate in Parliament and in the country, in terms of the leadership role that Britain seeks to play and will be playing.
Since the House last debated nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the Government have continued to give the issue a top priority. The Prime Minister launched the UK's "The Road to 2010" plan in Parliament on
On 3 and
Next May, at the NPT review conference, we must give expression to and make tangible steps forward towards the new positive approach. Working with partners from across the international community, we shall seek a mandate for concrete, realistic and balanced action to strengthen the NPT's three mutually reinforcing pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. We want a mandate to strengthen the non-proliferation regime through improved safeguarding, verification and compliance measures.
We believe that comprehensive safeguard agreements, which allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to track its members' declared activities, and the additional protocol that will allow the IAEA to detect undeclared activities, should become the obligatory minimum standard, so that the organisation can police the non-proliferation regime effectively. We are committed to ensuring that the IAEA has the necessary authority and capacity to assure compliance with non-proliferation objectives.
As hon. Members have said, improving the organisation's ability to detect safeguard violations will not be enough. Potential violators must know that if they are caught there will be a high price. We should adopt automatic penalties for violation of safeguard agreements, such as suspending international nuclear co-operation or technical co-operation projects until compliance has been restored. Referral to the UN Security Council would be another option.
Outside the NPT process we must use financial and legal tools better to disrupt illicit proliferation networks, which will mean tightening controls on transshipment and strengthening restrictions on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology. More robust international mechanisms of enforcement are essential to ensure that we avoid future challenges such as those presented by North Korea and Iran. The international community must stand together to demonstrate that if the NPT is to be taken seriously, it will truly be enforced. The actions of Iran and North Korea must not be allowed to prevent the international community from moving forward to a more peaceful era.
Our position is very clear and it is important to make the point: Iran has a right to a peaceful nuclear programme, as any other country does. We respect Iran as a major country in its region, with a major international role to play, but it needs to understand that there is an expectation that it will adhere to international rules and be transparent about all aspects of its nuclear programme. Without that, the international community can have no confidence in the intentions of the Iranian regime and will have to act appropriately.
By conducting a nuclear test, North Korea contravened its international legal obligations under the NPT, and its ballistic missile launches are a clear breach of UN Security Council resolutions. Those provocative actions undermine regional security. In response to Mr. Lidington, there is a glimmer of hope for North Korean engagement but, as yet, there are no tangible signs of a North Korea willing to play by the rules. We continue to hope that it will change course. In the same way, we hope that, although the clock is ticking, Iran will respond positively to the offer of dialogue, diplomacy and engagement to reach a peaceful resolution to the situation.
Hon. Members raised the question of India, Pakistan and Israel. My hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer suggested that Britain had done nothing to apply pressure to India and Pakistan. I assure her that Britain continues, both in our bilateral relationships and in multilateral dialogue, regularly to make the point to India and Pakistan that we want them to come within the international framework and the international regime. One point that is not often sufficiently made about our action in Afghanistan is that it is due to the serious and real threat of Pakistan's nuclear capacity falling into the hands of fundamentalist terrorist organisations, which would threaten the stability not only of the region but of the entire world.
I recently met the deputy Foreign Minister of Israel as part of bilateral dialogue between our countries. We made it clear to Israel that now is the time for it to sign up to the treaty. Even Israel's making a clear statement that it was considering joining the NPT, perhaps against an agreed time frame, could make a significant difference to the willingness of other middle eastern countries to participate and to their sense of security. This may be a moment when Israel can seriously consider signing the NPT, which would be a major contribution to progress in the period ahead and to giving greater confidence to other states in the region.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central raised the question of the price of withdrawal from the NPT. Our position is that we support the EU document tabled at the 2007 committee that sets out clear consequences for countries that quit the treaty in circumstances likely to damage international security. It is good that discussion on modalities was referenced in September's Security Council resolution 1887, promoted by President Obama. One of our priorities is to make progress on that.
As the Prime Minister has said, to exercise leadership on non-proliferation, the nuclear weapons states must show the same moral and political leadership on disarmament. That also plays to the point that my hon. Friend made about negative security assurances. We understand the desire of non-nuclear weapons states for negative security assurances, but, more than that, the United Kingdom has already given such assurances to almost 100 countries under the nuclear weapons-free zone treaties. We were delighted to be able to support the Thai resolution at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, which called for the resumption of consultations on the south-east Asia nuclear weapons-free zone treaty.
The Minister is making roughly the speech that I had expected. That is a compliment, not an insult. Negative security assurances can be treaty-based. Nuclear-free areas of the world already exist. On the middle east, there is sense in saying to Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran that the world recognises their particular security needs. That should be done not just by Britain, but collectively to reassure them that if they were to forgo nuclear weapons, it would not be at the cost of their survival, nor would it increase the threat from their neighbours.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Such guarantees would be extremely important to a long-term settlement in the middle east, at the heart of which would be a two-state solution and the offer from the Arab League states to normalise relations with Israel. We should pay serious attention to that issue as we move towards the review conference in May.
In the run-up to the NPT review next May, does the Minister have any hopes for the development of a nuclear weapons convention or the participation, by some mechanism, of India, Pakistan and Israel in the review? Is he concerned that, having withdrawn from the NPT process after developing its own nuclear weapons, India was ultimately rewarded by the United States with nuclear technology? That is not a good precedent.
Logically, a convention could be the ultimate legal underpinning of a nuclear weapon-free world. However, we cannot wish away current political realities and pretend that negotiations on such a convention would make headway. We believe that having a new conference or new bodies to discuss such a convention at this time would run the risk of undermining the NPT.
We are concerned about the signals sent out by the Indian deal, but assurances about India's future conduct were gained as part of it. We want to see the delivery and implementation of the commitments made by India, but we have not seen anywhere near as much progress as we would have liked. I must make progress to do justice to the points raised by hon. Members.
On Trident, hon. Members are aware that the initial gate report will consider a broad design option and recommend a preferred option. That will allow detailed design work to start. It will not involve a decision on the number of boats or on the warhead. Initial gate is an internal decision point that will ensure that the programme is on track. Construction contracts will not be issued until after the main gate, which will be at some time around 2014, although there will be similar contracts to commission design work after initial gate. There is a commitment after initial gate to keep Parliament informed and to ensure that there is an opportunity for further debate and discussion.
Although I respect the contribution of Willie Rennie, the question of what is Liberal Democrat policy on the replacement for Trident remains. His contribution erred on the side of scepticism about the replacement for Trident. He should not give the impression to the House or the public that Liberal Democrat policy is that there should be no replacement for Trident, unless he wants to clarify his party's policy on the matter.
I am grateful for the opportunity. I did not know that the Minister took such great interest in my party's position. We have made it clear that, first, the decision was premature, and secondly, we will not replace Trident on a like-for-like basis. We have made that statement and my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell is conducting a review to look into those options. The Minister knows that that is our position and that it remains our position.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that the Liberal Democrats are conducting a review and that they have certainly not made a decision not to replace Trident in any form. It is important that the public are clear about the respective policies of the political parties that are represented in the House.
I want to deal with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central made about fissile material security, which was also mentioned by other hon. Members. The Government are committed to tackling the threat of terrorists getting their hands on fissile material. We have developed an extensive programme of work to mitigate that and we have worked closely with international partners and doubled our contribution to the IAEA nuclear security fund to assist countries in improving the security of their nuclear facilities.
However, it must be said that there is still considerable work to do. We welcome the fact that the new United States Administration have signalled that the matter will be one of their top priorities and that Parliament has expressed its support for our policy on nuclear security. The scrutiny period on the ratification of the amendment to the convention on the physical protection of nuclear material has now passed and we will be formally ratifying the convention in the coming weeks.
I want to refer to the comments about the negotiations-the discussions- between the United States and Russia, which I think hon. Members accept is a very important element to our capacity to make progress because, after all, US and Russian nuclear weapons comprise some 95 per cent. of the world's total stockpile. We very much welcome the joint understanding between Presidents Obama and Medvedev in July to conclude a successor agreement to the strategic arms reduction treaty, which expires in December. In response to the hon. Member for Aylesbury, we are hopeful that there will be such an agreement by the end of this year on a new legally binding treaty further to reduce US and Russian strategic offensive arms. That will make a major contribution and send the right signal. However, we also recognise that further progress must be made.
It is worth reflecting on the progress that Britain has made on the issue since the cold war. We have reduced the explosive power of our nuclear forces by around 75 per cent., reduced the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160 and reduced the number of nuclear weapons delivery systems to just one. On the submarine-based Trident system, our warheads are not targeted at any particular country and are at several days' notice to fire. We now possess only around 1 per cent. of the global and nuclear warhead stockpile.
Although some hon. Members would say that we have not gone far enough, in the context of multilateralism, we have sought to lead by example and have made an important contribution. In the same way as we have responded to the world economic crisis and the emergency of climate change, in international forums it is our Prime Minister who has often banged the table and demanded a much greater level of global action on the issue. Of course, that was very difficult without a US Administration with a more progressive approach, but now that we have a more progressive partner in the US, there are some very real opportunities. The United Kingdom's level of influence on these issues is significantly linked to the international respect that our Prime Minister has gained as a result of the leadership he has provided over a long period.
The year ahead will be seen as an historic moment in terms of non-proliferation. The challenge that political leaders face is to demonstrate that they are up to this great task and that they will make the right decision for future generations. The decisions that are made this year will determine whether a nuclear weapon-free world is simply some illusion or whether it will be achievable in the lifetime of the parliamentarians who have participated in this debate. There is no doubt that the terms of the debate have changed in recent times. The question is whether the international community can demonstrate the political will to take necessary risks and to take bold and brave decisions that are in the long-term interests of our planet.