§ Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the potential dangers of the rapidly changing world order, welcomes the recent proposals for substantial reductions in nuclear weaponry, the growing support for the non-proliferation treaty and progress in the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions concerning the dismantling of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities; urges the Government to play their full part in helping the relevant authorities in the Commonwealth of Independent States to dismantle their nuclear devices, to safeguard their nuclear components and to discourage the proliferation of nuclear expertise; and believes it is of the first importance that Britain retains an effective and credible minimum nuclear deterrent as security in a world where there remain many sources of instability.A year ago we were at war in the Gulf; victory was still a month away. It is a mark of the speed of events that Iraq, despite remaining unfinished business, should be succeeded so quickly by other more pressing items on the international agenda—the splintering apart of the Serbs and Croats, and the break up of the Yugoslav federation, with serious loss of life and destruction of property. Then there was the internal coup against the authority in the Soviet Union and President Gorbachev, leading to his retirement from the world stage. There was also the attempt at Maastricht, against the trend of these events, to create a federal union within the European Community; and the emergence of the state of Russia, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, as the dominant partner and major force in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
All these developments have occurred within less than 12 months. The world is showing a remarkable degree of volatility. That not everyone has come to terms with this is only too clear from the criticism of Mr. Yeltsin in recent days that he is "unpredictable". That criticism was renewed after his sudden two-day disappearance recently to deal with the question of the allegiance of the Black sea fleet and the future of the Crimea. When events themselves are so unpredictable, how can the men who seek to match them be otherwise?
Despite this succession of dramatic developments, we should not lose sight of the significance for collective security and for the future of the United Nations of the successful conduct and conclusion of the war against Iraq.
My first interest in politics was triggered by a sixth form conference organised under the auspices of the United Nations across Parliament square in Central hall. So the United Nations' existence over more than 40 years is almost contemporary with my own active life.
Inevitably, the United Nations had inherited from my father's generation a legacy of hopes betrayed by the League of Nations—a post-war, weary disbelief in the idea that international collaboration could ever be effective in practice. And during the United Nations' first four decades there was much to sustain that disbelief. The United Nations' responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security was often paralysed in the Security Council by the single Soviet syllable "nyet". The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation assumed responsibility for the defence of the free world, and the cold war set in.
With the emergence of Mr. Gorbachev and the new leadership of the then Soviet Union, a gradual political warming took place. For almost the first time, the 41 permanent members of the Security Council began to act in concert, and to great effect, notably in relation to the conflict between Iraq and Iran and the associated threat to international shipping, and in the long-running problem of Namibia.
This was the start of the process of change to which the Prime Minister's initiative on Friday at the Heads of Government meeting at the Security Council in New York has given renewed momentum. The perception of that meeting by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)— as a glorified photo opportunity—was a characteristic misjudgment, completely failing to see its significance in this context and once again failing to rise to the level of the challenge.
The earlier changes were the background to the remarkable reaction of the United Nations to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The speed and resolution displayed by the Security Council gave real encouragement to long-dormant hopes of effective international action on security. But before we assume that that example was a firm safeguard for the future, we would do well to recognise the significant coincidence of national interests that made it possible—the skills of the professional diplomats notwithstanding. As one who saw at close quarters Anthony Parsons in action on the floor of the Security Council at the height of the Falklands conflict in 1982, I for one do not underrate the contributions made by our diplomats.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would return to the question of behaviour at the United Nations. Is he aware that, in the 40 years between the foundation of the United Nations and last year, more vetoes were put on Security Council decisions by Britain and the United States than by the Soviet Union and China?
§ Sir Michael Neubert
That was a sterile comment to make at the beginning of a debate about the United Nations' new role, new powers and new determination. The hon. Gentleman goes into a degree of detail about the history of the past 40 years which I do not intend to pursue. No doubt if he has the opportunity he will give us more of the same.
Four major factors came together in the Iraq conflict. The first was the invasion of a small, virtually defenceless country by its more powerful neighbour. The second was the threat to a large proportion of the world's oil, its principal source of energy and the lifeblood of the modern world. The third was the unbridled egomania of a military tyrant provoking comparisons with the dictators of the 1930s. The fourth, and the most relevant to today's debate, was the prospect of this man possessing long-range weapons of mass destruction.
All these were clear-cut issues on which world opinion was immediately ready to give a majority verdict. Each on its own raised issues of principle on which legitimate action could be justified without difficulty and which was by no means unique. Examples are so numerous as to be commonplace—the small change of international currency —and are seldom the subject of concerted action. The combination of all these factors persuaded the international community that this was a difference of character and not of degree. Moreover, the action that was taken by the United Nations was strictly limited by the governing 42 resolutions and the need to observe these if the 30-nation coalition was to remain intact and the sensibilities of the Arab people not to be offended.
As a result, for many people the task was left in part undone and the peace incomplete—hence the need, for example, for the Prime Minister to take the lead and in particular to undertake the safe havens initiative to protect the Kurdish minority in Iraq. There was no choice. If we were seeking to uphold the international rule of law, we had to observe the United Nations resolutions to the letter. As it was, the ceasefire resolution—Security Council resolution 687—required first the dismantling of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, then compensation for the victims of its aggression, the demarcation of the Iraqi-Kuwait border and the provision of humanitarian relief. That was an ambitious agenda, and it is significant that it is the proliferation factor—the removal of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological capability—that is proving difficult.
Repeated inspections under the auspices of the United Nations have met with Iraqi obstruction and concealment. It seems clear now that Iraq was much closer to achieving an explosive nuclear device than was previously supposed—perhaps only six or 12 months away. There was a massive, covert nuclear weapons programme under way, including the building of an industrial-scale centrifuge enrichment facility, yet this threat to world peace was only one of four factors that prompted international action. If Saddam Hussein had not invaded Kuwait, proliferation would have proceeded with all speed.
As a consequence of the work of the special commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations must now maintain long-term surveillance and inspection to ensure that Iraq can never again have the capacity to threaten its neighbours with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Our Government must play, as they are playing, an important part in this, with the provision of technical expertise for inspection.
All our worst fears and apprehensions about Iraq were discovered to be fully justified, fortunately in time but only just in time. Much has been learnt about the difficulties of discerning between materials and equipment intended for military use and similar materials for civil use, given the compatibility of much civil and military nuclear development.
The threat of nuclear proliferation, however, is not confined to Iraq. India and Pakistan have significant facilities and nuclear programmes—an uneasy back-ground to the heightened tensions of the sub-continent. In another part of the world, Argentina and Brazil have made recent commitments to nuclear non-proliferation and to bringing all nuclear material in their territories under IAEA safeguards. These commitments are to be welcomed. North Korea and Israel are constant concerns. Algeria, in association with China, and Iran are further examples of countries that have developed nuclear facilities.
Potentially, the non-proliferation treaty can be effective, and the growing support for it is encouraging. However, the Iraq experience demonstrates that it needs strengthening. After all, Iraq was a party to the non-proliferation treaty. Powers of special inspections with minimum notice are essential. If agreements are found to have been breached, the Security Council can take action, as it did with Iraq. 43 This brings us back to the importance of the convening, by the Prime Minister, of the New York summit last Friday. That initiative betokens the clear intention to strengthen the United Nations, principally by providing the means for a more powerful peacekeeping role for the UN. There is also at least one specific British reference to strengthening controls against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in this case in biological warfare, to which the Prime Minister referred in his statement earlier today. New legislation will outlaw named biological agents and toxins as a means of controlling the export of materials that could be misused for military purposes. The post-summit communiqué also extended the UN's role in preventing the spread of technology on nuclear weapons.
The summit was remarkable also for the first appearance at it of President Yeltsin, who has assumed the Soviet Union's former seat on the Security Council and declared himself dedicated to the dismantling of the totalitarian order. History has never seen such a spectacular dissolution of an empire as has happened with the break up of the Soviet Union within the past few months. After all, it occupied one sixth of the world's land surface and breaking it entailed the sundering of no fewer than 16 socialist republics.
It is here that the most acute and extraordinary issues of nuclear proliferation arise. The vast arsenal of Soviet nuclear weapons had to be brought under new arrangements for command and control. Agreement was reached at Minsk on 30 December that President Yeltsin would be the one to be empowered to use nuclear weapons, subject to the agreement of the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine and following consultation with the heads of the other nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Given the capacity of that nuclear arsenal to destroy the whole world many times over, it is a remarkably precarious arrangement and, with memories of Chernobyl, not entirely reassuring.
It is imperative that the Government afford all possible assistance to the new independent states in dismantling nuclear weapons—a huge task in itself and likely to take many years—safeguarding the components from falling into the wrong hands and providing alternative livelihoods for redundant nuclear physicists and engineers who would otherwise be a tempting prospect for would-be Saddam Husseins attempting a short cut to nuclear capability.
These are all practical technical measures, but in the political and diplomatic sphere we must also press all the former Soviet republics to join the non-proliferation treaty as soon as they can meet that treaty's obligations. Ten have already joined the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. These and other moves will bring the newly independent republics within the family of western nations, and are welcome. They are the best way to avoid dangerous imbalances of power developing. The European Community must also widen its horizons to take in these newcomers rather than drawing closer and closer into itself.
In the interim, as these processes continue, there will inevitably be instability. In these circumstances, the people of the United Kingdom need a sure defence against all eventualities. That sure defence must include the possession of an independent nuclear deterrent. President 44 Bush and President Yeltsin have made announcements of substantial reductions in nuclear weapons. That is obviously good news, and further evidence of reducing tensions and the end of the cold war. However, it is no reason for us to abandon our strategic deterrent. That remains the ultimate safeguard of our national security. The world remains far too dangerous a place for us to think of relinquishing our plans for the Trident submarine-based deterrent.
We cannot know what future threats may develop. Twice in the past 10 years the unexpected has happened. As always, it is better to be safe than sorry. The admission that Soviet missiles have been targeted on our cities demonstrates the validity of the nuclear argument since the war. These armaments are now to be scaled down by the United States and Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, but these are reductions in degree by the two major super-powers. We were never in that league. As an illustration of this, I point out that the proposed arms cuts by the United States alone will save $50 billion—a nice round figure. The sterling equivalent is £27.8 billion—more than our defence budget in total. Even with the most recent cuts announced, the United Kingdom's nuclear arsenal will be only about one fifteenth the size of that of the United States or Russia. If we are to be safe rather than sorry, we must retain our minimum nuclear deterrent. With the evidence of potential proliferation and with unstable characters like Saddam Hussein and General Gaddafi on the world scene, it would be folly to do otherwise.
If deterrence is to be effective, it must also be credible. That is why we are planning a four-boat Trident force to replace a four-boat Polaris force. The fourth boat provides the indispensable assurance that over the lifetime of the force, extending well into the next century, there will always be one boat on station at all times, day and night, deep beneath the sea, invulnerable to pre-emptive attack. The first of these boats—Vanguard—is due to make its appearance at the end of this month. It will carry 16 missiles, each capable of carrying a maximum of eight warheads, and will be followed by the second and third of its class.
But what of the fourth, in the unlikely event of a Labour Government? Its future would be, to say the least, uncertain. But "uncertain" describes the defence policy generally that we would see under a Labour Government. Although the Labour party has already lost at least one general election in large part because of its lack of commitment to a sound defence policy, and although it may attempt to profess otherwise this time—perhaps even this afternoon—its underlying unsoundness in respect of defence has not changed. Its instinct remains anti-military, anti-nuclear and anti-American.
Whereas our Secretary of State for Defence ranks eighth in the Cabinet, the Opposition's spokesman on defence did not even rank election to the bottom place in the shadow Cabinet. Who are the officers of the Labour Back-Bench defence committee, and where are they this afternoon? The chairman of that committee is the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), and the vice-chairmen are the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). What do these three have in common? They are all members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But what is surprising about that? The CND is an organisation that, until very recently, had the support and membership of the Leader of Her 45 Majesty's Opposition, of his wife and of an estimated 130 members of the parliamentary Labour party, which totals not much more than twice that number. It seems, therefore, that Back-Bench officers are entirely representative of the parliamentary Labour party as a whole. We shall be interested to hear their contributions to this debate.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
My hon. Friend will know that the Labour party's Back-Bench defence committee is elected on the basis of a free vote. Does he agree that were the Labour party to have a free vote on this issue its members would again support CND?
§ Sir Michael Neubert
It would be extremely interesting if members of the Labour party were allowed to vote at all, let alone vote freely, on a defence matter. They avoid the issue by failing to go into the Lobbies. The honest 28 not only state their differences but are prepared to back them by opposing the Government and their own party.
At its conferences the Labour party regularly votes for a defence budget reduction of £6 billion. That is the saving which would result from abolition of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force—which one, the party never says. That being the case, anybody concerned for the nation's defence, for the maintenance of conventional forces adequate to meet any likely eventuality, and all those employed in defence manufacturing industries can have no confidence at all in the prospect of a Labour Government.
The Opposition can certainly claim no credit for the extraordinary events of recent years, which have liberated communist-controlled countries across Europe. As we were reminded only this weekend through documents apparently found in the archives of the Kremlin, the Labour party opposed the deployment of cruise missiles with all the strength that it and its CND friends could muster. Yet it was this crucial trial of strength, when the west stood firm, that brought the Soviets to the negotiating table and precipitated the process that created today's new freedoms and resulted in the collapse of socialism.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Can the hon. Gentleman point to anything—any so-called revelation—in these Kremlin documents that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was not saying in the House of Commons at the time?
§ Sir Michael Neubert
The papers found in the Kremlin simply confirm views that are sometimes known to be held but are very often disowned and are certainly not professed with great conviction in this House or elsewhere.
The ambiguity of the Labour party's position on defence has been evident to the British people for many years, and it remains today. If the Labour party had been in power at the time to which I refer, we should have long ago laid down vital arms. A Labour Government would have left us virtually defenceless in the face of the force of the Warsaw pact. In recent days the German Defence Minister, Dr. Stoltenberg, revealed that the Warsaw pact was not a defensive alliance like the North Atlantic. Treaty Organisation but had an active plan of attack and had even minted war medals. That danger is now past. How can the Labour party and its fellow unilateral disarmers sleep with their consciences?
There are now new dangers, to which my motion draws attention. Our minimum nuclear deterrent remains the essential safeguard for our independent future. Only the 46 Conservative Government have the necessary conviction and commitment to ensure the nation's defence at all time and in all circumstances. The British people and the House of Commons can rely on them.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
The hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) has raised a most important question—in some respects, the most important question arising from recent events in Europe and in the world. Although I disagree very strongly with some of the things that the hon. Gentleman has said and with some of his recommendations, I am of the opinion that it is good for the House to have an opportunity to discuss these matters. Indeed, the House of Commons is probably the best place for such discussions.
I agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about Iraq. He has underlined the danger that was created for the entire world by the supply of arms to Iraq, which was helped to come close to becoming a nuclear power. I am not sure how close the country came to achieving nuclear status, but I have to say that second only to the dangers involved in the indiscriminate proliferation of nuclear weapons was the horror that the world recently inflicted upon itself by way of the well nigh indiscriminate supply of arms to countries such as Iraq. That was an altogether disgraceful affair, and various Governments throughout the world should bear some of the blame for it.
I am sorry to say that the British Government cannot be acquitted of any fault in this matter. Indeed, the question of the supply of guns and other equipment to Iraq has not yet been resolved, and the Government have demonstrated no eagerness to resolve it. There is no doubt that, up to about a month before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, supplies that might have been of assistance in the acquisition of a nuclear arms capability, and certainly were of assistance in establishing the country as a major military power in the near east, were going to Iraq. In this regard, the British Government do not have a clean record.
I shall be interested to hear what the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), has to say when he replies for the Government. Up to almost the day before the invasion of Kuwait, the Government strengthened Iraq's ability to inflict such horrors on other peoples and, indeed, on its own people. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will comment on that matter, and I hope that, in future, the Government will demonstrate some understanding of the fact that this is a question not merely of dealing with the proliferation of nuclear weapons—a matter to which I shall come in a moment—but also of whether we are now prepared to embark upon a new policy for the protection of the world against the proliferation of weapons that, while not quite as dangerous as nuclear weapons, are capable of inflicting appalling disasters on the world and appalling injury in some countries that suffer grinding poverty as a result of having the weight of armaments imposed upon them.
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that, when the Iraqis gassed some 5,000 people at Halabja, the British Government's response was to double the credit available to Iraq.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman makes a telling point, and I hope that the Government feel some contrition.
I trust that the Government do not need my next warning, but one can never tell. In view of the common revulsion that was felt throughout the country and the world at the policies pursued by Iraq against the Kurds and others, I hope that there will be no rush to support Iran, as if that is the way to protect the situation.
The Iranian Government's human rights record is as bad as that of the Iraqis. It is worse in some respects, and that continues. The horrors committed year after year, month after month, and almost day after day in Iran are appalling for the world to see. I hope there will be no less strict a refusal to rebuild Iranian military strength than there should previously have been in respect of Iraq.
I know that there was some conflict as to which side Britain should support in the Iran-Iraq war. The British Government made many mistakes at that time, and on the whole supported Iraq against Iran. The Governments of both countries—and many others too—have barbaric human rights records, and committed appalling offences against common decency throughout the world. They continue to threaten our own citizens with death, and even to carry out death penalties against them. I hope that the Government will stress that we must refuse to make any concessions to Iran in the new situation.
Iran, in common with other countries, is seeking to become something of a nuclear power. I hope that that prospect will terrify people sufficiently when they even contemplate it.
The hon. Member for Romford referred also to events on the Indian subcontinent, where nuclear proliferation is one of the most dangerous aspects of the world situation. I was on the Indian subcontinent a few years ago, and again recently. There has been a serious deterioration over the past two or three years in the assessment of what can be done about nuclear proliferation on the Indian subcontinent.
At present, as the Minister knows, the Indian Government do not want to subscribe to any proposed non-proliferation treaty, believing that it would inhibit their rights or possibilities in comparison with Pakistan. When I was in India four years ago and saw Rajiv Gandhi when he was Prime Minister, his main message—which I was to carry back to this country and to convey to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—was, "You must understand the danger of nuclear proliferation and of the nuclear build-up in Pakistan."
He asserted that proliferation was supported by the Americans, and to some extent by the British Government. He warned, "If that is allowed to continue in Pakistan, we will be unable to resist the pressure to match it in India." The same argument is made by people in this country, when they say that Britain must have nuclear weapons to protect itself—and it is used also on the Indian subcontinent today.
If the Indian Government feel unable to back to the full, even in the new situation, a non-proliferation treaty, I hope that we will be able to use British, American, and United Nations diplomacy to overcome that. The United Nations may be able to exert the greatest influence on the Indian subcontinent, and I hope that we will be able to use all its strengths to ensure that the appalling disaster of a nuclear arms race on that Indian subcontinent does not develop. What could be madder than that? India ought to 48 spend the huge sums that would be diverted to a nuclear capability on relieving poverty and all the other evils in that country.
A special effort should be made by the British Government, who still command some credit with both Pakistan and India, to avoid a new arms race in those countries. If the Government are to have any chance of achieving that, they must consider fresh initiatives.
Despite the strength of the argument made by the hon. Member for Romford, it is no use thinking that we can say to Pakistan and India, "You should give up any idea of becoming nuclear powers—but you cannot take a lesson from us, because we are determined to remain a nuclear power whatever happens." It seems that, whatever develops over the next decade or so, the British Government and the motion of the hon. Member for Romford make it clear that we will remain a nuclear power.
If we continue to say that, the Pakistanis and the Indians will not listen to us very carefully. Why should they? They can argue, "If it is such a good form of defence, we will have it too. We will take the lesson from your Defence Ministers." If that happens, the arms race will be on.
The Indian Government are responsible; they are not in the same category as the others that I mentioned in Iran or Iraq—although they may not always show it—in the way that they let off many terrorists, or guide and support terrorist activities in many parts of the continent.
I hope that a tremendous effort will be made to ensure that Britain will use its influence. I do not suggest that we can change our own nuclear policy immediately, but if we are effectively to implement a full policy for stopping nuclear proliferation, we must be prepared to consider our contribution to that process.
§ Mr. Foot
It is difficult to persuade any country to surrender its nuclear capability when Britain argues that it is the only defence. It is not. On several occasions in the history of the world British Governments have taken a different and wider view than the hon. Gentleman, who merely says, "Let us go on reiterating the policy that we have followed for years—and whatever happens in Pakistan or India does not make any difference, because proliferation will continue."
The motion of the hon. Member for Romford refers to the non-proliferation treaty. The British Government, rightly, were a strong supporter of that treaty, and claim to be a strong supporter of it still. It is right that we should support that treaty, which bears the signatures of more than 100 nations, and which is the basis on which something bigger can be built.
There would, however, have been no conceivable possibility of such a nuclear non-proliferation treaty had it not been for the preamble, which stated that the aim of all signatories should be the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. Had it not been for that, nations would not have signed the treaty, or urged others to sign it. Now, people are saying, "We should not worry about the preamble." 49 When I went to see the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), who helped to overthrow the previous Prime Minister—I shall always remember that wonderful speech he made—he did not seem to understand or accept the fact that the treaty required its signatories to aim for eventual abolition; but that is only common sense.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
Worthy though the preamble may be, the reality—as the right hon. Gentleman said earlier—is that some of the countries, such as India, that are now striving to obtain nuclear weapons are not responsible countries. Irresponsible countries will not respond to leadership or example from us, whatever we do. Unless we have some means of deterring such countries from attacking not only us but their innocent neighbours, there will be nothing to restrain the whirlwind.
§ Mr. Foot
That is the gospel of despair. If such a doctrine is adopted by our country and our Government, there will be no possibility of ending the nuclear arms race. We should be much wiser than that—particularly at what we all understand to be a new moment in history. I am just about the only hon. Member who was present at the 1945 San Francisco conference: I was there as a journalist. That, too, marked a new moment in history. We were trying then to establish a more powerful United Nations, which could wield real political authority in such circumstances. The Labour Government of the day, incidentally, wanted to go a good deal further than the other Governments.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that perhaps the most positive step that the Government could take to prevent nuclear proliferation would be to agree to a comprehensive test ban treaty? When the Prime Minister was asked about that today, he retorted that we needed to improve our weapons. He does not appear to grasp the fact that, if such a treaty were signed, other countries—unless they were given nuclear weapons—would be in no position to develop such weapons secretly. A comprehensive test ban treaty represents one of the most fundamental assets in the prevention of proliferation.
§ Mr. Foot
I entirely agree. That is one of the biggest gaps in what the Government are now saying. A test ban treaty is one of the means whereby we might secure the more general agreement for which we are aiming. Conservative Members have said that that is impossible, but there have been occasions in post-war history when the world has been more ambitious—for instance, in 1945 and 1946, when we were only beginning to discover the implications of developing atomic weapons. Proposals were advanced from the other side of the Atlantic—admittedly, they were recognised to be one-sided, in that they were not fair to the Soviet Union—for international control of such weapons. Full-scale international control would have been possible if our attitude then had been more forthcoming.
Conservative Members say that people will not listen, and that there is no possibility of persuading them. Some advantages have come about as a result of what has already been happening in the world: for instance, the means of inspection are far better than they were 10, 15 or 20 years ago, when the arms race was at its height, and I have no doubt that they could be developed still further. 50 Moreover, I understand that President Yeltsin himself has issued fresh proposals for full-scale international ownership and control of all nuclear weapons. Such developments were proposed in 1945, and have been proposed on other occasions.
Over the past few weeks, I have heard people talk as though there had never been agreements in the past between the west and the Soviet Union. Of course there have been such agreements; sometimes they were in the interests of the Soviet Union as well.
United Nations resolution 242, for example, still represents the best way of dealing with the middle east crisis. A Labour Government suggested the resolution, which won the support of both the United States and the Soviet Union. So far-seeing was that proposal—advanced in 1967—that it is still seen as the best and fairest way of approaching a middle east settlement. If we set our sights higher, better agreements can be secured; and there can have been no more important occasion for such agreements than the present time.
I have a close connection with many of the controversial events recorded in the most recent edition of The Sunday Times. The way in which it recorded them constitutes one of the most shameful acts that I can remember a journalist perpetrating, and that is saying something. Even the editor seems pretty ashamed—and if Mr. Andrew Neil is ashamed, or even partly ashamed, something very degrading must have been done.
It was suggested that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and I were partially engaged in the shocking, terrible activities that the paper described. Let me say that, if I am to finish up as a red under the bed—if that is to be my last role in political life—there is no one whom I would rather find under that same bed than my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East. For many years, he was regarded as the most powerful anti-Soviet warrior of the lot; the idea that he once yielded—cringed, even—to Soviet power is so absurd that not even Mr. Andrew Neil should have had the nerve to suggest it.
I vividly remember going with my right hon. Friend to Moscow in late 1982 or early 1983, when we had some discussions with the Soviet leaders. At that time, the Russians had put the SS20 missiles in place, and similar nuclear tactical weapons were either in place or being mobilised by the west. What we proposed then was very different from what is described in The Sunday Times. We proposed not only that both sides should make reductions in their stocks of nuclear tactical weapons—although, of course, we preferred that option to the option of piling them up, which was being suggested—but, better still, that all such weapons should be abolished, on both sides. In other words, we proposed the so-called zero option.
That proposal was not, however, accepted by the Russians. They put forward some of the same arguments that have been put to me in the debate by Conservative Members. They believed that the only credible defence was that which was based on nuclear weapons. We said that we should go for the zero option and abolish, first, all tactical nuclear weapons, and that later we might also be able to abolish the even more dangerous strategic nuclear weapons.
When we returned to London a few days later, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East and I were furiously denunciated for having made such a scandalous proposal. We were called traitors, or whatever the popular 51 term at the time was. We were told that we had behaved scandalously in putting forward the zero option, but two or three days later President Reagan made a broadcast on this very subject in which he said that he was in favour of the zero option.
I went on television, or radio, and said that I was very glad that President Reagan had come round to our view. However, we were still denounced—I forget by whom but it was a junior Foreign Office Minister, the David Mellor of his day. He said that to adopt the zero option would be treachery. However, when President Reagan said that perhaps the zero option was the way forward, there was much more of a welcome for it.
My right hon. Friend and I were the very first to put forward the zero option. So far from it leading to disaster in the negotiations, it helped them forward. That is the true history, although I do not suppose that it would be published if it were to be unearthed in the Kremlin minutes. What is certain is that, if it were uncovered, it would not be published in The Sunday Times, The Sun or in any other such newspaper. That is why I believe that it is right to recite the facts in the House of Commons. The facts suggest that we are able to use our diplomatic strength and our position as a country with almost as good a record as that of most other countries to serve the peace of the world.
Recently, the Government have shown more enthusiasm for the United Nations. What infuriated India was that, time after time, we voted against proposals for test ban treaties and other treaties, as well as against disarmament and other proposals. Proposals that would have eased the situation were rejected time after time by the British Government, who used their veto, together with the Americans and a few others, or just said that they did not agree with the proposals.
The British Government used their veto not just against the test ban treaty proposal but against the first use of nuclear weapons and similar proposals. It is all on record. Time after time, the British Government voted, by a minority of one, two or three, in the United Nations against proposals put forward not by wicked communists from the Soviet Union—Mr. Gorbachev's predecessors—but by the Indians, the Yugoslavs—as they were then—and many neutral countries that had better ideas than ours throughout that terrible period of the cold war.
I am glad that the cold war has come to an end. Its end is one of the happiest developments in the history of mankind. However, when the Government try to pretend that its end is due to their policies on armaments and the rest, they insult the intelligence of most people who have looked at the facts, as well as the intelligence of all these other nations. They, too, have rights and claims. I know that some Conservative Members believe that the Indians and Pakistanis do not count because they may not yet have nuclear weapons. If India and Pakistan had nuclear weapons, I suppose that Conservative Members would respect them a little more.
We are entering a different world. We want a Government who will provide a new and much more ambitious programme for the United Nations as a whole. The most urgent of all those measures is the establishment of a new non-proliferation treaty, which the British Government must be prepared to sign and implement.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) has done the House a service in bringing before the House this unexceptionable motion. He moved it in a measured and well-considered way. I congratulate him on his felicitous drafting. One would expect no less from a former author of the annual blue revue at the Conservative party conference. He has honed his skills as a wordsmith in long, dedicated and effective service in the Ministry of Defence main building in Whitehall.
It is a timely debate which was admirably introduced. In particular, I liked my hon. Friend's phrase "political global warming" when he described the end of the cold war. The global warming process is held to offer potential risks: the break-up of the ice caps and rogue icebergs on shipping lanes. The phrase encapsulates the problems inherent in the ending of old certainties that endured throughout a long and very intense cold war.
Foremost among those uncertainties must be the question of nuclear proliferation. I would argue that this question should lead to a fundamental re-examination by the alliance of old assumptions and outdated defence strategies. It has already done so. However, any re-examination by the United Kingdom—the "Options for Change" exercise represents a preface to that process—must be founded on certain definite fixed principles: deterrence, defence and diplomacy.
Deterrence will continue to be vital in an uncertain world, as it was during the certain dangers of the cold war. For as far ahead as can be seen we shall need an effective, independent strategic nuclear deterrent. However, it will be, as the French chief of staff once described it, "A tous azimuts"—a multi-directional deterrent. The threat may not come, as it did in the past, from the Warsaw pact. It may lie elsewhere. It must, therefore, be an omni-directional deterrent. I am sure that the choice of Trident is as right now as it was when it was first made at the beginning of the 1980s.
I believe that we shall still need four strategic nuclear submarines—the SLBMs, the Trident boats. My hon. Friend was so right to emphasise that point. Trident will be the minimum effective system. At the same time, it is an ultimate system in a way that no other strategic deterrent can be. It is minimal, because there is total flexibility on the part of Her Majesty's Government in the selection of the number of warheads that will be deployed on the missiles. There is also a certain flexibility over the number of boats that will be on patrol.
There is geographic flexibility over the deployment of those boats, and to which oceans. For example, they might conceivably be deployed in the western Pacific if it were felt that China posed a threat to our interests rather than Russia, or any of the other Commonwealth of Independent States countries.
It should not be forgotten that we are making an investment for a generation. I believe that Trident will stand the test of time. I do not foresee Trident boats being vulnerable to interception; nor is it likely that a truly effective countermeasure to the multiple independently targeted warheads inherent in the Trident missile system will be devised.
A geographically mobile system that can be deployed to any ocean is a step forward for our people, compared with, 53 for example, the 1950s and 1960s when THOR medium-range ballistic missiles were based in Britain in a fixed and immobile way and targeted in only one direction.
We shall need graduated deterrence. To that end, it will be important to maintain a tactical element in our deterrent capability. The alliance is rightly destroying battlefield artillery. We are getting rid of our Lance short-range missiles, but we shall need something short of the ultimate deterrent of Trident. I support the Government's determination to keep a modern and credible air-launched deterrence system, which, for as far ahead as can be foreseen, will be Tornado. It is dual capable and, as such, is inherently flexible and, like Trident, with the aid of in-flight refuelling, it can be deployed rapidly to any part of the globe where it is needed. If a threat emerged from Iraq, Libya or Kazakhstan, Tornados equipped with stand-off weapons would be effective deterrents. To be effective, they must have that stand-off capability. The Gulf war showed how necessary it is to minimise our losses and to make it quite clear to the potential enemy that atomic warheads can be delivered. This is another aspect of the deterrent that we are seeking to maintain.
The deterrent must be tactical, mobile, flexible and dual-capable. I have no firm views on whether the missiles should be developed with the French or the Americans, but we shall need them. I am pleased that, so far at least, the Government have shown no intention of getting rid of that option.
More emphasis will be placed on defence in our security planning. It is an aspect that we have neglected in favour of offence in past decades. We shall need to enhance and improve confidence-building measures. I applaud the initiatives that are being taken by the Western European Union to persuade west Europeans to develop a surveillance satellite system that can give early warning of potential risks and conflict and of the build-up of chemical or nuclear armaments. I hope that the WEU will go ahead with the construction of such a satellite system a nd the associated data processing, that we shall play an important part in it and that we shall extend the hand of friendship to associates of WEU—the new democracies of central Europe such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the countries of eastern Europe such as Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine. Such a confidence-building approach has much to commend it.
For the purposes of early warning and to sustain confidence and intelligence, we need to follow up the ideas mooted by President Bush and now by President Yeltsin of creating a space-based strategic defence system. It is hard to know how the world will look in 10, 15 or 20 years' time, but there will always be a risk of a rogue state's emerging, developing a nuclear potential and releasing a nuclear weapon. We will not necessarily wish to retaliate in kind, but if we are on the receiving end we will most certainly wish to intercept its missiles. "Global protection against limited strikes" and other missile defence concepts being developed in the United States should have the support of west Europeans and I hope that they, the Russians and other interested parties of goodwill will work together to make those concepts a reality.
We shall also need not only an umbrella over the top and confidence building, but point defence. We saw in the Gulf war how important the Patriot system was against Scud attacks. If one can imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end of a missile attack not only with 54 conventional warheads but nuclear or chemical warheads, one can comprehend the necessity of building effective point defences. Perhaps something like the Patriot is required. Lockheed is developing a theatre air defence missile system, and such systems will be necessary to ensure security so that in the event of a rogue attack we do not have to launch a dire nuclear retaliatory strike.
The third aspect of my remarks will be directed to diplomacy and constructive dialogue with potential adversaries to ensure that the right climate of understanding and goodwill is maintained. Collective security systems have stood the test of time in the post-war world—NATO above all, but also, for the duration of their existence, the Central Treaty Organisation in the middle east, the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation in the far east and the Western European Union in western Europe.
The United Kingdom should do everything within its power to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of NATO. I particularly welcome the NATO co-operation council to bring into dialogue the countries of central and eastern Europe which belonged to the Warsaw pact. I also hope that the WEU will extend the hand of friendship in that direction.
We require not only collective security but a more effective United Nations. It was most encouraging to hear the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon. He reiterated his commitment, and that of the Security Council, to effective peacekeeping and, perhaps more importantly, to peacemaking by the United Nations. He welcomed, at least implicitly, the idea of a more intrusive inspection regime to back up confidence-building measures through reconnaissance satellites and signals intelligence with the proof which on-site verification can bring. I trust, too, that funds will not be lacking to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency to do its work on our behalf.
Last but not least in this process of diplomacy, we must ensure that potential tyrants and aggressors do not arm themselves with chemical and nuclear weapons or, above all, with the delivery systems required to further their ambitions by military means. Timely trade embargoes and measures taken early on by the United Nations to prevent potential aggressors acquiring nuclear missile technology and chemical weapons will be needed as never before.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Romford said, it is a more hopeful world. I know that the old certainties have gone, but, please, let not the chancellories of the west look back with nostalgia to the cold war and the old east-west confrontation. The monolithic Soviet Union with its satellites system and Warsaw pact posed a far greater threat to our liberties than do the multitude of burgeoning democracies which are seeking economic development and greater prosperity for their peoples. I recognise the fact that such a world will be far harder to order, but the best balance of power will lie within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Georgia, Armenia, Byelorussia and the Ukraine do not have any desire for Russia to become over-mighty and expansionist.
We live in a more optimistic world and I am pleased with the initiatives that the Government are taking. We shall continue to need a forward-looking defence policy. I welcome the motion moved so ably by my hon. Friend who has alerted us all to the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
Like other hon. Members, I compliment the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) for introducing this timely motion. During the previous debate on nuclear defence, on a Government motion on 14 January, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said:I feel a sense of disappointment that there is nothing in the motion about how we might limit nuclear proliferation."—[Official Report, 14 January 1992; Vol. 201, c. 851.]This motion corrects that deficiency and allows us to respond more generally to the enormous changes in the former Soviet Union which present us with not only huge opportunities but large, tangible risks.
The situation requires us all to review our defence position and, likewise, our aid commitments. I think that whatever the result of the election, there will be a further defence review afterwards, but the urgency of aid brooks no delay and that was reflected in what the hon. Member for Romford and other hon. Members have said.
Time is very limited and I shall confine my remarks to five brief points. Hon. Members can say, "At least he is on his fourth point" and feel some relief. I was always told that to say, "Finally" and "In conclusion" several times was the thing to do because that encouraged optimism among one's listeners.
First, if one is interested in non-proliferation, one must surely deal with the question of the test ban treaty. We cannot get around that. I heard the Prime Minister say this afternoon that he has no intention of doing so, but it should go on record that my party—its members are here in spirit, at least, in great numbers—does not take that view. Indeed, many others believe that pressure for some agreement and the effective monitoring of it is essential.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for Romford said, the monitoring of nuclear activity in Iraq was not especially successful, despite the fact that Iraq had signed the non-proliferation treaty. Despite the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency, developments occurred about which we knew nothing. Therefore, it is essential to improve monitoring and to reach a situation in which the international authority can investigate where it wishes at will. I wonder what the Government's view is on that point, because it is an important one.
We must also consider how to co-operate in dealing with what might be described as the nuclear risk and the question of fissionable material coming from Iraq if it is recovered. That issue is of direct interest to my part of Scotland in view of the reprocessing which is done and has been done for many years at Dounreay in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Therefore, I take this opportunity to put it on record that in agreeing to help to deal with the Iraqi problem the Government took the right decision.
However, that was not the view of the Scottish National party, which is much in the news these days. On 8 October 1991, an article appeared in my local newspaper, the Inverness Courier, under the headline "SNP vows to stop Iraqi nuclear waste". It stated that the SNP candidate warned:The Scottish National Party would be prepared to use civil disobedience to stop Iraqi nuclear waste coming to the Highlands for reprocessing".56 However, the candidate's mother went considerably further. She declared that reprocessing would go ahead only "over my dead body". I am not sure whether that is an extreme form of civil disobedience. I draw attention to it because, in view of the SNP's claims to international status, it is important to remind the SNP that international status involves international obligations.
Thirdly, it is estimated that in what was the Soviet Union there are about 5,000 atomic scientists who have sufficient knowledge to help in the development of nuclear weapons. As the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said, many other countries are anxious to obtain the expertise of those Soviet scientists, not only maverick countries such as Libya or Iraq, but India and others. I understand that President Yeltsin has proposed joint action between Russia and the United States with a view to a common star wars project which would have an effect on the whole world and which could be used to absorb all of those scientists. I hope that that plan goes ahead. If not, the Russians should not be too hesitant about using immigration procedures to prevent scientists leaving to go to such countries.
I remember being in the former Soviet Union a couple of years ago talking about the Jewish refuseniks. The line of the then Soviet Administration was to not let them out because they were security risks. In this case, the Soviet scientists leaving the country are a security risk not only for the Soviet Union but possibly for many other countries.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which has some force. However, I am sure that he will acknowledge that such controls could be used as a cover for denying exit visas to many people who do not pose the risk that he describes. We must be cautious about advocating such a course of action.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
I do not quarrel with that. Of course, such risks would exist. I am saying merely that it is terribly important for us to consider the possibility of scientists skilled in atomic matters leaving to go to countries which undoubtedly have plenty of money to attract them and which want their help in developing atomic weapons.
Fourthly, I rather disagree—in fact, I disagree—with what the hon. Member for Romford said about the integration of political and defence questions in Europe. It was one of the notable failures of the Maastricht conference in which the Government unfortunately played such a prominent part that we did not succeed in moving towards a common defence policy in the European Community. The proposition was in no way intended to undermine NATO—it was a question of making the European part of NATO function better. For example, the German Government deeply regret that failure, as I heard Gerhard Stoltenberg, the German Defence Minister to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, confirm in Bonn as recently as last Wednesday at a Western European Union meeting.
Sadly, one can already see the nationalist stand-off position adopted by this country finding an echo in the German public. It was uncovered by a recent opinion poll which showed that the Germans were moving in a 57 nationalist direction as well. I pray that we shall not look back on Maastricht as an enormous opportunity missed, although I fear that there is a danger that we may.
We shall have more co-operation through the Western European Union, as the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said. That will lead us inevitably to address the nuclear question both in this country and in France.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member far Fife, North-East said on 14 January:It would be morally indefensible to continue to deploy nuclear weapons if there was no justification for doing so. Nothing would be more reprehensible than to indulge in an intellectual scramble to create some ex post facto justification for weapons that it had already been decided to keep. The deployment of nuclear weapons can be justified only if it is appropriate to the risk."—[Official Report, 14 January 1991; Vol. 201, c. 852.]I agree with that.
Hon. Members may remember that in the days of the Liberal-SDP alliance my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), who was then leader of the Liberal party, and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who was then leader of the Social Democrat party, went to Paris to talk about whether there was a possibility of achieving some rationalisation between the French force de frappe and the British nuclear deterrent. I can remember more recently listening to the then French Defence Minister, Mr. Chevenement, arguing strongly for that because he was a great proponent. He wanted those two deterrents eventually to become a European deterrent. His enthusiasm for the idea was matched only by his failure to be specific about how that was to be achieved. Nevertheless, he was politically enthusiastic and we shall have to consider that proposition. It may be difficult, but it will have to be considered.
Fifthly, the Liberal Democrats accept a minimum deterrent even if, from the political and cost points of view, that suggests at some time ahead coming together with France in a European context. One must always keep that under review. We fail to understand why we should be committed to increasing our nuclear firepower with more nuclear heads on Trident than was the case with Polaris, especially when Trident is more accurate than Polaris.
I have not mentioned chemical and biological weapons, not from a lack of realisation of their great importance and of the enormous difficulty in monitoring them, but simply because of time pressures. The United Kingdom has, after all, a good record on chemical weapons about which we rightly speak. However, rather than claiming all the credit for the United Nations arms sales register, we should realise that it was proposed by Genscher on behalf of the Federal Republic in 1980 or 1981—certainly a decade ago.
I conclude by reiterating my view that, thanks to the hon. Member for Romford, this has been a useful debate at an important time. As an election is extremely near, it may also be the last occasion on which we hear a speech from the most compelling orator in the House whom I can remember and probably the most compelling orator in the post-war period. I refer to the right hon. Member Blaenau Gwent, whom I shall always think of as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. 1 salute him. I have often disagreed with him, but his rhetoric was always brilliant and sometimes savagely funny. I doubt whether the House has ever known a greater gentleman.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) on calling this debate, because it is extremely timely. We must consider two significant issues: first, the state of British public opinion and, secondly, our assessment of the threat.
There is a growing belief in this country that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we face no threat in the area of defence. That is exemplified by early-day motion 593, tabled by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and by the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) among other left-wing luminaries. It calls on the Government, among other things, torespond by withdrawing Polaris and replacing the Trident programme with a programme of peaceful investment.It is clear that Labour Members will push that superficially attractive line with all the enthusiasm that they have long put into the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and all its works. We must realise that siren message, which must be refuted.
A debate on the subject five years ago would have achieved a consensus of public opinion, which might not have included Labour Members. The threat was clear: it was from the Soviet Union, which had a capability of 27,000 nuclear warheads and the means of delivery. Today, things are different politically, but the successors of the Soviet Union still have that capacity. We should ask ourselves where the 27,000 warheads are. They are spread out across Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Byelorussia. They are only now going through the slow process of withdrawal to Russia and towards being dismantled.
We should ask ourselves who is in control of the vast nuclear array. The leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States agreed at their conference in Minsk on 30 December that the decision to use nuclear weapons would be taken by President Yeltsin with the agreement of the leaders of Byelorussia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and following consultation with the heads of the other member states of that commonwealth. How reassuring is that? It relies on the amity between the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the submission to authority by the military leaders.
The debate is especially timely because of the meeting tomorrow in Minsk between President Yeltsin, President Kravchuk and the other leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The auguries for that meeting and for the future are not good. Last week, President Yeltsin stood up the middle east peace conference and the Japanese Foreign Minister to fly to Novorossiysk to sort out Russo-Ukrainian disagreements over the Black sea fleet.
Ukraine's leader, Leonid Kravchuk, has been hard-line over the allegiance of the Black sea fleet, and he may take a similar line on nuclear weapons within his own territory. There have even been rumours of a blockade of the fleet at its base in Sevastopol unless it submits to Ukrainian control. It is worth remembering that Sevastopol was Russian until 1954 when the Crimea was administratively transferred to Ukraine by Khrushchev, himself a Ukrainian. All that is a source of instability.
How stable is President Yeltsin himself? We read almost daily reports of indiscipline and even mutiny within the red army. We read reports of sales of supplies, equipment and even munitions by the men in that army. For how long will the red army put up with the crumbling 59 of its world and all it believes in? Last August, we saw a revolt by the old guard of the Communist party, a trembling, nervous coterie of boozers, who failed to have the nerve and efficiency to carry the coup to a successful conclusion. Who can doubt that in the high command of the Soviet armed forces there are officers who have both qualities? A real and coherent threat could rapidly re-emerge.
We are quite rightly doing everything possible to assist President Yeltsin. Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described the considerable steps which this country is taking to assist. In defence, the Prime Minister has announced that we have agreed to co-operate on handling surplus Soviet nuclear weapons and safeguarding nuclear materials, and that we will send a technical mission to Moscow to assess the immediate needs at first hand.
Furthermore, my right hon. Friend told us that this country has agreed to co-operate in other areas of defence, including on the transformation that is required to ensure the restructuring, control and financing of armed forces in a democratic society. He has offered to second a small number of Ministry of Defence officials to the Russian Ministry of Defence.
It may be that a steady multilateral reduction in nuclear weapons will allow us to wind down our own independent minimum deterrent but, in the meantime, it would be absolute folly not to maintain that deterrent. We should be clear about what is meant by a "minimum nuclear deterrent." Unlike both the United States of America and the old USSR, Britain has consistently followed a policy of minimum nuclear deterrence. For that reason, the size of Britain's nuclear arsenal has never been related to the size of those of the super-powers. To do so would be to make a false analogy. This country's policy has been determined by one consideration alone—to possess the minimum number of warheads required to inflict unacceptable damage, in retaliation, upon any would-be nuclear aggressor. The definition of "minimum" must relate to need.
The prospective firepower capacity of Trident has come in for a good deal of unjustified criticism. It is misleading in the extreme to claim that, if Trident is a minimum nuclear deterrent, Polaris must be inadequate. Polaris is, indeed, adequate in 1992, but Trident is to be operative until well into the 21st century and, throughout its long shelf life, must be capable of deterring any aggression, especially nuclear. That is the reason for its having a greater firepower than that possessed by Polaris.
Labour Front-Bench spokesmen have unequivocally claimed that they support Trident, but do they? In a debate in the House on 14 January, the Labour party was invited unequivocally to support nuclear deterrence and the introduction of Trident. When it came to the vote, the vast bulk of Labour Members abstained on the orders of the party leadership, while a brave 28 hon. Members, led by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), voted with their consciences against nuclear deterrence and sound defence. Given that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) says that he is aiming for a majority of 20 seats after the next election, it is obvious that any future Labour Government would be held to ransom by the die-hard unilateralists who regard unilateral nuclear disarmament as an article of faith.
60 It was the right hon. Member for Chesterfield who claimed recently:if we can change our minds to win an election, we can change our minds back again afterwards".We should be warned clearly by that statement. The likelihood of a robust and firm stand is in question when 17 members of the shadow Cabinet have anti-nuclear backgrounds, in a party with a notable unilateralist tradition. It is noteworthy that 75 per cent. of Labour Members standing for re-election have anti-nuclear or unilateralist backgrounds.
The message that must ring out from this House must be, "Stand firm and do not drop your guard, least of all against the background of the turbulent world that we have at present." One day we may reach a world in which multilateral disarmament achieves the total and absolute elimination of nuclear weapons. We must work towards that honourable goal, but in the meantime we must be prepared against any eventuality.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I should like to associate myself with the generous tribute that was paid by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). I well recollect the afternoon when our mutual friend, the late Leslie Hale, who was at that time the Member of Parliament for Oldham and no mean orator himself, listed as one of his pleasures in the House of Commons for 30 years listening to the two right hon. Members for Ebbw Vale. I say no more on that subject other than to associate myself with those who have commented on the respect in which my right hon. Friend is held because of his contributions to Parliament.
I address myself simply to that part of the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) whichurges the Government to play their full part in helping the relevant authorities in the Commonwealth of Independent States to dismantle their nuclear devices, to safeguard their nuclear components and to discourage … proliferation".I have never been more concerned about nuclear matters as a champion of nuclear power than about the prospect that we now face of all those nuclear weapons—I do not know whether they number 27,000 or more and, more importantly, nor do the Russian authorities—being in the Soviet Union when the people who are supposed to maintain them are, so we are now told, going off to jobs in Iran or other parts of the middle east. Such being the bureaucracy of those places, I am informed that those people have not even told their successors of the location of the maintenance manuals. That constitutes a highly dangerous situation.
I should like to put a number of specific questions on this issue to the Foreign Office. The problems that were discussed recently in The Guardian article may be overstated, but we do not know of any technical reasons for a time limit on the safe dismantling of nuclear weapons and disposal of the materials. The sealed ampoules, which were referred to in the articles, may contain compounds of tritium, which has a half-life of approximately 12 years and is likely to require them to be refurbished in nuclear weapons from time to time.
As someone who is speaking in good faith and who has a general knowledge of nuclear physics and experience of handling radioactive materials in a civil nuclear 61 environment, I believe that that begs a question that concerns a number of serious people. I ask for a Foreign Office answer.
Secondly, in the event of an explosion of the conventional trigger mechanism during the dismantling of the weapons, it is extremely unlikely that a nuclear explosion would occur, but the conventional explosive mechanism could spread contamination, although its extent would be reasonably limited. That means that a few kilometers might be reasonable. As well as the spread of radioactive materials, toxic compounds such as beryllium would be a problem in such an event. If it is the view of the British authorities that there would be such a problem, what constructive help can we give?
Thirdly, we in Britain are not aware, as far as I know, whether suitable facilities exist for dismantling such a large number of weapons in the Soviet Union. The United States has a suitable plant at Plantex Amarillo in Texas, but whether the Russians have addressed that problem is deeply questionable. How can we ask them to dismantle weapons if they do not have the technical facilities to do so?
Fourthly, the west could provide assistance in dismantling the weapons by providing the necessary expertise or finance to allow the Russians to retain their existing experts. It is important to ask the Russians what is happening to their experts. If they are going off to the near east or leaving for other jobs so that they can keep their families—it is difficult to blame them at a human level—in the interests of humanity it is important that some of the maintenance engineers remain at their posts, looking after what they are charged to look after. Facilities such as Dounreay or Burghfield could play a part.
Fifthly, after the weapons are dismantled, the materials would have to be stored or processed. Both options involve risks of criticality incidents, radiation hazards for staff and the potential for the spread of radioactive contamination. Those problems are, however, well understood and can be avoided by the application of suitable controls. Are we doing anything to help to provide those suitable controls?
Sixthly, the disposal of the weapons should be subject to international safeguards, which should include verifiability via independent audits of the materials during storage or reprocessing to ensure that nothing is lost. My information is that a great deal may be lost—and that would be dire.
Seventhly, a high level of security will be required to protect the materials from terrorist activity. It is not only terrorist activity; it is the possibility of nuclear theft by people who are simply desperate to provide themselves with money to feed their family. This is an urgent, crying problem.
Eighthly, safeguards will be required to ensure that the dismantling and disposal processes are irreversible. What monitoring do we have?
Ninthly, since weapons are generally refurbished worldwide, experience of the technology required to dispose of the nuclear weapons material on this scale is limited, for obvious reasons. It is likely to be in demand as, for example, the Americans dismantled their weapons.
There appear to be no insurmountable difficulties in constructing facilities for the ultimate disposal of the weapons material. It should be possible to blend it with other materials to construct fuel for use in civil reactors. In this respect, highly enriched uranium can be blended with 62 natural uranium to make some reactor fuels into plutonium, which could be used in mixed oxide fuels. The question is whether we can use our fast reactors.
There are a number of hopeful signs. One is the honourable part that Scottish Nuclear is playing in solving the civil nuclear problems of the Soviet Union. Scottish Nuclear has a successful twinning exchange with Russia, which has been established between Smolensk and Torness. A continuing programme of technical exchanges is being developed. A protocol agreement between the two stations was signed in November 1991 which establishes an exchange of work experience between the two power stations, involving exchange visits by staff over a period of six months in 1992. A party of Torness staff spent a week in Smolensk during September 1991 and a return visit to Torness was made by Smolensk staff in November 1991. What do the Government intend to do to provide more resources and finance for such highly desirable exchanges?
Equally, with the Ukraine, contact has been established with a leading nuclear engineering institute in Kiev. Most urgent of all may be Bulgaria. The World Association of Nuclear Operators is exceedingly concerned about Kozlodui. John Hall, a Scottish Nuclear engineer from Hunterston on the outage assistance team there, has been asked to head up the section responsible for the requalification of units 1 and 2. The work performed by the WANO to improve operating standards at Kozlodui will be funded as part of an £8 million European Community aid package to the Bulgarian nuclear industry.
In partnership with the National Nuclear Corporation, Scottish Nuclear has agreed to provide technical assistance to the Energoproject, the Bulgarian nuclear design and construction organisation, for its nuclear programme. Together with matters relating to Czechoslovakia and Hungary, this is important work.
A long time ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent did me the honour of making me his science spokesman. I was never able to repay him because of a difficulty over some unrelated matter. As someone who for 30 years has followed scientific matters in the House of Commons, never have I spoken with more concern than I do about the stability of the 27,000-plus nuclear weapons that are floating around eastern Europe.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
I welcome the reduction in nuclear weapons agreed by the United States and the former Soviet Union. The debate, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), is most timely. The subject of the debate is the best ways of preventing nuclear proliferation.
Earlier the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) talked about reducing areas of instability, for example, on the Indian sub-continent. There is, indeed, tension between India and Pakistan. We should address its causes to see whether we can use our good offices to reduce that tension.
For decades one of the main bones of contention between India and Pakistan has been Kashmir. The United Nations resolution of 1949 that the people of Kashmir should have the right to their own self-determination is right, just and proper. What could be more democratically respectable than for the people of that unhappy land to have the say-so in their own future? 63 They should be given that right. If both countries agreed to go along with the will of the people of Kashmir, that source of tension would be removed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I find it difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the motion before the House. I hope that he will relate his remarks to the motion.
§ Mr. Summerson
I was about to say that if that cause of tension is removed, a reason why both India and Pakistan wish to acquire the bomb will also be removed. We are talking about preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. My point is that if tension between countries can be reduced or removed altogether, the will or what may be seen as the necessity to possess these weapons will also disappear. The removal of tension should equate with the removal of the will to own nuclear weapons.
For a long time, our ownership of nuclear weapons has been in tandem with the responsibility and willingness of all Governments to state clearly that that ownership is only for the purpose of defence. For example, in 1982 the United Kingdom did not find it necessary even to consider using nuclear weapons in the Falklands conflict. It would have been appalling if we had used them. Our nuclear weapons are only for use against countries that threaten us with their nuclear weapons.
The reason why we possess nuclear weapons in the first place goes back to the cold war. To a large extent, the cold war overshadowed the fact that other countries were attempting to possess nuclear weapons. That has always been the case, but the existence of the cold war overshadowed that fact. Now that the cold war is over we can concentrate on the fact that other countries are attempting to acquire these weapons. That brings me back to the subject of the debate. The very idea that a country such as Libya or Iraq should gain possession of such weapons is highly dangerous. If, by some dreadful mischance, they succeed in acquiring these weapons, surely they are far less likely to be tempted to use the weapons against countries that have a massive retaliatory capability. For that reason alone, it is absolutely essential that we continue to possess nuclear weapons in this dangerous, turbulent world.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I am sorry that time does not permit me to go into detail on the various ways in which I agreed with the first two Conservative speakers about the need for surveillance, and inspection and the encouragement of non-proliferation.
It was interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) the reason why Trident is equipped with a far greater number of warheads, with far greater power, than Polaris. He justified that in terms not of meeting the dangers of 1992, but of future, imaginary and as yet unknown dangers. He does not seem to realise that, by the same logic, there is nothing to prevent every other country from adopting precisely the same policy, thereby endangering the world with a grotesque level of proliferation.
Let me tell the hon. Member for Gravesham that I was one of 28 hon. Members who voted against the Government policy, as outlined in a recent debate, and I 64 voted for the Labour amendment. I will take great pleasure and pride in supporting anything that a Labour Government do to bring about peace and to make the world safer. The hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt about that.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
I shall not give way, as time is extremely short.
People want peace and are desperate for safety in the world. The people of the former Soviet Union and of the United States are delighted that, at long last, far less is to be spent on nuclear weapons, because they need that to be spent on social welfare. There is appalling poverty in both those continental masses. Britons want the same.
We should stop this play-acting nonsense of seeking to make cheap political points inside and outside the Chamber. The people of Britain are disgusted at such childish nonsense. They want us to address the issue seriously, so that we can try to bring about peace and a reduction in the number of nuclear weapons held.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) on raising the topic of nuclear proliferation, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said, it is a subject of great interest to the people of this country. This is not a summation, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on those bits of his speech which he obviously wrote himself. It is a pity that, towards the end, he padded it out by reading from what obviously was essentially a Conservative central office party briefing.
We have heard many expressions of concern about nuclear proliferation, and justifiably so. The break-up of the Soviet Union has created greater uncertainty than ever before as to the future safe keeping of that vast nuclear arsenal.
§ Dr. Reid
I wrote it and thought it up myself. I even typed it. I accept that the subject is probably beyond the capacity of some Conservative Members, but not of all of them.
What is more worrying still is the prospect of new regimes, of varying reliability, acquiring a viable nuclear capability in the next couple of decades. Several hon. Members have voiced concern about that. As long as that potential threat exists, there will be a continuing need for Britain to maintain a mixed defence with a nuclear capability included at an appropriate level. That is not the issue in question tonight, even if we disagree on what should be regarded as the appropriate level. The issue at stake tonight is proliferation, a subject which I am glad that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) addressed.
The issue is vital for three reasons. First, although it was normally assumed that proliferation would be established as a result of new weapons systems being developed by old and established states, old and established weapons systems are now being distributed to newly established states, particularly in the wake of the disintegration of the former Soviet empire. Secondly, it is 65 no longer just a matter of nuclear technology crossing frontiers; we now face the real prospect of nuclear technologists themselves crossing frontiers.
Thirdly, nuclear deterrence depends, as always, on the absolute certainty that a potential adversary will make a rational and logical calculation. Put quite simply, the adversary must understand that any nuclear aggression on his part would provoke a response so unacceptable as not to make that aggression worth while. But what happens when we are faced, as we may be increasingly, with a nuclear-armed adversary who for one reason or an other is beyond the boundary of that logic? That is not a possibility that we should dismiss lightly because it affects deterrence and proliferation; nor should we believe that this is only a modern problem.
Mao Tse-Tung gave a chilling insight into the workings of just such a mind. Lest any Conservative Members feel the impulse to run to telephone The Sunday Times, I have not personally met Mao Tse-Tung. However, when he met Khrushchev, he said:If the worse came to the worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed to the ground.Thirty years later, we find ourselves confronted with the same type of mentality in the form of Saddam Hussein. Given what he was prepared to allow his people to endure during the Gulf war and what he inflicted on them afterwards, can we have any confidence that Saddam Hussein would have been deterred from using nuclear weapons?
It is for those three reasons that the Labour party remains sceptical about the argument that deterrence alone will always provide a foolproof means of avoiding nuclear holocaust. The possession of nuclear weapons in a nuclear world may be a necessary condition of security, but it is not, in itself, a sufficient condition of security. Better, we say, to prevent potential enemies from acquiring nuclear weapons than to place our trust in the logic of deterrence after the event.
The credibility of the Government's record on defence cannot, despite the efforts of Conservative Back Benchers, concentrate exclusively on Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. It must also include an assessment based on the Government's ability to secure effective measures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If we assess that, we soon see that the Conservative party's claim to be the party of defence and security is a hollow sham rather than one of substance.
Last week, it was announced that the Government will draw together a package of measures designed to safeguard nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union and to ensure that nuclear scientists do not sell their services to emerging nuclear weapons states. That announcement came fully three months after the Labour party called for action to be taken on that very issue—three months in which the Government once again dithered and prevaricated. God alone knows what has already happened in the intervening period in the leakage of nuclear technology from the Soviet Union.
Today the Prime Minister gave another example of the Government's attitude. In his statement, he boasted:We committed ourselves to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and to the conclusion of a chemical weapons convention this year.However, within minutes, that same Prime Minister categorically stated that we would certainly never confirm the number of warheads we possess. How on earth can we 66 pledge ourselves, on the one hand, to enter a system of verifiable nuclear systems control and, on the other, say that we, above all others, will never tell anyone else how many warheads we have?
On the question of nuclear proliferation, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence are like the three wise monkeys. They do not see the threat of nuclear proliferation, they will not listen to those who warn them of the dangers, and they certainly never speak about what action they propose to take to stop it. The truth is that the Government are not only morally but intellectually bankrupt when it comes to protecting Britain from the modern nuclear threat and providing modern security. They are mentally locked into a security time warp, bent on resurrecting the corpses of yesterday's threats, yesterday's fears and, for good measure, as we saw at the weekend, yesterday's smears.
No one will take those smears seriously, particularly when they come from this Government. After all, on the very morning of the Soviet coup, the Secretary of State for Defence was interviewed on radio, and the interviewer could not believe what she heard. That interview was given before the Secretary of State for Defence or the Prime Minister knew whether that coup would be effective. The interviewer could not believe what she heard and pressed the right hon. Gentleman—before he knew whether the coup had succeeded or failed—by saying that we were notsurely intending to do business with a hard-line, eight-man emergency committee who are clamping down as they are today.The Secretary of State, according to the Tories, is not a cringer, and he is not one to be craven. He replied with all that lack of cringinity and cravenness for which he is famous:Well I've met Marshal Yazov, I think anybody who'd been to the Soviet Union realised people who were there who had their concerns about the speed of the reforms and the tensions and difficulties that they were causing within the Soviet Union".What a stalwart for the free world! What a shining example to us all of resolution in its equivocation! The interviewer, who was still surprised, then said:So we have to do business with whoever is in power in the Soviet Union",to which the stalwart Secretary of State replied:Well we obviously bitterly regret the news that has happened. But we have to look objectively at our own interests".Those are the words of a Minister trying to parade the Government's patriotism and objectivity with regard to democracy before the British people, but it will not wash.
Nowhere is the Government's time-warped mentality more abundantly clear than when it comes to dealing with a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. The Labour party believes that such a treaty would represent one of the most significant achievements in helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology. As it is extremely difficult to develop an effective nuclear capability without nuclear testing, a ban would obstruct those countries seeking to acquire such weapons. As it is impossible to explode a nuclear device of sufficient size undetected, any country breaching the ban would be discovered, thus allowing the international community to take appropriate steps.
The argument is extremely simple. Such a treaty would therefore prove invaluable in preventing the spread of nuclear technology. I do not pretend that it is a sufficient condition of stopping the spread, but it is a necessary 67 condition to start the stop of proliferation. Yet the Government have persisted in their shameful opposition to it.
The Prime Minister believes that nuclear testing is essential. I had not understood that he was a nuclear scientist, which may be why his academic past is shrouded in mystery. His claim that testing is necessary in order to maintain Britain's existing nuclear capability is bogus. As J. Carson Mark, the former head of the theoretical division of the Los Alamos national laboratory, whose O-levels are on record, said:The reliability, effectiveness, safety and security of our nuclear arsenal can be maintained without nuclear tests.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
The hon. Gentleman has been arguing that testing is not necessary. Will he reconcile that with the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) who said:Any country which becomes able to manufacture nuclear weapons needs to test them".—[Official Report, 14 January 1992; Vol. 201, c. 837.]
§ Dr. Reid
Precisely. I am coming to that very point. I am glad that the Minister confirms the consistency of our remarks.
The testing of a nuclear component is not necessary, and I have just quoted on that, the former head of Los Alamos who goes on to say that, by testing the non-nuclear components of existing systems they can be maintained in service, but that testing is necessary only for the development and design of new types of warhead or for developing a warhead from scratch. That is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said in the paragraph that the Minister quoted. That is why the Prime Minister and the Government guard testing so jealously, irrespective of its cost in the international scene, or the undermining of our legitimacy in stopping proliferation. They guard it because it is necessary for the development and design of new types of nuclear warheads and new nuclear thresholds.
The debate about a comprehensive nuclear test ban is of added significance, as the refusal of the United States and Britain to accept one is preventing international agreement on measures to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty. We have heard much tonight about what the Government have already done, and the Minister will no doubt say more about getting rid of nuclear weapons. However, on the question of nuclear arms control, the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming by Britain's allies.
In announcing the package of reductions proposed by NATO last October, the Secretary of State could barely conceal his sulking resentment. In examining the elements of that announcement, we discover that it boils down to the scrapping of two systems that we did not own, the storing of weapons that we could not use, and the reduction of a number of bombs that we no longer have the capacity to deploy. So we might use the paraphrase, in arms control terms, "Big deal."
Those facts, together with the Government's attitude towards a test ban, have proved that they are not interested in preventing nuclear proliferation and have nothing positive to contribute to the process of international arms control. Indeed, their complacency and inactivity pose a real threat to the country's security because Ministers' attitudes betray their real reasons for 68 refusing to act—their contempt for the idea of non-proliferation, which has been shown time and again tonight by Conservative Members' speeches.
On 18 June 1990, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement compared the non-proliferation treaty to the 1938 Munich agreement, and said that those who believed in it were "naive". On 22 November last year, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said:I am not sure that I can see other nations agreeing to the intrusive inspection regimes that will be necessary to find all nuclear systems."—[Official Report, 22 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 600.]In other words, everyone else must open their books, but the United Kingdom is not prepared to do so. The Government's opposition is clear. In mitigation, they point to those systems that they have already got rid of. Before the Minister of State for the Armed Forces arrived —I am sure that he has had many engagements this evening—I was explaining what those amounted to.
How do the Government know that no one else will accept an inspection regime? They base their assumption on their own volition and judgment. They have proved to be one of the most obstructive Governments in the world when it comes to nuclear arms control. It would be naive to expect them to take the lead in strengthening the non-proliferation treaty as a means of ensuring Britain's security. They not only have contempt for it but are guilty of breaching its spirit.
Article 6 of the treaty states explicitly: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 general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.I am tempted to ask Conservative Members to raise their hands if they believe in that article, but I shall not embarrass them, because I know from their speeches that not one of them believes in the articles that the Government signed and purport to support. Instead of negotiating for disarmament, as the Government are obliged to do under the treaty, they are guilty of a qualitative and quantitative vertical proliferation of nuclear weaponry by proposing to increase the number of strategic warheads held by Britain from 192 to 512—an increase of 250 per cent.
It seems that the collapse of the Warsaw pact, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the deep unilateral cuts currently being made by both the United States of America and Russia are to have no impact in the Government's defence posture. What possible rationale can there be for this country to embark on such a programme? There is neither logic nor legitimacy in the Government's plans to replace the 192-warhead Polaris system with the 512-warhead Trident system. Either Polaris is a minimum deterrent at a 192-warhead level, in which case the 512-warhead Trident is a massive escalation, or Trident is a minimum deterrent, in which case Polaris falls well beneath the minimum credible deterrent, and the Government's whole posture of deterrence has been based on a lie for years past. They cannot have it both ways.
For years we have been told that we must improve our nuclear arsenal because it counts for so much. Now we are being told by the Prime Minister, as he told Mr. Yeltsin, that we must improve our nuclear arsenal because it counts for so little. Is not that typical of the hypocrisy that the Government have brought to those issues? If their 69 position lacks logic, more importantly it lacks legitimacy. Naturally, under pressure of the need for economic aid, the Russian leadership may accept, for the time being, a British nuclear build-up at precisely the time when Britain is urging Russia to slash its arsenal.
But how long will that last? What moral or political legitimacy can be claimed by a British Government who are intent on multiplying their own nuclear forces in urging cuts in the nuclear forces of Russia, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan or the Ukraine? With what moral authority can a nuclear-hiking British Government urge self-denial on the nuclear-seeking nations of the world—Algeria, South Africa, Argentina, North Korea, India and Pakistan? The answer is none. It is not logical, legitimate or moral for the Government to do so, and they have no authority for such action. No Government has the moral authority or legitimacy to hold a position which, as codified to the rest of the world, is, "Don't do as I do, do as I say."
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark)
The number of warheads currently in the Soviet Union is 27,000; the hon. Gentleman gave a figure of 512 for the United Kingdom. If the Soviet Union or any other country does as we do and reduces their total to 512, we shall welcome that action.
§ Dr. Reid
I am not being patronising when I say that the Minister is an intelligent man. He will know that, in placing all the warheads of the Soviet Union together as he does, he assumes a massed attack on Britain not just by Russia, but by Kazakhstan, the Ukraine, Byelorussia and every other Soviet republic at the same time. The republics have enough problems trying to unite to run the Black sea fleet without launching a united, pre-emptive nuclear strike against Britain or other bases. The Minister must know that.
The excuses offered by the Minister and the Government for their acts of proliferation and escalation represented by the Trident programme do not stand up to investigation. Even if they did, we should look askance at a Government who say that they are intent on stopping the proliferation of armoury throughout the world when they have done nothing but replicate the appeasement of the 1930s with one of the world's worst dictators.
The Government have sent to Iraq aircraft engines, armoured vehicles, vehicle spares, artillery fire control and artillery boards. They have sent to Iraq's dictator body armour, ejection seats, explosives, helicopter engines, laser rangefinders and long range surveillance. They have sent to Iraq, with love, mortar-locating radar, naval spares, night vision goggles and trainers, pistols, rifles, shotguns, satellite communication equipment, speech scramblers, tank helmets and much more. The Government do all that while stating that they are a Government who wish to stop the proliferation of arms to dictators, and meanwhile their Members make speeches such as those we have heard today.
The Government supplied Iraq with those weapons and propped up a dictator—as did their predecessors in the 1930s—through a policy of appeasement and aid. They need to be replaced by a Labour Government committed to stopping proliferation. We shall freeze the number of warheads in Trident at a level no higher than those currently being carried in Polaris, while entering the long-term strategic arms negotiations. We will declare a 70 moratorium on nuclear testing and promote agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty with a type verification regime. We shall support the strengthening of the non-proliferation treaty to include intrusive verification and the use of United Nations sanctions against countries found in breach of it. We shall work towards a more powerful and better resourced International Atomic Energy Agency.
Those policies will be allied to a full defence review designed to produce a British defence configuration as a response to the complex nature of today's security problems, not the cosy certainty of yesterday's cold war stand-off, so beloved of the Conservatives. Living in the past may save the Government from having to change, think, and shape new approaches or dream up new slogans or smears. However, it will not save this country's security, and it will do nothing to save the Government at the long-postponed election.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
Those who have just listened to the somewhat excitable speech of the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) will know that, in reality, and if in power, the Labour party would substantially reduce our conventional forces and almost certainly pursue a policy of unilateral disarmament.
The motion was introduced cleverly and carefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert). The proliferation of nuclear weapons represents a unique threat to international order and security. Therefore, the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us the opportunity to debate the motion which involves two related, though separate, issues. The first is proliferation, and the second is the need for a nuclear deterrent.
On 14 January this year, the House debated the need for an independent nuclear deterrent. I set out my views then, so in today's debate I propose to concentrate primarily on the subject of proliferation. However, I shall first echo a number of points raised by my hon. Friends on the need for an independent nuclear deterrent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) was entirely right to say that the risk to this country's security has not disappeared. It has changed and is probably less than it was, but it remains. I strongly endorse the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Romford and for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), who urged on the House the need to retain an independent nuclear deterrent. Like my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, I deeply distrust the Labour party's policy on this subject.
Until recently, Labour Members were, as far as one can judge, wholeheartedly unilateralist. The Labour party fought the 1983 election on that manifesto and the 1987 election largely on such a manifesto. The amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in the debate on 14 January positively deleted the reference to Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent.
In the course of an extremely long speech, the right hon. Gentleman never once uttered a wholehearted commitment to the retention of Britain's nuclear deterrent. I do not find that surprising when I consider that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the 71 Opposition, was until 1991 a paid-up member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and then allowed his subscription to lapse. In seven of the nine previous years, he resolutely endorsed the key policies of CND, saying that they were his own. I deeply distrust the Labour party's policies on both conventional and nuclear weaponry.
The core of the first part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) seemed to be that the United Kingdom was a prime supplier of arms to Iraq, and that we had markedly increased that country's military capacity. That statement is wrong. I do not know what happened betweeen 1974 and 1979, when the Labour party was in government. It is possible that, during that period, when strict rules were not in place, Iraq purchased substantial quantities of weaponry, which it kept in its arsenal. I do not know whether that is correct, but I know for sure that in 1980 Her Majesty's Conservative Government tightened the rules and resolutely placed a total ban on the sale of lethal equipment and ammunition.
Those rules were further tightened in December 1984, when the Government resolved not to supply any material that could increase the military capacity of the warring countries. I do not suppose that there is any country with a sizeable arms industry that contributed less to Iraq than did the United Kingdom. Allegations to the contrary are unworthy of Opposition Members.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) raised a different point that needs more serious consideration—Export Credits Guarantee Department cover. He was right to say that it was increased, but ECGD cover does not constitute a loan. It is not a facility offered to a country to increase its purchasing capacity. It is cover for exporters who are bound by the rules then in place, which I have described—
§ Mr. Hogg
No, I have not much time, and I intend to press on.
Testing was focused on by a number of right hon. and hon. Members—for instance, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). It is important to bear in mind the small scale of British testing when contrasted with that of other countries. Since 1963, the United Kingdom has tested slightly less than once a year, on average. The United States has conducted more than 600 tests, the USSR, as was, more than 460, and France more than 130.
The Government believe it necessary to retain a testing capacity for as long as we have a nuclear deterrent, so as to ensure the safety and efficacy of the device in question. Opposition Members argue that we do not need to test in order to acquire a weapon, and that a test ban—
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman had better be careful if he is saying that he does not argue that. What is more, the Opposition argue that a test ban is an essential ingredient in preventing the proliferation of weaponry. I do not believe that this is so. On 14 January 1992, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill)—he does not agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton—said: 72There is no longer any need for full-scale nuclear testing. There is plenty of scientific evidence to show that non-nuclear tests—computer simulations and other technical means—can provide adequate information on safety and reliability."—[Official Report, 14 January 1992; Vol. 201, c. 898.]I do not entirely agree with that, but one import of his remarks was that a test ban is not a necessary element in preventing the proliferation of weaponry because, as he put it, one does not actually need a test in order to have a crude bomb. The Iraqis proved that point, because they were close to having a bomb without having carried out a test.
§ Mr. Flynn
The Minister says that the Iraqis were close to having a bomb. I remind him that, when I pressed the Government in April 1990 to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections of the Iraqi nuclear programme, the Government said that they had no intention of doing any such thing, giving the reason that Saddam Hussein had signed the non-proliferation treaty. The Minister's predecessor told me that the Government had every confidence that Hussein would abide by his international obligations and not work on a nuclear weapon. The Government were fooled then: who is fooling them now?
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to read the evidence more carefully. He will know that the British Government led the pack in strengthening the safeguards. He will also bear in mind the fact that my predecessor, now Secretary of State for Health, had been urging the case for special inspections for some time. I would like to think, although I have not heard confirmation of this, that the hon. Gentleman supported him in that endeavour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised two points of significance, one dealing with Trident, the other with the tactical air-to-surface missile. My hon. Friend was kind enough to tell me that he had a surgery in his constituency and hoped that the House would forgive his absence later in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood described the Trident system as flexible, mobile and a minimum deterrent. He was right on all those points, and I want to emphasise that Trident is a minimum deterrent. The Government have said that 128 warheads per Trident boat is the maximum. We shall deploy the minimum that is required, which may in certain circumstances be substantially fewer than 128 warheads. We want to be able to load the missile boats with the number that we regard as needed to ensure our security. The maximum is 128 warheads per boat, but that is not to say that that number will be carried.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood also dealt with the issue of a sub-strategic weapon. I agree that it is important to have a sub-strategic weapon, and we must soon make some decisions on the nature of such weapons. We are approaching the time when the free-fall bomb will pass its shelf life. There is a powerful argument for an air-launched missile, and my hon. Friend made it. We are entirely convinced of the need for a sub-strategic weapon, but as yet no final decisions have been made about the nature of the weapon that we will want in our arsenal. 73 The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked 11 or 12 questions; I could not do justice to them all now. He based many of them on an article in The Observer—
§ Mr. Hogg
Well, I heard the hon. Gentleman refer to The Observer. If I misunderstood him, I apologise. Nevertheless, I should like to reply to most of his questions in writing.
In the meantime, I would like to touch on a more general point that he raised relating to the Russians' facilities and the assistance that the United Kingdom Government and others can give the Russians. The Russians have certain facilities; the question is whether they have enough to achieve the dismantling over a reasonably short period, and that is extremely questionable. They have two great problems—with transport and with storage. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow will have heard the Prime Minister say, we are going to send a technical team to Russia, leaving on 10 February, to explore the ways in which we can assist the Russians.
I do not pretend that we stand alone in this. Under-Secretary of State Bartholomew from the United States went with a team a few days ago and carried out an exploratory visit. In this matter, we all need to stand together; we all have a contribution to make and it must be made collectively—
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman grumbles, but I am answering questions raised by his hon. Friends. It would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had not spoken for so long.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow was also right about nuclear scientists. There is a serious risk connected with the leakage of expertise. We need to try to assist the Russians and the Governments of the other republics to find ways of keeping their scientists within their frontiers. That is essential, and we shall work with the Russians and others to that end.
On the broader question of non-proliferation, I have not had sufficient time to cover the subject as fully as I should like, but hon. Members are the first to grumble if I do not reply to the points that they have raised, and that is what I have tried to do. For us, the core is the non-proliferation treaty.
§ Sir Michael Neubert
This has been a helpful debate, and it would assist the House if we reached a decision on the question.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, recognising the potential dangers of the rapidly changing world order, welcomes the recent proposals for substantial reductions in nuclear weaponry, the growing support for the non-proliferation treaty and progress in the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions concerning the dismantling of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities; urges the Government to play their full part in helping the relevant authorities in the Commonwealth of Independent States to dismantle their nuclear devices, to safeguard their nuclear components and to discourage the proliferation of nuclear expertise; and believes it is of the first importance that Britain retains an effective and credible minimum nuclear deterrent as security in a world where there remain many sources of instability.