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1.19 pm

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): I had no intention of joining in this debate, but I was prompted to rise to my feet by the common sense that we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen).

I recall that on the day Pakistan exploded its nuclear devices, I was speaking about Kashmir at a community centre in Brierfield in my constituency. I walked through the swing doors to find a party atmosphere, almost a celebration. People whose views I respect--members of the Asian community whom I know well--told me that it was a triumph that Pakistan had exploded those devices. I found that dispiriting and depressing, and said so in my speech. I said that it was madness to take that route, but I was told that nuclear weapons would help stability in the region. That is absolute nonsense. If nuclear weapons increase stability, why do we not give them to Turkey and Greece, to Iran and Iraq? Let us spray them around the entire middle east and then see long we survive on planet earth.

We need India and Pakistan to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the test ban treaty, and we in Britain need to wind down the nuclear arms race. We read in the newspapers today that the old Polaris fleet targeted 58 cities in the old Soviet Union, but no one knows what the Trident missiles are targeting--obviously, we are not going to hear that from the Minister.

The payload carried by Trident is being reduced. It was announced as part of the comprehensive spending review that we would save £100 million. I wrote to the Minister of State about that to say what a missed opportunity it was. Instead of making the announcement as part of the comprehensive spending review, why did we not say that we were never going to use our nuclear weapons, that they cost us an arm and a leg and that we would disarm progressively? That could have been our contribution, but we did not do it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead, being the optimist that he is, said--I am paraphrasing--that he saw no prospect of an early nuclear conflict in south Asia. I do not know about that. The experts who pronounce on these matters tell us that it is possible for one or other of the countries to win a first-strike nuclear war. There are no hardened concrete silos containing missiles 50 ft underground there. Neither India nor Pakistan has the equivalent of the Trident fleet--they do not have their deadly nuclear weapons 300 ft under the Indian ocean. The experts say that there is a trip wire and that the mad people in India and Pakistan who think that it is conceivable that one can win a nuclear war might press the button. Is not that impossible? Are not the politicians and army leaders there too rational? Judged by the standards in the United Kingdom, are they not too rational?

I remember Pakistan's Foreign Minister appearing on "Newsnight" after India had detonated the nuclear devices. He made an incredible speech that was almost a

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come-on to India. He said that Pakistan's population of 120 million was dispersed in villages across a very wide area and could absorb a nuclear strike from India. I repeat that it was the Foreign Minister of Pakistan who was speaking in such a juvenile, infantile way. I have many constituents of Kashmiri or Pakistani origin and I find it appalling that people are prepared to embrace those sentiments.

My hon. Friends the Members for Leyton and Wanstead and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) described Kashmir as a festering sore. Since 1947, there have been three wars between India and Pakistan, but we still have not got to grips with the problem of Kashmir. Pakistan wants to internationalise the issue and bring in other countries to help broker an agreement, while India resolutely maintains that it is an internal matter, that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian state and it will not brook any interference from outside.

I stand here in the House of Commons and I wish that I had an answer, but I do not. The problem has to be mediated in some way, through the United Nations or, as I say for the umpteenth time, by Britain as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a lead member of the European Union. Although we are a small country, we still have huge influence overseas. I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about that.

I should like to see a nuclear-free world. There were five declared nuclear weapon states and there are now seven. God knows how many more could develop nuclear weapons at the drop of a hat--such as Brazil, Argentina and Israel--so the whole world is very unstable. If countries choose to become nuclear weapon states, there must be consequences. We cannot learn to live with the bomb. What I found so dispiriting after the explosions in India and Pakistan is the fact that we have all got used to the idea that there are no longer five but seven nuclear states. People think that it is no big deal, that it is all happening halfway round the globe and does not affect us. People are not as agitated, upset and angry about it as they should be. We are learning to live with it and we should not. We have to say to the people of India and Pakistan that there are consequences.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) spoke about the deep poverty in that part of the world. It is a disgrace that 70 per cent. of the 120 million people in Pakistan are illiterate, yet 50 per cent. of the budget is spent on the military and on servicing debt. That is an absolute disgrace. There are comparable figures for India. I do not carry them about in my head, but the point has been made.

Finally, Britain can have an influence as an honest broker. Our history is tied up with India and Pakistan. People in my constituency say that Britain must act because we were responsible for what happened in Kashmir. My response is that we do have a responsibility, but it happened 50 years ago and the present generation in Britain cannot for ever be held responsible for decisions that were taken by politicians half a century ago. It requires good will on all sides and I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to respond positively to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead in his excellent speech.

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1.28 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) for raising today's Adjournment debate. Let me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) that the issue of consequences arose not with regard to the recent proliferation, but in respect of the seventh nuclear state, the state of Israel. We are in our current situation because we imposed no consequences on Israel for introducing nuclear weapons.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead for two reasons. First, there are voices that have not been heard in the debate. He referred to the support of people in Pakistan and India for the development of nuclear devices by their countries. We have seen that in the media, but the voices that challenged that development went unheard, including those of many of our constituents, particularly those from Punjab. Many of those born in Punjab, deriving from there or with families still there, believe that the development of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan could result in Punjab becoming a nuclear battle ground. They urge us to impress on India and Pakistan that not only should the nuclear devices be removed, but that Punjab should be fully demilitarised. Only in that way can they secure the future of their families, the region and, in some instances, their human rights. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do all that he can to ensure that the British Government impress on the Indian and Pakistani Governments that the demand comes from the British Punjabis, who have a concern for their original homeland and for their families.

Secondly, I have listened to Defence Ministers informing the British people that unilaterally abandoning the use of landmines--we all whole-heartedly support the legislation that was given Royal Assent today--would give the British Government a moral authority to impress on other states that the use of landmines was abhorrent and should be denied to those states. The British Government should assume the same moral authority on the issue on which my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead has been campaigning for so long--the unilateral nuclear disarmament of this country.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said, we are accused by the Indian and Pakistani Governments, and by many of our constituents who derive from those areas, of cant and hypocrisy when we call on those Governments not to develop nuclear weapons while we are stockpiling and upgrading them. I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead on behalf of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and for the development of new systems of negotiation and representation at the United Nations so that we can start the debate. Now that the British nose has been rubbed into the issue of nuclear disarmament because of the proliferation of nuclear weapons on the Indian subcontinent, we can start the debate on reform at the United Nations and initiate the first steps towards the handing over of nuclear weapons to a central authority and eventually to the scrapping of all such weapons.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead for introducing the debate. He has given us an opportunity to voice opinions that have not been heard so far.

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1.32 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) on raising such an important matter in the last debate in the House before the summer recess. Hon. Members have referred to next week's anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Like many hon. Members, I have been to that city. Anyone who has seen the peace memorial in the middle of Hiroshima graphically understands the destruction caused by nuclear weapons there and the threat of small-scale and larger-scale nuclear annihilation. None of us can be sanguine about the existence of nuclear weapons. The Government seek the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

In that context, I should point out that India and Pakistan are tied to this country through history, culture, common populations and genuine friendship. Like many other hon. Members, I have constituents whose origins lie in India and Pakistan. The ties are indissoluble; they will be with us not just for years but generations to come. We therefore have an interest in these matters not simply as members of the same planet but as people who are much more intimately tied. Any remarks that we make are in the context not of hostility but our deep and abiding friendship.

The issue is important not just to the security of Pakistan, India and their immediate neighbours but to the future prospects for global non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which concerns us all. International reaction to the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan has been almost uniformly negative. Outside the sub-continent itself, it is hard to find anything other than condemnation. The tests caused deep-seated concerns for two reasons. First, they fly in the face of international efforts on non-proliferation and, secondly, they have undoubtedly heightened tension in south Asia.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House--the Opposition are very ably represented by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge)--will recall the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 14 May and 1 June, in which he told the House that we in Britain, with our long and close ties and as friends of both countries, were nevertheless appalled at the risks and costs to the peoples of the sub-continent of a nuclear arms race.

Hon. Members have asked what the Government have done since. Since the statements, Foreign Ministers of the Group of Eight countries have met in London on 12 June at the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Government. They were joined by Foreign Ministers and representatives of China, Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, South Africa and the Philippines. All those countries viewed the tests as a major challenge to international security and were as determined as we were to encourage India and Pakistan to reduce regional tension and adopt non-proliferation measures, and to offer practical assistance wherever possible.

As a result of the meeting, it was agreed to set up a task force to take matters forward. Its composition demonstrates that the international consensus against nuclear tests goes beyond the five acknowledged nuclear weapons states. That is an important dimension which

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hon. Members should take on board. Apart from G8 countries, task force members include China, Australia, Austria, which currently holds the European Union presidency, and the Philippines, which is the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Particular value is added by the membership of states that have renounced the nuclear option. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said that Brazil and Argentina have a potential nuclear capability. I must firmly state that the role of Brazil and Argentina is significant because they formally renounced, in a mutually binding treaty, nuclear weapons development, and so ridded the continent of Latin American of nuclear weapons for--we hope--ever. I must add that the role of Ukraine, which has also renounced its nuclear weapons, is welcome and important, too. The three countries have valuable experience to offer in resolving regional security issues through political engagement rather than the nuclear option.

The initial focus of the group is naturally and rightly on non-proliferation, although it is also reviewing the wider security picture in south Asia to reduce tension and build confidence between India and Pakistan. The task force's first meeting produced a clear sense of common purpose among the diverse group of countries.

On arms control, the task force welcomed, as the House will, the moratoriums on testing announced by both India and Pakistan--but those were welcomed only as a first step to signature of the comprehensive test ban treaty by both countries. Clearly, that is what we must seek. Members agreed that it was a priority to press both countries to sign the treaty immediately and without conditions. There can be no question of amending the treaty, as that would serve as a reward for nuclear proliferation. I am pleased to say that there have been more encouraging signs from both countries that that may be one of the more readily achievable goals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead asked about the role of the British high commissioner. He, together with Britain's general diplomatic efforts and the other members of the task force, will be deployed in moving towards that ambition.

Task force members also agreed to press for a quick start on something important to the British Government--the fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations at the conference on disarmament in Geneva--and to call on India and Pakistan to announce a moratorium on further production of fissile materials in the meantime. Again, we are encouraged by the flexibility and constructive approach that both India and Pakistan are showing, and we hope that that will soon lead to results in Geneva.

High on the task force's agenda was how to avoid the further highly dangerous increase of tension that deployment of nuclear weapons would bring. The group agreed that India and Pakistan should be pressed not to assemble or deploy nuclear weapons. Clear definitionsof what is meant by "non-weaponisation" and non-deployment are urgently needed, in the form of binding and verifiable confidence-building and security-building measures.

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