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11 Nov 2009 : Column 85WH—continued

It is unlikely that an organist would come within that qualification, but it would clearly cover bishops.

Whether or not the conditions I have set out are still met-that is, whether a requirement that bishops should be men was in place in order to comply with the doctrines of the religion or to avoid the kind of conflict described-is ultimately a matter for the courts. I am sure we will all have our own views on whether the Church of England could maintain that position after the debates it has had, but it is not-at this time, in any event-for Ministers to offer an opinion.

I have also been asked whether direct or indirect discrimination is at issue. It is right that as a general rule, only indirect discrimination can be justified using the principle of proportionality. A limitation placed on women because they are women would be a form of direct discrimination and so could not be justified in that way. Such a limitation would be unlawful unless allowed by a specific exception, although in that case the exception that would be claimed includes a requirement that a restriction be proportionate.

The hon. Member for Salisbury also asked about the work of the Church revision committee. It would not be appropriate for me to go into the rights and wrongs of the Church of England's internal processes and discussions. As I understand it, the Synod has not yet been presented with the proposals under consideration by the revision committee, so to do so would be premature anyway.

What I hope is clear is that whatever proposals are brought forward for consideration by Parliament would need to comply with the law as it stands at the time.
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They should not, in any matter subject to discrimination law, result in direct sex discrimination unless there is a specific exception allowing it, nor should they result in indirect discrimination that is not a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim. In the Equality Bill, we have changed neither the range of religious posts to which the law applies nor how it applies to them, but we have maintained and clarified the position as it is now. Compliance with the current law will therefore be a good guide to future compliance in that respect, although the Bill is of course before Parliament and subject to debate.

As we have heard, the Church of England is exploring moving away from the current position and proposing to allow women to be bishops. That is, of course, a move that many of us welcome. At the same time, I understand that the Church needs to consider the feelings of those who disagree strongly with that move and cannot accept that change. The Church's debate concerns how far it should be possible to go in that effort: not about whether in principle women should be bishops, but about how, and about what accommodation could or should be made for those in the Church who do not think that they should. It is a very difficult question, first of all for the Church of England itself, and it is obvious from what we have heard today that the Church is wrestling with it.

I recognise the difficult position faced by those in the Church of England tasked with finding a way through the issues. I hope that they can find a way through that provides comfort to those who feel strongly on both sides. I do not know how close such a solution is, but I hope that one can be found within the framework of applicable discrimination law.

4.17 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

5 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I am delighted to introduce a debate which I believe is timely in its scope. Perhaps I could begin by making the rather outlandish claim that mankind has probably come up with only two ways in which to destroy the capacity for human life on this planet: one is through climate change, which I hope will be dealt with in Copenhagen; and the other, of course, is weapons of mass destruction generally, and nuclear weapons specifically.

The approach taken to nuclear weapons in recent decades, post-cold war, has been one almost of fatalism; it says that we have learned to love the bomb and to live with it. However, we should consider some of the statistics on the capacity of nuclear weapons systems in the world. At present, there are probably 23,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, in the hands of nine countries. There is the ever-present danger of proliferation: North Korea and Iran are either in the process of achieving nuclear weapons capacity or have already done so, and that is likely to be followed by other state actors, which, prompted by their near neighbours, may choose to go down the same path.

Terrorists will almost certainly draw the same conclusion as new proliferating state actors have: that possession of nuclear weapons is a viable way forward. Furthermore, we know of 25 occasions in the past two decades-perhaps there have been more-on which nuclear weapons material has been lost, stolen or mislaid. Given all that, we ought to begin to rage against fatalism and say that the time has come when we do not simply accept fatalism as a way forward for this world.

In that context, it is worth my quoting two distinguished Americans. The first is Senator Sam Nunn, who testified to the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which was appointed by Congress. He stated in his testimony that

Sam Nunn, for those who do not know him, has impeccable credentials as a defender of America's position during the cold war.

Senator Bob Graham wrote in the commission's report:

From a commission composed of senior members of the American political and military establishment, that comment of itself ought to frighten everyone who hears it. That august body considers that it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used.

We now have the capacity to begin to rethink the whole process, and it comes down to one simple thing: does this generation have the political will to say that we can make the change that will confine nuclear weapons not simply to the silos or even to levels of deactivation but, more importantly, to the past? I believe that that political will has begun to grow, and it is being led by some interesting voices who would not normally be associated with such a debate.

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George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, who are all battle-hardened cold-war warriors-they all have badges and decorations from that era-wrote an article in January 2007 about a world free of nuclear weapons, and, in so doing, began to lead a debate that has echoed around the world.

It is certainly the case that our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, quickly took up the challenge and committed Britain to following the pathway to a nuclear-free world. I could quote many people, but, most recently, President Obama, who chaired the Security Council of the United Nations in September, laid out a genuinely ambitious programme for the United States. Let me say that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) would not necessarily applaud its every aspect, but it has several features that all of us, even the people who have been talking about the capacity for nuclear de-escalation, ought to applaud and watch with interest.

For example, President Obama has begun to speak about a total review of America's nuclear posture. The posture review will report to him by the end of this year, and more widely in the early part of next year. It could lead to a very different way of looking at America's security needs-one that does not rely primarily on nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of the safety of America or its allies.

President Obama and President Medvedev have committed themselves to looking at how to replace the strategic arms reduction treaty, which is due to expire soon. Those talks are already taking place. START was the effective limiter of the number of missiles and weapons systems that the Russians and Americans could possess. President Obama has spoken about ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. He will meet stiff opposition in the Senate from people who are known opponents; nevertheless, the fact that he is putting his moral authority behind it is tremendously important.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this most important matter to the House. The debate is timely. I am sure that he will not mention my contribution in the magazine Red Pepper several years ago to this debate, in which I called for the Government not to go ahead with Trident, but we all share in his welcome for President Obama's shift in policy.

Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that at a time when the British public look with consternation at the fact that our Government followed the American Government to conflict areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan, people would see it as fantastic leadership by the Prime Minister if he were now to follow Obama by softening his policy on Trident, or at least putting it on the back burner?

Tony Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman leads me in two different directions. The first is to confirm that I was not going to mention his article in Red Pepper. May I return to his second point later, because I want to make one further point about President Obama?

President Obama announced that in March next year there will be a nuclear summit in which he will bring together the main actors for several important reasons-among them, to discuss two important issues. The first is the security of nuclear material: how do we lock it down and ensure that it is not available to the rogue state or rogue terrorist? That is an important step. The
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second issue is the lead-up to the non-proliferation treaty review conference, which will take place in May next year.

I turn back to the hon. Gentleman's point. He is right. Actually, our Government have already made some significant steps in the non-proliferation direction, but we could go much further. Part of the conversation that we need to have, not just today but in the weeks and months to come, is about how far Britain can go in achieving consensus across our political system, or at least beginning to build that kind of consensus. Trident replacement has been put back, in effect, until beyond the next election, and the Prime Minister has begun to speak about the capacity for moving from four to three Trident submarines in any case. What that means is that many decisions about Britain's contribution that would have been unthinkable two years or a year ago are now thinkable.

The NPT review is not a British issue but a global issue. Frankly, if this generation of politicians does not seize the political opportunity globally, it will not matter what is done here in Britain. The world can be destroyed from many other places, without a contribution from Britain-although I freely concede that Britain can play a part in destroying the world, if we do not get our own contribution right.

The NPT review conference next year will be of fundamental importance in the process. The treaty is significant in that it placed obligations on non-nuclear states, but it also placed important obligations on nuclear states. The bargain, which has been betrayed by the nuclear powers, was always that the non-nuclear states would not choose to proliferate on the basis of the nuclear states agreeing that they would actively seek a pathway to disarmament. The nuclear states' failure to grasp the disarmament nettle has bedevilled this treaty. That is not the only reason, but it is at least one reason why there has been proliferation since the treaty first came into operation.

The treaty has three pillars, which I will mention in the traditional reverse order, because that will help me make my case. The third pillar guarantees to all states access to the peaceful use of nuclear materials, so that applies in respect of nuclear energy, which can be controversial in itself. Let us not dwell on the philosophy or theology of nuclear power; let us simply say that it is widely accepted. For example, in the debate about Iran, few people argue that the country should not have access to a peaceful nuclear energy programme. However, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise that, in respect of the four countries that would like to seek access to that nuclear fuel cycle, there are grave suspicions about those that already have it: about whether access to nuclear power opportunities would be allowed on a basis that would not be commercially restrictive or, possibly, politically restrictive in future. That is a difficult argument, but I can sympathise with those seeking to enter the field of nuclear power who feel that they may, in future, be told that for political reasons-perhaps they do not subscribe to the highest standards of human rights legislation or practice-their access to the nuclear fuel cycle may be withdrawn.

We have to accept that the price we pay in terms of matters nuclear is so high. However, even though in different circumstances we might argue that there is a price to be paid, it ought to be paid in respect of access to nuclear fuel only when people are abrogating their
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obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. That needs to be established beyond all doubt, to encourage the non-aligned states and others to accept that they can buy into a deal on the NPT treaty.

The second pillar of the NPT concerns the guarantees given to the non-nuclear-power states. Historically, we have not moved a long way in that direction. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise two things. First, if we want to build in a high cost for those non-nuclear powers that would seek to withdraw from their treaty obligations-if we are to make the Irans and North Koreas know that there is a big price to pay, including expulsion from access to peaceful nuclear technologies and perhaps tough sanctions regimes-and if we are to say to the rest of the world, "You've got to be part of shoring up the process of penalising the withdrawers from the NPT process," we have to go back to what I have said about the third pillar. We have to guarantee that people see that peaceful nuclear power and the treaty issue are locked together and that the cost is proportionate and borne only by those who seek the arms route and not the civil technology route.

Secondly, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look seriously at the development of negative security assurances, because although the world has gone down that road in some areas we have not explored fully enough the capacity to give security assurances to those who agree that they will not take the nuclear route. It is important that we explore that. I will mention a particular instance in which that is fundamental: I think that my hon. Friend can probably guess which region I will talk about in that context.

The real drama in all this is in the first pillar, which deals with what the nuclear powers do. What commitments are they prepared to give? There are things that must happen, although I do not intend to go through a checklist. A lot of specific points can be made in a shopping-list way, but some things have to be hammered out in the long, patient debate between now and the NPT review conference.

We have to ensure that people can see that the theology of nuclear weapons has changed-that we devalue nuclear weapons as security systems-and make it clear that nuclear weapons play a different, lesser role in security for the long-term future of Britain and the world. Unless we devalue nuclear weapons, we will continue to make them prime in the security structures of the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel-and now perhaps Iran and North Korea. We must get beyond that.

We also have to build in a recognition for the non-nuclear states that the decisions made by the nuclear powers now are going to be irreversible, because if people believe that this is simply a technical lull to be reversed by changes of Governments, regimes and even changes of climate, the treaty process will be undermined.

I want to finish by talking about a particular region. One thing that bedevilled the last review conference in 2005 was a belief on the part of states such as Egypt that the bargain that they signed up to had not been kept. Egypt worked hard to persuade other Arab states to sign the treaty, on the basis that Israel would be brought into the ambit of the non-proliferation treaty. Egypt felt, rightly, in 2005 that not only had that bargain not been kept, but there was not even any pressure to see how the issue could be moved forward.

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Interestingly, the present Administration in Washington has said publicly and loudly to Israel that it must look at its role in signing up to the NPT. That will be so fundamental in moving the agenda forward if we want to persuade the Egypts of this world, and others, to take the NPT seriously. I am not saying that my hon. Friend the Minister needs to make a declaration today about the role of the middle east, but there has to be some framework within which it is taken seriously as part of that treaty review process.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): My hon. Friend has mentioned Egypt and Israel and said that it would be unfortunate if Iran and North Korea obtained nuclear weapons. May I suggest that Pakistan's and India's attaining nuclear status a few years ago and spending a great deal of money on those weapons is already killing people in those countries? Despite the economic boom in India and improvements in Pakistan, people are still dying in those countries because they have no fresh drinking water, no proper housing, no education and no health care. Those countries are unable to afford those sorts of luxuries because they prefer to spend their money on nuclear weapons. I hope that the Minister will touch on that issue when replying. We have done nothing to encourage the likes of Pakistan and India to refrain from obtaining nuclear weapons and from arming themselves to the teeth to attack each other at some point, and instead look after the welfare of their citizens.

Tony Lloyd: I am inevitably sympathetic to the point that my hon. Friend makes. She is right about the crippling cost of these weapons systems in both India and Pakistan. However, it is worth making two other points. The logic of India's having the bomb was, at least in part, because China had a nuclear weapons system and the logic of Pakistan's nuclear system was entirely determined by the logic of India's. But, of course, the two countries that came closest to nuclear war in recent times were India and Pakistan, which is a salutary message to us all. Nuclear weapons are not just toys that stay in the military kitchen: they are so dangerous that they can plunge regions and the globe into unimaginable conflict. My hon. Friend's point is well made.

I want to move from Israel to talk about the situation in Iran. A problem that has bedevilled negotiations is that we have not been able to generate the total commitment from the rest of the world to put pressure on Tehran in terms of its own nuclear system and say that it is unacceptable for Iran to move in that direction. We would shore up pressure on Iran if we told its friends and neighbours that its nuclear weapons system would be unconscionable. They would exert pressure if they believed that there was pressure more generally on Israel and other parts of the world to shore up the whole NPT system.

The point that I want to establish is that actors throughout the world have made huge changes in the culture of and the debate on nuclear weapons systems. This generation can make an historical and practical break with the intellectual past, and move in a direction that we have been unable to take for many years, although the end of the cold war may have signalled that capacity. It is up to this generation to make those decisions. The
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NPT will be fundamental, because this is the one time when non-weapon states will be able to measure the credibility of nuclear weapons states throughout the world. It is the one time when we can set a direction not to conclude the issue instantly or even in a short time, but to take the world to a future nuclear-free position. The situation is brutal, and history may not be able to judge us if we get this wrong, but I hope that history will regard the NPT review conference next year as the platform on which a nuclear-free world was built.

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