Previous Section Index Home Page

11 Nov 2009 : Column 103WH—continued

Outside the NPT process we must use financial and legal tools better to disrupt illicit proliferation networks, which will mean tightening controls on transshipment and strengthening restrictions on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology. More robust international mechanisms of enforcement are essential to ensure that
11 Nov 2009 : Column 104WH
we avoid future challenges such as those presented by North Korea and Iran. The international community must stand together to demonstrate that if the NPT is to be taken seriously, it will truly be enforced. The actions of Iran and North Korea must not be allowed to prevent the international community from moving forward to a more peaceful era.

Our position is very clear and it is important to make the point: Iran has a right to a peaceful nuclear programme, as any other country does. We respect Iran as a major country in its region, with a major international role to play, but it needs to understand that there is an expectation that it will adhere to international rules and be transparent about all aspects of its nuclear programme. Without that, the international community can have no confidence in the intentions of the Iranian regime and will have to act appropriately.

By conducting a nuclear test, North Korea contravened its international legal obligations under the NPT, and its ballistic missile launches are a clear breach of UN Security Council resolutions. Those provocative actions undermine regional security. In response to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), there is a glimmer of hope for North Korean engagement but, as yet, there are no tangible signs of a North Korea willing to play by the rules. We continue to hope that it will change course. In the same way, we hope that, although the clock is ticking, Iran will respond positively to the offer of dialogue, diplomacy and engagement to reach a peaceful resolution to the situation.

Hon. Members raised the question of India, Pakistan and Israel. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) suggested that Britain had done nothing to apply pressure to India and Pakistan. I assure her that Britain continues, both in our bilateral relationships and in multilateral dialogue, regularly to make the point to India and Pakistan that we want them to come within the international framework and the international regime. One point that is not often sufficiently made about our action in Afghanistan is that it is due to the serious and real threat of Pakistan's nuclear capacity falling into the hands of fundamentalist terrorist organisations, which would threaten the stability not only of the region but of the entire world.

I recently met the deputy Foreign Minister of Israel as part of bilateral dialogue between our countries. We made it clear to Israel that now is the time for it to sign up to the treaty. Even Israel's making a clear statement that it was considering joining the NPT, perhaps against an agreed time frame, could make a significant difference to the willingness of other middle eastern countries to participate and to their sense of security. This may be a moment when Israel can seriously consider signing the NPT, which would be a major contribution to progress in the period ahead and to giving greater confidence to other states in the region.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central raised the question of the price of withdrawal from the NPT. Our position is that we support the EU document tabled at the 2007 committee that sets out clear consequences for countries that quit the treaty in circumstances likely to damage international security. It is good that discussion on modalities was referenced in September's Security Council resolution 1887, promoted by President Obama. One of our priorities is to make progress on that.

11 Nov 2009 : Column 105WH

As the Prime Minister has said, to exercise leadership on non-proliferation, the nuclear weapons states must show the same moral and political leadership on disarmament. That also plays to the point that my hon. Friend made about negative security assurances. We understand the desire of non-nuclear weapons states for negative security assurances, but, more than that, the United Kingdom has already given such assurances to almost 100 countries under the nuclear weapons-free zone treaties. We were delighted to be able to support the Thai resolution at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, which called for the resumption of consultations on the south-east Asia nuclear weapons-free zone treaty.

Tony Lloyd: The Minister is making roughly the speech that I had expected. That is a compliment, not an insult. Negative security assurances can be treaty-based. Nuclear-free areas of the world already exist. On the middle east, there is sense in saying to Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran that the world recognises their particular security needs. That should be done not just by Britain, but collectively to reassure them that if they were to forgo nuclear weapons, it would not be at the cost of their survival, nor would it increase the threat from their neighbours.

Mr. Lewis: I agree with my hon. Friend. Such guarantees would be extremely important to a long-term settlement in the middle east, at the heart of which would be a two-state solution and the offer from the Arab League states to normalise relations with Israel. We should pay serious attention to that issue as we move towards the review conference in May.

Tony Lloyd: And to Iran.

Mr. Lewis: And to Iran.

Jeremy Corbyn: In the run-up to the NPT review next May, does the Minister have any hopes for the development of a nuclear weapons convention or the participation, by some mechanism, of India, Pakistan and Israel in the review? Is he concerned that, having withdrawn from the NPT process after developing its own nuclear weapons, India was ultimately rewarded by the United States with nuclear technology? That is not a good precedent.

Mr. Lewis: Logically, a convention could be the ultimate legal underpinning of a nuclear weapon-free world. However, we cannot wish away current political realities and pretend that negotiations on such a convention would make headway. We believe that having a new conference or new bodies to discuss such a convention at this time would run the risk of undermining the NPT.

We are concerned about the signals sent out by the Indian deal, but assurances about India's future conduct were gained as part of it. We want to see the delivery and implementation of the commitments made by India, but we have not seen anywhere near as much progress as we would have liked. I must make progress to do justice to the points raised by hon. Members.

On Trident, hon. Members are aware that the initial gate report will consider a broad design option and recommend a preferred option. That will allow detailed design work to start. It will not involve a decision on the number of boats or on the warhead. Initial gate is an internal decision point that will ensure that the programme
11 Nov 2009 : Column 106WH
is on track. Construction contracts will not be issued until after the main gate, which will be at some time around 2014, although there will be similar contracts to commission design work after initial gate. There is a commitment after initial gate to keep Parliament informed and to ensure that there is an opportunity for further debate and discussion.

Although I respect the contribution of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie), the question of what is Liberal Democrat policy on the replacement for Trident remains. His contribution erred on the side of scepticism about the replacement for Trident. He should not give the impression to the House or the public that Liberal Democrat policy is that there should be no replacement for Trident, unless he wants to clarify his party's policy on the matter.

Willie Rennie: I am grateful for the opportunity. I did not know that the Minister took such great interest in my party's position. We have made it clear that, first, the decision was premature, and secondly, we will not replace Trident on a like-for-like basis. We have made that statement and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) is conducting a review to look into those options. The Minister knows that that is our position and that it remains our position.

Mr. Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that the Liberal Democrats are conducting a review and that they have certainly not made a decision not to replace Trident in any form. It is important that the public are clear about the respective policies of the political parties that are represented in the House.

I want to deal with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central made about fissile material security, which was also mentioned by other hon. Members. The Government are committed to tackling the threat of terrorists getting their hands on fissile material. We have developed an extensive programme of work to mitigate that and we have worked closely with international partners and doubled our contribution to the IAEA nuclear security fund to assist countries in improving the security of their nuclear facilities.

However, it must be said that there is still considerable work to do. We welcome the fact that the new United States Administration have signalled that the matter will be one of their top priorities and that Parliament has expressed its support for our policy on nuclear security. The scrutiny period on the ratification of the amendment to the convention on the physical protection of nuclear material has now passed and we will be formally ratifying the convention in the coming weeks.

I want to refer to the comments about the negotiations-the discussions- between the United States and Russia, which I think hon. Members accept is a very important element to our capacity to make progress because, after all, US and Russian nuclear weapons comprise some 95 per cent. of the world's total stockpile. We very much welcome the joint understanding between Presidents Obama and Medvedev in July to conclude a successor agreement to the strategic arms reduction treaty, which expires in December. In response to the hon. Member for Aylesbury, we are hopeful that there will be such an agreement by the end of this year on a new legally binding treaty further to reduce US and
11 Nov 2009 : Column 107WH
Russian strategic offensive arms. That will make a major contribution and send the right signal. However, we also recognise that further progress must be made.

It is worth reflecting on the progress that Britain has made on the issue since the cold war. We have reduced the explosive power of our nuclear forces by around 75 per cent., reduced the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160 and reduced the number of nuclear weapons delivery systems to just one. On the submarine-based Trident system, our warheads are not targeted at any particular country and are at several days' notice to fire. We now possess only around 1 per cent. of the global and nuclear warhead stockpile.

Although some hon. Members would say that we have not gone far enough, in the context of multilateralism, we have sought to lead by example and have made an important contribution. In the same way as we have responded to the world economic crisis and the emergency of climate change, in international forums it is our Prime Minister who has often banged the table and demanded a much greater level of global action on the issue. Of course, that was very difficult without a US Administration with a more progressive approach, but now that we have a more progressive partner in the US, there are some very real opportunities. The United Kingdom's level of influence on these issues is significantly linked to the international respect that our Prime Minister has gained as a result of the leadership he has provided over a long period.

The year ahead will be seen as an historic moment in terms of non-proliferation. The challenge that political leaders face is to demonstrate that they are up to this great task and that they will make the right decision for future generations. The decisions that are made this year will determine whether a nuclear weapon-free world is simply some illusion or whether it will be achievable in the lifetime of the parliamentarians who have participated in this debate. There is no doubt that the terms of the debate have changed in recent times. The question is whether the international community can demonstrate the political will to take necessary risks and to take bold and brave decisions that are in the long-term interests of our planet.

11 Nov 2009 : Column 108WH

South London Line

6.30 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for having chosen this debate for this afternoon. I am conscious that, in comparison with the subject of the last debate, this issue might be regarded as parochial. I accept that it is not in the same league as ending the nuclear arms race, but for people who live and work in or visit this great capital city of ours, the future of the South London line is very important. I am grateful to the Minister for attending the debate, and I note the presence of the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton), who also has an important constituency interest in this matter. I will be happy to accept a contribution from him later in the debate.

Those of us who have represented south London for a while have had many battles about transport. I was reflecting earlier on a debate that occurred when I was first elected, in which Lynda Chalker-now Baroness Chalker-was a Transport Minister. I remember that she conceded that south-east London was a white hole on the London transport map and that we needed to do something about it. In those days, the first battle was to persuade London Underground, as it then was, to extend the Bakerloo line down to New Cross to connect with the East London line, and to extend the Northern line down to Camberwell. Both of those extensions seemed entirely logical to everyone-the space was available and there were old railway lines at the Bricklayers Arms yards-but we lost those opportunities, which was a mistake, as the congestion on our roads and buses ever since has shown. I am keen to ensure that we do not lose another opportunity to sustain the level of train and rail services, especially given the changed pattern of services.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, let me say something on that last point. As Baroness Chalker has lived in my constituency, I am sure that she would agree that the whole of south London suffers because, although it is criss-crossed with railway lines, the railway companies often put the travel needs of south Londoners well behind those of longer-distance commuters. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Simon Hughes: I absolutely agree; that has certainly been the case. My constituency has many roads that have railway lines going over them, and in the old days, there were many more local stations. This morning at the Armistice day service in Bermondsey, someone who had heard that I would be having this debate asked me, "Are you also campaigning to make sure that the Spa Road station is reopened?" There used to be more stations like that one, and one of the great battles of recent years has been trying to get the train services to service the people of our communities and not just to pass through, over or under us. I have some suggestions on ways we can ensure that it does not happen again.

The next battle that I fought was about the Jubilee line extension that Mrs. Thatcher's Government wanted. They were in discussions with the people at Canary Wharf about paying for it, but the proposal that was the main runner was for the line to run from Waterloo to
11 Nov 2009 : Column 109WH
London Bridge and then directly to Canary Wharf without stopping anywhere in between. That case required private legislation, and I am happy to say that I blocked it for long enough to achieve what was needed. I later saw a memo that said something like, "If we don't give in to the local MP, we're never going to get this line at all." So I think that the most prized success of my political life has been winning two extra tube stations-one in Southwark and one in Bermondsey-at a cost of £25 million each. They are very valued stations, and it would have been a nonsense to have a tube line extension that did not stop to serve the local business and resident communities, and visitors. Fortunately, we were successful.

We then had a battle to make the East London line connect with things, because it used to be the shortest of the tube lines running north to south under the Thames, ending at New Cross and New Cross Gate in the south. That was closed for a long time and we feared that it would not be reopened, but we were successful and won the argument to reopen it. It has now been closed to be turned into an Overground line, which is due to open next year and is on time. It will run from Highbury and Islington in the north to Crystal Palace and West Croydon in the south, and there will be new stations, which is very good, and which we are grateful for.

The debate is not about either/or. That line is on target, on time and will be a valuable addition to the transport system in London. It will be well used. In the run-up to the Olympics, and during and after the games, it will be extremely valuable for connecting all the people coming in from the south-east of England and saving them from having to go through the centre of London.

Martin Linton: I, too, welcome the development of the East London line. I understand that trains have already run on the tracks as far as Dalston and that the works are ahead of schedule. The East London line phase 2 was agreed thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) when he was Secretary of State for Transport. It is vital that the official EU notice of the East London line phase 2 contract should be signed next month and is not delayed. I understand that that might be delayed, but that would be a great shame at this stage for a project that is so needed and that has been on time so far.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman and I share a common interest in ensuring that that really good idea is taken through to completion, and I endorse his intervention completely.

Our fourth battle was over the Thameslink line, but that was another example of the interests of the locals being bluntly overridden in the end. The options were whether the Thameslink service, which in itself is a good thing-a north-south, through-London, cross-capital service linking Luton airport in the north to Gatwick in the south-should go via the Elephant and Castle and Herne Hill or via London Bridge and the other way. After many public inquiries it was decided that it should go via London Bridge. Although that was well received by commuters on the line, it was not well received locally because it has meant the demolition of a listed building at Borough market, the alteration of other listed buildings and the moving of the market itself. Many of us feared that the character of that fantastic mediaeval wholesale market, which is still working and
11 Nov 2009 : Column 110WH
very popular, might be put at risk. We lost that because of the point to which the hon. Gentleman referred: in the end the interests of the wider community overrode those of the local community.

There are also other, smaller consequences of that decision. For example, if one wants a night service on the Thameslink line one now has to go to St. Pancras to join the service. Debates are still ongoing about the removal of the international terminal from Waterloo to St. Pancras, and the Minister helpfully saw a group of us a few days ago to discuss the future of Waterloo station, because clearly that also needs redevelopment.

My last specific point relates to the South London line, which is an orbital, loop line running from London Bridge in my constituency. It runs through South Bermondsey, which is also in my constituency, Queens Road Peckham, Peckham Rye, Denmark Hill, Clapham High Street, Wandsworth Road and Battersea Park and arrives in Victoria. Just as we have a North London line, so we have a South London line, and it has been a very useful service. I clearly have a specific interest in two stations and their users. Today's debate is timely because the Minister's colleague, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), met today with the Mayor of London, Members of the Greater London assembly, including my colleague, Caroline Pidgeon, who is a Liberal Democrat assembly member, the Southwark rail users group, the Lambeth rail users group, representatives of the King's Health Partners and others. It is also timely because we know that there is an important meeting on 24 November as part of the consultation on the options.

My arguments are simple. My key argument is that I do not accept that as a result of Thameslink, all services on the South London line should finish because it is impossible to accommodate them at London Bridge. I know the lay-out of London Bridge and I understand the arguments-it needs more through track and through platforms and fewer terminus platforms-but I do not think it impossible in engineering or structural terms to continue the service. That would mean that people starting at Victoria or any other stop on the line could carry on around the same line to London Bridge, or vice versa. That is important because clearly, people who live and work in my constituency or visit it find it more convenient to use one train than to change trains, with all the uncertainty that that always produces.

I argue, therefore, that rather than promising a service that will always connect-because, with the best will in the world, it does not always connect-it is better to keep the existing good service, even if it does not run as frequently as it does currently. If people know that there is a regular service twice, three times or four times an hour, they can organise their lives accordingly. If people know that it is more frequent during rush hour than the rest of the day and on weekdays than at weekends, they can organise their lives. That is important for three reasons. First, a growing number of people live and work in and visit boroughs such as mine, which has 250,000 people, and the other south London boroughs affected. For them, it is the most important route. If we are encouraging people to use public transport, we should encourage them to use the South London line.

Next Section Index Home Page