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Organisation of American States

3.18 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we are keeping the question of applying for observer status under active consideration.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, in the light of that somewhat disappointing reply is my noble friend aware that the recent summit of the Americas designated the OAS as the principal instrument for implementing the newly proposed American free trade area? Furthermore, is my noble friend aware that 25 nations already have observer status at the OAS and it hardly behoves us to be lagging behind in this matter especially in view of our new found and very welcome interest in Latin America?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am very well aware of my noble friend's great interest in Latin America; it is one which the Government share. Certainly, the OAS is now a much more effective organisation than it used to be and its role in supporting the democratic process and protecting human rights has grown. It is beginning to promote regional trade, environmental protection and technical co-operation. It is beginning to be a very good organisation. That was why I used the words "active consideration" about something to which we shall no doubt return. It is in Britain's interests that we have much closer links with Latin America. After all, our trade exports have gone up by more than 50 per cent. in the past two years.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, in the light of what the Minister says about the importance of the work of the Organisation of American States, including, for example, monitoring human rights in the current situation in Haiti, can she tell the House what will determine whether we seek observer status since it is under active consideration? It would be helpful to know what is currently holding us back and what would encourage us to make a request for observer status.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the matter is under active consideration at this very moment. I am not in a position to give your Lordships a specific

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answer today. However, I made clear in answer to my noble friend's Question that I believe it is a good thing. The permanent observer status which the noble Baroness seeks to persuade us to take up would give us even greater commitment to the region, which is changing rapidly for the better. We have an increasing influence in the region, specifically on difficult issues such as human rights, because we now play a much more active role. I hope that I shall have good news soon.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, given the numerous reasons that my noble friend the Minister has enumerated, and given also that the OAS is an organisation to which all the Latin American, Central American and North American countries belong and that 1995 has been designated by both the Foreign Office and the DTI as a year in which they will give a push to British industrial and investment activity in the region, would it not be a timely moment to give the active consideration a further push? If resources happen to be a problem, is there any reason why the task should not be covered from our embassy in Washington?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend is very perspicacious. Next week at CBI headquarters we have the launch of the Latin American trade campaign by the Foreign Office and the DTI. We are considering all these matters. Certainly, we would need to take great care in our representations, even as permanent observers in the organisation. A way will be found to make sure that we do that as soon as possible.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, is not a further good reason for our having an observer the fact that we still possess overseas territories in the western hemisphere, in the Caribbean?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, that is obviously a further consideration. We look after both our dependent territories and other members of the Commonwealth in the Caribbean without membership of any specific organisation other than those covering the Caribbean. However, trading links between the Caribbean dependent territories and their mainland neighbours are also growing. It behoves us to see how we can help those Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean through our links with Latin America.

Baroness Young: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that great interest has been expressed in all parts of the House in this matter? Outside the House, among the business community, great importance is attached to sending an observer to the OAS. When she considers the matter within her department will my noble friend draw attention to those facts? Will she also express the importance of giving support to the new secretary general of the OAS, the former Colombian president, who took up office last September?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. We very much welcome the election of former President Gaviria as secretary general. We shall give him such support as we can. While we are not as yet permanent observers it may not be long before we become so.

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I underline what my noble friend said about business support for the development of trade. I mentioned the increase in our trade exports over the past two years. It is also noticeable that our investment is increasing by leaps and bounds: £3.1 billion in 1991, £5.2 billion in 1992, and further increases in 1993 and 1994. I believe that, with the conference next week and all the other efforts that we are making, this is an area of great opportunity for Britain and that we should seize it.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, finally, and very importantly, is the noble Baroness aware that the strong Welsh settlement in Patagonia is also very much in favour of our making such an application?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, all the reasons seem to be positive. That augurs well.


3.25 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people they estimate would be killed if only one of the 192 warheads which can be carried by a single Trident submarine were to be dropped today on the city of Hiroshima.

Lord Henley: My Lords, Britain's nuclear weapons are a deterrent against aggression. Their value is in preserving peace, not fighting wars. No useful purpose would be served by attempting to answer a hypothetical Question of this sort.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, as the noble Lord is apparently unable to answer the Question, perhaps he will permit me to answer it for him. Will he consider the fact that the original bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 200,000 immediately, and another 100,000 died subsequently—a total of 300,000? The bomb operated at about 15 per cent. of efficiency. Therefore, as there are 192 warheads on the Trident, each one of which is certainly no less efficient than the bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima, it is probable that any one of those warheads could wipe out Hiroshima and all its inhabitants completely, although they now number just over 1 million.

Therefore, does the Minister agree that the vessel which is traversing the globe has a lethal capacity of incredible size? What on earth is the use of the thing? Or, to use the words of another noble Lord who is not here today but who put the matter more effectively than I can, what is the bloody use of the thing?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made clear in my original Answer, we believe that no useful purpose would be served by answering the hypothetical Question which the noble Lord asked. Perhaps I may correct one or two of the noble Lord's facts. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced as long ago as 1993, Trident will deploy with no more than 96 warheads and may have many fewer. Also, as I

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announced yesterday, by the time Trident is fully operational the explosive power of our nuclear arsenal will be more than 25 per cent. less than it was in 1990.

Lord Dainton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Question, in the form in which it has been put, is quite unanswerable, even if it is hypothetical? I speak with almost 50 years experience of the subject, some of it as chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board. I should like to say to the House simply that damage could only be due to burn, blast and radiation, and unless one knows the height of burst, the precise position and the exact nature of the buildings which now exist—and which are not those which existed when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima—and unless one also knows something about the curative power of modern medicine for the hurt which may be caused, it is quite impossible to make an estimate that has any credibility, whether it be an official government reply or the best speculation of any amateur.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can only thank the noble Lord for that most helpful piece of information. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, also took considerable note of what the noble Lord had to say.

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