Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Kennet: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for yielding. I said nothing to imply that the United States had given up on the political search for non-proliferation.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for stressing that. However, I think it is worth my stressing on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that all NATO states had committed themselves to that goal. The mere fact that the Americans might be pursuing the particular policy which the noble Lord states they are pursuing does not rule them out of pursuing the policy of non-proliferation by means of prevention rather than by the military means I think he was suggesting.

Like us, our American allies recognise that those military measures have a role in dealing with proliferation, but, like us, they recognise that they could never be the whole answer. Nevertheless, we in the United Kingdom have not ignored an aspect of the US counter-proliferation initiative which seems to be causing the noble Lord particular concern; namely, ballistic missile defence. We have recently embarked upon a programme of studies to examine this subject in more detail and a contract for this work was placed with the consortium, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, led by British Aerospace in October 1994. I fail to understand the noble Lord's objections to our use of the private sector in this field. It certainly has the technical expertise to provide us with advice on options and the way forward. It will, in time, provide us with information on those options: on performance criteria,

9 Mar 1995 : Column 477

technical risk and cost, which again the noble Lord was right to stress. We have also invested in technology demonstrator programmes which could have missile defence applications.

These studies will enable us to make informed decisions about the way forward, including whether we have a national requirement for ballistic missile defence. As part of our examination of that, we naturally consult allies in NATO, including the United States, and co-operate with them on a range of associated technical issues. But it would be wrong to interpret those discussions as either United Kingdom or NATO involvement in the United States counter-proliferation initiative.

The proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery is a major security concern. The acquisition of such weapons by states like Iraq not only threatens already unstable regions but also increases the risk of the United Kingdom, or our forces engaged on missions around the world, being confronted by weapons of mass destruction. It is right that the United Kingdom should keep all responses under review and should do so in concert with our allies. I shall therefore take this opportunity to set out our overall approach to non-proliferation.

Our efforts to control proliferation embrace several complementary strands. First, we seek strong and verifiable international treaties, such as the non-proliferation treaty—I shall say a little more about that later—which will bind states to various controls on the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Next, we aim to ensure that anyone breaching the treaties is held to account. It is also important for us to have, and to encourage others to have, rigorous export controls to hinder would-be proliferators. And we must also ensure that our Armed Forces have effective protection against possible attack.

At the alliance level, the United Kingdom is also participating actively in work under way to develop a NATO policy towards proliferation. This work is intended to reinforce the treaties and regimes and therefore has both political and defence dimensions. The senior politico-military group on proliferation deals with the political dimension by providing a forum for regular consultations among NATO members, and others, on proliferation and examining ways in which the alliance can contribute to the implementation and strengthening of international non-proliferation agreements.

Military implications are dealt with by the senior defence group on proliferation. The group has already produced a risk assessment and is now into the next phase of work in an analysis of the implications of these risks and the capabilities which might be necessary to combat them. The final phase of work will be to assess current alliance capabilities and identify any areas in which these might need to be improved. The work may include an examination of ballistic missile defence, but the alliance will be looking at the whole spectrum of possible responses and capabilities and not just this aspect. As your Lordships would expect, the United Kingdom has been playing an active part and will continue to do so.

9 Mar 1995 : Column 478

I said that I would say more about the non-proliferation treaty. I can give an assurance to the noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Williams, that we are committed to securing unconditional and indefinite extension of the treaty at the conference of states parties which starts in April of this year. We take very seriously our obligation under the non-proliferation treaty to work towards nuclear disarmament in the context of complete and general disarmament. One ought to stress on these occasions that once Trident is fully in service the explosive power of the United Kingdom's operational nuclear inventory will be some 25 per cent. lower than in 1990. As both noble Lords will be aware, we have already disposed of a considerable quantity of our nuclear weaponry. I do not think that I need elaborate on that this evening.

Perhaps I may deal with one or two other points. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked why the United States is not pressing Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty but is pressing the Arab states to do so. I cannot answer for the United States but I can say that Her Majesty's Government wish to see the non-proliferation treaty universally supported and will continue to encourage Israel to accede to it. We hope that Israel will take that on board.

To conclude, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses a serious threat to international security. The Government view the consideration being given in NATO and other multilateral fora to this problem as of great importance. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has provided an opportunity to remind ourselves of the dangers in this area. I believe, though, that he is wrong to imply that the United States, let alone the United Kingdom, has lost sight of the central importance of preventing proliferation from occurring in the first place, and reversing it if it has happened, by diplomatic means. We are examining both nationally and within NATO what role military means might have as a part of our general non-proliferation efforts. It is prudent for us so to do. But we are not being driven—I must stress this—towards any predetermined outcome. The need to reach the right conclusions is too important.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.5 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.57 to 8.5 p.m.]

Environment Bill [H.L.]

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 79 [Hedgerows]:

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 234A:

Page 87, line 17, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall by 1st July 1996").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are back to hedges. As far as I can make out, there are three separate groups of amendments about hedges. In moving this amendment, perhaps I may say one or two things about

9 Mar 1995 : Column 479

the other amendments in the group. We have had discussions already as to whether details of hedgerow legislation should be in the Bill. The Government have decided to stick with the original plan that it should be primarily by regulation. I am happy with that perfectly fair decision. I would have preferred to have had more on the face of the Bill, but I recognise the Government's point.

However, I shall be very concerned if the regulations are just left with no date and no idea when they might come into effect. I know that a great deal of consultation is needed as to exactly what the regulations should say. I am very glad to hear that the Department of the Environment has asked ADAS to consult on the criteria. Once that has happened it would be useful to have some idea as to when the regulations may be inserted. I am suggesting the date of 1st July 1996.

Given the Government's commitment to introduce protection for hedgerows, it is clearly desirable that it should be in this Parliament. That is why I have suggested the date of 1st July 1996. If my noble friend is unable to accept that particular date, I hope that he will give an indication as a discipline for all of us when we can expect the undertaking to be fulfilled.

Perhaps I may say something about the other amendments in the grouping so I do not have to inflict myself on your Lordships again on this matter. I very much like Amendment No. 235 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, concerning stone walls. However, I recognise that at the moment we are talking about getting hedges into the legislation. I am quite sure that in due course stone walls should receive some statutory protection. Like everyone, I suppose, I am quite keen on ponds and have dug a few myself in my time.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I believe my noble friend is addressing the next group of amendments. It would be better if we stuck to the present group before entertaining speeches concerning the next group.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page