Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we firmly believe that the goal of attaining privatisation, the new initiatives which will be introduced, the extra finance and the management techniques which will be brought forward will result in a significantly better railway. That goal is well worth any possible problems which may arise along the way such as the noble Lord suggests. We believe that the privatisation initiative will be a tremendous success for the railways.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that all his aspirations about privatisation are likely to come to as much grief as the Government's promises about taxation at the last election? Is he further aware that the privatisation proposal has failed to focus attention on the real requirements of the railways, which are much greater investment and prioritising those requirements as against investment on roads? Does the Minister agree that one of the difficulties about the private finance initiative is that the Government are

18 Apr 1995 : Column 386

asking the private funding sector to assume a great deal of risk without providing proper underpinning? That is why I believe the initiative will come to grief.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that the simple answer is no. I do not agree with the noble Lord in his assessment of the private finance initiative. We believe that it has considerable potential for bringing new money into the railways and hence benefits for the travelling public.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister follow his answer about his great belief in privatisation by telling us why no company will be given a chance to make Motorail and the night sleeper service to Fort William work?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is not the case. As the noble Lord well knows, the fact that a service may not be included in the passenger service requirement does not in any way mean that the successful franchisee will not be able to run that service if he so chooses.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the noble Viscount confirm that it is still the Government's policy to increase the taxation of road vehicles above the retail prices index in order to contribute towards a reduction in CO 2 levels and a reduction in the risk of global warming? If that is so, will the noble Viscount and the Government consider hypothecating such additional revenues so that they can be invested in the railways and other forms of public transport?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made commitments on the taxation of fuel for road vehicles. I do not believe that it is the Government's policy to hypothecate funds in the manner the noble Lord suggests. However, I am sure that when the Official Report is read, the noble Lord's comments will be considered carefully.

Nuclear Weapons: Parliamentary Questions

3.1 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will discontinue the practice of answering any Question on nuclear weapons by saying that the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons make a continuing contribution to maintaining stability in Europe when that question has not been raised.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, we will continue to give Answers which are appropriate to the Questions we are asked.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I wish that I could ask the noble Lord to keep more closely in future

18 Apr 1995 : Column 387

to the promise that he has just made to me than has been the case in the past. I have asked him two Questions about Trident, to which he replied:

    "Our ... forces make a continuing contribution to maintaining stability in Europe".

I also asked a separate Question about the development of Trident, to which he replied that our weapons,

    "make a continuing contribution to maintaining stability in Europe".—[Official Report, 15/3/95; col. WA 48.]

That may be a matter of opinion, but in neither case is it an Answer to the Question that was asked.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that those are very good Answers to the Questions put by the noble Lord. We all know that the noble Lord does not believe in our nuclear deterrent and we all know that the noble Lord wishes to discredit our nuclear deterrent. I happen to disagree with the noble Lord—and to disagree with him pretty fundamentally. If he wishes to discredit our nuclear deterrent by asking Questions phrased in a certain way, which I believe that he wishes to do, I seek to reserve my right—and it is my right—to answer them as is appropriate to ensure that Her Majesty's Government's position is correctly stated and made absolutely clear.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Answer to which the noble Lord objects is, in fact, the answer to his Question? May I express the hope that my noble friend will go on repeating it until eventually, we hope, the noble Lord begins to understand it?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I was hoping that I would not have to repeat the Answer that long because I was hoping that the noble Lord would stop asking his Question.

Lord Judd: My Lords, whatever may be the stereotype form of Answers to Questions in this House, have the Government yet had time to consider the call made by the Secretary General this weekend for the only sane objective of total global nuclear disarmament and for an immediate halt to production and testing? How does the Government's policy of doubling the number of warheads on Trident as compared with Polaris begin to meet that objective? Are the Government now ready to include Trident in any future five-power arms control negotiations?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord knows full well that we are fully committed to securing an unconditional and indefinite extension of the non-proliferation treaty, which started yesterday. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be speaking in New York this afternoon on that very subject. Perhaps I can put the noble Lord right on one small matter. The noble Lord talked about increasing our nuclear arsenal; I can assure him that when Trident takes over the sub-strategic role and when the WE177 bomb is withdrawn, the United Kingdom will have 21

18 Apr 1995 : Column 388

per cent. fewer nuclear warheads than in the 1970s and the total explosive power of those warheads will be some 59 per cent. lower than the 1970s figure.

Lord Judd: My Lords, will the Minister clarify one point? Is it not the case that when Trident is in place there will be double the number of warheads available in Trident as compared with those available in Polaris?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we are maintaining a minimum deterrent. What I have made clear is that, overall, the number of our nuclear warheads will be some 21 per cent. fewer and the total explosive power of those warheads will be some 59 per cent. lower than in the 1970s.

Lord Rea: My Lords, in the current discussions in New York on the extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, what is the Government's position with regard to a comprehensive nuclear test ban, which many non-nuclear powers regard as an important indication on the part of the nuclear powers that they are serious about nuclear disarmament?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we shall continue to play a constructive and positive part in the negotiations for the comprehensive test ban treaty. We have dropped our requirement for exceptional safety tests, but we shall not sacrifice a good treaty for a quick one. I do not believe that there is any necessary linkage between the comprehensive test ban treaty and the extension of the non-proliferation treaty.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if the Answer given by my noble friend is factually right and represents the attitude of government, what conceivable objection is there to the form of that Answer?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I have to say to my noble friend that I do not know what the answer is, but I tend to agree with everything that my noble friend said.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, will the noble Lord introduce novelty into the proceedings? We all know his opinions on these matters and I have no doubt that he speaks for the Government in this respect, but would it not be a good idea—just try it out once or twice—to answer the Question on the Order Paper?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do answer the Question and give the views of Her Majesty's Government, just as the noble Lord gives what I imagine are his own views.

Earl Alexander of Tunis: My Lords, has not the fact that we have enjoyed peace for the past 50 years itself allowed the noble Lord to put his Question?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct. I fear to think what might have happened if we had pursued some of the policies suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he may have set an undesirable precedent in his original Answer to my noble friend, which would indicate to the House that where the Government do not like the Question or the philosophy of the questioner, they reserve the right to avoid

18 Apr 1995 : Column 389

answering specific questions? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that when it comes to matters affecting the EC, he will not follow a similar tactic?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page