22 Feb 1996 : Column 1137

House of Lords

Thursday, 22nd February 1996.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by The Lord Bishop of Chester): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.


Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What targeting arrangements are made for patrolling Trident submarines now that the Soviet Union is no longer the enemy, and whether any nuclear weapon-free countries are targeted.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, our nuclear missiles are de-targeted and have been since 1994. It is not our practice to comment further on matters of targeting.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, as that is the case, and the Government are admitting that there is no target, what is the use of patrolling Trident weapons at a cost which can amount to about £50 million? Does the noble Earl agree that it is a completely useless exercise? Why are the Government continuing with this nonsense when the budget of every other Department of State is being cut?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe the key point is that our deterrent, together with those of our NATO allies, contributes towards maintaining stability in Europe. To perform that role in the current international environment, the weapons do not need to be targeted. Stability is best preserved by maintaining the invulnerability of our strategic deterrent and continuous patrols by our submarines achieve just that.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, have we not been discussing with the French for a very long time the question of co-operation on patrolling? Can the Minister say what has been achieved?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we co-operate with France on a wide range of nuclear issues, including technical matters. For obvious reasons it is not our practice to release details of our co-operation, which involves the national security of both countries. I can tell the noble Lord that the dialogue is continuing.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that Trident has now what is called a sub-strategic role as well as a strategic role? Presumably, there is a difference in the targeting procedure--I am not talking about the targets--when Trident is being strategic and when it is sub-strategic. Will the Minister confirm that and advise the House how that switch is made?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is quite right. The entry into service of HMS "Victorious"

22 Feb 1996 : Column 1138

means that Trident now provides a continuously available sub-strategic capability. The UK sub-strategic capability is also provided by the RAF with its Tornados armed with WE177 free-fall bombs. The concept of sub-strategic capability has long been a vital part of our and NATO's nuclear doctrine. Without it, a potential adversary could gamble on us not being prepared to use our full strategic capability in response to aggression. The sub-strategic capability removes the risk of him believing that we ourselves will be deterred from using nuclear weapons.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation, but he did not quite answer the question that I asked. How is targeting procedure affected in a submarine when someone decides that it is acting sub-strategically as opposed to strategically?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the way in which the missiles are targeted is something that we do not discuss in public, for obvious reasons. But there is essentially no difference in the way that strategic and sub-strategic missiles are targeted.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, are they the same missiles?

Earl Howe: No, my Lords.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, in order to enlighten my ignorance, can my noble friend tell us the exact difference between sub-strategic and strategic and what does each mean?

Earl Howe: My Lords, in a few words, a strategic nuclear strike would be an all-out nuclear attack. A sub-strategic strike would be an attack of a more restricted kind, perhaps against a specific military target. The difference is one of scale and purpose.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, if the missiles used in a strategic attack and in a sub-strategic attack are different, one must assume that the latter are smaller and of shorter range. Can the Minister say whether they can be used with conventional warheads? If they can, is it really a sensible way to carry a medium or short-range conventional weapon; hiding it deep under the sea in a boat costing hundreds of millions of pounds for use, for instance, in Poland or East Germany?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the missiles on board our Trident and Polaris nuclear submarines are all nuclear missiles. There are no conventionally-armed missiles on those boats. Indeed, a decision was taken some little time ago that that should be the case. However, we have decided to arm the Royal Navy with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which will be coming into service during the next few years. But that is very different from the nuclear deterrent, which is the subject of this Question.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, is it not the case that the Royal Navy is the most efficient fighting

22 Feb 1996 : Column 1139

service and its ability to transfer from strategic to sub-strategic weapons, or vice versa, is probably instantaneous?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I believe that in the Royal Navy we have a Senior Service of which all of us can be very proud.

Noble Lords: Hear! Hear!

Earl Howe: The Trident nuclear deterrent represents a superb technical achievement for the United Kingdom.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, the noble Earl has referred to the Trident submarine as being a contribution towards stability. Is he aware that the versatility now arriving by the sub-strategic role increases instability as far as any non-nuclear country is concerned? Is the noble Earl aware that it is only those countries who possess such weapons who feel the slightest bit stable about it? As far as the rest of the world is concerned, it is a contribution towards an uncertain situation which prevents us from arriving at real peace. Will the Government look at this matter seriously and ask themselves whether they ought not to make a little bit of progress towards a non-nuclear situation?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I completely disagree with the noble Lord. As I have explained, a sub-strategic capability essentially fills a gap in the deterrent. Were it not for that capability, a potential enemy could misread our intentions and I believe that that would fatally damage the deterrent effect.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that, given the fact that the Russians have already launched another nuclear submarine and are building a new generation of them, if the noble Lord opposite is so concerned about balance it is perhaps reasonable that we should retain our very modest deterrent?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. As she will know, the UK's nuclear deterrent is a minimum deterrent.

Grey Squirrels: Control Studies

3.10 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are arranging to monitor the effects of schemes designed to reduce populations of grey squirrels and so to prevent the extinction of red squirrels in particular areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, the Forestry Commission has for many years been undertaking annual surveys of the distribution of red and grey squirrels and of the number of grey squirrels killed.

22 Feb 1996 : Column 1140

Two research projects have been set up in Anglesey and Thetford to discover whether controlling grey squirrels will help prevent the extinction of red squirrels.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. I welcome the Government's recent decisions and the help they have been giving over this problem. Does he agree that action is needed soon to prevent serious damage to trees from grey squirrels and to enable the red squirrels to survive? Is he aware that we still have red squirrels in northern Scotland because the greys have not yet penetrated from the south but that it is only a matter of time unless effective culling is undertaken?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend makes a number of good points, not least that there are still many red squirrels in northern Scotland. In fact, three-quarters of the red squirrels in Great Britain are in Scotland. Action, which I agree is essential, is already in place. More action plans will be coming on stream. The Forestry Commission, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, SNH, English Nature and the CCW in Wales are all committed to various action plans. It is important that that action is taken to prevent tree damage and to help red squirrels.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page