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House of Lords

Tuesday, 9th July 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Lord Iliffe--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his uncle.

Lord Luke--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Northern Ireland: Peace Process

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their assessment of the value and effect of the various confidence building measures introduced by the Government in Northern Ireland since the 1994 ceasefires and what further measures they envisage.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield): My Lords, current events in Northern Ireland demonstrate the crucial importance of developing trust between the communities. The Government believe that the talks process provides the best opportunity to achieve political stability through agreement on a widely acceptable political settlement. On the economic side, increasing employment and the EU Peace and Reconciliation Fund have steadily increased confidence. The Government will continue to meet their responsibility to protect their citizens and work to ensure they can continue to go about their business without interference.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, coming as it does in the uncertain climate of today's headlines. I am grateful for what she said about employment. Will the Government work even harder on equal opportunities in employment for all? Will they legislate for a Bill of Rights on which almost all the Northern Ireland parties manage to agree? Finally, will they prepare and have ready a fall-back plan for use if the political negotiations fail to reach agreement?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the Government had hoped that the talks process would examine the Bill of Rights issue. The Government are not ruling out any resolution. They have a genuinely open-minded approach to the form and scope of whatever new measures can be agreed. As regards a fall-back position, I assure your Lordships that the Government will continue to work to ensure that there is a peaceful future for every single member of the population of Northern Ireland. We must hope that they will work for it too.

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Lord Blease: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, notwithstanding the present sad and grave eruption of riotous disorder, in parts of the Province there has been marked and tangible social, economic and political progress during the past two years? Is the noble Baroness aware of the widespread community appreciation of the bipartisan and concerted support for the building of peaceable measures by this Westminster Parliament and by United Kingdom governments over the past 25 years? Finally, will the Minister seek to ensure that there can be no departure from the principles of parliamentary democracy in matters concerning the future governance of the Province?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, has seen much of the troubles in Northern Ireland but he has seen also in recent years much of the success in building teams, peoples and communities to work together. Much of that achievement has been with the support of both Houses of Parliament and through the great efforts of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. We shall continue to work along those paths. It is difficult to envisage a democracy that does not always have a peace process.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the end of the ceasefire has fortunately not led to an end of inward investment? Will she tell us more about the effects of her valuable visit to Canada in March?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, my noble friend rightly draws attention to the fact that such is the strength of the economic message in Northern Ireland that despite the breakdown in the ceasefire there has continued to be significant inward investment. There has been investment of several hundred million pounds to provide in the future 4,000 new jobs. That is the best hope for all sectors of all communities. On a recent visit to Canada I was delighted to learn that Bombardier, the owners of Shorts, a globally competitive company in Belfast, was looking at transferring even more work to the company.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the extremely important work of confidence building and reconstruction the Government have had--and continue to have--the full support of the Labour Party? Does she also agree that at this difficult time everyone should do their best to avoid inflaming tensions? Is she content with the peacekeeping security arrangements presently in place at Drumcree?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, the noble Lord gives me the opportunity to express gratitude for the support we have received for our Northern Ireland policy from the Benches opposite. That has been helpful and constructive and it has ensured that we can move at a speed which perhaps would have been slower and more difficult without that support. We are grateful for that. The noble Lord spoke of the need to maintain calm and of the need not to make any inflammatory remarks. Both sides have views in which they believe absolutely.

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The aim is to have peaceful negotiations, not confrontation. That is the aim of the operational decisions of the police in association with the Army at Drumcree and throughout the Province.

Nuclear Weapons Elimination: US Report

2.45 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they agree with the US Stimson Centre's conclusion in the second report of its steering committee project on eliminating weapons of mass destruction that "the time to start is now"; and if so what actions they have taken to that end.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we and our NATO allies believe that nuclear deterrence continues to make an essential contribution to preserving peace and stability in Europe. Nevertheless we have made a number of significant reductions to our own forces, reflecting the improved security environment.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, the noble Baroness will recall that the conclusion was reached that to secure the ultimate aim of the elimination of nuclear weapons demands serious political conviction. Can the noble Baroness assure us that her Government have that serious political conviction as regards the absolute need to eliminate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I think the whole House knows that the Government are totally committed to working for the non-proliferation treaty and for the comprehensive test ban treaty. I know that many of your Lordships will agree that abolishing nuclear weapons in the simplistic terms expressed in a number of reports by academics is not a realistic short or even medium-term objective. Before nuclear disarmament can be a practical objective the international community needs to have developed much more effective solutions to a number of problems. One cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. The problems will therefore continue because we have to avoid the dangers of a renewed arms race in the future and counter the existing threat of proliferation as well as getting a CTBT.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House why the UK departed company from the initial position taken by the US and France, and instead lined up with Russia and China in refusing to ratify the test ban treaty unless India and the other threshold states signed it too? Will the Government not accept that a compromise allowing the ban to come into force before India ratified

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it would be a vitally important step in progress towards nuclear disarmament, which the generals and other military experts at Stimson are now backing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is being a little unrealistic. We are certainly not blocking the treaty in any way. We have no more plans to test. We want a comprehensive test ban treaty but we want one which will be effective in preventing proliferation. It therefore seems logical and sensible that in addition to the five, the three threshold states, India, Pakistan and Israel, should also sign up to this. I recognise that France and America may for their own reasons have different views on the best ways of achieving this. We shall be discussing the entry into force provisions over the coming weeks, along with the rest of the text. We are looking for constructive consensus to move forward.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, is the noble Baroness really saying that after all the work that has been done on reaching an agreed text on the comprehensive test ban treaty, this country may refuse to sign it? Is that what she is saying.?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I cannot repeat exactly word for word what I said because I was speaking as I went along and not reading a text. However, I certainly did not say what the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has just accused me of. We want a treaty. Let that be clear beyond peradventure. We shall continue to work for the earliest possible agreement. That is why we have been working on it as hard as anyone. I realise that to some the text which came before us in June was broadly acceptable, but we should like to see it strengthened in a number of places. We are not alone in that.

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