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Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is somewhat hypocritical to be in favour of something theoretically but to oppose any steps taken in that direction? In the circumstances, will the Government reconsider their attitude in particular towards the Canberra Commission and the general view in the world that the time has come not merely to be theoretically in favour of nuclear disarmament but to do something about it?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, there is nothing theoretical about the Government's commitment to disarmament. We have already made reductions to our nuclear arsenal on a national basis. Our deterrent is set at a minimum consistent with our security needs.
I shall try not to repeat what I said in answer to the noble Lord's Question yesterday. But while we welcome the recognition in the Canberra Commission report that nuclear arms control can be negotiated only between the nuclear weapon states themselves, I have to disagree that the role of deterrence has disappeared. As I said, disarmament measures cannot be divorced from the broader global security context. Deterrence continues to make a substantial and essential contribution to European security.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, is the Minister aware that both General Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, the new US Secretary of State, have publicly declared that they look forward to the day when the number of nuclear weapons is zero and when, in the words of Mrs. Albright, they are nothing but a memory? Can the Minister explain why the Government are lagging behind our American allies in declaring their eventual elimination as an important policy objective?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, first, I should say to the noble Baroness that we too wish to see a zero situation, but it is not right--and the Americans would agree with this--to go to zero while other nuclear powers refuse to do so. We are not lagging behind. As I said yesterday, we have eliminated our maritime surface tactical nuclear capability and we have withdrawn our nuclear artillery and Lance missiles and further reductions are planned. When the WE-177 free-fall bomb is withdrawn by the end of next year, we shall have one system left--Trident. Our deterrent will then be 21 per cent. smaller in terms of warheads and 59 per cent. smaller in terms of explosive power than in the mid-1970s when the party opposite was in power.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, although the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, might be in the right place, the same cannot always be said of his references? Is it not a fact that the Canberra Commission made no reference at all to the present lack of control over nuclear weapons, although it referred to a potential loss of control in certain circumstances, which is very different? Will the Minister confirm that whatever may be the dangers elsewhere in the world, the command, control and communications of our own nuclear weapons are as effective and safe as human ingenuity can make them?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord is once again absolutely right. I shall not comment on his reference to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. But we must have a sense of proportion about what is going on and stick to the facts. The Canberra Commission's report made specific recommendations for immediate steps to be taken. As regards an end to nuclear tests, the CTBT has effectively done that. As regards further US/Russian cuts, we have made clear our support for the START process. As regards fissile material cut-off, we have already supported the beginning of negotiations with the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. As regards the command, control and communications of our own weapons, I believe that it is the best in the world.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while we are all accustomed to what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, says, and he is very apt to confuse hypocrisy with common sense, it is rather worrying when the very distinguished noble Baroness from the Front Bench opposite talks a lot of nonsense about us lagging behind the Americans?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we work extremely closely with our American and other allies. We shall make sure that we are not lagging behind anybody. I am sure that the noble Baroness will wish to do some more reading after today's Question Time.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, has the Minister noted a report that a very senior Russian military figure has said quite clearly that in the event of a conventional attack upon Russia, which we must all hope will never happen, Russia reserves the right to use a nuclear deterrent? Does not that make nonsense of the idea that deterrence has somehow vanished from the strategic armament?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The proposal by Mr. Rybkin, the Russian Security Council Secretary, to abandon the no-first-use principle is not new. It is restating the 1993 military doctrine. There are still risks in this world. What we are seeking to do--and it is important to understand this--is to embrace Russia in European security issues and not to isolate her. By that embracing, we hope to avoid the use of any nuclear weaponry whatever. That is why the Russians need not fear that anyone in NATO will ever contemplate taking advantage of their present difficulties in maintaining their conventional forces.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that coal stocks have fallen from 47.2 million tonnes in 1992 to 15 million tonnes in 1996 and that at the same time last year the demand for electricity rose by 7 per cent. as against the expected rise of 2 per cent.? Is he aware further that when there is a 1 per cent. rise in the demand for electricity, a further million tonnes of coal are required? Is not the ending of preferential treatment for nuclear power and gas long overdue, particularly as the coal industry is the cheapest provider of energy?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am not sure that I can agree with the noble Lord's last proposition. However, the situation is that there is a diverse range of fuels used to generate electricity. Increasingly the situation has been that gas is used more than coal. I cannot contradict the exact figures which the noble Lord has given. He is correct that only a very small stock of coal is kept at power stations; namely, something like 2.5 million tonnes. But in our view, that is an adequate defence against the disruption of supplies, given the wide variety of fuels which are now available.
As the noble Lord will appreciate, such has been the performance of the electricity generating industry that in the course of last month there was a peak demand of all time and there was still something like 13 per cent. of spare capacity.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am not surprised that my noble friend should make that observation. Certainly, the coal stocks have reduced for that reason. I am sure that my noble friend will recall that during the course of last year we discovered that in 1995, for the first year on record, no working days were lost through strike action in the coalmining industry. I have no doubt that everyone welcomes that. Indeed, that is one of the reasons that it is no longer necessary to keep excessively large stocks of coal.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that at present there is a shortage of British-produced coal in that 8 million tonnes of power station coal are being imported? Is he further aware that according to information which I have received, had the capacity existed, we could have replaced that tonnage, thus saving some £200 million of foreign exchange and providing some 2,000 extra jobs?
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