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House of Lords

Tuesday, 10th June 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Baroness Lloyd of Highbury

Dame June Kathleen Lloyd DBE, having been created Baroness Lloyd of Highbury, of Highbury in the London Borough of Islington, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Walton of Detchant and the Lord Kilpatrick of Kincraig.

Lord Biffen

The Right Honourable William John Biffen, having been created Baron Biffen, of Tanat in the County of Shropshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Hooper and the Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn.

Several Lords--Took the Oath or Affirmed.

Telephone Switchboards: Blind Operators

3 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will negotiate to obtain exemption from European Union Directive 91/263/EEC for telephone switchboards specially adapted for use by blind operators.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, the Government are not now seeking to change Directive 91/263 on telecommunications terminal equipment since the Commission has now presented a successor directive to the Council of Ministers. We are pleased to note that the Commission proposals give special consideration to the needs of different disability groups including visually handicapped switchboard operators.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, which is very satisfactory so far as it goes for the time being. The European Commission apparently considers that this kind of switchboard is incompatible with the single market. Can that view be explained, since it must be less expensive to produce ordinary switchboards than this special kind? Will there not be a case for subsidiarity if the process which the noble Lord indicated does not succeed?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, we are confident that we are able to use our influence in a productive way in this matter in order to secure what I believe are the

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noble Lord's concerns. We equally share those concerns. There is a case for introducing this measure within the single market. But there is a great deal that has to be discussed both in relation to the detail and the ambit of the proposal.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that blind people have shown that they can do such switchboard work most efficiently? Is it not shortsighted of other people to make it more difficult for them to do it?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Blind people have shown that, despite their disability, they can undertake such tasks. Indeed, that applies to other disabled people. We should be able to negotiate a satisfactory solution to the problem which I hope will accommodate the noble Lord's views.

Nuclear Weapons

3.2 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take an early opportunity to publicise their goal, as confirmed by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (HL Deb., 15th May 1997, col. 131), of the global elimination of nuclear weapons; and whether they will start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for the achievement of this goal.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said when introducing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office mission statement, the Labour Government will give a new momentum to arms control and disarmament. We have already made clear in the manifesto our commitment to the goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons and our commitment to press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. We will be examining how best to implement that commitment, particularly in the context of the strategic defence review.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the noble Baroness, whom I am glad to see in her usual good form, aware that I find what she said eminently satisfactory so far as it goes. Nevertheless, will she suggest to our right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that it would be more satisfactory if he were to add an addendum to the mission statement, making clear precisely the actions that he proposes to take in order to give effect to the aim which we all share?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his good wishes and, indeed, all Members of the House who have been kind enough to inquire after my health, which, I am happy to say, has been restored to its usual robust form.

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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office mission statement confirms our commitment to ensuring the security of the United Kingdom and the dependent territories. We shall work for continued peace for our people by promoting international stability, fostering our alliances and promoting arms control. Our goal of the global elimination of nuclear arms forms an important part of that commitment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can the Minister say whether there is any need to badger this Government to secure adequate defence in this context?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there is no need to badger this Government to secure adequate defence. This Government are committed to adequate defence of this country, as we have made clear.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that one of the aims of the present Government, as it has been the aim of government in this country for the past 50 years, is general and complete disarmament under universal and international control? Does that not include the abolition of nuclear weapons? Is it not the case, as has been the opinion of experts for as long as I can remember, that the selection of one category of weapons from among all those is not particularly helpful to the cause of arms control and disarmament?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government made clear in the manifesto that they would work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons and believe that they have a mandate to proceed on that basis. But the Government assure the British nation that British nuclear weapons will be included in the multilateral negotiations when we are satisfied with verified progress towards that goal.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will my noble friend go one step further and agree that there may be better uses for the £1.5 billion that we currently spend on an unusable nuclear capability? I fully accept that the global agreement that she mentioned will entail patient persuasion. But if the Government were to take the lead in those negotiations, would not that establish Britain's claim to be a moral superpower and be an accolade in future history books?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the Government are taking the lead, as the noble and learned Lord put it, by making clear our determination on the elimination of nuclear weapons. When we have reached the point at which we are satisfied with verified progress and when we are able to bring Trident into the negotiations, I am sure that the Government will be able to find a great deal to do with the money thereby saved.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as a result of the nuclear arms race, there is a very large number of redundant nuclear reactors which have been stored in unsafe conditions in the north-west part of

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Russia, near to the Norwegian border, as revealed by the former Soviet naval captain Aleksandr Nikitin, who, for his pains, is now in prison on charges of espionage; and that the British Government have given a small amount of help to the Russians in trying to make those reactors safe? Will she discuss that problem with our friends in the European Union, to see what additional measures are required in order to prevent nuclear contamination of the whole of Europe from that reserve of dangerous materials?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord has drawn to our attention a rather wider issue than that contained in the original Question. I thank him for drawing it to my attention.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether our nuclear deterrent is indeed independent and can be targeted without the use of American technology?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that question is very wide of the original Question. Let me assure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom does not target any country with its nuclear missiles.

Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is the risk of nuclear proliferation which should concern us above all in the context of nuclear disarmament and that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty must be the cornerstone of international efforts to combat proliferation? What is the Government's view of the progress being made in the Zangger Committee with the implementation of the treaty's provisions on nuclear exports, which must surely be central to any of us having a greater degree of confidence that proliferation can be successfully contained?

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