Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Carver: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extremely interesting Answer. Does he agree that when people ask loose questions--for example, questions about the annual cost of Trident--the figures should be

9 Dec 1997 : Column 5

quoted and not the £200 million a year, which is merely the operating costs of the ballistic missile submarine fleet?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, Her Majesty's Ministers always attempt to answer the Question in the terms in which it has been phrased.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the sizeable sum of nearly £1 billion a year could be better spent elsewhere within the defence budget? Will he consider spending it on re-equipping and retraining the armies of the eastern European nations such as the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? Will he also consider putting that suggestion to the Strategic Defence Review?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I must start from the premise that this Government, like their predecessors, consider that the money being spent represents good value and I have no doubt that the new constructive Opposition will take the same view. I am interested in the menu of suggestions which the noble Earl put forward, but I do not believe that at this time any of them is a practical way ahead for the Ministry of Defence.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the sum which he has mentioned, which is a small proportion of the defence budget, is a small price to pay for deterring potential aggressors in a world in which the weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them are in the arsenals of an increasing number of dangerous and unpredictable regimes?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for his remarks and I agree with him. It may be of interest to the House to note that, for example, the current Russian stockpile of nuclear weapons includes many weapons of the 100 to 200 kilotonne range and some as large as 1 megatonne; that is, 1 million tonnes of high explosive equivalent.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the completeness of his Answer. Is he aware that the idea that the money might be better spent elsewhere is well founded? For example, if he were to discontinue the spending of so much money on our nuclear weapons he might be able to assist the Russians to get rid of some of their more dangerous weapons.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am always happy to entertain questions from my noble friend, but I am afraid that I am never likely to persuade him to agree with me on these matters. Obviously, we would rather not be in a position where we had to spend money on any armaments, let alone nuclear armaments, but, unfortunately, we must deal with the world in which we find ourselves.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to that part of the noble and

9 Dec 1997 : Column 6

gallant Lord's Question which refers to "maintaining the capability" of keeping nuclear weapons and to the Minister's remarks about decommissioning. Will those costs come out of the defence budget or from some other source, because they appear to have nothing to do with the maintenance of the defence of the realm?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it is always the fate of defence Ministers that their budget must accept many costs which, in my view, are not strictly defence costs. However, the decommissioning costs will be expected to come out of the defence budget.

Lord Lewin: My Lords, I should first declare an interest. At one time I was the operational commander of the Polaris Fleet and, as Chief of the Defence staff, I was responsible for giving military advice to the government of the day as regards the choice of the successor system. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to my noble friend Lord Chalfont. Will the Minister confirm that the Trident missiles are still assigned to NATO because I believe that our NATO allies, in particular the United States, would view with some dismay any change in that arrangements?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, with whom I spent many happy hours at the Ministry of Defence last time I was there. I am happy to confirm that our submarine nuclear forces are still assigned to NATO. The noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right. It would present us with considerable difficulties with our allies were there to be any change in those arrangements and none is contemplated.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Franco-British defence dialogue, which I understand has been covering nuclear weapons for some time, has identified any areas in which closer co-operation as regards positioning and stationing operations between the two independent nuclear forces could promote savings through a lower level of operation, given that there is no immediate threat to either country?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, all I can say to the noble Lord is that the results of any such conversations would remain highly confidential.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind the very large sums of money that the Minister has reported to the House as being involved in keeping nuclear weapons, will he confirm that even larger sums of money will be spent by other major nuclear powers on the maintenance of their nuclear weapons? Moreover, as the Government's long-term aim is to see the eradication of nuclear weapons worldwide, what steps are the Government taking to alert the other countries which have nuclear weapons to the large cost savings which could accrue if they were to join our Government in those long-term aims?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that the amount of money that the

9 Dec 1997 : Column 7

United Kingdom spends on its strategic nuclear capability and sub-strategic nuclear capability is extremely modest compared with those sums spent by the other nuclear powers. I am happy to pass on my noble friend's suggestion to my right honourable friend in the other place that he draws the attention of the other nuclear powers to the sums of money which might be saved. However, I regret to say that I see no immediate progress in that field, despite the recent remarks by President Yeltsin.

EU: International Development Policies

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they intend to take to influence European Union policies on international development, and to ensure that more EU development aid goes to the world's poorest communities.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we seek to influence the European Union both through our formal role in the decision-making process and by regular contact at all levels. Improving the poverty focus of the European Union's aid programme is a key objective. We are pursuing that in discussions in relation to the future of the Lome agreement. We shall take that forward during the UK presidency in work on securing commitments to international development targets and in following up the poverty resolution agreed in 1993.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that long and far-reaching Answer. Does he not agree that the British presidency provides us with a unique opportunity to influence EU development aid? Does he accept that the OECD targets provide a good objective and that we could allocate more aid to social sectors and civil society and delegate more decision-making powers away from the Commission into both overseas projects and local partners?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the objectives which the noble Earl describes are the Government's objectives: to focus the aid programme on the poorest countries; and within much of our aid programme for all countries, to focus on the poorest sectors. That involves many of the social objectives to which the noble Earl referred. During our presidency I am sure that my right honourable friend will take the opportunity to steer the discussion among European Ministers to those ends.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one way in which we could influence the European Union in its development programmes is by trying to speed up the major capital works to which it is already committed? I am

9 Dec 1997 : Column 8

thinking, for example, of the Nacala port and railway corridor in Mozambique which is taking a painfully long time to come to fruition.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we are aware of inefficiencies in the programme both on the ground and within the European Commission itself. Indeed, the Secretary of State has referred to some of those inefficiencies, and the capital programme requires special attention, which it will be given.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of those inefficiencies within the European Union could be solved if some of the work were undertaken by member nations working with the European Union? I do not suggest repatriation programmes. However, a number of nations, not only this one, have very good teams which could implement those projects much more speedily and cost effectively than is currently happening in the European Union. Would the Minister please ask the Secretary of State to look at that matter?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page