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India: Nuclear Tests

4.38 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Indian nuclear testing which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

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My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on behalf of the Official Opposition, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. We strongly share the Government's concern about the nuclear tests which the Indian Government have carried out.

Does the Minister accept that the decision by the Indian Government to ignore international pressure not to conduct any future nuclear tests since its last "peaceful" test in 1974 has had important implications in terms of damaging India's relationship with one nuclear power, China? As a result there is a real danger that we may see a nuclear arms race developing in South Asia which would have grave ramifications for the international community.

What further representations do the Government intend to make to the governments of Pakistan and China to ensure that the situation does not escalate?

I think it is important to set this day's exchanges in context. I believe it is important to recall that there was an exceptionally good and strong relationship between our two countries built by John Major when he was Prime Minister. I have to say that it is regrettable that that relationship has been damaged by Robin Cook's visit. Otherwise today that may have provided an invaluable and very special relationship with important historical ramifications for our country.

Therefore it is important that we learn what the Minister can tell the House about the ways in which the Foreign Secretary has worked to build on a relationship which the previous administration valued greatly and worked hard to promote through a constant and busy two-way street of traffic between government, business and people.

But most important in terms of questions, I should like to ask the Minister to comment on the decision of Germany, Sweden and Denmark to cut their aid to India. Does the Minister expect them to ask Britain to do likewise? What consultations have been held between

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the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development? Would the Minister also comment on Canada's decision to ban military exports to India?

Can the Minister elaborate a little further on the discussions the Foreign Secretary has had with his American counterpart? Have the Government examined the nature of American economic sanctions and has the Foreign Secretary consulted the President of the Board of Trade on the advisability of the United Kingdom implementing similar sanctions?

These are all important questions, but one aspect that unites both sides of this House is the importance we attach to ensuring that in this busy time during our presidency of the European Union and in government the Minister and his colleagues will have our full support in seeking an early resolution to this problem, hopefully against the recognition that trade sanctions may well be unwise given the damaging effects that they would have on a society possessing the entrenched democratic credentials of India. Finally, can the Minister confirm that that will be raised as a matter of urgency at the G8 meeting this weekend?

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps I may too thank the noble Baroness for the Statement. Perhaps I may ask her three questions. The first concerns the issue of monitoring. It is quite clear from both United States and British sources that there was no prior knowledge of what might happen, nor indeed any immediate result of monitoring of the tests that India held.

In view of the fact that during the Second Reading of the nuclear explosions Bill in another place the Minister of State, Tony Lloyd, specifically pointed out that a worldwide network of monitoring stations would

    "detect, identify and locate the source of a suspicious event anywhere in the world".--[Official Report, Commons, 6/11/97; col. 456.],

can the Minister give us any information on the failure of monitoring in this case?

Secondly, perhaps I may ask her whether the phrase "co-ordinating our response", which was used in her Statement, means that we will follow the United States with respect to sanctions. In that I follow what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition asked.

My final question is perhaps to me the most important question that I want to ask the Minister. The Minister will be well aware that India had a long record, until recently, of constantly seeking peaceful outcomes. Indeed, many of us admired Indian governments precisely because they had a record of constantly trying to find peaceful answers to difficult questions. It therefore is a great disappointment that India, of all countries, should have broken the terms--although she did not herself sign it--of the comprehensive test ban treaty. Given her record, given also that she is the second largest country in the world and the world's largest democracy, would the G8 Ministers consider whether the time might be right for pursuing a new initiative in the field of comprehensive nuclear

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disarmament along lines that would embrace countries that are on the edge of nuclear developments, whether civil or military, that bring them into the group of nuclear powers?

It seems to me and to many of my colleagues on these Benches that it is essentially in the resumption of comprehensive disarmament of nuclear weapons that may lie the best answer to this extremely troubling new situation.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their support and for what the noble Lord described as his party's strongly shared concern over this issue.

As I believe I indicated in repeating my right honourable friend's Statement, the tension which the tests have caused in China is something which causes Her Majesty's Government enormous concern. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, there has been a strong reaction from China and the Government will be doing everything they can to try to lessen the tension in that part of the world, not only in relation to China but also in relation to Pakistan's reaction.

The only slight regret I have about what the noble Lord said is that he sought perhaps a touch of party political advantage when the rest of his remarks indicated what I hope will be the strong feeling of the House that the reaction from the United Kingdom should be one in which we all share the same feelings of condemnation. I am sure that that is the noble Lord's overwhelming feeling. Any suggestion that if things had gone a different way there would have been no nuclear tests this week is a little over-blown.

Dismay at the tests is shared by almost all the international community. India has chosen to isolate itself and as one of India's oldest friends we very much regret that. The strength of the relationship of this country and this Government with India was amply demonstrated at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October last year.

The noble Lord asked some questions about banning military exports. That is an issue which must be discussed with our international partners. I suggest that there are a number of different issues which will have to be discussed, not just that of arms sales. I suppose that we are fortunate in that we have all our G8 partners in Birmingham tomorrow and there will be discussions at that time. The noble Lord asked what else we could do in that respect. We are not only discussing the matter with the G8 countries over the weekend. We shall also be discussing it with our European partners, as I indicated, at the general affairs meeting on 25th May. I understand that at the United Nations we are discussing at the moment the Security Council presidential statement. That shows, I hope, that in three arenas--the European Union, the G8 and the United Nations--the United Kingdom Government are doing what they can to co-ordinate matters, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

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The noble Baroness asked about monitoring which, I am sure, will be of interest to many people. I have some difficulty in going into any great detail because much of the monitoring must depend on intelligence issues which, as the noble Baroness will know, it is improper for me to discuss in your Lordships' House. Without wishing to denigrate the point which the noble Baroness made, it is an obvious one which we shall need to look at. We shall co-ordinate with those with whom we share intelligence material. I hope that that covers most of the matters raised.

The noble Baroness referred to strengthening the comprehensive test ban treaty and the non-proliferation treaty. Many countries which are signatories to those agreements will wish to look at ways to strengthen them and ways in which we can ensure that the united feeling of dismay about what has happened this week in India is not left in any doubt at all.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, from this side of the House, I express my support--I believe it will be widespread in this House--for the Statement which has been repeated. However, the Statement does not seem to go far enough. It refers to concern and dismay. But what about anger and determination? There should be a realisation of the dangers of the situation. Over the past few years, we have been moving gradually, even if there has been an element of lip service, towards, it is hoped, eliminating the nuclear threat. This incident could completely reverse that situation and we shall find ourselves marching in the opposite direction towards the ultimate of a nuclear war. That is the danger. In reply to questions the Minister has indicated that she is not without appreciation of that danger.

It seems to me that if we follow the path suggested by the Liberal Democrats just now it may be possible to rescue ourselves from the peril of this new position and move more vigorously towards the aim of nuclear disarmament. Unless we reach that point, the world will continue to remain in peril.

I express my general support, appreciation and approval of the actions which the Government intend to take. I would welcome a little more understanding and appreciation of the true horror which faces us unless we succeed in solving the present problem. It is that abyss which worries me. Although the Government may not wish to express it too clearly, I believe that it is that horror which is behind the Government's Statement. I should like to know from my noble friend whether I am correct in that belief.

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