in the second session of the fifty-third parliament of the

united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland

commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the

fiftieth year of the reign of





9 Dec 2002 : Column 1

House of Lords

Monday, 9th December 2002.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Guildford

Ballistic Missiles

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that efforts to contain the threat of ballistic missiles through the negotiation of multilateral arms control agreements have now failed.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, on the contrary, on 25th November, the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation was adopted in The Hague. The UK was one of 98 states that subscribed, all committing themselves to restraint, vigilance, confidence-building and transparency measures in the field of ballistic missiles. The code is the most significant step towards securing broad-based agreement on internationally agreed standards in that area.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for kindly publishing that Answer to my Question this morning in a public discussion paper on missile defence that I have unfortunately not had time to read in full. The reason for my Question was partly that we have all read in the newspapers that US Under-Secretary of State John Bolton came to Britain in mid-November to discuss with the Government the contribution that they might make to the American missile defence scheme. John Bolton is well known for publicly opposing multilateral disarmament regimes and insisting that

9 Dec 2002 : Column 2

the United States has the right to go it alone, expecting Britain to follow. Can we have two assurances: first, that the Government will not simply follow the Americans into sharing contracts under the unilateral American approach to missile defence; and, secondly, that the Government will continue to press for a strong multilateral framework to contain the threat of ballistic missiles, so that we do not have to go down the immensely expensive and uncertain road of ballistic missile defence?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the Government share the concern of the United States Government about the proliferation of ballistic missiles. With the United States, we have a range of responses to tackle the potential threat from those weapons of mass destruction. We have a comprehensive strategy that includes non-proliferation, counter-proliferation measures, diplomacy—which is always our first resort—and deterrence, as well as the defensive measures to which the noble Lord referred. We are very much in favour of ensuring that we follow our allies' concerns. However, we have not at present received any type of request from the United States to use any facilities in this country for its missile programme.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, while congratulating the Government on their achievement, does my noble friend recollect that some of us have been asking for a long time when we may expect the United Nations' fourth special session on disarmament? We have always been told that the time was not right. How will we know when it is right?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I cannot answer my noble and learned friend's question directly with a time-scale. If there is information which is not available to me this afternoon, I shall be happy to send it to my noble and learned friend, but he will be pleased to know that the international code of conduct to

9 Dec 2002 : Column 3

which I referred in my original reply has the blessing of the United Nations. Indeed, we hope eventually to fall within the United Nations' regime with that code.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, reverting to the original Question, does the Minister agree that ballistic missile defence systems can actually reinforce and work with multilateral arms control negotiations—they can fill the gaps where the latter fall down? Even though we have not received a formal approach from the Americans on a ballistic missile defence system, have we been advised whether such a system would embrace our own protection and that of the rest of Europe, or merely the American continent? Does she agree that a multi-layered BMD system would be enormously valuable in developing and enhancing world security—not upsetting the security balance, as many self-appointed gurus and experts insist, but quite the reverse?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will read in the paper to which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be speaking this afternoon in another place, and which is now in the Libraries of both Houses, we are considering seriously with our allies, including the United States, the options for missile defence. As I told the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, we have not at present received a formal request for any use of our facilities. However, we would agree to such a request only if we were satisfied that the overall security of the United Kingdom and the alliance would ultimately be enhanced.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend tell us whether the Government consider that the international code of conduct is likely to have sufficiently robust effect to help to deal with the various problems concerning proliferation, including preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons?

Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, we have great confidence in the code of conduct. However, it is not the only instrument to deal with arms proliferation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, mentioned in his question that we need to use a range of responses to reinforce our defence against ballistic missile proliferation. In that sense, this is the first multi-arms control instrument in the field of ballistic missiles. It will ensure that the countries that subscribe to it—today, 99 countries subscribe to it and the Government were instrumental in writing its first draft—exercise maximum possible restraint in the development, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles, including where possible reducing national holdings of such missiles.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the US Congress has just passed a Bill advancing 7.4 billion dollars to be spent on the national missile defence

9 Dec 2002 : Column 4

programme. May we anticipate a statement from Her Majesty's Government on how much we intend to spend in that area?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the whole public discussion on costs following our discussions with the US Government about the missile defence programme is brought to public attention in the document that the noble Lord is holding to his breast.

Housing: Right-to-Buy Scheme

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Maddock asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to reform the "right to buy" for social housing tenants.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we have no plans to end the right-to-buy scheme, but we see difficulties with some aspects of the way in which the scheme is operating. We are looking at what can be done to tackle abuses and at the effects of the scheme in areas of high demand for housing.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box. I hope that I shall not give him too much of a hard time on his first outing. I declare an interest as patron, president and vice-president of various housing associations concerned with affordable housing. The number of sales under the right-to-buy scheme is three times the rate at which we are building affordable homes. In 2000–01, the annual value of discounts to tenants, under the scheme, was 1.2 million, a figure greater than the amount given in grants to housing associations to build affordable homes. Given those facts, does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need to stop the haemorrhaging through sale of affordable homes, particularly in areas of acute need? Local authorities are best placed to make decisions in that area because they write the local housing strategies. In the long term, we need to review the policy and identify a means of enabling tenants to accumulate assets, without reducing the supply of affordable housing.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her warm welcome.

The Government realise that there are problems. The right-to-buy scheme has attracted criticism because it reduces the social housing stock and the stock of affordable homes. The Government have indicated publicly that they are concerned about the impact of RTB sales in areas of housing pressure and that they will take action to address it. Also, the rules are being abused. In particular, companies build up portfolios of ex-council properties by entering into deferred resale deals.

Measures for changing RTB must be evidence-based and targeted. The Government have therefore commissioned research by Heriot-Watt University

9 Dec 2002 : Column 5

into the scale, nature and impact of the exploitation. The results of that survey are expected shortly and will be published thereafter. They will help the Government to move forward with their new policies.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page