Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1102

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I have not got that information, but I will look into it and write to my noble friend.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was around when the experiment took place from 1968 to 1971 and was glad during my tenure in the House of Commons to vote for a restoration of the previous situation? One reason why the public were against it was that it was sometimes dark until 10 o’clock in the morning and they believed that was very dangerous for children being taken to school and for people going to work. I urge those who are going with what is the growing fashion to realise that there are some very serious objections to double summer time, as was proved during the experiment.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is undoubtedly right. The point has been made that in some parts of the UK the mornings would be dark until 10 or 11 o’clock and that would have safety implications for children going to school. In Northern Ireland, it would remain light until midnight, which would create difficulties for people who wished to go to sleep earlier.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, if the noble Lord is looking for statistics about the experiment around 1970, will he take it from me that many of us in another place received a torrent of letters from constituents and others who hated the experiment, so we voted it down at that time? Will he do everything to encourage the government Whips to block it on Friday of this week?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, and I think he makes my earlier point that the issue is controversial.

Iraq: Refugees

3.23 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we are concerned at the increasing number of people fleeing the violence in Iraq. The Government have just announced a £4 million contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide emergency assistance, including water, medical supplies and rehabilitation of the health infrastructure. This brings our total humanitarian contribution for Iraq to over £120 million since 2003. We are also considering the UNHCR’s appeal to help refugees in neighbouring countries. Above all, the first priority of the Iraqi Government must be to end the violence that is causing this situation, with the support of the international community and the region.

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1103

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I am sure that, like other noble Lords, she will be aware that one of our closest and most loyal allies, Jordan, is being absolutely swamped by refugees from Iraq, rising towards between 700,000 and 1 million people. One in eight people in Iraq have left their homes as refugees or been displaced. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the existing position is very bad and deteriorating rapidly, and has asked for $60 million in emergency aid to be paid immediately to help in this desperate situation. Will the Government consider what donation they might make towards that sum? Will they also consider very carefully the likelihood that the so-called surge policy of the United States Administration will yet further increase this pathetic tide of refugees?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: On the UNHCR, my Lords, the Government are at this very moment considering making a contribution. It is not that we do not intend to make a contribution but that, as noble Lords will know, the UN has more than £200 million of unspent resources in its trust fund under the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq. We hope that some of that money can be used for humanitarian relief. If it cannot, we will certainly make a contribution to the fund.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the suggestion that Jordan could be politically destabilised by the influx of Iraqis? Most of the refugees in Jordan and Syria are Sunni, as the history of the Palestinians vividly demonstrates. Would the Minister agree that those communities could easily become bases and breeding grounds for Iraqi insurgencies?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government are very much aware of the increasing pressure in the Kingdom of Jordan in terms of social cohesion and pressure on services, which can indeed have a destabilising effect on that country. That is precisely why we are considering making a contribution. We will be making some sort of contribution to meet the UNHCR demand for money so that we can help refugees in those countries, assist Jordan and ensure that it remains stable.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, does the Minister agree that most of those who swell the tide of refugees from Iraq are Christians who find life increasingly intolerable in Iraq, and that it would be extremely difficult for them if, because of the numbers, Jordan were forced to impose even stronger border restrictions?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I fully agree that it would be regrettable if Jordan were forced to have even greater border restrictions. I also recognise the implications that it would have for Christians. We are of course concerned about the refugee problem, but we are also very concerned

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1104

about the problem facing internally displaced people in Iraq. That is where the main focus of our work has been to date.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, do the Government accept that the situation for refugees is just as bad in Syria as it is in Jordan? Will the Government pay special attention to the particular needs of Palestinians and Kurds who have fled Iraq?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, we will certainly pay attention to the terrible problems inflicted on the Palestinians and the Kurds who have already had to flee at one stage in their lives. We welcome Syria’s decision to reopen diplomatic relations with Iraq and hope that it will result in practical co-operation not only on terrorism but on the refugees.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, the UNHCR is recording 100,000 people crossing the Iraqi border with difficulty every month. It is the fastest-growing refugee problem in the world. £4 million does not sound enough. Given the UK’s responsibility in Iraq and the lack of preplanning for what happened there, did the Government put this on the agenda when the Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on Monday—I see no evidence of it—and if not, why not?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not know whether it was on the agenda for the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Monday but I will find out and inform the noble Baroness and the rest of the House. £4 million does not sound like a lot of money, but it is something. We must remember that a lot of other money is going into Iraq that we believe can assist internally displaced people and prevent refugees having to flee. We are, for example, undertaking work on capacity building to help the Iraqi Government to better manage and distribute their money and to improve services for people in Iraq so that they do not have to flee across borders and become refugees. We are working to end the violence in Iraq and to improve the capacity of the Iraqis so that people no longer have to flee the country.


3.30 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as the House will know, there are 30 speakers in the important debate today. The House should rise at around 10 o’clock if Back-Bench contributions are limited to 12 minutes.

Armed Forces: Nuclear Deterrent

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson) rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent.

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1105

The noble Lord said: My Lords, last month the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council made a Statement on the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent. On that occasion, a number of Peers rightly asked that this House be given an early opportunity to discuss the issue in more detail. I am delighted that we have that opportunity today.

The Government’s policy in this area is informed by two central imperatives: first and foremost, to take the steps necessary to ensure, to the greatest degree possible, the future security of this country and our allies; and, secondly, to make progress towards fulfilling our vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. I believe that the White Paper achieves the right balance between those two imperatives.

Let me rapidly remind the House of the key decisions set out in the White Paper: we have decided to renew our minimum independent nuclear deterrent by procuring a new class of ballistic missile submarine to replace our four Vanguard-class submarines in the 2020s; we will examine whether we require three or four of the new class of submarines to maintain our posture of having a submarine always on deterrent patrol; we have decided to join the US programme to extend into the 2040s the life of the Trident D5 ballistic missiles that our submarines currently carry; and we have secured assurances from the US Government, which were published last month, giving us the option to participate in any future programme to replace the D5 missile.

The third component of our nuclear deterrent system is the British-designed and built warhead carried on the missiles. The White Paper indicates that decisions on the refurbishment or replacement of the warhead are likely to be required in the next Parliament but are not needed now.

Let me briefly summarise why some decisions are needed now. Even with a five-year extension to the life of our existing submarines to make it around 30 years—and incidentally, that will be longer than the life of any of the predecessors of the Vanguard class—those submarines will start to leave service in the early 2020s.

Let me address head-on the claims of those who say we can run the submarines even longer. They claim that US experience with Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines proves that. The judgment we have made on boat life is based on a careful assessment of the costs and risks involved, not least given the need to replace major components that have a particular design life and the risk of a significant loss of availability, as happened at the end of the life of the previous, Resolution-class submarines. Our judgment, which has been scrupulously and thoroughly examined, is that an extension of about five years should be feasible and cost-effective, while a longer life extension would not be.

The comparison between the United Kingdom and the United States here is not useful. The US has land-, sea- and air-based nuclear weapons and a much more extensive capability than we have. For example, it has 14 SSBNs, while we have only four, and they are the

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1106

only nuclear deterrent system we have, so we cannot afford to take any irresponsible risks. We certainly cannot plan on that basis.

In addition, the Ohio boats are different from the Vanguards; they had a longer original design life, and there are major engineering differences; for example, radically different propulsion systems. If we had intended a much longer extension of the Vanguard boats, as the US intend with theirs, it would have needed to be built into their original design and their subsequent manufacture, refit and maintenance. That was not the case.

The assessment of our experts, which has been arrived at very carefully, is that it will take about 17 years from starting the detailed concept phase to design, build, test and deploy replacement submarines. Seventeen years may seem a long time, but nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines are some of the most complex pieces of technology in the world. We do not get the chance to prototype them: the first boat goes to sea. It also reflects our previous experience and that of the US and France with similar submarines. So we had to act now to avoid a gap in our deterrence protection when the Vanguard class goes out of service.

Given the need for decisions, we had to consider how the international environment might look over the 20- to 50-year horizon involved. We are the first to recognise that any attempt to look ahead that far is fraught with difficulty, and that this is ultimately a matter of judgment. We had no choice but to address the issue.

Our judgment is that we cannot discount nuclear risks to our security over that timescale. Indeed, the White Paper goes further and says that we see potential risks in three areas, in each of which we believe our deterrent potentially has a role. The first is the possible re-emergence of a strategic nuclear threat to the UK and its allies over the longer term. Secondly, potential nuclear threats from emerging nuclear weapon states, or states with nuclear aspirations. Some of these—I have in mind North Korea and Iran—give us cause for concern, and there are real risks of further proliferation. Thirdly—what is really a subset of the first two risks—the new possibility that states may seek to deliver nuclear weapons against us using terrorist proxies.

These risks may be exacerbated by wider trends leading to a potentially increased risk of interstate conflict: failed and failing states; the rise of extremism; and increased pressure on, and competition for, resources as a result of population growth and rising global consumption.

It is worth noting that there is no sign that any of the other nuclear-weapon states recognised under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty—the United States, Russia, France and China—plan to abandon their nuclear weapons capability.

So what is our nuclear deterrence policy? Our deterrent is intended to help ensure that nobody seeks to threaten our vital interests, and that nobody seeks to use nuclear weapons to blackmail us or the

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1107

international community. It is not intended to coerce or threaten others; nor is it intended as a tool for war-fighting or to seek military advantage on the battlefield.

The principles which govern our approach to nuclear deterrence are unchanged, and the White Paper spells them out: our focus is on preventing nuclear attack; we will retain only the minimum deterrent required for our security; we maintain ambiguity about the circumstances in which we might contemplate use of nuclear weapons, although we are very clear that we would consider using them only in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO allies; our deterrent supports collective security through NATO; and an independent centre of nuclear decision-making in the UK enhances the overall deterrent effect of allied nuclear forces.

We will continue, as now, to have the flexibility to vary the number of missiles and warheads that might be employed, as well as having the option of a lower yield from our warhead. That flexibility can make our nuclear forces a more credible deterrent against smaller nuclear threats, but we remain clear that any conceivable use of our nuclear weapons—at whatever scale—would necessarily be strategic, both in intent and effect. Indeed, we have deliberately discontinued the use of the term sub-strategic, in the sense that it had been used previously to apply to a possible, limited use of our nuclear weapons.

One concern that has been expressed is that our deterrent is somehow operationally dependent on the United States, or that we can be prevented from employing it. This is simply not the case. Decisions on any use of our nuclear weapons would be sovereign UK decisions, and no other country could prevent their employment. Only the Prime Minister can authorise the use of our nuclear weapons, even if the missiles are to be fired as part of a NATO response. The instruction to fire would be transmitted to the submarine using only UK codes and UK equipment. All the command and control procedures are fully independent, and the missiles do not use the global positioning satellite system: they have an inertial guidance system. Nothing in the planned Trident D5 life extension programme will change that position.

While we have never concealed that we choose to procure certain elements of our system from the United States, I can provide assurance that the system is fully operationally independent of the United States. Successive Governments would not have sustained our nuclear deterrent on these terms were that not the case.

Another charge levelled is that the retention and renewal of our deterrent system is illegal and, in particular, incompatible with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Again, that is simply not the case. The UK has been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of efforts to reduce the size of existing arsenals and to fight proliferation. We have reduced the explosive power of our nuclear weapons stockpile by over 70 per cent since the end of the Cold War. We have the smallest stockpile of any of the five recognised nuclear powers, and only we

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1108

have reduced to a single system. We already have less than 1 per cent of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Following careful assessment of our future deterrent needs, we have now decided to make a further 20 per cent cut, involving the dismantling of about 40 warheads. In future, the maximum number of operationally available warheads will be fewer than 160, down from fewer than 200. That will represent a reduction by about half since 1997, compared to the plans of the previous Government.

I will briefly talk about why we chose to continue with submarines, and about costs. Submarines provide a platform that is discreet, unprovocative, invulnerable and safe. We are confident that our submarines on patrol have, in almost 40 years of continuous patrolling, never been detected by a potential opponent. I take this opportunity to pay warm tribute to the skills, professionalism and dedication of those in the Royal Navy, and the civilians who support them, who have carried out this crucial role over that period. We all owe them a considerable debt.

To pick up another concern that noble Lords have expressed, the White Paper makes clear that we do not believe that technological advances will erode the submarines’ advantage in terms of invulnerability compared to other platforms. That invulnerability and assuredness is key to ensuring that we can keep our deterrent minimal and credible, and therefore as cost-effective as possible. Apart from other disadvantages, land or air platforms would be significantly more vulnerable—and would therefore require much larger numbers of aircraft or silos to achieve the same level of credible capability—and therefore much more expensive.

Submarines also enable us to stick with the D5 missile, which is a much more capable and cost-effective solution than any other—certainly than the cruise missile options canvassed by some. They also mean that we can draw on existing infrastructure, industrial capacity and skills.

Some noble Lords have expressed concern at the possibility of reducing our SSBN fleet from four to three. The White Paper makes clear that our policy is to maintain continuous deterrent patrolling. We will investigate fully whether changes in technology, operational procedures and maintenance regimes might make it practicable with the new class to do so with only three boats. Although we should not seek to pre-empt that judgement today, I can assure noble Lords that we have no intention of taking irresponsible risks with the maintenance of our deterrent posture.

On costs, we have made clear that the investment required to renew our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities of our Armed Forces. Despite the claims of some who would have us believe otherwise, the Government have a strong record on defence spending. The last spending review increased the defence budget by an average of 1.4 per cent per year in real terms. The defence budget for 2007-08 will be about £3.7 billion higher than in 2004-05. We have continued to make significant

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1109

investments in new capability for all three services. Decisions on the level of our investments in nuclear and conventional capability will be taken in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the outcome of which will be announced later in the year.

Our initial estimate of the procurement costs for a four-submarine force is £15 billion to £20 billion, spread over more than 15 years. This estimate contains provision for the costs of the submarines, at £11 billion to £14 billion, as well as for future support infrastructure requirements and any future refurbishment or replacement of the warhead. Our estimate of the submarine costs draws on our experience with other submarine programmes, as well as being built up from first principles.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page