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Let me come to the main substance of the debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I was surprised by the article in the Wall Street Journal, which I read more than once. I have it with me in the Chamber and I even persuaded my wife to read it because I thought it was extremely important, even though it argued against a lot of things that I hold very dear and believe in. I totally endorse the noble Lords assessment of the authority of the authors of that article and I commend it to noble Lords who might be interested in views other than my own.
I want to make it quite clear from the start that I am not comfortable with the non-proliferation treaty. I have no desire to live in a nuclear-free world and I am very glad that nuclear weapons were invented because I am persuaded that, as a result of the invention of nuclear weapons, we did not see a third world war in western Europe on top of the 10 years in which we slaughtered each other. I am quite convinced that that is one of the reasons we will never see another major land war in Europe.
I am also extremely glad that nuclear weapons were invented when they were invented. I am, of course, extremely sorry for what happened to the good people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but compare the descriptions that we heard most evocatively of the agonies that those poor people went through with what the alternative would have been, in terms of casualties on both sides, had there been an invasion of the territory of the empire of Japan. In addition, the deterrent would not have been created. Finally, I am extremely glad that nuclear weapons were invented by the United States of America and not by Germany or Japan. So I stand before noble Lords as somebody who is very happy that we have nuclear weapons. I sleep better in my bed at night for that and I am very surprised that lots of noble Lords do not feel the same, though they do not feel it apposite to say so on the Floor of this House.
The non-proliferation treaty is flawed. It is farcical to tell other people not to seek to provide the means to deter aggression, just as we in western Europe, China, Russia and the United States have done. I welcome the fact that India and Pakistan have
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It may surprise your Lordships to learn that I am relatively relaxed about what is going on in North Korea and Iran. I will explain why. The Chinese seem very relaxed about North Korea; they do not seem to be putting pressure on the North Koreans. If the Chinese, who live next to these people, are relaxed, and the Japanese, who also live next to them, are relaxed and doing nothing about creating a nuclear capability of their own, I see no real reason for the rest of us to get too concerned. I happen not to think that this Dr Kim is a lunatic or a madman; I think he is a very clever gentleman who suffers from a lack of attention, which is what he craves. The idea that he is about to incinerate the countries around him, or even fire a missile at the Hawaiian islands or those off Alaska, is frankly farcical.
There are some very encouraging signs from Tehran that the views of Irans president do not find an echo in the opinions of those who actually control the countrys destiny. There are quite clear signs that, whatever his rhetoric may be, the president will not be allowed to proceed down a path that reflects that rhetoric. Again, interestingly, the people you might expect to be greatly concernedthe Saudis and the Egyptiansdo not seem particularly upset about Iran. I see no sign that either the Egyptians or the Saudis want to procure nuclear weapons systems themselves, and the Saudis, of course, could clearly afford to do so should they wish to.
On the NPT, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is not in his place at the momentit is unusual that I agree with him, which is possibly why he is not herethat very few countries have actually attempted to acquire a nuclear weapons system over the past many decades. He identified the countries that have drawn back from the brink, such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and others. People are deterred from acquiring a nuclear weapons system not just by the cost of creating warheads but by the cost of a delivery system.
The United Kingdoms progressive nuclear disarmament over the past many decades will have done credit to CND. My noble friend Lady Symons listed some of those measures, although I am not sure that she included the fact that we gave up the nuclear depth bomb, artillery systems and air launch weapons or the current proposal for the reduction in the number of our warheads. I part company with my noble friend in her applause for this history. I do not rejoice in it and I do not rejoice in the progressive surrender of this countrys capacity for flexible decision-making. On this point I also part company with the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Above all, I find fault with the utter failure of all Governments to negotiate any quid pro quo for any of these steps. Every one of these measures has been an act of unilateral nuclear disarmament which, as I say, would have done CND proud. I deplore the abandonment of so-called sub-strategic systems.
However, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, which may surprise him but I hope will not embarrass him, that if we had to have such weapons systemsI do not say that he is enthusiastic for themthey should be far more accurate, deliver far less collateral damage and reduce the risk of innocent civilian deaths, although not all civilians are innocent.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for most generously giving way. While he has taken a very small point out of my speech, I suggest that he has perhaps made a little more of it than I had intended. I do not wish to be pernickety but to convey to the House the broader aspect that I think my speech put across, which was not intended to be, in any sense, an argument in favour of particular types of weaponry.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I thought I might get the right reverend Prelate on his feet. I am very grateful to him for that clarification. Without patronising him, I merely point out that a consequence or an implication of what he said would be that he would favour sub-strategic systems that did not deliver the collateral damage of strategic systems. Therefore, there might be some use for the accuracy that we have in the D5 missile, which I have always thought quite otiose. I have always thought it absurd to put such an accurate system on a warhead with the throw weight that we are contemplating. That accuracy will be much more valuable in a tactical or sub-strategic system of the kind that would reduce casualties, which the right reverend Prelate would favour.
On platforms and submarines, I speak with great diffidence in front of one of my former mentors, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who, as we all know, is a submariner. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made a point about the candidness of the Ministry of Defence. I remember very well when I was first on the Defence and External Affairs Sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee being told that we had a 12-year lead in the invulnerability of our submarines to detection. That was a science in which increments were very small and took some time to come about. We were always likely to have a 12-year lead because, as the Russians improved their capabilities, so we would improve our capabilities in reducing the vulnerability of the submarines. When I went back on to the Defence Committee, after being in government, I was surprised to be told that the lead was now down to about two years.
Subsequently, I learntI do not know whether my information is accuratethat the Soviets were in the lead on capabilities of submarine detection. Such is the advance of technology that I am worried it will not be long before that has some practical defence implications. It seems to me an unambiguous argument for our having four boats. I will need an awful lot of persuading that three boats will make an adequate fleet. Of course, submarines are vulnerable, not just to the actions of hostile forces but also to such things as the breakdown of the refrigeration system, particularly at the start of a 90-day patrol, so that there is no fresh food for the people on board.
I defer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who knows far more about these things than I do. What is absolutely certain is that, when we had four boats, on more than one occasion we found it very difficult to keep one of them on quick-reaction alert. Never mind what anybody tells me about improvements in technology; I shall need a lot of persuading that we can be absolutely certain of preserving a 24/7, 365-day capability with only a three-boat fleet.
I welcome the White Paper. I agree with its preference for ballistic over cruise missiles. I agree that if we have only one platform it has to be a sub-surface platform. Of course, we shall have a debate, but I find it inconceivable that any British Prime Minister could hand over the ultimate defence of these islands to the president of the United States or the president of France. Were he to do so, I do not think that he would last very long in office and nor, in my view, should he do so.
Lord Garden: My Lords, the future of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent is a major national issue. I welcome the opportunity that this thoughtful debate has given us to start to explore so many factors. The key decision, to which many noble Lords have alluded, is whether the United Kingdom should plan to continue as a nuclear-weapon state. We have heard a diversity of views from all sides of the House, which is scarcely surprising. It reflects the divided views throughout the country. A Populus opinion poll was reported in the Times on 13 December last year which said that 52 per cent of the population is in favour of staying in the nuclear business.
Like many other noble Lords, I have history in this area, not in terms of being a unilateralist or a Minister, but I have been closely involved with the national nuclear capability since I first sat at 15-minutes readiness in quick reaction alert Canberras with American nuclear bombs aboard in Germany nearly 40 years ago, and I went on to Vulcan nuclear bomber squadrons. In the wonderful days when the Ministry of Defence did not mind one writing books about policy issues, I wrote a book on nuclear policy as a group captain and later, in the MoD in the 1990s, I was involved in the operational and defence programme issues of our deterrent force.
I retell all that to show that, over the years, I have been deeply immersed in the issues from a military perspective. During the Cold War, I never doubted for a moment that the nuclear deterrent was an important part of preventing a nuclear war, yet when I turn to the issue now I find that I have to think very carefully about the balance of the arguments for and against the retention of our nuclear capabilities. I do not share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for a fully nuclearised world and letting everyone get on with it.
From all sides of the House, we have heard the arguments for retention or for renouncing nuclear weapons. We heard contributions from the various speakers who are not for keeping our nuclear capability. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of
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In coming to my own judgment, I have started from a basic assumption that nuclear weapons have only one purposeon this I disagree with my noble friend Lord Roberts, who describes all weapons as designed to maim and kill. The only purpose of a nuclear weapon is to deter the use of other nuclear weapons. If our weapons are ever used, they will have failed in their purpose. Therefore, I find no great problem with the immorality or the legality of deterrence. In that sense, I welcome the announcement of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, of the abandonment of the sub-strategic system, which was always a dubious concept. It is good to know that tonight that has gone into the history books.
On need, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, asked some very important questions that have to be answered. A much more difficult analysis needs to be done. We are trying to assess the strategic situation out as far as the middle of the century. We are not threatened by any nuclear-weapon state today, but we might find ourselves at risk in the next 40 years or so. However, we cannot simply say that because we might find ourselves at risk we must have nuclear weapons. We must also examine how our nuclear status impacts on other states in their strategic assessments. By retaining nuclear weapons, do we increase the risks of proliferation by setting a poor example, as some noble Lords, including the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and other noble Lords have argued this evening? I do not believe that maintaining our historical position as one of the five recognised nuclear-weapon states is likely to affect the decision-making of potential proliferators one way or the other. They will come to a decision based on their national concerns, and we need to use all the levers of arms control and diplomacy to influence them in a benign direction, as my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Roper argued.
However, as we have heard, despite the international communitys best efforts, proliferation is happening, limited as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, explained. We have had to add Israel, India and Pakistan; North Korea is on the threshold of a nuclear capability; and many noble Lords spoke of the widespread suspicions about the work that Iran is undertaking. Kofi Annan warned of the potential cascade of proliferation that may happen as a result of the current state.
I also suggest that the co-operative relations between the five nuclear-weapon states are not certain to be maintained over such long timescales. The Chinese anti-satellite test last week showed how policies can change quite unexpectedly in the sensitive area of strategic relationships. We have also grown
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Having made the assessment that we should, in current circumstances, continue as a nuclear power, I turn to the question of the way that we maintain a credible deterrent as cost-effectively as possible. Many noble Lords talked about the opportunity costs that arise from that. My noble friend Lord Wallace described how, as a party, we have been working in parallel on the options under the able chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Roper. We published our conclusions the week before the government White Paper came out. Our broad thrust has much in common with the Governments analysis, and I shall therefore concentrate only on where we differ.
We agree that the deterrent should be submarine-based and that we should make use of the US life-enhancement programme for the Trident missile, which will save costs and allow us to concentrate on the question of platformsthe submarines. We agree that we should take the opportunity to reduce our nuclear arsenal. That would show that we are serious about Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. The Government opted for a welcome cut of 20 per cent, but that will probably not be noticed by the rest of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, suggested, we need to look at how far we can go with that cut. Our benchmark cut is 50 per cent. That is more dramatic, and when we look at what that means in practice, we are talking about each submarine going out with 24 independently targeted nuclear warheads aboard. Does anybody really think that that would be insufficient to deter any future enemy? The noble Lord, Lord ONeill, called for a debate on these issues and said that we need time to think about them. He is quite right.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, argued at length to justify the timescales that appear in the White Paper for early replacement. I do not want to re-enter the argument about the planned life of the Vanguard submarines that I had in a rather unsatisfactory exchange with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House when the White Paper was launched on 4 December. I have the references from the SDR, the 2003 White Paper and the HCDC evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, gave on 13 July 1998, and I have an article from the Times of 30 December 2002 that quotes the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, when he was a defence minister, as saying,
The question is how urgent the decision is. We do not need to argue about the particulars of how long it can be extended because we need to do some research to work that out. However, one element we can help ourselves with is, if we go with the three-boat solution, which we recommend, and that decision is made early rather than being left late, it gives us an extra two years to think about what to do and puts off the main-gate decision. A number of noble Lords, some of whom held ministerial appointments in the procurement area, remarked on how generous the MoD is being to itself in allowing 17 years to produce a new submarine that works to a well known design. The original Trident programme had to do the missile, the warhead and the submarine, and it did them in 14 years. We seem to be giving ourselves lots of time, which makes making the decision about what system to go for that much more urgent.
We need to look at the options for further life extensions to the Vanguard submarines. My noble friend Lady Williams quoted Professor Richard Garwin, as did other noble Lords. It is no good discounting him as not knowing about submarines, but I shall not go through his CV. He and his team have done a great deal of work on this. If it turns out to be true, which we do not have to accept, that there is some even further extension of lifemaybe not the full 15 years that he suggested, but another five yearsthat gives us more time to look at the options for the future.
Why should we put this decision off as long as possible? One reason is that we have to plan for a benign contingency. None of us expects it, but it is possible that arms control will get going again in these timescales. To commit ourselves to vast expenditure that turns out to be nugatory would be foolish. Professor Garwin has a different reason for delaying our decision, which is that new technologies will allow more reliable and cheaper systems. I am slightly dubious about that, but it needs to be looked at.
My noble friend Lady Miller spoke about how the doomsday clock has been moved. I was at the ceremony last week where it was moved forward two minutes. There was a great deal of pessimism about the possibility of small-scale nuclear use in the near future by some of the proliferating powers. If it were to happen, that might generate arms control enthusiasm in a way that there has not been before.
There is another aspect we have to think about. The life-extension programme of Trident missiles takes them to 2042. That is when the US missile system presumably will be replaced; its submarines were extended to 2045. If we are thinking about going for an American system, there would be some sense in making sure that we are synchronised with the Americans, so that we do not end up half way through the life of our new system without having American support for it. All these sorts of issues need to be looked at. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, to give us the detail of how all this will be done because I think that it will take months if not years to look at the options and get them right.
However, I will just focus on why I think that the decision is being rushed. It is industrial pressure; indeed, that is what BAE Systems told the Commons Defence Committee when it gave evidence. It argued that it would need to build a new submarine every 22 months in order to maintain their design and build capability. I do not know how many nuclear submarines that means we will have by 2050, but it will be quite a lot if we have to buy one every 22 months. I do not think that the Minister necessarily can afford that many. But we are in danger of having this most important strategic decision driven by an industrial demand rather than by the right analysis.
The noble Lord, Lord Owen, reminded us of the effect this has on the Royal Navy, and the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, reminded us of how these financial commitments distort the programme. But, in spite of all that, I remain hopeful that despite all the rhetoric about early decisions and the fact that we are going to have it sorted out by March, the Government are not that far away from the position I have described.
We talk about the White Paper as though it is a final decision. I remind your Lordships that the aircraft carriers were announced in the 1998 White Paper, yet nearly nine years later there is no contractual commitment to particular ships. A lot of development work on options has taken place during that time; and the Trident run-on, or whatever it is, will be no different. Given the pressures on the defence programme, I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will use his talents to put the squeeze on industry to find the optimum approach. That must include a proper look at what life extensions are realistically possible to the submarines. We all know that it profits industry to go for new build. The Minister needs to have independent views, and that includes views independent of those in his department who go on to work for the industry which is trying to sell him these submarines.
I doubt that, whatever party is in power, main gate will be before 2014, and I think that it could be much later. Perhaps in answer to the delay issue and so on, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, can take advice and just give me one date. When is he expecting main gate for his submarines? If it is before 2014 I will be very surprised.
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