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Dr. Lewis: I thank you for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I fail to see how I could give notice about anything that I was going to say in a debate that I did not intend--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not test the patience of the Chair in a matter of this kind. I have given him considerable leeway, and I have tried to make it clear that he should not have introduced this matter into the debate if he was unable to give notice to the right hon. Member for Yeovil.

Dr. Lewis: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it was not me who introduced that matter: it was the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife.

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In the course of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, the Minister of State, made a facetious intervention to the effect that anyone should be worried about any weapons system that I support. I was a little surprised by that remark because, only on 28 February, after I and the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) had made speeches in a debate on Sierra Leone, he praised our "outstanding" contributions. I begin to wonder whether we on the Conservative Benches can expect, when we happen to support the Government because we genuinely agree with something that they are doing, to be regarded as making outstanding speeches, but to be subjected to unworthy criticisms of the sort that the Minister made in his intervention when we happen to disagree.

I was therefore minded to look back at the Minister's stance at the relevant time. I was interested to see that, as late as February 1989, he said in Tribune that he had "spent a substantial segment" of his life

He lamented the fact, regarding it as a "tragedy", that "historic opportunities" to abandon British nuclear weapons had previously been "squandered", but disagreed with the view that

In other words, he was reluctantly accepting that Labour's unilateralist policies would have to go if it were ever to get back to power.

One has to wonder about the contrast between the attendance in a debate on this subject, which several hon. Members have said is vital to the future of the planet in 2001, and the likely attendance in the 1980s when the Chamber would have been filled with hon. Members arguing fiercely about whether to go down the peace through defence and deterrence route, or the peace through disarmament route. That is what those debates resolved themselves into time and again.

There are two basic ways of looking at international politics: we can look at it either as a situation in which, as a result of mutual fear and suspicion, nations that would not otherwise be hostile to each other end up in an action and reaction cycle of rearmament, which culminates in war breaking out; or as something analogous to individuals threatening to fight, where the best way to keep the peace is to show that the person who is threatening to attack has no chance of doing so without massive and unacceptable retribution.

Several hon. Members have referred to commitments involving the non-proliferation treaty. Article VI is often referred to and evidence that this country should be committed to the entire abolition of its nuclear defences. It commits the signatories

--which has certainly been achieved--

Nothing in the treaty states that the achievement of a nuclear-free world should be expected to arrive before the achievement of a conflict-free world. Listening to this debate, one might think that the Government, and Opposition Members other than Conservative Members, visualise a situation in which the problem is weapons themselves rather than the intentions of participants on the international stage.

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The Government's view has been slowly shifting. When they were still in opposition, they were very resistant to giving up the policy of Britain alone getting rid of its nuclear weapons. Consequently, they tried to adopt a type of halfway house. They tried to say that, rather than giving up the British nuclear deterrent for nothing in return, they would negotiate away that deterrent in return for nuclear weapons being given up by the then Warsaw pact. It was only under the most intense pressure that they finally gave a commitment in which they said that they would keep some nuclear weapons as long as other countries have nuclear weapons. I should like the Minister to tell us today whether the Government stand by that commitment. Is it still the Government's position that they will retain some British nuclear weapons as long as other countries have nuclear weapons that could threaten us? I hope that he will address that issue in his summation.

The commitment that the Labour party made about that in its manifesto for the 1997 general election fell some way short of the commitment that it made in the manifesto on which it unsuccessfully fought the 1992 general election. However, although the Government say that we have reached the minimum capability necessary for nuclear deterrence, there seems to be some uncertainty about whether the Government would include nuclear weapons in arms reductions negotiations if other countries were prepared to reduce their nuclear weapons totals, but not to eliminate them. I want to be assured that we shall not be revisiting debates in the future that so many hon. Members in the Chamber do not seem happy to revisit now.

Paragraph 124 of the Select Committee report states:

On the very last page of the Government's response to the report, they deal with that conclusion in a single sentence, which states:

Let us therefore spend a little time examining that conclusion, which states that all weapons of mass destruction should be placed under international arms control regimes. What exactly do the Committee and the Government have in mind by that? I do not see how anything short of a world government, or a United Nations that is vastly different from the organisation that we have known, could properly take over the nuclear deterrents of the countries that currently possess nuclear weapons.

I am concerned that people who want the nuclear genie put back in the bottle fail to appreciate that the disinventing of nuclear weapons would be a thoroughly retrograde step. Does anybody seriously believe that more than 40 years of cold war--confrontation at a level of intensity that would undoubtedly have spilled over into something more active--could have successfully been concluded if it had not been for the mutual terror of the nuclear weapons held by the superpowers? We must not refuse to recognise what happened--a potential world war was averted because dictatorships knew that they dare not attack democracies on account of the retribution that

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would undoubtedly follow. The lessons of that must be absorbed, yet they are being denied by the very people who are now trying to rewrite history about their behaviour and that of their parties during that period.

I want a simple answer to two simple questions. Do the Government believe that nuclear deterrence helps to keep the peace by persuading dictators not to attack democracies? If so, do they commit themselves not to negotiate away our nuclear weapons as long as any other country has them, and certainly not to agree with the conclusion of this report that all nuclear forces should be placed under some sort of international arms control regime? That was nonsense when it was first proposed at the end of the second world war, it was nonsense when it was revived as a result of various skewed disarmament initiatives periodically in the latter half of the 20th century, and it remains just as nonsensical today.

6.7 pm

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and the members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs who produced the report that we are debating along with the Government response to it.

This debate takes place shortly after the death of a close friend, Peggy Westerway, who was a long-standing campaigner alongside me in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She would probably have been the first to identify herself as one of those "wretched women" to whom the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred. Peggy would have said that that "wretchedness" was an expression of the best part of what moves society forward, when people without particular power were driven not by wealth or influence but by their conscience to make a stand in favour of peacemongering and to oppose the predominant culture of cold warmongering that prevailed then.

Peggy would also have been the first to point out where I should be starting from with the documents before us. The starting point would probably be not the Select Committee report but the Government's response to it. The Select Committee quite rightly expressed its concerns both for this country and internationally about the American proposals for national missile defence. The Government's response to that was, to me, quite confusing.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office states in paragraph (7):

Peggy would tell me, I suspect, that they are not best understood in the United Kingdom.

It is important for the Minister to tell us what views the UK Government have expressed about the UK's position. Have we, for instance, simply told the Americans that they are mad--completely insane--to pursue the idea of NMD? Have we told them that it would tear the anti-ballistic missile treaty apart? Regardless of whether

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anyone--Henry Kissinger in particular--happens to believe that the treaty has passed its sell-by date, it currently exists.

Have we told the Americans that their star wars programme would unleash another nuclear arms race? Have we told them that it would result in the militarisation of space? Probably most important of all, have we told them that Britain would be no part of that?

A number of Members have said today that NMD would not work--that it would not work for a decade, or that in any event it would not work very well. Let me refer the Minister to an important point in the Select Committee report, which was recognised by the Government. Paragraph 41 says that representatives of the Acronym Institute

We also know, from current experience, that threats of massive disruption to developed and developing economies caused by disease are far more serious than the threats posed by missiles. We know what could easily be the consequence of the release of anthrax, and we now know just how devastating is the effect of foot and mouth disease in Britain and across Europe.

It is entirely right for us to repeat the message conveyed to the Select Committee that NMD would not eliminate the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, because the nature of those weapons, and their delivery systems, are changing as we speak. The conventional notion of a grand intercontinental ballistic exchange that can be traded off, fended off or outforced is a military theology that has itself passed its sell-by date.

Moreover, we should recognise that in going down that path, we engage in some risky processes ourselves. A number of Members have talked about rogue states, the need to identify the characteristics of such states, and what happens when people see themselves as having been branded as members of that group. I think it reasonable to assume that the phrase refers to states that do not honour the international treaties to which they have signed up--and, moreover, engage in actions that are internationally and militarily destabilising.

The difficult question for the House to take on board is this: what if that definition applies to Britain itself? I want the House to consider two examples. One relates to the ABM treaty; the other relates to another treaty whose origins also lie in the cold war period.

We have often said that the ABM treaty is really a treaty between America and Russia--that it is for them to sort out, and that we are on the sidelines. Following exchanges with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, however, the Select Committee recognises that Britain is at the very least a third party to the treaty. Part of it imposes the existing constraints on the role that RAF Fylingdales can play in international monitoring.

Everyone has recognised that either the ABM treaty can be changed by Russia and America or it can be abrogated by either side, which would change the position of Fylingdales, whose use is tightly prescribed by the terms of that treaty. For us to be a party at this stage to discussions about changing its role puts us in breach of what the ABM treaty stands for. We should reflect carefully on whether we are acting within the strict terms of that treaty, if not within the moral presumptions that were entered into when we signed it.

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The treaty relating to the exploration of outer space had its origins in the cold war period. I know that a number of hon. Members were keen to revisit that period. In fact, some would appear to be keen to live in it. I draw the attention of the House to the important event that took place on 27 January 1967, when Britain became a signatory to the outer space treaty--a treaty that exists to this day. Its origins are extraordinarily important in the context of this debate on national missile defence.

The outer space treaty was the second of the so-called non-armament treaties. Its concepts and some of its provisions were modelled on its predecessor, the Antarctic treaty. Like that treaty, it sought to prevent a new form of colonial competition and the damage that could be caused by self-seeking exploitation. Its origins probably date back to 1957, even before the Soviet Union launched its sputnik in October. By that time developments in rocketry had already led the United States to propose international verification of the testing of space objects.

Between 1957 and 1962-63 there was a series of proposals, mainly made by western powers, about ways in which we had to agree internationally to restrict the use of space for military purposes. In September 1960, when President Eisenhower addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, he proposed that the principles of the Antarctic treaty should be applied to outer space and celestial bodies. Three years later, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming the Soviet and United States' statements and calling on all states to refrain from introducing weapons of mass destruction in outer space.

There were further discussions about the details of that proposal, but the key consequence was that on 27 January 1967 the outer space treaty was produced in a form ready for signature. It was signed in Washington, Moscow and London. I urge the Government to reflect carefully on the nature of that treaty, even before we get into discussions about the workability or acceptability of NMD.

Article IV of the outer space treaty simply states:

We were one of the founding signatories to that treaty, yet a breach of it is precisely what NMD requires; it is precisely what the United States of America threatens to do--which, I am afraid, is precisely what Britain currently chooses to ignore. Because of that treaty, Peggy Westerway would mount a challenge on the grounds of morality and conscience.

If the ABM treaty or the outer space treaty is abrogated, it really will not matter whether Russia and America came to an agreement to do that. It would still open up a whole new dimension within which an arms race--if not a nuclear arms race--would take place. We would have to bear the responsibility of being one of the parties that made that breach possible; it would take us into a dimension for which the world would never forgive us. That is why the real challenge in international leadership, which we must ask our Government to take on, is a series of commitments about the place that we will occupy on

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the international stage, where negotiations and discussions are taking place about whether we are willing even to entertain the current American star wars proposals.

We should base our position on five fairly clear principles. It would be fantastic for Members of the House, and enormously welcomed by members of the public, if the Government made a commitment that we will not, in any circumstances, entertain the prospect of being seen as a rogue state by violating the existing treaties that we have signed.

It would be important to make a commitment that we will hold no discussion whatever on extending the use of Fylingdales or including Menwith Hill, because that would violate our current obligations under the ABM treaty. It would break the constraints imposed by the treaty.

It would be helpful if the Government said, openly and clearly, that NMD will not eliminate the threat from weapons of mass destruction. We need to occupy a different platform. I am in favour of Britain making a commitment to take a unilateral role as a peacemonger. We can do that in the context of multilateral treaties. It does not require the agreement of someone else to take that first moral step--it requires us to have the courage to do so.

It is for Britain to lead the debate--to say that if the world is looking for stability and security in the uncertain century that we have entered, we shall have to find them through non-military means. If Britain does not want to be perceived as part of the problem, and as part of the threat posed by rogue states that sign treaties that they have no intention of honouring, we should not act as a rogue state.

Peggy would tell me that that is what she expected those of us who are currently active in the peace movement to say in the debate about the new peace movement that is needed for the 21st century. However, she would also say that she expected Parliament to do more than we do at present, by making a non-military, non-nuclear presumption that there are world solutions to poverty, instability and famine, rather than by adopting the notion of simply opening up space as a dimension within which we would be complicit in the perpetration of warmongering.

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