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3.45 p.m.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, the two previous speeches were extremely informative and well received. However, they illustrate the extraordinary difficulty of discussing foreign affairs, overseas aid and defence in a single debate. It is like asking two tennis players to play against each other on different courts; there are plenty of serves but no rallies. The give and take of a debate is its most valuable feature.

I do not know where to begin to comment on the many important subjects that have been raised. The gracious Speech contains an unusual number of foreign and defence policies and policies on overseas aid. I find

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it hard to object to any of its statements of objectives. However, we on these Benches believe that in some cases the Government are not pursuing those aims in the best way and with sufficient zeal. Of course, that does not apply to the search for peace in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister and Sir Patrick Mayhew continually show exemplary persistence and good sense. Nor can the Prime Minister be accused of lack of zeal as regards our contribution to the European Community budget. He looks likely to succeed in his aim, but it is significant that it needed a hammer to crack so few nutheads in the process. It is with the greatest interest that we look forward to seeing developments on that front. We hope that the Bill is passed.

We on these Benches were most sympathetic to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about the Middle East. We are sorry that the Minister did not touch on this important, topical and worrying issue. Things are not going well in Palestine. On both sides, the forces against peace are strong and terrorism has not been suppressed. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will agree that there are two possible approaches in the present situation. On the one hand, there is the approach associated with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Rabin, that the speed of implementing the peace process must be regulated by the success of the PLO in suppressing terrorism. On the other hand, there is the approach that is often associated with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Peres, that to slow down the peace process is a way of increasing the enemies of peace and of making it more difficult for the PLO to maintain law and order. In the gracious Speech the Government state that they support the peace process. I take that to associate them with the views of Mr. Peres, which seem to represent the best possible hope for the future.

Of course we agree with the noble Baroness on many of the points that she has made about the need for extending and increasing membership of the European Union and with regard to NATO reaching out to the East. That is certainly part of our thinking in that respect.

We were glad that the gracious Speech gave prominence to the question of nuclear non-proliferation, on which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will say something in his reply. We are all apt to congratulate ourselves on the fact that today, for the first time for a century and a half or more, there is no credible threat to the security of the United Kingdom. But will that always be so when every day nuclear weapons become easier to make, fissile material becomes easier to acquire and, as Iraq showed, the process is infernally difficult to detect and prevent?

The Government are right to insist on the extension of the non-proliferation treaty and to pressure non-members to join. They are right also with regard to the need for a more powerful and intrusive inspection system. But it is open to doubt whether the Government are aware of the changes needed in their own nuclear policy if they are to make a positive rather than a defensive impact on the conference.

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Perhaps I may speak a little about that in the hope that the noble Lord will reply. The fact is that there are 160 signatories to the non-proliferation treaty and of those, only five--Britain is one--are accepted nuclear powers. The reasons for Britain's privileged position are historical and they no longer apply. We are likely to be challenged at that conference. Voices will be raised to say that we should set an example and abandon our nuclear deterrent. That is not the view held on these Benches, but we wish the Government to understand that if they are to be of any use at all at that conference, they must take certain steps in advance otherwise they will be simply defending themselves during the proceedings.

First, they should reduce the fire power of the British deterrent to a genuine minimum; that is, the minimum needed to inflict unacceptable damage on any adversary. In the old days when Moscow was the nerve centre of the Soviet empire and when it had effective ABM defences, that was thought to be a considerable number of warheads in the Polaris fleet. But times have changed. Today it is surely impossible to conceive of any country in the world contemplating accepting damage of perhaps 12 warheads. I cannot see that at all. And yet the Government's view, as most recently stated, is that Trident will not deploy more than 288 warheads. That figure is too high and must be brought down, especially before the opening of the non-proliferation conference. The new figure of warheads must also be openly acknowledged. The Americans tell us what is the number of their warheads, as do the Russians. Why do the British not do so?

When I raised that point during our last debate on defence, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, courteously sent me a reply which stated:


    "It seems entirely reasonable that the United Kingdom, deploying only a minimum deterrent, should be more reticent about revealing precise dealings of its capability than Russia and the United States... I cannot accept the connection you make between our position on this issue and the inspection regime associated with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty".

But the fact is that that connection will be made by the delegates at that conference. They will say to themselves, "Here are the British demanding that we expose ourselves to powerful and intrusive inspection of our civil nuclear industry and yet they are keeping secret about the number of nuclear weapons which they have". The Government will be put on the defensive on that issue and rightly so, especially as transparency with regard to the number of nuclear weapons is essential if there is to be disarmament. I advise the Government to support the German-led demand to establish a nuclear weapons register. They should accept that and show a willingness to comply.

Finally, in advance of the conference, the Government should state more clearly than they have ever done before that the one and only reason for our deterrent is to deter nuclear attack on ourselves or on our allies; that it will never be used against a non-nuclear country; that it will never be used against a non-military target; and that it will never be used first. I believe that that should be made clear if the Government are to succeed at the conference.

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While on the subject of weapons of mass destruction, why is there no reference in the gracious Speech to legislation for ratifying the chemical weapons convention? That is a straightforward question. The British have a splendid record in that field. We renounced chemical weapons and took the lead as regards that convention. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence have done splendidly. But now the matter seems to be stuck with the Department of Trade and Industry and rumours have it that Mr. Heseltine does not wish to bother the chemical industry with requirements. I should like an answer because other countries are also asking that question.

On these Benches, we have far fewer reservations about the statement of the noble Baroness on Bosnia. We echo the tribute that she paid to our troops there and I add also a tribute to General Rose who continues to carry out the most important, difficult and delicate task with exemplary wisdom.

Of course the Government are right to oppose most strongly the removal of the arms embargo on the Bosnian Moslems. The American position would be bad enough if it were simply in bitter disagreement with its allies, if there were simply disagreement with the unanimous resolutions of the Security Council and NATO--but it is far worse than that. They are taking operational action which undermines the operations of their allies. That is unprecedented and very grave indeed. What will be the value of NATO in future if that is the way in which its members behave?

There could be no stronger argument for pressing forward towards a common European foreign and security policy. The Government committed the country to that when they signed the Maastricht Treaty. We welcome signs that after a period of half-heartedness, they are now proposing to take that commitment more seriously.

On these Benches we have often spelled out the many steps which need to be taken and which can be taken: greater integration of our forces; common procurement; a burden-seeking agreement so that those who contribute most to Europe's security receive financial support from the rest; and closer co-operation also on nuclear weapons' policy with the French. Talks have been going on with the French for years. We are not told about them. Perhaps the noble Lord will enlighten us in his reply. What is the agenda? What progress has been made? What is hoped for as a result of those talks?

There is a further move urgently needed towards a common European security policy. There must be a binding agreement between the European countries to clean up and restrict the sale of arms to the third world. That is essential. Of course it would be better if we could also bring in the non-European countries. Indeed, we should try to do so. But it is no longer enough to argue that if the European countries do not sell those arms then someone else will. It is a profitable trade; but it is wrong to fuel war and oppression in Africa, the Middle East, and in South-East Asia.

It should be laid down, especially with the British Government in mind, that those countries which squander their resources in billion-dollar arms deals do not deserve to receive aid from the rest of the world. It

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seems to me that the British Government have taken the opposite view in the past; namely, that the more arms one buys the more aid one receives. That is disastrous. Of course that can be debated, but it seems to be clear to me. It is an outrage and must be stopped.

I believe that I have covered enough subjects in my speech, although there are many others that could be discussed. I do not wish to sound too negative or pessimistic. Indeed, I must say that, although we have problems overseas today, I can recall a time of about 48 to 50 years ago when to universal astonishment and alarm I was made a junior Minister in the Foreign Office. The problems facing this country then were infinitely worse. We had Stalin in power sweeping westwards. Moreover, we were genuinely worried about the emergence of Stalinist governments in Paris and in Italy. There was also growing and bitter resistance to our rule in India, as well as British troops fighting in Palestine and Greece and in other places where we, and we alone, were responsible for law and order. Advanced age enables one to take a slightly more relaxed view of the undoubted problems with which we are now faced. As I explained, to the extent that we agree with the Government, they can rely upon us absolutely for support.


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