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House of Lords

Wednesday, 1st February 1995.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Nuclear Missiles

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Western ballistic missiles were targeted on Moscow; whether this is still the case; if not, what is the present position; and what is known about the targeting of such operational missiles based in the area of the former Soviet Union.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Minister of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, in the early part of 1994 both the United Kingdom and the United States made joint announcements with Russia that each nation's strategic nuclear missiles would be detargeted by 30th May. All three nations later confirmed that that action had been completed. It is not our practice to comment further on matters of targeting.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving the facts as they are at the moment. As the missiles are apparently now detargeted, is it not the case that they cannot be deterring anyone or else they are deterring everyone? So will the Government's practice of referring to those deadly weapons as deterrents now be stopped? Since one assumes that the weapons will now never be used, would it not be a good plan to make them out of marzipan in future?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord. Such weapons still provide a useful minimum deterrent for the UK's defences. I shall welcome the day when the noble Lord forms the same view as I do. I accept that the detargeting of our strategic deterrent is obviously unverifiable, just as whether the Russians or the Americans have detargeted theirs is unverifiable. We still believe that it is a worthwhile confidence-building measure.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, would it not be admirable if they did deter everyone and continued to do so?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that they do deter most people. I am afraid that they do not deter the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what progress is being made in decommissioning the ballistic missiles which are apparently rusting away in the former Soviet Union?

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Lord Henley: My Lords, that is obviously a matter for the Russian authorities. If we can provide any technical assistance, we are more than happy to do so whenever possible.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, will my noble friend give some idea of the time-scale for retargeting these missiles should the necessity arise?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can merely say that they can be retargeted quickly.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is it not, however, an extremely expensive way of going on? All these missiles probably prevent our having as many military bands as we might otherwise have. May I suggest to the Minister that in future he has a token missile about the place and spends a little more on military bands?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the Trident programme absorbs something of the order of 2.5 per cent. of our budget, a small proportion for the valuable deterrence it provides.

BR South Eastern Region: Rolling Stock

2.39 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept British Rail's decision that there is no commercial case for taking up their option to purchase more Networker trains for use in the South Eastern Region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the commercial case is a matter for British Rail. It concluded that there was no commercial case for ordering further trains now on the terms offered last year by ABB Transportation. However, British Rail has indicated that it would want to re-examine the commercial case if an improved offer were received.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, the commuters from Kent will not find that an encouraging Answer. Is the Minister aware that less than a year ago the Minister in another place, Mr. Freeman, welcomed the ordering from the York manufacturers of new rolling stock for the South East, and said that there was a prima facie case for renewing the rolling stock? How can that view have changed so radically within so few months?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, our policy has not changed. It is still very much our policy to encourage worthwhile deals under the private finance initiative. As I said, BR has indicated that it will, without prejudice, consider any new offer, provided that it makes business sense and would be likely to fall within the PFI rules. BR's decision was a business decision based on an analysis of commercial costs and maintenance schedules.

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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that ABB offered a leasing arrangement which would not have breached BR's external finance limits and involved no capital costs to the taxpayer?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, BR did not decline to pursue the ABB option because of pressures on resources. It did so because the deal no longer made any sense when BR took into account the comparative costs of the new trains and the cyclical maintenance schedules of the existing rolling stock.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, will the Minister use his influence to urge the private finance initiative to get BR and ABB York around the negotiating table? If they could reach a satisfactory outcome for new Networker trains for the South Eastern Region, ABB York could stay open and 750 jobs would be saved, many of them highly skilled.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we value the existence of a thriving railway manufacturing industry. It is for BR to decide what equipment it needs and when. The private finance initiative has provided opportunities. Indeed, the previous deal, which was agreed under the private finance initiative, provided a great innovation in access to capital.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that ABB is a highly skilled operation which specialises precisely in this field? As a result of British Rail's decision, which it will review at a later stage, people in that company are being declared redundant. The ability to manufacture rolling stock, which is so necessary for British Rail, will be lost. Cannot we achieve a reasonable arrangement between British Rail and the manufacturer of rolling stock for a rolling programme that will keep people employed at what they do well?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I recognise the value of the ABB capacity and the work that it has done in building rolling stock. However, it is not for the Government to second guess the commercial decisions of BR as to when it requires rolling stock and what rolling stock it requires.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is believed that within the past 18 months a promise was made by a Member of Her Majesty's Government that the rolling stock on the South Eastern Region, which is between 35 and 45 years old—older than my noble friend—would be replaced? How can a decision be taken on a commercial basis that does not replace such old rolling stock, which is causing the Eurostar to be held up and many passengers to doubt the safety?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, any comments made on the matter by my honourable and right honourable friends were made in good faith and based on the then commercial case. It is for BR to make a decision. The

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carriages are old but they are well and safely maintained. BR will make a decision about when it needs a rolling stock.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to his judgment the carriages appear to resemble many of us in this House; old yet reliable? In his view of transport policy generally, what importance does he place on the unreliability and the inconvenience caused to so many passengers? Does he believe that those are important issues which should be taken into account? Does he agree with the view expressed by his honourable friend in another place, the Member for Ryedale, that to allow these works to close —that is what is at stake—would be the most perverse crime that the Government could commit against the people of York? Does the Minister have any sympathy with that point of view?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, yes, I have sympathy with those who work in ABB and those who manage the plant. They have produced good rolling stock which has served the railways of this country. But I also recognise that BR, in making its commercial decisions, must weigh up the costs and benefits of new stock as against continuing the maintenance of its existing stock. BR has decided that the existing stock requires replacement in 1999.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister suggest that the clammy hand of the Treasury had nothing to do with the decision? Is it correct that behind the mysterious talk about a commercial case, which appeared not to have influenced Ministers in the assertions that they made repeatedly last year, being convinced by the commercial case, the issue needs to be properly cleared up?


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