3 Feb 1998 : Column 499

House of Lords

Tuesday, 3rd February 1998.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Scottish Nursery Education and Segregation

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received representations on the question of segregation of children attending pre-school education in Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, we have received no formal representations on the question of segregation of children attending pre-school education in Scotland.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while he has had no formal representations made to him, the view has been expressed by the leaders of the Catholic Church in Scotland that nursery school children in the three-to-five age group should be segregated wherever possible? Will the Minister agree that if such representations are received, the Government will oppose segregation of children of that age group? Will he also agree that such a step would not only be expensive, but in Scotland it would be socially divisive also?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I can reply briefly to that point by repeating the comments made by my honourable friend the Minister for Education and Industry, Mr. Brian Wilson, who said that the Government do not believe it to be appropriate to organise pre-school education along denominational lines.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am pleased to hear that response? It would be a considerable error if we segregated nursery education in Scotland. Speaking for myself, I feel that it is time we thought seriously about ending segregation further up the school system. Is the Minister aware that that would be particularly helpful to Glasgow City Council, who, at the moment, are having to rationalise their school estate and are faced with having to close schools in deprived areas rather than amalgamate denominational and non-denominational and thus keep open schools in certain deprived areas?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, denominational schools, as opposed to pre-school education, are part of the historic settlement of 1918 which established a pluralistic form of school education in Scotland where parents can exercise choice. How they exercise that choice is a matter for them to decide. The Government have no plans to alter the

3 Feb 1998 : Column 500

statutory framework. Where the amalgamation of denominational and non-denominational schools can be brought about as a process of consultation and agreement, it is to be welcomed.

Nuclear Weapons: Policy

2.40 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in pursuance of their policy of seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons and of their support and ratification of international conventions banning the manufacture, deployment and use of biological and chemical weapons, they will propose that nuclear weapons become the subject of a similar convention; and whether they will draft such a convention for consideration by the United Nations.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, this Government made very clear their commitment to the goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons. In the Strategic Defence Review and elsewhere we are examining all aspects of our nuclear policy, including what practical steps we might take towards that goal.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am glad to hear from my noble friend that that is the case and I therefore thank him for that Answer. However, can he elucidate a little more? He referred to the strategic review. Is he suggesting that the Government are unable to put forward proposals until the strategic review? And can we expect some proposals from the strategic review?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, some aspects of our approach to a practical and realistic strategy towards nuclear disarmament are already clear. By the end of March the Government will have withdrawn Britain's free-fall nuclear bomb. We have already taken a leading role in negotiations such as those relating to the comprehensive test ban treaty and are committed to the development of a fissile material cut-off treaty as the next treaty step. Some of the other options are being re-examined under the Strategic Defence Review and we hope to be able to present the conclusions of the review in that respect, as in others, in a few months' time.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the spirit of non-proliferation is to be upheld, it is essential that those powers which possess nuclear weapons demonstrate progress towards nuclear disarmament, particularly if they are to carry the rest of the world with them in preventing the spread of those dangerous weapons?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The withdrawal of the free-fall nuclear bomb in

3 Feb 1998 : Column 501

Britain's nuclear armoury leaving the single Trident system is a step in that direction. We trust that other nuclear powers will take similar steps.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the elimination of nuclear weapons is wholly dependent on verifiable inspection and the elimination of chemical and biological weapons?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in both respects, aspects of verification are key to the enforcement of the treaties. That has certainly been our approach on the test ban. It remains our position that we need to go further in relation to chemical and biological warfare in terms of both enforcement and inspection.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that whatever else may be in the Strategic Defence Review and whatever results from it, there will be no resiling from the commitment in the Government's manifesto to maintain strong defence forces, including an effective nuclear deterrent?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an absolute guarantee that that remains the case. Our commitment to nuclear disarmament is on a global basis.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, can the Minister say whether he expects some progress to be made on this subject? Can he indicate whether he expects the defence review to put forward some more definitive proposals so that we can reach the objectives that we all desire?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review. We hope to produce a report in the first half of this year. At that point there will be aspects dealing with our nuclear defence force.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, further to an earlier question, can the Minister reassure the House that within the Strategic Defence Review there is no question of reviewing the continuation of Trident, whose primary purpose and sole justification is the ability to deliver nuclear weapons in the cause of national defence?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Strategic Defence Review will be reviewing all aspects of our defence and deployment of weaponry. However, as I have said, Trident will shortly be our only nuclear weapons system. Until we reach some global agreement, that will be the case.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that from what he has said it is obvious that we are gradually giving up our nuclear armoury? In the meantime, how many countries in the world are developing theirs?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are relatively few countries in terms of the verifiable development of

3 Feb 1998 : Column 502

nuclear weapons. The nuclear test ban treaty will prevent all signatory countries ever testing nuclear weapons. Our belief is that, apart from the existing nuclear powers, very few countries have the technology to produce nuclear weapons.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, we all accept that any global agreement must be verifiable and verified. However, is it also not the case that the suspicion that the Government are not as enthusiastic to eliminate nuclear weapons as is sometimes suggested is given strength when they oppose the proposals recently put forward by Malaysia? It is not sufficient for the Government to reduce their nuclear strength; they must also put forward plans whereby the aim of elimination can be achieved. Only plans put forward by a nuclear power will be acceptable to nuclear powers.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hope no one in the House is under any illusion about both the Government's commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons and the complexity of the task. My noble friend referred to the Malaysian resolution. We voted against it; but not because of its aim but because we felt it would not help move the difficult process further. Indeed, none of our NATO allies supported it. In particular, it had within it a fairly unrealistic timetable in its call for multilateral negotiations this year leading to an early conclusion and a nuclear weapons convention. We supported other resolutions tabled by Japan on the elimination of nuclear weapons and by the United States and Russia on bilateral nuclear arms negotiations. We also supported resolutions on nuclear weapon-free zones in central and southern Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. We are therefore in strong support of initiatives in many parts of the world. But let us not underestimate the difficulty of the task.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page