The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of mental health. Once again, this should be reflected in the millennium development goals, but it is an unfortunate reality that, in certain countries, the issue of mental health is not recognised or is even hidden away. It is important that education about mental health and acceptance that this is a challenge faced by these countries is brought to the forefront so that the issues and challenges can be rightly targeted and addressed. Mental health is a fundamental health issue in the developed and developing world and Her Majesty’s Government will work with all parties to ensure that it remains a key focus.
I am conscious of the time and that there is much to be covered in this debate. I can assure the House that these debates are part and parcel of the Government’s wider consultation on the post-2015 development network. In the time left, I will answer some of the other questions which were raised. The noble Baroness,
Lady Tonge, rightly raised the issue of reproductive health and family planning. Access to family planning is a fundamental right for women and the millennium goal of universal access to reproductive health was not met. We therefore need to consider how this can be built into the post-2015 goals. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin raised the issue of involving the next generation. Our children and young people are vital in determining the MDG goals post-2015. I can assure my noble friend and the noble Baroness that, in the final day of its London meetings, the high-level panel hosted a range of broad, in-depth consultations between high-level panellists, civil society groups, the private sector and young people. The young people meeting was crucial in hearing the particular perspective of youths, some of the key challenges of which were so ably and eloquently set out by my noble friend Lady Jenkin.
As a spokesman on this issue I assure the House that this important issue is close to my heart and that the Government will continue to consult on it because of the wide range of experience and wisdom held within your Lordships’ House.
I finish by saying that the United Kingdom is committed to doing everything it can to deliver a bold, useful and realistic post-2015 framework that will drive poverty reduction and deliver real improvements in the lives of generations to come. As has been said by several noble Lords, a new framework needs to be simple, ambitious but, most importantly, actionable. It needs to reflect the diverse conditions of development and be relevant for low, middle and high-income countries as well as fragile and conflict-affected ones. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells rightly said that these particular goals should be about transformative change; I totally concur with those sentiments. However, I am sure that all will agree that this debate underlines yet again the true expertise and informed opinions of your Lordships from across the Chamber. As this fascinating debate was over lunchtime, it was also apt that we had references to Sandwiches and Crisps.
The Government continue to be proud of the role that Britain plays against global poverty. We will continue to live up to that reputation as we pursue the unique opportunity to be the generation that addresses this key issue and eradicates absolute poverty.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I thank the Minister very much indeed for his full and detailed response. In this nation, with our wide, rich and varied experience and tremendously diverse but inclusive population, we have the most profound interest in the life and futures of the world. I mention the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, about the legislation which is now in front of the Egyptian Parliament. We are absolutely right to be concerned. It is a clear example of why your Lordships rose in such large quantities and with such a profusion of interventions in this important debate.
I am reminded of Pliny the Elder when he made his famous remark about Africa when I say that something new is always coming out of your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord, Lord Low, remarked that disability does not appear anywhere in the MDGs. What is this all about? The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, also remarked on the absence of mental health. This is simply not good enough. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, people need sources of wealth: they have to live and survive. We think, most profoundly, that the MDGs deserve a full-scale investigation in terms of the future post-2015 and we thank the Minister very much indeed for his commitment.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bates—that we should set up an ad hoc committee—might be a way forward and begin, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, by inviting the Government to contribute at least a Green Paper and, perhaps, a white one. Ministers know that this is an important topic and that this House, particularly, wishes to be heavily involved.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice:
This is a subject that provokes intense debate, not least in this House. As the House will know, from as early as the case of Hirst in 2004, the court found the United Kingdom’s bar on prisoner voting to be ‘general, automatic and indiscriminate’ and concluded that it was, in the court’s view, in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights—the right to free and fair elections.
The previous Government committed to implementing the judgment and issued two consultations that did not resolve the issue. Litigation has continued in the domestic and Strasbourg courts. In the case of Greens and MT in 2010, the Strasbourg court again found that the UK was in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the convention, and gave the UK six months to bring forward legislative proposals to remove the violation. This deadline was stayed pending the UK’s intervention in a further case, Scoppola, involving the Italian Government. In this case, the Attorney-General argued in person before the court that national parliaments’ discretion to determine policy on this issue should allow for a complete bar on prisoner voting.
The judgment in the Scoppola case was handed down in May this year. It concludes the Strasbourg court’s consideration of the issue. In that judgment the court made it clear that in its view the ‘margin of appreciation’ afforded to individual Council of Europe member states to decide on how far prisoners should
be enfranchised was wide, but confirmed its position that a complete bar was outside that margin. The judgment restarted the clock on Greens and MT and requires the Government to ‘bring forward legislative proposals’ to give effect to the judgment by tomorrow, 23 November, and to enact the required legislation.
The Prime Minister has made clear, on the record, his personal views on this subject. I have done the same. Those views have not changed. However, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the court judgment. As Lord Chancellor, as well as Secretary of State for Justice, I take seriously the obligation on me to uphold the rule of law. Equally, it remains the case that Parliament is sovereign, and the Human Rights Act explicitly recognises that fact. The current law passed by Parliament remains in force unless and until Parliament decides to change it.
As Lord Justice Hoffmann put it in a case in 1999: ‘Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will not detract from this power. The constraints upon its exercise by Parliament are ultimately political, not legal. But the principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost’.
Last month, the Attorney-General made it clear in evidence to the Justice Committee that it is, ‘entirely a matter for Government to make proposals but ultimately for Parliament to determine what it wants to do. Parliament is sovereign in this area; nobody can impose a solution on Parliament, but the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations’.
The judgment requires the Government to bring forward legislative proposals for Parliament to consider. It will then be for Parliament to scrutinise and decide on those. So I have today laid before Parliament a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Leaders of both Houses are writing to the Liaison Committees proposing that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to conduct that pre-legislative scrutiny. We judge that pre-legislative scrutiny of this nature is appropriate given the significance of this issue and the strong views on both sides that exist right across this House.
The draft Bill sets out three different potential approaches for the committee to consider. Presenting a draft Bill with that range of options reflects the spectrum of views that we know exist on this question. However, it will of course be for the committee, once established, to consider whether approaches beyond those canvassed in the draft Bill should also be considered by Parliament in due course.
The first approach in the draft Bill is for prisoners sentenced to less than four years to be entitled to vote. A four-year bar has previously been discussed by Parliament. The second approach would limit the vote to prisoners sentenced to six months or less. The final approach would effectively restate the current position that anyone incarcerated following conviction would not have the vote.
The committee will want to consider these approaches, their consequences if they were in due course adopted by Parliament, and whether there are other options; for example, the Italian system, found to be compliant by the court, disenfranchises prisoners post-release. The committee will, I am sure, consider evidence on this and other approaches. It may also want to reflect on the consequences of Parliament’s ultimate decision for the rule of law and the UK’s international standing. The committee might also wish to think about practical implementation. The administrative consequences and costs of different approaches for the Prison Service, the courts, the electoral registration system and electoral registration officers could be significant.
The House will want to note that this draft Bill does not yet deal with territorial extent. Any Bill introduced into Parliament would need to extend to the whole of the United Kingdom, although the Bill is currently drafted for England and Wales only. The Government will engage with the devolved Administrations during the pre-legislative scrutiny process to ensure the legislation applies correctly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in recognition of the interaction with devolved policy matters.
When the Joint Committee has finished its scrutiny, the Government will reflect on its recommendations. We will continue the legislative process by introducing a Bill for full debate and scrutiny as soon as possible thereafter.
I have set out in some detail for the House the background to the draft legislation that I am publishing today, and the respective roles of the Government and Parliament in resolving this issue. I commend this Statement to the House”.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It is an issue of enormous interest and concern, not only in your Lordships’ House and the other place but across the country.
This is not the first time the UK Government have had to look at this issue. As the noble Lord said, it has been controversial since the 2004 Hirst case, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was contrary to Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the convention. The Labour Government disagreed with the court’s decision. We appealed and we continued to challenge the decision until we lost office. There may be differences of view on this issue but the Labour Government provided clarity and a consistent position throughout our time in government.
One of my concerns now is the lack of consistency and the confused messages from this Government on the issue. Many of us will recall Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments in the House of Commons in November 2010 that it would make him,
“physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison”.—[
, Commons, 3/11/2010; col. 921.]
Recess in 2010—the Government snuck out a Written Statement announcing that prisoners on sentences of less than four years would get the vote. That would have meant roughly 30,000 prisoners getting the vote, nearly 8,000 of whom having been found guilty of violent and/or sexual offences, although other prisoners, presumably guilty of the same offences but serving slightly longer sentences, would not have got the vote. At the time, we asked the Government to share the legal advice on which the decision was based, but they refused to do so.
Then, following an overwhelming vote in the Commons in favour of the status quo on 10 February 2011, the Government appeared to abandon that policy and, this year, the Attorney-General again appealed to the European Court in the Grand Chamber and we supported that appeal. Then, just last month, the Guardian newspaper reported government plans for a draft Bill on prisoner voting. At the time, that was categorically denied by the Government, yet, four weeks later, we have a draft Bill. We need to digest the details of this draft Bill and will work with the Government to ensure that it receives the pre-legislative scrutiny that any such Bill deserves.
The Labour Opposition’s views on this issue are well known and well documented. We are unhappy with the European Court ruling on prisoner voting. It is not a case of our Government failing to hold free or fair elections, or of massive electoral fraud; this is about those convicted of an offence deemed so serious as to warrant a prison sentence being denied while they are in prison a number of rights and privileges, including the privilege of voting. The Labour Government remained consistently of the view that this should be within the margin of appreciation that nation states are given by the court.
Prison is a punishment, and we feel equally strongly about the state’s responsibilities aggressively to intervene to address offending behaviour of prisoners and to try to prevent reoffending. Improving physical and mental health, literacy, preparation and training for work and preparation for life outside prison are crucial ways in which any country should seek to end the cycle of offending. The notion that depriving a serving prisoner of the vote means that it is more likely that they will reoffend is absurd.
We have to respect, and will respect, the rule of law. We cannot abide just by those judgments that we agree with. We are mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and of the way that it has protected human rights across Europe for more than six decades. However, we regret that the Government wasted the opportunity to reform the court during their recent chairmanship of the Council of Europe. They failed to secure changes that would have led to the court respecting the unique circumstances of each individual member country and have prevented it adjudicating on domestic social policy such as this.
Parliamentarians should know the Government’s legal advice on what is needed to discharge our obligations under the convention on human rights. We need full information and clarity on the ramifications of any decisions that Parliament may take, because there is a risk that choosing the wrong option could lead to
compensation claims from prisoners and to us as a country being in breach of the rule of law.
We have again requested that the Government publish their legal advice so that Parliament can make an informed judgment. Does the Minister consider that it would be helpful to your Lordships’ House, the other place and any Joint Committee if the legal advice on which the draft Bill relies could be made available to Parliament? If not, why not?
How long do the Government anticipate the pre-legislative scrutiny lasting? My reason for asking is that the Government’s position on this issue has changed so often and caused so much uncertainty that it would be helpful for it to be clarified as soon as possible. When is Parliament likely to be able to vote on these options as the Government have outlined and are the Government likely to recommend any of the three options to Parliament?
This is an important issue that causes enormous concern in the country, in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, and we need clarity. On the one hand, we have the Prime Minister saying that even contemplating giving prisoners the vote makes him physically sick and the Government denying press reports that there would be a draft Bill, yet, on the other, we have a draft Bill being published today. Surely, on this issue, the Government should offer some consistency and leadership and be clear about their intentions.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for that very constructive response and I accept immediately her offer to work with the Government to make this a constructive exercise. Obviously, the first objective will be to set up the Joint Committee and then to let it get down to its work. I hope that I have not damaged her political prospects too much.
We can have analysis of how this issue has been handled during this past 10 years and whether there were better ways of doing it. The Statement today lets Parliament set out a path to resolving the issue which is sensible and which may help us get to a solution which addresses the complex and sometimes conflicting issues to which the noble Baroness referred. It is an acceptable view—I heard Mr Jack Straw express it again today—that denying prisoners the vote is a denial of civic and social rights but not of human rights, but the problem that we face is that the court has taken a different view and that we are legally committed to obey or recognise it. The Joint Committee will be able to listen to a wide range of views, which I am sure will be forthcoming.
It is a long-standing convention that the Government do not disclose their legal advice. However, on this exceptional basis and to facilitate appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of this issue, the Government will publish a summary of their legal position once the proposed Joint Committee convenes. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor has also made it clear that the Government will try to give the committee all facilities and information to allow it to come to a considered judgment. We could have lots of fun debating who should have done what and when during this past decade, but today we can set off on a path which allows Parliament, with a full regard—this I do take from what the noble Baroness said—to the wider implications of whatever decision is taken, to take this matter forward. As always, we will listen carefully to the views of this House.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I do apologise for jumping up earlier and I shall jump down pretty soon. My remarks are based on many years as a member of the board of visitors of Pentonville prison and many years as a member of the mental health review tribunal dealing with Broadmoor.
First, I wonder about the inmates of Broadmoor, some of whom, one hopes, will become normal, if not totally, criminal lunatics with time. Will they eventually get votes? The same would apply to institutions where the prisoners are drug addicts. What would be their position? I have a feeling that every prison has a hospital. Who is going to judge whether the patients in the prison hospitals are in fit state to vote?
I also wonder whether Members of Parliament who have prisons in their constituencies have thought about their future voting figures—rather different perhaps from what they are now. There are a great many questions to be answered. I have a feeling that I share the views of the Minister and I hope that he can put my mind at rest on some of my questions.
Lord McNally: My Lords, the list of questions raised by the noble Baroness illustrates why this has been a very difficult issue. The issue of prisoners with mental illnesses has been looked at separately, but parallel, to this. However, the level and seriousness of illness has been a concern and that is why there are a range of options. I hope that when the Joint Committee is set up it will look at some of these issues and take evidence from a wide range of people with experience and expertise. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s personal expertise and experience in this area. Some serious examination is needed now based on good analysis and well informed opinion from people with experience. That then needs to be synthesised by the Select Committee into a well informed recommendation to Parliament. It is a sensible process and the indications are that all sides of the House will pay their part constructively.
Britain, which had previously implemented all decisions of the European court, would give encouragement to the notorious abusers of human rights around the world by not implementing this one. Will the Minister comment on that? Will he further comment on a letter dated 30 August 2011 that was sent from the European court to the British Government? The final paragraph of the letter states:
Lord McNally: No, I do not think we have missed the boat already. In neither House have we pretended that this is an easy issue to deal with. If there was a consensus on what to do, we would have dealt with it quickly and early. However, we have conflicting views and we are taking this forward.
I agree with the noble Lord on one thing. I heard Mr David Davis in the other place say that what we do on this would be a precedent, and he is quite right. If the United Kingdom were to decide on a “pick-and-mix” attitude to the rulings of the court and the application of human rights, others would gleefully grab that example when we try to take them to task. I did not agree with the noble Baroness when she was rather dismissive of the progress we made in Brighton in reforming the court. I do not think that anybody has denied that the court needs reform and we made great progress there that is ongoing.
The most significant thing for me was the day after the declaration was signed when the Attorney-General hosted a tour de table where each of the responsible Ministers from the Council of Europe gave an explanation and a justification of how they were implementing the convention. Here was a Russian Minister—I know Russia is not perfect—explaining and justifying its stewardship of the ECHR. I am old enough to remember meetings with the old Soviet Union when any attempt to raise human rights was taken to be an interference in its internal affairs and could not be discussed. I consider it tremendous progress by the convention and by the Council of Europe.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am very glad that we now have a framework but I am sorry that we are still embarked on the approach from the wrong way round, which is why the consultation has failed. The question should not be who should have the vote—that is what was laid down by the European court. The question is who should not have the vote. The consultation failed because it asked the wrong questions. I am concerned by that approach, although I am very glad to see that the Government are going to allow consideration of other options such as the one I have always advocated that the sentencer should award the removal of the right to vote at the time of sentence noted to a crime. I also note that there is still concern about costs. That a slight red herring. I have always understood that the costs are minimal because it will be postal voting which happens for all remand prisoners now anyway.
My concern and question relates to the current law passed by Parliament. As far as I understand it, the only law that affects voting is dated 1870. It condemns a person to prison as being a form of living death. That conflicts quite starkly with the Statement about rehabilitation revolutions which we have just heard from the Secretary of State. Is the law of 1870 still held to be applying or is there a new law at the back of this very sensible proposal? I look forward to helping the Select Committee when the time comes.
Lord McNally: I would have to take advice on whether the 1870 law is the only one. I presume that there have been successor electoral laws since then. However, I agree with the noble Lord that we now have a framework. Whether the wrong questions have been asked or in the wrong order, the committee once set up will have considerable leeway to set its own terms of reference. My right honourable friend in the other place made it clear that although the draft Bill gave a number of options that was not the full scope of where the committee could go or what the committee could examine. The Lord is quite right that mention of cost is a bit of scaremongering. It would be handled, I suspect, as postal votes. On the point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I remember a newspaper suggesting that in the Isle of Wight the seat could be swung by the block vote from Parkhurst. It is a reductio ad absurdum of the debate.
I am told that the law disqualifying prisoners from voting is now contained in the Representation of the People Act 1983. We have moved on 100 years and it is interesting that the Act is now nearly 30 years old.
There have been many red herrings in regard to the methodology of prisoner voting. I suspect that it would be done by postal votes, which would not be a tremendous burden on the administration of any elections. However, that is another matter on which the committee can take expert advice.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, whether we like it or not—and if not now then at some time in the future—and whether it makes someone sick or not, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the ECHR judgment. That being the case, is my noble friend able to identify the countries in the European Union that allow those convicted of crimes to have the right to vote? As the Minister responsible for providing the initiative for the rehabilitation of offenders, does he accept that by granting prisoners the right to vote, it will help in the rehabilitation of offenders?
Lord McNally: My Lords, that illustrates the range of opinions on this matter. The Secretary of State set out his personal view and the personal view of the Prime Minister. I share the view of my noble friend that it could be possible to devise a system of enfranchisement for some prisoners that could play a useful part in a rehabilitation process. That may be something that he, or other bodies with which he is associated, may wish to put to the committee.
As regards the Council of Europe, some 41 members give prisoners the right to the vote to some degree or another and six continue with a blanket ban. Those six are: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Russia, San Marino and the United Kingdom.
Lord Prescott: My Lords, I welcome the Statement as it offers a number of options. You can accept the changes and, therefore, observe the rights of the convention; or, if you refuse, you can leave it. To reject and leave the convention would be a proper exercise of parliamentary democracy. Is the Minister aware that I am a member of the human rights committee in the Council of Europe? That committee has received reports of many abuses of human rights, particularly in eastern European countries. I was sent to release 130 people from an Armenian jail, who had been accused of threats to the state simply by holding a public protest. I was able to get them out of jail because I was able to argue that Armenia is in breach of human rights. However, having listened to them, I know that they would like parliamentary sovereignty to overrule the human rights convention and they are watching Britain to see whether we do this.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I am aware of the service of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, not only on the human rights committee, but more generally, to the Council of Europe. That council and its membership is something of which Britain has, rightly, been proud. His illustration is a perfect follow-up to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to. I hope that the committee and the other place, when they weigh in the balance the various competing issues, take full account of the fact that we might seem to be setting a precedent whereby it is optional whether one complies with the convention and the court. There are those on whom we have previously been able to exert pressure where that pressure will be the less because we have provided them with a precedent. It is not a complete and convincing argument but it is one that should be put into the mix for careful consideration.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in today’s society, which is so affected by the pressures of the popular press, there is a danger of prisoners being given pariah status, as illustrated by the fact that candidates for police and crime commissioner who had had a minor offence years ago in their youth were automatically disqualified? Should that not be in the forefront of the consideration of the Joint Committee? Can the Minister also clarify whether, and at what point, this matter might be subject to a free vote rather than a whipped vote?
Lord McNally: My Lords, on the latter point, I am afraid I cannot give the House guidance. Without trivialising it, the answer is how long is a piece of string; how long will a committee ponder, deliberate and take evidence on these issues and then bring them forward to Parliament. The process is there and I cannot believe that it will be approached frivolously. It will be approached seriously by those who serve on the committee. They will bring forward their recommendations and then the Government are committed to bringing forward legislation in the light of that.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate on the way that this debate is handled by the media. I am pleased that the Government are concentrating their efforts on rehabilitation—I was very pleased that the noble Baroness,
Lady Smith, lent her support to that concept—and it is worth considering that this could be part of a rehabilitation process. That will be a part of the discussions that the committee will have to consider.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, many people serve up to 50% of their sentence in prison and the remainder on release when, of course, they could exercise their vote. So are we not fulfilling our obligation to the ECHR already?
Lord McNally: Apparently not. A number of people have pointed out that those in prison on remand retain the right to vote and a range of others who are incarcerated also retain the right to vote. The noble Baroness points out that those who are released, having served part of their sentence, can resume their right to vote. However, in the view of the court, that was not sufficient to clear the hurdle that it believed was implicit in the Article 3 responsibility. The committee will look at the issues. If there is a way that Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, can find favour with, we will take that solution forward.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Scottish Parliament has more clearly delineated the relationship with the ECHR than this Parliament has. Can he give us some indication, particularly in the light of his response to the right reverend Prelate, on the timing of getting legislation through Parliament and what he thinks the implications of that would be for the referendum on Scottish independence, which is now less than two years away?
Lord McNally: I do not want to speculate on that. I shall repeat what my right honourable friend said in the other place concerning the devolved areas and jurisdictions. This morning, he talked to the Scottish justice secretary, and to Wales and Northern Ireland, and the reason they were not in the original document was simply that we were not able to consult them in advance of publication. However, as this matter is taken forward, we want them all to be fully involved.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name, I draw the attention of your Lordships to my entry in the register of Members’ interests, particularly my engagement with a number of organisations devoted to multilateral nuclear disarmament, improved non-proliferation and increased nuclear security. When I first submitted this Motion to the ballot for debate, I thought it was an opportunity for the House to debate and, maybe for the first time, for the Government to report to Parliament
on the P5 discussions on confidence-building measures and nuclear disarmament that have been taking place since 2009.
Members of your Lordships’ House may be aware that I have some investment in these discussions. In particular, in a speech that I gave to the conference on disarmament in Geneva on 5 February 2008, I reminded those listening that the preamble to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty made it clear that,
“all States party to the Treaty should work towards ‘the easing of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the elimination of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery’”.
“a transparent, sustainable and credible plan for multilateral nuclear disarmament”,
“proliferation, so that disarmament and counter-proliferation both move forward together”.
“to promote greater trust and confidence as a catalyst for further reductions in warheads—but without undermining the credibility of our existing nuclear deterrents”.
That announcement subsequently led to the first ever meeting of the P5 states, including China, in London in 2009, which then went on to a meeting in Paris to discuss these issues, and another in Washington in 2012.
It is interesting that at the time of that meeting in Washington on 28 June 2012, the head of our delegation to the P5 conference, Robert Hannigan, issued a press release, the last sentence of which read:
“I am pleased that we have come a long way since our initial discussions in London and can focus this week on implementation of our commitments and taking forward new initiatives on nuclear disarmament, including confidence-building measures and exchanging verification experiences”.
I start my remarks on this Motion by inviting the Minister, either when he responds or at some stage, to build on that short press release to make it clear to the House what these steps are and to account to Parliament for them. What engagement do we have with our P5 partners, particularly China, on these very important matters? A significant and potentially world-changing conversation is taking place and the first reporting of it cannot be to the next review committee of the NPT. There ought to be some reporting of these discussions to Parliament and I am unable to find any proper reporting of them taking place.
That was my initial focus. However, since then I have had the benefit of a visit to China, in late October and early November. In the context of my recently acquired board membership of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, I was invited to attend a board meeting in the company of the noble Baroness, Lady
Williams, who has served on that board for 10 years. For those of your Lordships who do not know what the Nuclear Threat Initiative is, it is an NGO based in Washington and led by Sam Nunn, who for many years as a senator was chair of the armed services committee of the Senate, and Ted Turner. For 10 years, it has done groundbreaking work on reducing the use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, while working to build trust, transparency and security, principally from the United States but also in Russia and China. All of these trust-building, transparency and security measures are preconditions of the fulfilment of the NPT. I congratulate the Nuclear Threat Initiative on the work it has done; the House should record its congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her decade of contribution to that significant work, which has gone relatively unsung.
Over the days that we were in China, we had the privilege of meeting analysts, researchers, academics, retired senior military, senior officials and the Chinese Foreign Minister to discuss, among other things, nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear security. We also had the privilege of attending a seminar at the Chinese institute of contemporary relations; an excellent discussion about regional challenges, including what is happening in the East China Sea, at the Carnegie centre of Tsinghua University; and an international conference of technical experts and analysts of disarmament and verification under the auspices of an organisation that has the acronym PIIC.
All of this was absorbing and interesting and, as it was the eve of the change of leadership in China and as we had the advantage of detailed briefing and informed discussion about regional security issues in the broader geopolitical context, it was immensely informing and remarkably optimistic in its sense of engagement and trust-building. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is scheduled to speak in this debate. I hope she will agree—we have not caucused on this issue—that what was striking in those meetings, when all these interesting and important issues were being discussed, was how comparatively irrelevant Europe and in particular the United Kingdom were to those discussions. The expression I have used since then is that you had to have relatively sharp elbows to get between the Russians who were present, the Chinese and those from the United States as they discussed these great global issues. It was very difficult to get a European or British voice or justification. I concluded that this was perhaps because there was no manifestation of any great effort being made on the part of our country or of Europe to engage significantly with the Chinese.
However, we live in an interconnected world. China is the EU’s second biggest trading partner, after the United States. Until two days ago, the EU was also China’s biggest export market. I noticed that the Chinese announced on Tuesday that the United States has overtaken the European Union as their biggest export market, as demand on this continent has dropped off because of the financial crisis. However, since the start of 2012 alone, we have had shipments from China to the EU valuing $276.8 billion. We are integrated with China not only economically but politically and if we
have taken the lead economically, why do we appear to be holding back politically in our engagement with China, which is such an important power? We can do more and I hope that the short debate we will have over the next two hours or so may make some contribution to that engagement.
He sets them out but I do not intend to repeat them here; I think everyone knows what they are. Among those challenges, he says, the new leadership and the new president, Xi Jinping, will have to face the responsibility of dealing directly with the United States and the rest of the world over global issues of security and defence. The discussion that will take place, which we—that is, the Europeans and in particular the United Kingdom—have to be part of, will set the tone for potential global peace and stability.
Xi Jinping faces that challenge in the context of the renewed hope that President Obama has engendered that he will pursue his Prague agenda in his second term in office and seek to take significant steps towards a world free of nuclear weapons by reducing the salience of nuclear weapons and their numbers. He outlined his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons in a major speech in Prague in 2009, and the cheering of the people of Europe was audible as he outlined it. I have to say that the political support that he received thereafter was conspicuous by its absence, but he had other domestic challenges.
Not only did he outline that challenge but in September 2009 he chaired the summit meeting of the Security Council in which it unanimously adopted the ambition of a world free of nuclear weapons. We are now in the situation where all the important global leaders espouse the challenge of zero nuclear weapons, including our own Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron. We are committed to a world free of nuclear weapons; we have signed up to that.
Since then, the US and Russia have signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, requiring both of them to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals significantly. Thereafter, though, by and large there is no more good news. It appears that all the nuclear-armed states of the world plan to spend approximately $1 trillion on renewing or improving their nuclear weapon systems, so the rhetoric is for a world free of nuclear weapons but the steps towards it are conspicuous by their absence. More needs to be done. The reduction of these stockpiles is a global responsibility. Of course the United States and Russia have by far the biggest arsenals, but we are not going to make any progress unless we, the P5 countries, take our shared responsibilities for these steps, and that includes China.
What is striking about our engagement with China is that its nuclear weapons are shrouded in secrecy. There is nothing very unusual about that, of course; most of the nuclear weapons states in the world have a substantial degree of secrecy about their nuclear weapons. The Chinese analysis is that they have a very small number of nuclear weapons and they have a no-first-strike
policy, a combination that requires a deal of secrecy. That then engenders suspicion, and there is a whole spectrum of speculation about whether it has thousands, including some hidden in tunnels—some analysis by Georgetown University suggested that, with no basis—or whether the view that General Robert Kehler, the head of US Strategic Command, is said to take, that they have several hundred nuclear weapons, is likely to be correct. The conclusion that I came to in my discussions with both Chinese experts and the experts that we had in our company, including Eugene Habiger, the retired US Air Force four-star general who served as commander-in-chief of US Strategic Command, was that the smaller of those numbers is more likely to be correct.
It is important for a starting point of the steps that we are taking if these discussions to know where the United Kingdom Government stand in this broad range of views. If they believe the larger estimates, which in my view are significantly exaggerated, they feed western unease about Chinese ambitions and create difficulty when it comes to building trust and confidence, whereas if they tend to the lower end of the spectrum and they share the view of the US Strategic Command, there appears to be a basis for some sensible discussion, should nuclear disarmament discussions be multilateralised.
If we rely upon Wikileaks, there was some suggestion that as recently as 2008 very senior members of the FCO shared the view that the larger numbers were likely to be the truth. I do not expect the Minister to comment on Wikileaks, but it would be helpful for an informed discussion if the Government made some public declaration of where they think Chinese nuclear weapons sit in this range of speculation, and what the basis for our discussions should be.
The purpose of all of this is that if we are to achieve the ambition that we say we all share, we have to prepare ourselves for a discussion across the world about ridding the world of these nuclear weapons. It is possible that if President Putin and President Obama move beyond the phase of New START, there will be a new set of discussions. We know from his public utterances that President Putin’s view is that they need to be multilateralised. What will our contribution be other than saying, “When the time is right we will engage with these multilateral discussions”, and what steps will we take to encourage the Chinese to engage?
In the context of these P5 discussions, what possibility is there that we, the Americans and the French, having hosted meetings of these P5 discussions, can encourage the Chinese and the Russians to host discussions too? That would be a significant statement to the rest of the world.
I suggest this as a possible way forward for engagement with the Chinese. What possibility is there that we and the French will voluntarily buy into the verification and transparency of the New START regime in order to set a model for the Chinese Government to buy into it too, so that we can move away from our inherent suspicion about China’s nuclear weapons system and its intentions?
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on the subject before us. I am only sorry that because of the pressure on the House of Lords over the past few days there are not more people present to take part in this debate, because we are now looking at the second greatest economic power in the world, and perhaps the third greatest military power, and it is important that our Parliament understands better than it does at present, and takes a greater interest in, what is happening in that remarkable country.
I shall start by bearing out even further what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, was saying about the significance of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which held a meeting in Beijing. It is a body that, as he rightly says, has great influence in the United States; it has been consistently strongly in favour of multilateral nuclear disarmament, has great influence with the Houses of Congress, particularly the Senate, and is greatly respected in many parts of the world. Indeed, it has access to an astonishing extent to countries where even foreign offices do not have the same kind of contacts or relationships that they ought to enjoy.
Furthermore, we also had great help from the University of Tsinghua, one of the key Chinese universities. There has been a lot of the discussion in our own House recently about universities. This particular university has great standing in China, is very internationally minded and has enabled many students to come forward with a real understanding of the global situation. It is a matter of great regret that that university, like many others, has run into the extraordinary visa problems that have been thrown up by the new immigration policies of the United Kingdom, which in many ways are very discouraging to people in China who we ought to relate to very closely.
The other thing to say about Tsinghua University is that its rector—Dr Yang Fujia, who, as it happens, is also chancellor of Nottingham University—has been a significant bridge between this country on the one hand and the United States and China on the other, and he has consistently and continually worked on trying to create better and more understanding relationships between this country and China.
I shall begin by saying a word or two about the situation thrown up by the change of leadership in China. I am delighted to see that there are speakers in this debate who know a great deal about this subject, and I hope that they will contribute their knowledge to this discussion. It is of the first importance that we understand what opportunities and difficulties confront what is, after all, a generational change. There has been no change for over a decade in the system of Chinese leadership, as distinct from the personalities, and it is that system that we have to try to understand, and which I believe China will have to try to change.
The election of Mr Xi Jinping as the new leader of China, following Wu Jintao, does not bring about any huge change in the doctrinal policy likely to be followed by the country. Some people in China believe that Mr Xi Jinping, partly because of his background, is
likely to be rather more open-minded to the world and perhaps rather more liberal, but that view is not necessarily correct and is not tremendously widely held.
There were no systematic changes in this leadership shift. Although it was relatively seamless in appearance, there was obviously a great deal of difficulty, chaos and indecision over the past year or two running up to this change. We need only look at the fact that Mr Bo Xilai, the very popular leader of one of China’s major provinces, Chongqing, has been not just removed, but purged from the Communist Party. I understand from my Chinese contacts—and I have been to China quite a few times in the past few years—that one of the reasons behind this was precisely the clash between his popularity and the policies that he was suspected of being likely to pursue. When the Politburo made the decision to purge Mr Bo Xilai, one of the real problems it had was deciding on what basis it was going to purge him. It ultimately purged him on grounds of corruption, but there were certainly many rumours in China that he might be purged on grounds of treason. I mention that only because it is of such significance to look at a leading Chinese who was not a member of the Politburo, but a fast-rising star, in a situation where regime change began to be widely discussed.
That purging suggests that we are looking at a very much more stormy period than most of us recognise or believe. Why is there such a stormy period? I shall mention some of the factors that remain unresolved in China. I speak as somebody who passionately hopes that China will make her way to a more open society because she is a country of great significance and importance. I shall list them very quickly. The first major factor is the rift in the leadership. The second is that the leadership has left itself wide open to the challenge that it is overtaken by cronyism and that far too many of the new leaders are princelings. The sons—alas, not the daughters—of the great leaders of the long march and the original red revolution have become significant financial players. In many cases, they are chairmen or vice-chairmen of the big state-owned enterprises and banks, and are, in fact, becoming something of an oligarchy. That is ironic in a way, given the original ideals of the Chinese revolution.
The third big factor is corruption. It is widespread in China, not least in local government, where it is fed consistently by the seizure of land and its sale to developers for large sums of money, most of which do not find their way back to the peasants who lived on that land. Very often, the money is siphoned off, sometimes abroad, or to the private fortunes of those who have the ability to turn that land from peasant, farming land into development land, with huge planning gains.
The fourth factor is that China has been slow to recognise the need for at least a basic welfare state. It is beginning to move on this. For example, at present something like 95% of the Chinese population is covered by some sort of very basic healthcare, whereas the figure only five years ago was 15%. The Chinese are beginning to move, however slowly, in that direction,
but they are still a very long way from something like the National Health Service, in which they have shown considerable interest.
The fifth factor, but I shall not go on about it, is crucial to understanding the unrest in China, which is very great. Three years ago, when I went to speak to the China Reform Forum, the training college for the young elite of the Chinese Communist Party, one of the things that surprised me was the sheer scale of demonstrations in China, running into the thousands, all too many of which had to be put down by the People’s Liberation Army. In other words, those demonstrations were much more than the flag waving and shouting of slogans that we have day after day across the street under King George V’s statue. They were altogether different.
I shall mention one other factor, which is very important. It is the house registration system, with which many people in Britain are not familiar. Other people know more about this than I do, such as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and other Peers. It is a system under which you are registered in the house in which you are born. That house registration becomes your passport to whatever benefits or, for that matter, duties, you have in that province of China. Quite basically, it means that if you are born in a rural state, you will have only the most basic education and health services, very many benefits will not apply to you, you will have a very low pension, if any at all, and you can leave the province where you are registered only as a migrant worker carrying with you the lack of the benefits and rights that people in Shanghai, Beijing or Guangdong undoubtedly enjoy. One might almost describe the house registration system as a blockade to social mobility, and it is one of the reasons why the leadership of China has consistently become more an elite divorced from a large number of the people.
Having said all that, let me return to the issue we are discussing in this debate: the nuclear issue. I shall say a few words about the problems that China confronts in foreign affairs, which have already been adduced by my noble friend Lord Browne, but are worth saying a little more about. The first thing to say is that the United States’ modernisation of nuclear weapons is regarded in China as an extremely serious challenge. Whether we like it or not, China still sees three countries as posing a certain threat to itself. One of those countries is the United States, the second is India and the third is Japan. I shall say a word about each. I am not pleading for China, but I understand why the modernisation of conventional and nuclear weapons in the United States troubles China very much indeed. After all, the United States is the biggest naval presence in the Pacific and its defence budget is equivalent to the next 13 countries in the world, which include China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and many more, and, if Mr Romney had become president, it would have been increased very substantially.
I want to say a few words about nuclear modernisation. One of those words concerns the attempt to get smaller and more effective nuclear weapons—thermobaric weapons—which add a number of other fragmented materials to uranium or another nuclear product, usually U-235, to make the effect of those bombs much more explosive and much more devastating.
A perhaps equally frightening weapon is the “mother of all weapons”—the MOAW—so called, unfortunately, by the nuclear military industry. It is so powerful and so explosive that it is capable of knocking out anything buried several meters under earth, or even several tens of meters under earth. It is the biggest explosive device that anyone has ever invented.
Also very troubling is the introduction of nanotechnology into nuclear development. It means the opposite of the mother of all weapons; it means tiny nuclear bombs which can blow up a whole city but which are extremely hard to detect. It will be very difficult for the NPT—or to be more precise, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Geneva—to inspect, discover and track nuclear weapons as tiny as are now being developed. Therefore, China has some reason to be worried, as does the world. Not just China, but nuclear weapon countries—P5 and outside—all over the world are developing this highly sophisticated and rather terrifying technology.
I referred to India, which China sees as a rival. One of the most destructive steps ever taken in the world of attempting to deal with multilateral disarmament was—I said it rather loudly at the time but not many people were listening—the US-India agreement of 2008. It was a terrifying agreement because, not only did it exempt India from any of the controls by the nuclear suppliers group—an essential element in the whole structure of trying to control and govern nuclear weapons—it also enabled India to bypass issues about the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and fissile material induction, simply by the United States agreeing with India that it would not be pressed on any of those issues. It was a desperate act of irresponsibility by George Bush. I share my noble friend Lord Browne’s view that we are lucky to have seen Mr Obama re-elected if we are really concerned about the possibility of nuclear destruction in this world.
Let me add a little to what my noble friend Lord Browne has already said about what we might do. It is crucial to build on China’s doctrinal addiction, as he said, to the concept of no first use. China likes no first use because, effectively, it means that it is protected from being morally blamed when it deals with a country which is, for example, likely to move towards the development of nuclear weapons. For 20 years, it has enabled China to take a moral position in the P5 and then to argue to everyone else that they should take the same moral position. So far, no one else has done so.
However, in 2000, when the members of the nuclear proliferation treaty met in order to discuss what might be done, they strongly argued for—under great pressure from the non-nuclear weapon states—the idea of what was called at the time a major move towards an attempt to get multilateral agreement on no first use. They called for negative security assurances; in other words, a promise that, “If you meet certain conditions, we will not attack you with nuclear weapons or, in some cases, any other kind of weapons”.
world of nuclear order. But I would say loud and clear that one of the things that this country and the Foreign Office—I give due credit to the Foreign Secretary and others in the Foreign Office for the work that they have tried to do in this field—should do is discuss the possibility of bilateral no first use agreements between the P5, and beyond the P5 between the P5 countries and those which are so-called nuclear weapon states not recognised within the P5—in other words, build up a network of no first use rather than simply making an announcement about no first use.
I am sorry if I have taken some time but this is a rather major subject. Finally, the other area where we can go a very long way to try to bring China within a more globally responsible structure—it is not very good at global responsibility—is by agreeing to start negotiating on things such as no first use, and moving on to things such as CTBT, of which China is a member, and the fissile material cut-off treaty, in an effort to bring this country, which is not an aggressive country but is certainly a troubled country, within the sphere of global responsibility. That very much includes its very special relationship with North Korea, which I am glad to say is getting somewhat better.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the subject of this debate might seem at first sight to be a little esoteric, but I suggest that it is not. It is, in fact, at the heart of any meaningful effort to make progress towards the objective of a world free of nuclear weapons, which was set out in President Obama’s Prague speech. However, the issue is equally at the heart of achieving that other objective, which is supported by a wider body of opinion than the first, of a world with far fewer nuclear weapons than exist now, and with such weapons stood down from the state of high alert that currently persists and playing a less prominent role in the defence and security strategies of the states that possess them. Add to those considerations the facts that President Obama has recently been elected to a new term of office, that the Democrats have a larger majority in the Senate than they had before that election and, at the same time, that a sweeping shift in the leadership of China is taking place—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told us some interesting things about that—you have all the conditions for a highly topical debate.
The tireless efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as the convenor of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, and of the European Leadership Network, which met last week in London, are so noteworthy that he must be warmly congratulated, not least for the wide-ranging speech with which he opened the debate.
If nuclear disarmament discussions between the nuclear weapons states, the P5, often resemble a dance of the seven veils, it should be recognised that China has not, as yet, shed much in the way of those veils—fewer than most of the other nuclear powers. Its statements of nuclear strategy, which have just been referred to, are cast in the most general of terms and are bereft of any of the specifics that would be needed to provide the transparency required if genuine steps towards
disarmament were to be achieved. That may not have mattered much, so long as China’s nuclear arsenal was pretty small and so long as the US-Soviet and, subsequently, the US-Russian strategic weapons negotiations were effectively the only game in town. However, given that China is reportedly alone among the P5 in still adding to its arsenal, and with the need for negotiations outside that original duo becoming more pressing, that is no longer the case.
Moreover, in the context of verification processes, to which in general terms China has always shown itself to be remarkably allergic—that was as true in the discussions on climate change as it is of nuclear disarmament—China will surely be a necessary component of any steps towards wider nuclear disarmament. China’s firm support for bringing the comprehensive test ban treaty into force, which will require its own ratification but which has not taken place, will be an important element of any renewed effort to get the United States Senate to ratify that treaty. There is therefore plenty to discuss with the Chinese, even if they were not the closest allies of two extraordinarily problematic possessors of nuclear and weapons, Pakistan and North Korea, and a crucial component in the international efforts to head off a third, Iran.
Fortunately, there already exists one forum for such discussions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, made reference, in the shape of the regular, if so far pretty infrequent, consultative meetings between the P5—the five nuclear weapons states recognised as such under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The discussions, for which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, deserves a share of the credit, were initiated a few years ago. What is needed now is for those meetings to become more frequent, and for them also to become more operational and less academic. For example, those consultations could, first, make progress towards defining the terms of a fissile material cut-off treaty that would be supported by all five of the recognised weapons states, if ever Pakistan’s veto on even beginning the negotiation of such a treaty in the conference on disarmament could be removed or circumvented. Secondly, a better understanding could perhaps be reached in that P5 forum on how verification measures could be achieved without the risk of proliferation, and draw on the experience of the Anglo-Norwegian research project, known as VERTIC. Thirdly, consideration could be given on how to handle multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations among a wider group of countries, should a further round of US-Russian nuclear weapons reductions make that a realistic possibility.
There is a compelling case, too, for a much more intensive bilateral discussion between Britain and China on nuclear matters than has hitherto taken place. I hope that the Minister will say something about that and will commit the Government to stepping up those exchanges. They may not be likely to produce instant results but they could contribute to establishing greater confidence and understanding between the two parties, which will be an essential component of success in any future, wider negotiations.
North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. If North Korea is to be brought back into the six-nation talks, and if these are to make progress, China will need to play a more proactive role in its bilateral dealings with North Korea than it has done hitherto. Let us hope that the new leadership in Beijing will be prepared to look at that and will recognise and respond to the need. Then if Iran’s nuclear ambitions are to be brought back firmly within the ambit of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the potential disastrous outcomes of either a nuclear arms race in the Middle East or of hostilities in that region are to be avoided, China will need to give wholehearted support to the twin-track policy of sanctions and the offer of serious negotiations to which—it must be faced—it has not up to now given wholehearted support. Thirdly, if the conference on disarmament is not to lose all its not very abundant credibility as a forum for negotiation, China will need to help persuade its ally Pakistan to cease blocking negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.
In conclusion, we should face up to the obvious facts. China’s role as a global actor in pretty well every sphere of policy is on the rise. Clearly that goes for nuclear policy, too. The case for intensified discussions, both multilateral and bilateral, between this country and China is unanswerable—but is it going to be answered?
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, as is the case perhaps too often when I speak in the House, I find myself reverting to the ancient past in my own recollections. I will try to avoid it, but there is no doubt that on the subject brought before us by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on which the two subsequent speakers emphasised the importance of the threatening weaponry concerned and of multilateral consideration of how we handle it, there is common ground. The question that may interest other people, as it has me, is how far we can be confident in a country such as the People’s Republic of China, which has a history that is unique in so many ways and which is overwhelmingly important in the consideration of this subject.
Remarkably, this reminds me—this again is one of my faults—of the occasion some 60 years ago when I first became aware of the importance of China. I was proceeding with two other Cambridge undergraduates, my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding and EAW Bullock—I think that he later became a diplomat—through south Wales, campaigning for the Conservative Party in the Constitutional Club of Ebbw Vale. On the evening we were in Tredegar Constitutional Club, the news was announced that the Labour Party Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, had announced Britain’s decision to recognise the emergence as a country of the People’s Republic of China. We were asked with some anxiety whether we agreed with this hazardous Labour Foreign Secretary in taking such a view. Fortunately, we had all been instructed in international law by Professor Eli Lauterpacht at Cambridge, and were able to say that, if a Government have been established with clear, credible control of a clearly defined territory, we should recognise it.
I have been facing this question in prospect for some 60 years and I now underline what other speakers have already said about the huge importance of China in this context. I shall add one other thing: it could have been historically uncomfortable if we had not given that answer because 250 years before that, George III, in consultation with Emperor Qiang Long, agreed on the importance of communication and a relationship between our two countries. So there has long been mutual respect, which makes this debate important.
In today’s context, one wonders about the western media’s outpourings on China’s party congress and its constitution, focusing too often on Chinese leaders as though they were old men in black suits, ignoring political reform and being highly challenged. We have to underline—as others have already done—the importance in this context of hoping for active participation by the People’s Republic of China. It is an area where there is some anxiety—as there often is about the People’s Republic of China. How we can be sure, our media often ask, about the sincerity and credibility of the people that I have indicated they describe? Fortunately, there have been a number of examples of the Chinese Government’s respect for the importance of law and the legal system, not only in the international fields that we are talking about, but in relation to their Government and, for example, to the discussions with us about the future of Hong Kong, which became an important issue. From that time they had respect for the special nature of Hong Kong in the context of a two-country system, which in a way exceeded our legitimate claim.
Our title to Hong Kong, under the lease we had agreed at the end of the 19th century, extended only to some 18% of Hong Kong’s territory and we had claimed the remaining 82% by the sheer force of our presence there. The Chinese had become accustomed to regarding the legitimacy and unity of the entire territory, recognising the importance of it being distinguished from and identified as a special component in the China where Hong Kong was thereafter going to live. That shows the respect we can expect from the attitude of Chinese leaders to the importance of an international legal approach to this question, and of securing agreement between China and the remainder of the world—not just with ourselves, but with all those concerned with the continued existence of these nuclear weapons.
It is important to remember that China in fact has respect for law as such. I have had some contact with this, apart from the Hong Kong negotiations, because of my presidency of the Great Britain-China Centre for many years. Perhaps I should have declared that interest earlier than now. The truth is that considerable discussion and negotiation takes place between our own modest GBCC and Chinese authorities about the role of law in a society, whether national or international. We have been able to discuss with the Chinese a range of important aspects of the legal system nationally, including the need for professionalism in China’s judges, the establishment, with our help, of a judicial studies training programme, the improving role of judicial management, consideration of strengthening the rights of defence lawyers, and a code of conduct for Chinese
lawyers in other respects. In administrative law, there is the promotion of media freedom and ethics and, although it may be difficult for all of us to believe it, pushing human rights up the Chinese news agenda and improving the position of media regulation within that society.
All this may seem to be a departure from the subject we are primarily addressing, but I hope it helps to assure colleagues in this House of the importance of the subject of the possible possession of these fearful weapons by one of the world’s largest societies, but alongside that, the importance of its awareness of the role of law whether within the nation or between nations. We should note the extent to which, for historical reasons, our country has the capacity to undertake this kind of discussion. That is because of a substantial, historic—and conceited, if I may say—Government as important as the People’s Republic of China. So I feel much assured—
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord a question. He conducted a brilliant negotiation over Hong Kong when he was Foreign Secretary, but does he regard the fact that Hong Kong has survived for 20 years as an indication that we now have a well settled two-regime system in China?
Lord Howe of Aberavon: Indeed, of course I do, and I would add that I have shed Hong Kong behind me because of the extent to which it has been established. We can all take from that some comfort about the nature of the People’s Republic of China as well. It is that satisfaction which has enabled me to go on other missions to China to discuss matters of common interest, including that which we are discussing today.
I am delighted as always to find myself speaking in the same tone and striking the same note as the noble Baroness who has just so kindly intervened in my observations. It is time that I came to a close.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Browne on getting this important subject debated in your Lordships’ House, and I do not say that with tongue in cheek in any way, because I am fully in favour of intensifying discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament. I have long been of the view that the size of nuclear inventories on both sides of the Cold War were grotesquely high. All the main participants could have unilaterally reduced their inventories by 80% without any loss of physical security.
Having said that, I should make it quite clear that I do not favour a nuclear-free world. I am absolutely delighted that nuclear weapons were invented when they were and I am delighted that, with our help, it was the Americans who invented them. If we think of a world in which they had not been invented, it is very easy indeed to see world war three starting on many occasions after 1945. One of the reasons I want nuclear weapons is that I never again want to see a battle of the Somme, Passchendaele or Verdun, of Okinawa, Kursk or Stalingrad. To take another piece of evidence, let us look at relations between India and China. They fought several wars, and I was at the MoD when they
both got nuclear weapons. We were supposed to be scandalised about it, but I was delighted. That proved, and it seems to me to have done so since, that nuclear weapons are as much a deterrent to gentlemen with brown skins as they are to those of us with white skins. I am glad that both of those countries have a nuclear capability.
I have always viewed the possession of nuclear weapons above all else as a deterrent. In many lonely years in my party, when I was one of the few people saying loud and clear that I wanted us to retain nuclear weapons, I never for one moment thought that we were going to be engaged in a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union or that there would be one between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Why, then, was I so insistent that we should have nuclear weapons? For a very simple reason: because I saw the possibility that I might be wrong. The cost of being wrong in a matter of this sort is absolutely incalculable, as your Lordships will know.
How far down we go is a very difficult question. I have personally been most impressed by the writings of the late, great Sir Michael Quinlan. He seemed to think that—if I read him with understanding—if anybody were to use nuclear weapons again, such would be the shock and horror that you would only need one or possibly two and that would be the end of exchanges. His proposition was that all anybody needed was two or three intercontinental ballistic missiles. It would be very difficult indeed to persuade the taxpaying populations of those countries who had that capability that they should invest in the platforms necessary to be able to dispose of those missiles.
I want to say one thing to your Lordships on the subject of deterrence. I believe in deterrence absolutely fundamentally. I believe it not only in nuclear weapons but I believe it in other weapons systems—some of which we have abandoned. I can remember once being at some seminar and a very distinguished, international civil servant—for the life of me I cannot remember who it was—saying that it was very difficult to explain to people the principle of deterrence. I said that it was very easy to explain the principle of deterrence. Every one of my constituents understood it. You only had to go around a council estate and see the sign on the side door: “Beware of the dog”. This is what deterrence is all about.
However, there are various areas of deterrence where we have been very unimaginative up to now. If your Lordships will forgive a personal reminiscence, I shall never forget when, a few years ago, I sailed across the Straits of Magellan from north to south in a normal ferry towards the eastern end and, as one came up to the southern shore of the straits, there were slopes, not cliffs, and, on both sides of the ferry terminal, there was a big sign: “Illegal. Zona me Nada”. Everybody knew what this meant. It was a very good deterrent, saying: “Don’t come here. You’re in danger of being killed”. There were mines, which was excellent. You often see outside sensitive military establishments in America the words, “Do not enter. You might be killed” or “shot dead”—I forget the exact terms used—making it absolutely clear that, if you go where you should not go, you are liable to be shot.
I am fully in favour of that sort of open deterrence where people know. It is a way of saving life rather than anything else. In this context I draw your Lordships’ attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb. It is a very misleading description. It was not necessarily a bomb. It was a warhead that could be attached to a torpedo or a missile. The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead. Its full title was the ERRB—enhanced radiation reduced blast weapon. I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. It is something that we could go and talk to the Chinese about. Building on the example that I just gave your Lordships about the Straits of Magellan, you could use an enhanced radiation reduced blast warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble.
I will give an example. Your Lordships may say that this is impractical, but nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them. If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there. You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have in that respect.
I have already taken up half my time, and that is probably quite enough today. I am very relieved to say that I do not have any fears whatever of being confronted with a nuclear-free world so long as we have the French, God bless them.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for initiating this extremely important debate, particularly as our discussions on China and multilateral nuclear disarmament are not just necessary but increasingly urgent, as we have heard from other speakers.
We know of the projection of China’s power, the significant uplift in its capabilities and the response that this is eliciting from the United States, among other countries. In a way, the crisis of China’s success in attaining the three goals of Deng’s era—affluence, stability and power—has resulted in such a changed dynamic, paradoxically known as its success trap, that that in itself poses a host of new problems both internally and externally.
For a generation, China’s foreign policy was guided by Deng Xiaoping’s injunction to “hide brightness, nourish obscurity”; that China, as a poor and weak country, should keep a low profile, avoid conflicts and concentrate on economic development. The foreign policy posture was defensive and accepted the US-dominated international order by free-riding on American protection of its investments and, of course, trade with Western free markets.
However, it is hard to maintain a low profile when your country has second-biggest economy in the world, its military spending is growing in double digits and has done so for more than 20 years, and you have a physical presence in every continent. With 50 million
citizens living abroad and 80 million overseas Chinese, China is present in many of the world’s trouble spots. Only last year we witnessed the Chinese airlift of 38,000 citizens out of Libya in the lead-up to the no-fly zone. Its maritime footprint is increasingly visible, with its export-dominated economy and a navy needed to protect shipping lanes. Its interests and influence are bound to affect its outlook and actions.
Some Chinese analysts argue that China’s foreign policy outlook is grimmer than ever. Wang Jisi, President Hu Jintao’s adviser on foreign policy, argues that despite the balance of power shifting in China’s favour, its assertiveness on the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, the Senkaku Islands and the Indian border have helped to create the conditions for a resurgence of American power in Asia, which I will come to later.
This summer has seen a series of maritime disputes involving China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines. In the dispute over the Senkaku islands, a Chinese newspaper suggested skipping the pointless diplomacy and moving straight to using the atom bomb on Japan. There is little doubt that both countries got to this point through excessive nationalism and both Governments are trying to play the dispute down, but nationalism, when unleashed, cannot be dampened that easily. The Economist states that a recent poll in China suggested that more than half the people thought the next few years would see a “military dispute” with Japan.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has published an outstanding series of reports on China, to which I pay tribute. An interesting thing is that it asked Chinese scholars to address and identify the issues they see as significant in the future. In a series of excellent essays, a wide variety of views emerged but, on the whole, it is not optimistic reading. From those who are multilateralist and want Chinese leadership to be engaged and responsible, to nationalists who want a clear and assertive stance, there runs a thread of pessimism and their challenges are significant. There are widespread fears that the next 10 years will be exceptionally difficult, both economically and politically, as dissent within the system grows. The social media site Weibo has at least 30 million active daily users, exposing official wrongdoing and voicing solidarity with the virtual community. The pervasiveness of corruption and the gap between rich and poor since the removal of the “iron rice bowl” of the Deng era, which leaves most without an adequate health or welfare system, is increasingly coming to the fore. In 2011, there were more than 100,000 mass disturbances—in other words, protests—reported.
For him, a multipolar world is not a given, as he foresees an era of bipolarity with China rising, in the next 10 years, to become the only counterpart to American power. He wants a rethink of some of the fundamental doctrines of the Deng era: the quest for multipolarity, where he thinks a bipolar world of the
US and China is inevitable; the principle of non-alignment, which he wants to abandon, thereby foreseeing an alliance with Russia. He also sees an advancement of the norm of intervention as the Westphalian system, based on sovereignty, is on the way out with the rise of American and European involvement in interventions.
The rise of nationalism in incidents in the South China Sea and East China Sea suggests that Chinese people want to see their economic clout reflected in a projection of power. Inevitably, there will be tension between domestic pressures and grand strategy. According to the Economist, fears among scholars that China is unstable at the grass roots, dejected among the middle strata and out of control at the top suggest that there is a deep-seated fragility in the system. When you have an information-age economy and a one-party state you may get the ability for spontaneous mobilisation alongside a crisis of legitimacy, which is an unhappy mix. Twenty years of double-digit military growth have raised the stakes in fishing, shipping lanes, energy resources and forward defence, making it more difficult to avoid territorial issues. With the rise of nationalism, it will be more difficult for new leaders to deal with China’s rise in its neighbourhood and beyond. China’s power has not improved its external environment any more than it has resolved its internal dynamics.
The question arises, therefore, of what can be done in the near term to bring stability to China’s neighbourhood. International safeguards in the Asia-Pacific region to limit the scope for mishaps to escalate into crises—particularly maritime ones—would be a solution. A series of confidence-building measures could be augmented with hot lines for communication between the relevant Governments in the event of an emergency or confrontation. Secondly, a dispute-resolution mechanism, including treaties to resolve disputes over sovereignty, is most urgently needed. Most importantly, and the US is taking clear steps over the Senkaku Islands in this regard, is bolstering deterrence. The islands are administered by Japan and so fall under American protection. The US therefore has, so to speak, “a dog in the fight” and can use its influence to defuse the situation.
The EU also needs a global China policy. Currently, when the Chinese think of the European Union they see 27 bilateral relationships and an overarching body principally concerned with trade. It is instructive that when Angela Merkel goes to Beijing the red carpet is somewhat plusher than when the EU high representative arrives there. It is imperative that the EU take a deeper strategic role in its relationship with China. One method of doing this is to strengthen its voice on other matters around the world so it can be seen as cohesive, representative and a potential partner to be reckoned with.
The most important bilateral relationship that concerns China is with the United States. We know that the projection of Chinese military power has elicited a significant response on the part of the US. China’s claim to about 80% of the South China Sea and its development of a new generation of more capable intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles has increased its ability to deliver nuclear warheads to the United States. There is also great concern that the
deployment of China’s nuclear-powered submarines in the next few years, armed potentially with long-range delivery systems for atomic warheads, will cover the whole of the US from the deep waters of the South China Sea.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed out in his opening remarks, US power is still overwhelmingly greater than China’s—indeed, greater than that of any other state in the world—and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the rise of China’s strategic military power might be a reaction to US guarantees to so many countries with whom China has disputes within its neighbourhood. US attitudes are also coloured by China’s record on nuclear proliferation, which was so aptly recorded by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Its assistance in providing missile technology to Pakistan, despite its commitments to abide by the International Missile Technology Control Regime, and its lack of wholehearted co-operation on Iran’s nuclear proliferation attempts are notable. Added to that, there is the apparent lack of determination on the part of China to work towards resolving the issue of North Korean nuclear proliferation.
I agree with other speakers that China’s ambitions are predictable, but its approach to disarmament does not give rise to optimism. If China wishes to lead in future, it might do better to signal its capability for leadership by leading in the multilateral fora for nuclear disarmament.
Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: My Lords, I am no expert in nuclear affairs but I have listened with enormous interest to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and others who are expert in that subject. It seems that we seldom get a chance to talk about China in general in this House, so I hope I may be forgiven if I join those who have a broader-brush view of the subject of this debate. I fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is very generous in thinking that I may be able to interpret what is happening in the new Chinese leadership and what they are all going to do, but I will come back to that, to the extent that I can, a little bit later on.
The crucial background to all of this is the astonishing, phenomenal growth of the Chinese economy over the past two decades. It really is unprecedented in history. Part of it is what you see physically on the ground—the astonishing rise of skyscrapers in Shanghai; the transformation of Beijing, particularly in the suburbs—as well as the less pleasant side of that, such as the destruction of some of the older parts of Beijing. I feel sad about the fact that although the courtyard house in the centre of Beijing that I lived in about 50 years ago survived until about two years ago, the developers have now caught up and on my most recent visit to Beijing I saw that it had gone—but to my pleasure I saw that many of the traditional parts of Beijing are being preserved, which is good news.
However, the really significant thing is not those skyscrapers; it is the fact that millions and millions of people in China have been raised out of poverty, and that is what really matters. More germane to what we are discussing is the fact that inevitably when a country
like China becomes as economically powerful as it now is—and even more, will be in the future—what goes with it is a greater degree of influence and involvement in the rest of the world. That is perhaps doubly so when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has just pointed out, the growth of military expenditure has gone up very greatly in the past few years. It is very striking to look at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s assessment—it is only an assessment—of expenditure on military matters by China, which it puts at $130 billion in 2011 as compared to only $88 billion four years previously in 2007. These are enormous sums of money, and enormous changes must be going on in China’s military power.
It is clear that when China gets involved in international and nuclear affairs, as in the case of North Korea, it exerts great influence. It was striking that China was so outspoken in 2006 when North Korea did its first test of a nuclear device. It shows what can happen and can be done when China involves herself in these sorts of international issues.
Two things follow from the growth of power and potential influence. The first is a question of other people’s trust in China and China’s trust in other people, and of transparency. As my noble friend Lord Hannay said, it is important that there should be as much transparency as possible in China’s strategic and military aims and its military expenditure. Perhaps that matters in particular in the case of the territorial disputes which are now very apparent in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, because the countries in that region will want to know what China’s strategic policies are and to be able to trust what China says. The disputes have been there for a very long time; Chinese maps have covered those areas as part of China long before—if we are to believe this morning’s Financial Times, the map appears as part of the new Chinese passport. With China now a very powerful military country, these issues are clearly very delicate and the handling of them will be of enormous importance.
The second thing is China’s involvement in discussion of international issues and playing the major part that it should have in international organisations. Here perhaps, to the extent that I can, I shall say a short word about the new Chinese leadership. We do not know as much as we would like, but you can tell, looking at the list of the new standing committee of the politburo, that they are remarkably well qualified. Academic qualifications may not always produce good political leaders, but the academic qualifications are there. Let us take the individuals—to pick up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said. The new president, Xi Jinping, comes from a family of those who were major players in the Chinese Revolution. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was disgraced, like many of that generation, during the Cultural Revolution. He returned to a position in Guangdong province just opposite Hong Kong, and it just so happens, to join the reminiscences, that, in 1979, when the railway line between Canton and Kowloon in Hong Kong was reconnected for the first time since the Chinese Revolution—how recent that is and how different it seems—I visited Canton/Guangzhou with the then governor, later Lord MacLehose of Beoch, a Member
of this House. We met Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun and asked him what he did when he was in disgrace and under house arrest. He said, “Well, I read a lot of books. One of the series of books I read was Winston Churchill’s books about the Second World War”.
There is a hinterland there for somebody with that family as a background; somebody who then, as it were, did penance as a young man in the Cultural Revolution. There is also a hinterland with the new premier, Li Keqiang, who studied, among other things, English law. How they will face up to the massive problems that confront them, and how they will deal with the factional disputes which, as mentioned earlier, must have been a major concern over the past year at least, we do not yet know. However, perhaps one can take some encouragement from the hinterland they have.
I hope that will be of value in the broader question of involving China in international organisations and international discussions—all the things that have been mentioned in the debate today. Maybe, since many of those organisations were set up long before China resumed its place as a major world player, we shall have to adjust the way we deal with things and adjust bits of the organisations to encompass China. A new major power coming in sometimes will not be comfortable but I suggest that we should be prepared to adjust if necessary.
To return to the precise subject of this debate, it is clear to me that a greater involvement by China in crucial international issues must include the issue of multilateral nuclear disarmament and I hope, like other noble Lords, that Britain will play its role in that as well.
Lord Prescott: My Lords, I would like to follow the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and say that I am not going to talk a great deal about the nuclear situation. I think it is a serious matter and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on the debate. I have sat and listened to a great deal, although the absurdities of the argument on nuclear become clearer time and again. There are good and bad nuclear states, and we do not know if Israel is one or not. What is clear is that they all exercise a considerable amount of power and influence in their regions. It is not surprising therefore that Iran, whatever we say, might secure a weapon to have that kind of influence.
I used to live near Capenhurst as a young lad and I used to hear all the arguments about why we needed the weapon. It was not a weapon of war—it was to be purely for energy and civil use. We know that the two go together, and that is one of the problems. My concern is with the security of the world, and China’s influence on it. I want to concentrate some of my remarks on my own experiences with China.
I was appointed chair of the China Task Force by Premier Wen and Tony Blair. I was asked to look at how to improve the relationships between China and the UK in medicine, education, the arts, economy, climate change and sustainable cities. They are all very relevant to the threats to security, prosperity and the
economic facts that we face in our global problems today. I was clearly involved with climate change. We know that if you accept the science there is a connection between cutting carbon emissions and climate change. The consequences that will flow from that are very considerable indeed. I accept the science and I think most people do. The negotiations I led at Kyoto in 1997 took the first steps towards recognising that problem and targeting the cut in carbon gas emissions. It was an important step forward but it was only for the 47 industrial nations. I first saw the influence of China with the Group of 77. We were trying to find a global agreement with very difficult problems to be solved. China played a major part in getting the Group of 77 to agree that the Kyoto agreement could go ahead, even though they did not believe that the rich nations, to which the carbon targets would apply, would make it work. But they went along. If it had not been for China, we would not have got the first stage of Kyoto. The targets did not directly affect China, as it was absolved from them, as were the developing countries.
That was the first time I saw the influence of China and I knew from then, in the 10 years of negotiations I continued to play a part in as the Deputy Prime Minister, that you really need to have China on board in those discussions. I also knew that you needed to have America on board. In the case of climate change, the two competitors were China and America. They both had different views and saw themselves as competitors. Indeed when the Kyoto agreement is finally ratified, we will have to go without America because America was not prepared to accept the kind of changes that were necessary to achieve that global solution to a global problem.
I can give a good example, which came out of the negotiations. We were trying to get an agreement by 2012 and, in the later stages, which the Prime Minister and the President of the United States attended in Copenhagen—they all turned up—they could not agree a common formula which would have meant a global solution to a global problem. What was that? Simply, if there were a limit on the amount of carbon that you could issue, that would limit the consequences of growth in different countries. They all saw it that way. Mr Todd, who was the American negotiator, said at one stage, “Look, the problem between China and America is very simple: we are both the biggest producers of carbon”. That is true. Both of them are responsible for about 25% of the world’s production of carbon. He said, “Therefore, it is a mathematical problem, not a moral one”. If you want to find consensus and agreement, you had better start thinking about how to get agreement on fair terms. It is all right with nuclear—if you have the bomb, you are a negotiator. I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said about us having the bomb but being on the outside when the discussions go on between the three big players.
Another interesting point came from that: why is China in the P5? It is only in it because it has the nuclear weapon. China has now been admitted into the IMF, the G8 and all the other organisations that it is part of, including the ILO, because people recognise that China has a major influence on decisions, if you
want a global solution to a global problem. The problems are of that nature, the same as nuclear. The nuclear situation is about a military equation; it is about who is paying for it, who has the bomb and whether we can keep it. I was interested to hear a noble Lord saying, “I would want the bomb because it keeps peace”. He may well be right, but I do not know. The real point is that in the international arguments on the economy, you must have fairness, and that fairness has to be based not on equality but on equity and what is fair to all. The United Nations principles will apply.
In arguing his case, Mr Stern was ignoring the fundamental point of fairness; namely, if you measure the contribution of the gases that are causing a problem and poisoning the world on a per capita basis, you begin to find that it is 20 tonnes per person in America and six tonnes per person in China, and less in other countries. If you say you have to limit growth because of the scientific predictions, you had better find a principle that is fair to all. In the UN, that principle was about equal opportunities; indeed, it is the same common principle but with different responsibilities and capabilities. That is one of the main principles that we shall need if we are to find a global solution to a global problem. In this case, everyone will be affected by the consequences of climate change. We hear it and see it, day after day. To that extent, to find a solution you had better have principles that people can say are fair to all. That is very important.
Another example of that was when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke of a major economic power. That is true, but China is often interpreted in western press—not that they are very friendly to China—as being second, if you measure it by GDP. Of course, that is more than Japan. I remember when the figures came out but they are now predicting that it will be greater than America. If you measure it per capita, that is not the case. The wealth of China measured in GNP is about halfway up the high-income countries. Perhaps you are going to ask China to co-operate, to limit their growth and not to bring as many people out of poverty. I was pleased to hear someone mention that. Fifteen million people a year come out of agriculture into jobs in the cities. They have reduced poverty by half a million; it is one of the few countries that has been able to do that. Of course, it has a massive scale of poverty, but that must be taken into account.
The GDP is another measure that is wrongly interpreted and which needs to be understood. It leads to misunderstandings. More importantly, it leads to a lack of consensus on how you deal with the problem. People say to me that China is basically a super power, but China does not seem to like that; it is the first to say that it is not a super power. I say, “You are the first undeveloped nation that I have noticed that sends a rocket to the moon”. It is like India, another great country that is developing at a rate of growth three and four times greater than the developed countries. That is a significant factor; the growth in the world will come from developing countries. We must also recognise that they will produce more carbon in the process. If you recognise that principle, does that mean giving a greater share of the growth to these countries, which are limited by the carbon output? This is a big, fundamental question of seeking to find
agreement not between the 47 countries we had at Kyoto but between 190-odd countries. After all, they will all be affected by it, so while we begin this discussion about nuclear, prosperity and peace will be maintained by what people feel to be a fair share of whatever happens in these global solutions. China has shown that it wants to be involved and wants international stability. Why would it not? It fears America, as America fears China. As we put more and more military equipment around different parts of the world, the Chinese think that is evidence of that.
One point I would really like to make, which has always influenced me on this, is that China and India are in the early stages of industrialisation. That means they have been in that process for only about 30 years. We had 200 years of industrialisation. When you look at the criticism concerning human rights, civil rights and trade union rights, all those concerns were fought against in our country. We will fight against them in China; that is what is happening at the moment. There is a correlation with the development of industrial growth, as along with it came liberties that were fought for by individuals. That is precisely what happened in this country. While we must readily protest to China—I have done that myself by saying to premiers, “You have to have recognition of human rights. You must be doing that”—you do not then lecture them as if we were somehow a nation that had no problems in human rights. Look at the history of Britain. Blimey—in the colonies, and even in Northern Ireland, did we observe every human right consideration? Of course we did not. We are told constantly about that.
My point is not to apologise for that but to try to understand what motivates the Chinese in this process, if it is to have a major part. Why do they want to play a part? Why are they learning through the process of industrialisation how they can play a part and develop all those things that we in our democratic states say they should be aiming for? I will argue that that is the case, but understand the process: do not make it more difficult or look as if we are hostile to them. What we need is to encourage them to the best practices, and I think that change is coming.
I had a conversation in a lighter tone with Premier Zhu Rongji. In 1998 or 1999, he gave me a book to read on the Chinese economy. He asked me the next day what I thought of it. I said, “It is very impressive. You have growth in one year that we cannot get in 10”, which of course is continuing, “but I am confused”. He asked, “What are you confused about”? I said, “I kept reading in the book about the socialist market economy. What the heck is that?”. He began to explain it to me, using an example that some of your Lordships may remember. Ted Heath was well liked in China. He went to China and asked if he could bring a panda bear back. He brought a panda called Chi-Chi back; I think it went to Whipsnade zoo. He went there for a second time a year later and asked for a second panda. They told him, “This time it will be $1 million”. Ted Heath naturally said, “The first one was free. Why is the second one $1 million?”. They said, “Ah, it is now the socialist market economy”.
process. What they call socialism is with Chinese characteristics, and in defining that we need to understand where they are going and how. Leadership is an important part of that, as indeed is the development of the public themselves. To that extent, I am hopeful that your Lordships will see those developments. We need to understand the change and measure it against some of our own history, instead of being hypercritical and assuming that just by taking democratic plants and planting it there, all they have to do is to find the political will. Well, the democratic process can be very hurtful, as I found in Humberside this week. Leaving that aside, I would say on this that China will play a major part, whether that is through the military, peace, security or climate change, which I have spent most of my time on. They will play that part as a willing partner and we should try to understand the difficulties that are taking place. After all, we will be the beneficiaries of an enlarged China rather than there being any question of threats and Cold Warriors, as I heard earlier. We need to ensure that China plays a positive role and develops itself, and we need to understand its difficulties. It is just as important to reach agreement on this among the P5 countries as it is to get 196 nations to agree on the Kyoto agreement by 2016.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I, too, take this opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton’s untiring work and commitment in the field of nuclear disarmament. He has made a powerful case for intensified discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament with China.
The Chinese economy has been growing at a formidable pace. Some of its major communities look more and more like Western ones in terms of business, commercial and industrial development and, for increasing numbers of people, in terms of standard of living as well. China, with a significant percentage of the world’s population, is a rapidly strengthening power and is making its presence felt economically, politically and militarily—as Japan and Taiwan, on its doorstep, are only too aware.
“on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs”.
The report argues that the United States should increase efforts to integrate China into nuclear arms agreements. In that regard, I noted with interest the proposition from my noble friend Lord Browne that Russia and China should also host further meetings on the nuclear disarmament discussions to which he referred.
We have a new leadership in China, which might mean nothing as far as change is concerned, but which alternatively could represent a potential opportunity for a significant positive change in international relationships. We, along with other nations, are also facing the prospect, at a time of economic austerity, of
further considerable expenditure on maintaining and updating our nuclear deterrent. The question that my noble friend raised is what the Government’s reaction is to these developments, and what is their position on the case for multilateral nuclear disarmament talks involving China.
A nuclear weapon state, as defined in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is one that had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967. As we all know, there are five internationally recognised nuclear weapon states: ourselves, the United States, Russia, China and France. Countries such as India and Pakistan that have developed a nuclear capability since that 1967 date are considered de facto nuclear weapon states. In addition, there are those states which are widely regarded as harbouring nuclear intentions, of which the most notable is Iran.
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.
Attempts have been made, with varying degrees of success, to reduce the dangers posed by existing nuclear arsenals and prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. Treaties and agreements have been sought to bring about the gradual disarmament of the five recognised nuclear powers. However, given the overwhelming nuclear superiority of Russia and the United States, the focus has been on bilateral treaties between these two countries aimed at reducing the size of their arsenals.
Attempts have also been made to restrict the development of new nuclear weapons systems by the nuclear powers, and to seek to limit or halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and know-how by imposing export restrictions on nuclear-related technologies and monitoring civilian nuclear facilities.
Bilateral talks aimed at restricting the nuclear arsenals of the Soviet Union and the United States began during the late 1960s. As has been mentioned this afternoon, the most recent treaty was signed in 2010 and committed the USA and Russia to a number of disarmament measures. It also provided for a verification regime which includes on-site inspections of deployed and non-deployed systems. It laid down reductions in the nuclear arsenals to be achieved by 2018. Referring to the treaty, President Obama said:
“With this agreement the United States and Russia—the two largest nuclear powers in the world—also send a clear signal that we intend to lead. By upholding our own commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities”.
However, the same degree of progress could hardly be said to have been made at the multilateral level. The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community. Although not formally a UN organisation, the Conference on Disarmament, which comprises 65 member states, is mandated and
financed by the UN, and it reports to the UN General Assembly annually. However, it has achieved little—in recent years, in particular.
China’s initial quest for a nuclear weapons capability was motivated by recognition of the political value of nuclear weapons and a determination to remove what it clearly regarded as its vulnerability to nuclear blackmail. Following its first nuclear test in 1964, China announced that it would adhere to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and called for worldwide nuclear disarmament.
Today, China appears to be the only one of the five original nuclear weapon states that is increasing its nuclear arsenal. Yet in a defence paper last year, China reiterated its long-held nuclear policies of maintaining a minimum deterrent with a no-first-use pledge and shunning any nuclear arms race. China has never defined in quantitative or qualitative terms what it means by a minimum deterrent posture. In the defence paper, China stated that it,
“pursues an open, transparent and responsible nuclear policy”,
China’s intentions, particularly in the light of its nuclear weapons proliferation and its growing economic and political clout, is clearly, rightly or wrongly, of concern to the United States—a United States that is turning its attention and resources more and more to the Pacific region and Asia and rather less to Europe. Indeed, the United States believes that the European members of NATO should make a rather more significant contribution to the defence of European interests. The extent to which United States support in some key areas of operational activity was crucial to the success of the action against the former Libyan regime has probably reinforced, not weakened, that view.
Europe should be a significant player, not least in relationships with China, for whom Europe is a major trading partner. However, a point my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton made, as I understood it, is that Britain and Europe are not regarded in China as important players with regard to nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. As far as China is concerned, the United States and Russia are the other nuclear powers. No doubt the fact that treaties and agreements on nuclear disarmament have been largely bilateral between the USA and Russia has contributed significantly to that view. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could in his response talk about the level and extent of our contacts with China on nuclear disarmament questions and about progress that might be feasible. Have we taken any recent initiatives on raising and pursuing multilateral nuclear disarmament, and does the Minister believe that recent economic, military and political developments in China represent a growing need as well as an opportunity to seek to pursue multilateral nuclear disarmament talks involving China?
As things stand, we are likely to see a further spread of nuclear weapons, not least among those nations not signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Large stockpiles of nuclear weapons remain in the world. Some are being modernised and expanded. The number of nuclear armed states has grown and is
likely to continue to grow. A significant number of states who currently hold nuclear weapons or which might develop them are in regions of instability and tension.
If we are to stop this potential further proliferation and expansion, further progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament talks between the main nuclear powers, including China, would seem to be a prerequisite. There surely is a need to go further than bilateral treaties and agreements between the USA and Russia, crucial though they are. There also surely is an opportunity, in the light of the economic and political changes that have taken place and are taking place in China, for Britain to play an important role in seeking to ensure that the prospects for talks and further progress in the field of nuclear disarmament are fully explored and pursued.
My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton has drawn an important issue to the attention of the House. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a considered response to the points and concerns raised in this debate.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I sometimes feel that the best Thursday debates in this House are slightly like a really good academic seminar. I feel that I have been benefiting from that today through the speeches of a number of noble Lords, including some from whom I learnt on my first visit to China in 1981. I went from Beijing to Hong Kong, where a very wise political adviser called Wilson, as I recall, explained to me what I had half-understood while I was in Beijing.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, talked about the ancient past. In preparing for this debate and in thinking about what we are asking of the Chinese, I was reminded of when I, as a very green graduate student, started learning about nuclear deterrence and nuclear reassurance in the early 1960s. The first seminar I went to on nuclear reassurance was a discussion between Professor Hans Morgenthau and Professor Hans Bethe, one of the atomic scientists who designed the bomb, on “Are Nuclear Weapons Moral?”. Hans Bethe, in particular, was involved with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and then Pugwash in attempting to establish a dialogue with Soviet experts.
In the 1960s, that was extremely difficult. Most of their Soviet counterparts were coming out of an extremely dark period that had no previous contact with the West. Nevertheless, we managed, through successive formal and informal engagement—what we now call, particularly in east Asia, dual-track diplomacy—to begin to establish common terms, a common language, which we are now attempting to do with the Chinese. I think we would say that it is, in some ways, a little easier with the Chinese because they came out of their dark tunnel rather longer ago—20 years ago now—than the Soviets with whom we were dealing in the 1960s.
The United Kingdom retains a firm commitment to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Our aim is to build an international environment in which no state feels the need to possess nuclear weapons; an environment that will allow nuclear states to disarm in a balanced and verifiable manner. That is
to say that Her Majesty’s Government do not share the rumbustious views of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, which clearly provide a strong argument that the world would be safer if Saudi Arabia and Iran had their own nuclear deterrents.
The agreement of the first-ever NPT action plan in 2010 was a major step in the right direction on multilateral nuclear disarmament. For the first time, all 189 signatories to the NPT committed to make progress towards this shared goal. But of course we understand that we and the other nuclear weapons states—that is, not just Russia and the United States, but including the UK and China—have particular responsibilities. I would emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the United Kingdom policy has been a matter of continuity from one Government to another for a considerable time. This is absolutely not an area of partisan disagreement.
This Government announced in our 2010 strategic defence and security review that we are reducing operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, reducing our overall nuclear weapon stockpile and reducing the number of warheads so that we are the smallest of the nuclear weapons states in terms of the number of operational warheads and missiles. That is perhaps partly why the Chinese look to Russia and the United States as their natural counterparts. However, that is not to say that the United Kingdom has been standing back from this important area. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, noted, we have entered into the ground-breaking UK-Norway initiative on disarmament verification, the first of its kind in bringing together a nuclear weapons state and a non-nuclear weapons state, and the Prime Minister recently agreed with his Brazilian counterpart that we will explore with Brazil how we can work together on further ways to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. We are a firm supporter of the comprehensive test ban treaty. We are a firm supporter of the need to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty, and we bitterly regret that Pakistan has so far put a block on further progress on that. We are also firm supporters of nuclear weapons-free zones, and we hope that a new zone, the south-east Asia nuclear weapons-free zone, will be ratified soon.
The UK and China therefore share a fair amount of common ground. We are both committed to starting negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. We have both given negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states and to nuclear weapons-free zones. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that in the SDSR in 2010 the UK announced a new stronger negative security assurance, and the UK and the P5 have given negative security assurances in the context of nuclear weapons-free zones. We are not standing still on that.
While China has not yet ratified the CTBT, China has signed it, has maintained a moratorium on testing since 1996 and continues to signal its commitment to ratification. This is dependent of course on how the Chinese see the US Senate as making progress towards ratification. We continue to call on China and all other states that have not yet done so, including the US, to ratify the CTBT at the earliest opportunity.
The UK continues to work closely with China and the other nuclear weapons states to encourage further progress towards multilateral disarmament. I should pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating the P5 process, because that precisely pulls together all five countries. The 2009 London P5 conference brought together for the first time officials from the five nuclear weapons states when the noble Lord was Secretary of State for Defence. That makes clear our unconditional support for the NPT and our insistence that we wish to engage in dialogue aimed to build mutual understanding and trust to take forward our commitment to disarmament. Since then, we have had important further exchanges in Paris and then most recently in Washington in June this year. In between, there have been a number of other more specialist discussions. The P5 has agreed to hold a fourth conference next year in the context of the 2013 NPT preparatory committee. We naturally hope that one of the two P5 states that have not yet acted as host will host this conference—perhaps next, most appropriately, the Russians.
We welcome, in particular, the constructive role that China is playing in this dialogue, especially its leadership of work to develop an agreed P5 glossary of definitions for key nuclear terms. This glossary will be a key tool in increasing our mutual understanding and in facilitating further P5 discussions on nuclear matters. The Chinese have shown considerable drive in taking forward this crucial piece of work, including hosting the first P5 experts meeting in Beijing. Again, I remind noble Lords that it was with that sort of work that we started with Soviet experts in the 1960s. It establishes a common understanding of what one is talking about across different spoken languages and different traditions of expertise.
We welcome, too, the constructive role that China has played in seeking progress with Iran through the E3+3 process, and the positive way in which China has engaged with the United Kingdom on a range of nuclear security initiatives and on efforts to reach agreement on an arms trade treaty. Increased transparency by China, for example by providing a good deal more information on the scale and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal, would help everyone, and would help achieve our shared commitment to build mutual confidence and trust. Uncertainty about China’s nuclear capabilities risks creating misunderstanding, particularly in the context of its current military modernisation programme. China is modernising its deterrent. We have only unverified estimates of how far that modernisation also involves expansion, which leaves room for alarmist estimates from some quarters—as we have seen.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked what would happen if larger multilateral discussions on nuclear disarmament were started to expand the bilateral process. Since the UK deterrent is so much smaller than those of Russia and America, it makes good sense for those countries to be the two most directly engaged. However, we welcome the expansion of discussions as far as we can into a multilateral process. That is in part why we see the P5 exercise as being so enormously valuable.
P5 countries met at expert level in London in April 2012, it was the first time they had discussed verification. The British and Norwegians presented some of their work. The question of transparency for all nuclear weapon states was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. The UK has taken great steps on transparency. We have done our best to explain as clearly as we can how many nuclear warheads we have and how many we are putting on each of our minimum-deterrent submarines. We see that as an example to all others to provide as much information as they can, and of course we regret that China has not yet begun to release information on the size of its arsenal. We see our dialogue with the Chinese as one way of encouraging them to improve their transparency and thus build up mutual confidence between states.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, also raised the question of how far P5 discussions should be reported to Parliament. It is a condition of P5 discussions that they are confidential. It is felt by all those engaged in them that this is necessary to enable open and meaningful dialogue, which is where the value of the P5 process lies. However, the P5 countries issued a joint statement after each of their conferences—something that we hope will happen again at the end of next year’s conference. I will certainly feed back on whether the Government should provide a Written Statement and as full information as we can to Parliament.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of developments in China, and of how far the British are actively engaged with China. I asked the Box for some figures on the number of British ministerial visits to China. More than 14 senior UK Ministers went in 2011, together with two Scottish Ministers, the First Minister for Wales and there were a number of royal visits. There were fewer visits this year, partly because when the leadership is in transition, it is less easy for them to find the time to have extended dialogues with senior politicians from abroad, or for us to know exactly who we might want to visit. However, we are actively engaged and see the Chinese as natural partners. In particular, I will remark on Andrew Mitchell’s role in visiting China to persuade the Chinese to sign a development memorandum of understanding just before the last multilateral conference on global development in Korea. We talked to the Chinese about a partnership in helping African development and that is the sort of way we see ourselves engaging with the Chinese, to encourage them, little by little, to shoulder more global responsibilities. We are engaging. I do not agree, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Browne, suggested, that the United Kingdom is in any sense holding back politically in China.
When I was in Northwood some months ago, I was fascinated to hear from people involved with Operation Atalanta about the way in which there is now limited engagement with Chinese warships on anti-piracy patrol. It is a limited area of engagement—the Chinese will have nothing to do with multilateral command— but clearly there is a sense of growing mutual understanding of how one goes about keeping the international sea lanes open. Much of this, however, is strengthened by what in east Asia they call two-track diplomacy. Here, things such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative have an enormous value. I
have learnt much about that over the years from my noble friend Lady Williams. We give every support we can to initiatives of that sort. The Government also support Wilton Park conferences, the UK-China forum, which I have been on once or twice, the activities of the body of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and many other conferences, links and intellectual and student exchanges.
The last time I visited Beijing, I found myself lecturing at Peking University to a joint London School of Economics-Peking University MA in international relations. That is all part of how, I hope, we are helping to train generations five and six of the Chinese leadership—we are now on generation four and a half, as I see all the newspapers telling us. The Government welcome enormously the work going on outside governmental constraints to engage the Chinese in all these discussions. We are committed to the P5 process and to preparations for the next review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which will come up in 2015. We look forward to continuing our constructive engagement with China on all levels; bilaterally, as part of the successful P5 dialogue, and through our regular multilateral exchanges. We are committed to encouraging further progress with China and all NPT states parties against our shared commitments. We are also clear—I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert—that we will remain resolute in pursuing positive steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered reply to the debate—not just the content of the reply but the tone of the reply. I start my short response by reinforcing the non-partisan nature of these debates and the way we can move forward. The two groups which I convene, one here in this Parliament and one in Europe, are fixed on multilateral nuclear disarmament. In our group in this Parliament we are fixed on supporting the Government in their ambition to make a contribution and show leadership to a world free of nuclear weapons. This is far from being a partisan issue, but that will not stop us being challenging on occasion in relation to this area of policy.
As the Minister said, we have had many notable contributions to the debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, was in a most engaging, wise and, I am pleased to say, optimistic frame of mind. He emphasised the role of the rule of law, which is very close to my analysis of these issues and how we can move forward. On the one hand we had a typical battling performance from my noble friend Lord Prescott. Many of us on these Benches are pleased that he is back among us, not for the reason that is probably at the forefront of other people’s minds, but because it is perfectly clear that he has a major contribution to make to the great issue of climate change. He has a history of driving improvement and change internationally in that regard. We have seen an example of that and I am pleased that he is back and in fighting fit mode. I personally am grateful that he graced this debate with a contribution.
On the other hand, I thought that my noble friend Lord Gilbert was in many senses at his most—what shall I say?—challenging and perhaps contrarian best. I am tempted to engage with him on the detail of some of his analysis of the value of nuclear weapons. He must be alone in this world in thinking that the Middle East needs more nuclear weapons. I do not think anyone will agree him. I have tempted him to speak, and I should not have done so.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I would if there was peace must be the response to my noble friend. Since we are conscious of the time, perhaps we should have this debate in detail on another day, but I would just say that my noble friend reminds me of an experience I had when I was in China recently. I was standing on the Great Wall. I mused that for 13,000 years the Chinese thought that that wall was the ultimate deterrent. Now it is a tourist attraction in the middle of their country because it did not succeed in keeping the Mongolians out. However, for 13,000 years, some 10% of Chinese GDP and the population were employed in building it. That is my attitude to nuclear weapons in the 21st century. They may well have served a purpose at a certain time, but they have become part of the problem and not necessarily part of the continuing solution. Their proliferation to some of the most unstable parts of the world where they are in the hands of some of the most unstable regimes has generated a problem for all of us that we need to deal with multilaterally.
Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go through all their contributions in detail because I am conscious of the time. I listened carefully to the Minister’s reply and I am grateful for his reiteration of a commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. I thank him for his promise that we may at some stage have a further report on the P5 discussions, even if that is only the agenda of what these important countries are discussing. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would take back to his ministerial colleagues the fact that some of the behaviour of the P5 in other multilateral forums requires an explanation. An example is the P5’s agreement on 19 October to vote collectively and en bloc against the draft multilateral disarmament resolution of the most recent UN General Assembly. That is quite disturbing when set against the shared ambition. I thank the Minister for his consideration of the points I raised and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rosser for the support of our Front Bench for the agenda that I espouse in relation to these questions.
I suspect that we will want to return to these issues on another day. I shall conclude my remarks by thanking all those who have contributed, and particularly the Minister. Perhaps I may ask the Government whether, at some stage in the near future, there could be an opportunity for this House in government time to debate these issues, including their interaction with our plans and strategy in relation to ballistic missile defence.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, the Government are determined to do all that they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add the organisation Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, known as Ansaru, to this category. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Ansaru meets the statutory test for proscription and that it is appropriate to exercise her discretion to proscribe it. This is the eleventh proscription order amending Schedule 2 to the Act.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors. These factors are: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription is a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to a proscribed organisation, invite support for a proscribed organisation, arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available relevant material on the organisation. This includes open-source material as well as intelligence material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultation across government, including the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These decisions are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is right that both Houses must approve the order proscribing a new organisation.
in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail, but I am able to summarise. Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, which publicly emerged in January 2012. It is motivated by an anti-Nigerian government and anti-Western agenda and is broadly aligned with al-Qaeda. Ansaru is believed to be responsible for the murder of British national Christopher McManus and his Italian co-worker, Franco Lamolinara, in March 2012.
The proscription of Ansaru will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and will signal our condemnation of this organisation and its activities. I should make clear to noble Lords that proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism.
Finally, I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of this, the legislation provides for an appeal mechanism. Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed. If refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. I believe it is right that we add Ansaru to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I commend this order to the House.
Lord Patten: My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend in what he said about the proposed proscription of this organisation. Acting swiftly and early is one of the best ways of attempting to prevent terrorist activity, and I wish that we had done more of that in earlier decades. The swift action that my noble friend proposes is excellent.
I also welcomed what the Minister said when he stressed again the view that proscription is not aimed at any particular religious faith, calling or group. That is something that we have to shout from the political and ministerial rooftops, because there is always the suspicion that, as news of an action mutates and develops around the world, people will think this is anti-Islamic, anti-Catholic or whatever. I applaud what my noble friend said and I hope that government Ministers such as him will never miss the opportunity of saying that we are blind to religion but eagle-eyed in the prevention of terrorism.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his presentation on the SI today and for ensuring that a copy of the Home Secretary’s letter was sent to me prior to the debate. As I made clear when we had a similar order previously, of course we support the Government on issues of national security and we work on the basis of cross-party co-operation. I am grateful to him for his explanation of how decisions are reached, which is helpful for the House. I appreciate that the process of obtaining evidence on which action can be taken is often complicated. This week, and during the Committee stage of the Justice
and Security Bill, we have discussed how the Intelligence and Security Committee operates. One of the things that became clear is that evidence is obtained from a number of different sources and it is often only by putting it together like a form of jigsaw that the true picture can be obtained. That is a complex matter to address. The Home Secretary has to be satisfied on the basis of the accuracy of that information in deciding what action can be taken—and taken as quickly as possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, pointed out.
“commits or participates … prepares for terrorism … promotes or encourages terrorism, or … is otherwise concerned”.
That illustrates why it is so important that information is accurate and up to date. My understanding, which was confirmed by the Minister’s comments, is that the Government are acting today against a group that was only indentified as a separate, independent entity earlier this year, in January 2012. I also commend the Government on their speedy action, given the processes that have to be gone through to reach this stage.
Obviously the Opposition do not have access to the same information or intelligence data as the Government, but we have seen some of the publicly available information and we are satisfied that the Home Secretary is justified in her judgment that Ansaru meets the criteria required under the Act and we support the Government in the Motion to proscribe this group. We are particularly concerned about the links, which the Minister confirmed, between Ansaru and the kidnap and murders of Christopher McManus and his Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara. The treatment of these two men was barbaric and despicable. It is quite right that the UK Government take action against any group which is prepared to commit such acts of terror against UK citizens.
From reports, it would appear that Ansaru is linked to, or is a breakaway group from, the long-established Boko Haram sect. That sect is not proscribed. I appreciate and understand that the Minister cannot always provide detailed information to your Lordships’ House, but will he ensure that the status of Boko Haram is kept under review? I appreciate that, so far, the actions of this group have been mainly confined to Nigeria. I hope that the Government will not hesitate to take action to proscribe Boko Haram if links to the UK, or any credible threats to UK citizens at home or aboard, were to emerge.
Finally, as I mentioned in similar debates, when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in opposition he repeatedly attacked the then Labour Government for not proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Minister has been very clear on this today—that any action to proscribe a group has to be taken on the evidence available. I know how complex and difficult it can be to get all that evidence and present it in an appropriate manner. The party opposite has now been in power for two and a half years and Hizb ut-Tahrir has still not been proscribed. I am not going to make the same points as were raised against us when we were in government. I thought at the time those comments were inappropriate and irresponsible, and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible of me to make similar ones now. All I
ask for is an assurance that the Government are keeping the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir under observation and review and that should there be evidence that this group should be proscribed, that matter will be presented to your Lordships’ House.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the noble Baroness for her positive support of this measure. She will understand totally that the Government do not talk about other groups that they may be looking at. The Government keep a range of options open and have a global view of the terrorism threat. I hope that the noble Baroness will therefore understand why I do not go into any detail about any of the groups that she has specifically mentioned. However, I think that she can see by the way that the Government are acting in this case that we are undertaking our responsibility to try and maintain the security of our nation, of our citizens overseas and others as best as we can.
We are concerned about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. Such groups are not free to spread hatred and incite violence as they please. The police have in any case comprehensive powers to take action under criminal law to deal with people who incite hatred, and will do so.
I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Patten, who made a very important point. This is directed against terrorism, not against faith or beliefs. It is about the way in which people dispense with their humanity in the pursuit of objectives which we cannot tolerate. I hope that noble Lords will support this measure and I commend it to the House.