Westminster Hall Debate – 24 July 2007

Debate at the House of Commons, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – Tuesday 24 July 2007. To read the full debate, please click here.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North, Labour): On 14 March, the House voted on the Trident issue after a long debate. An unprecedented number of Labour Members voted against a renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine system. That reflected public opinion and the views of the large number of people who contacted MPs about the issue. Nuclear arms and proliferation is not a dead issue; it is very much a live one. I want to tease out the Government’s view on the non-proliferation treaty system and what their strategy is leading up to the next five-yearly review in 2010.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North, Labour): The purpose of this debate is to tease out the Government’s position on the development of a peaceful nuclear process. The Government are quite keen, apparently, on developing nuclear power stations. I am not! But in a sense that is a separate debate from the one surrounding nuclear weapons. However, the assertion that we have an independent nuclear deterrent has been questioned by many of us for many years, both in this House and in the wider peace movement in this country. I do not believe that we have an independent nuclear deterrent….

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I hope that the Government will recognise that if we are serious about our signing of the NPT all those years ago, committing us to long-term nuclear disarmament, as well as committing all those declared non-nuclear-weapon states to not developing such weapons, it is up to us to use this historic opportunity to say that we will go no further with the Trident project and that instead we will accept the terms of the NPT.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point, Conservative): …Of course, the Government have a grave duty to maintain security, but the burning question is whether their, and indeed the Opposition’s, strident push for even more destructive nuclear weapons platforms and capabilities would provide that security or facilitate less stable countries—some with desperate and dangerous leaders—in taking up the nuclear option. Do such weapons defend us against the evolving, asymmetric threats of terrorism? Mutually assured destruction—MAD—simply does not work as a deterrent against terrorist threats; we can ask any suicide bomber that and we will get a very clear answer.

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Mr. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent, Independent): The safeguard that nuclear weapons give is a false one. I have written many questions to Ministers asking under what conditions this country would use nuclear weapons, and only two answers have come back. The first is, “It is only a deterrent,” but if that is the case, what is the point? The second is, “We’d only use it as a retaliatory measure.” I am sorry, but it gives my constituents no pleasure to think that if 300,000 people were killed by a nuclear strike in this country we would feel better if we killed another 300,000 in another country. That, to me, is no reason for using nuclear weapons.

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Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge, Liberal Democrat): The Liberal Democrats accept, in the current environment, that there is still the need for a minimum nuclear deterrent, but they also recognise what was particularly highlighted by the hon. Member for Islington, North—that we have legal obligations under the nuclear proliferation treaty to move forward to nuclear disarmament. Even the Government’s own documents have cited the need for nuclear disarmament, although that seems to be contradicted by their actions and other statements.

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We accept that there are difficulties over international peace; there are concerns about Iran’s intentions and about North Korea and its intentions. However, we must ask what is the best way forward. Is it to say that we will go ahead willy-nilly with the replacement of the Trident system? Is it not better to be more thoughtful and send out a message that we believe that we still have the right to a minimum nuclear deterrent, but that we recognise that we have obligations under the NPT which require us to try to move forward with multilateral disarmament, and which we will honour by making a commitment to reduce our nuclear defence capacity by 50 per cent., with a view to obtaining further negotiations with the other relevant countries and creating a situation in which Iran can be engaged in a non-proliferation treaty and North Korea can feel assured that there is movement towards that?

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Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury, Conservative): The non-proliferation treaty represented a bargain in which the non-nuclear states agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons, and to put their civil nuclear programmes under international safeguards. The nuclear states agreed to take action to prevent proliferation, to pursue disarmament negotiations, under article VI, and to allow the easy dissemination of civil nuclear technology. Any assessment of the NPT has to take all sides of that bargain into account.

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It is a pity that earlier speakers did not mention that the UK has reduced its nuclear arsenal by 70 per cent. since the end of the cold war, or that we are the only one of the original five nuclear powers to have limited ourselves to a single delivery system. The US, Russia, China and France have maintained more than one such system.

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Mr. Lidington (Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs; Conservative): The Government need to mount vigorous diplomatic action regarding the weaknesses in the current non-proliferation regime. In today’s world, we face new, and probably growing, dangers from nuclear proliferation, partly because access to nuclear technology is a lot easier now and partly because it has been around for about half a century and is more familiar to people and organisations than was the case even before the internet made it possible for complex, advanced technology to be transmitted from continent to continent at the click of a mouse. We have also seen the growth of a vigorous black market in nuclear technology in recent years…

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Meg Munn (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): I believe that Mr. Lidington said that the UK has an exceptional record in meeting our NPT disarmament commitments, and we should be clear about that. What are those commitments? Article VI imposes an obligation on all states to pursue in good faith negotiations on effective measures for cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date, on nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament. The NPT review conference in 2000 agreed by consensus 13 practical steps towards implementation of article VI. The UK remains committed to those steps and is making progress on them.

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We have withdrawn and dismantled our tactical marine and airborne nuclear capabilities and, consequently, have reduced our reliance on nuclear weapons to one system: submarine-based Trident. As hon. Members have said, we are the only nuclear-weapons state to have done that. We have also reduced the readiness of the remaining nuclear force. We now have only one boat on patrol at any one time and it carries no more than 48 warheads.