Lords Debate – 28 June 2010

House of Lords, 28 June 2010

Nuclear Posture Review


Asked by Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench): To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the scope and timing of the proposed nuclear posture review announced by the Foreign Secretary on 26 May.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative): My Lords, the review of the UK’s nuclear declaratory policy announced by the Foreign Secretary will take place as part of the strategic defence and security review [SDSR]. We will re-examine all the factors that make up our declaratory policy to ensure that it is fully appropriate to the circumstances we face today and into the future. The Government expect to report their findings from the strategic defence and security review in the autumn.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench): My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is very helpful that that will be brought together with the other matters in this very broad security review. Can he confirm that the nuclear posture review, which is the object of my Question, will include a critical analysis of the justification for the “continuous at-sea” aspect of our present nuclear posture? Does he agree that that requirement was related to the Cold War need to deter the threat of a Soviet first strike and that, as that threat is no longer considered to exist by the NATO alliance, the grounds for maintaining the requirement of “continuous at-sea” no longer exists either?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative): No, I cannot confirm that. The nuclear posture review, which will be in the context of the SDSR, will include questions such as our approach to nuclear-free zones and our assurances given to non-nuclear states who have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The review of Trident will focus on value for money and will be separate. It will look at whether it is possible to stick to the constant at-sea deterrent system, to which we are committed, with three boats rather than four. That is what it will examine. It will be a separate review from the SDSR plus nuclear posture review, which will be plugged together.

Lord Archer of Sandwell (Labour): Will the Minister confirm that the parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty undertake to enter into negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament and, afterwards, for a treaty on general and complete disarmament? Are the Government proposing any steps to initiate such negotiations, or at least to encourage them? If not, why not?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative): As the noble and learned Lord knows well because he follows these things closely, the advances and progress made at the recent review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty pointed in that direction. The general desire, which is long-term but to be achieved step by cautious, realistic and practical step, is a non-nuclear world. That is what we all want to see, but progress towards it has to be through the kind of arrangements and protocol developments that were organised at the non-proliferation treaty gathering the other day. That was a considerable advance, and I am very glad that we were able to report our own decisions to reinforce it further with our declaration of the number of maximum stockpile warheads we would close. It is the right direction, but we have to move carefully.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (Liberal Democrat): My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to maintain the momentum towards nuclear disarmament? In particular, will the nuclear posture review look at the alert status of our deterrent? Obviously moving towards having a longer period in which people have time to consider their reaction is a very important part of moving the momentum towards disarmament.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative): I agree with the noble Baroness that this is an important part of the developments. The review conclusions were very encouraging-they were not all-embracing, but certainly took us some steps forward. I will note what the noble Baroness said.


Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Labour): My Lords, the Government’s approach to the future of Trident is central to any nuclear posture review, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, intimated. Will the Minister tell the House how the strong preference of one of the coalition partners for alternatives to Trident renewal will be taken into account in a future review scrutinising spending to ensure value for money?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative): There will be a review, as undertaken in the coalition agreement, and the coalition partners will be free to express their views, as they have said they will. I have no doubt that there will be a very healthy, realistic and sensible analysis of the situation, but the overarching commitment is that, however we organise the matter, there must be a constant-at-sea deterrent that works, rather than one that does not work or costs a lot more money and involves a lot more missiles, as some alternatives would.