Lords Debate – 9 June 2010

Debate at the House of Lords on Nuclear Proliferation (Wednesday 9 June 2010)

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat): To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contribution they will make to the work required to achieve progress on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons following the resolution passed at the review conference in May.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford, Conservative): …. We will give the highest priority to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons, keeping them out of the hands of terrorists and cutting their numbers worldwide, and we will work with partners to translate those commitments into action.

At the review conference, it was felt that the treaty had been, thankfully, revitalised and a series of action plans and activities were agreed between the participants, including an action plan for existing nuclear powers; an action plan for non-proliferation checking, although, of course, we have a long way to go on that; civil nuclear energy co-operation; verification procedures with Norway; strengthening nuclear security controls; and calling a regional conference in the Middle East to discuss possible Middle East freedom from weapons of mass destruction. This is a big achievement-a big step-and we should be very grateful that we have managed to make this kind of progress.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Conservative): My Lords, the IAEA’s illicit trafficking database has recorded 336 incidents involving unauthorised possession of nuclear materials and associated criminal acts in the past 15 years. There have also been incidents of terror teams carrying out reconnaissance of nuclear weapon trains in Russia. Can the noble Lord tell us, first, whether Her Majesty’s Government are satisfied with the security arrangements around the nuclear facilities in this country and what steps they are taking to protect them? Secondly, what steps are they taking to ensure that security arrangements around both civil and military nuclear facilities elsewhere are being properly maintained?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative): I thank the noble Lord for his question. We are satisfied, but we are always on guard and always watchful for any need for improvement. The international security of nuclear materials was discussed, analysed and strengthened at the Washington conference in April that preceded the nuclear NPT review conference. A whole series of measures was put forward there and agreed. In so far as one can, one can say that these measures are a step forward in what is undoubtedly, as the noble Lord fully realises, a very dangerous situation.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (Liberal Democrat): My Lords, the Minister described the excellent outcome of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. However, the great bulk of non-nuclear powers decided to press for a nuclear weapons convention to abolish nuclear weapons completely by 2025. In the light of that, will the nuclear posture review, which has been welcomed and mentioned by the coalition Government, look into how far we can make precise the future steps towards disarmament that we shall take as a Government? Will it also look at the future of the British deterrent?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, who obviously has enormous knowledge of this subject. The idea of a nuclear weapons convention is a fine one, but we take the view, as I think do other Governments, that it is in practice a question of one step at a time. We want to try to move towards the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. A whole series of things need to be done before one comes to the happy situation where the nuclear world is disarmed and a convention could then get full support. If we try to rush to a convention first of all, we might end up delaying the detailed work that is needed on the path to get there.

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