Queen’s Speech Debate, 26 May 2010

Key Excerpts from the Queen’s Speech Debate, House of Lords (Wednesday 26 May 2010)

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: …. There is clearly a deep division in the US between those who want to maintain the old 20th-century position and those of vision. We saw that vision in President Obama’s tremendous initiative last September when he chaired the summit of the Security Council that adopted a far-reaching resolution on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The ambition of that resolution is important, but I want to concentrate on the steps taken towards it. If you think of nuclear war as a sheer cliff-face that you are in danger of falling off, then it is every step taken away from the edge that is really important-perhaps more immediately important than finding yourself back at your destination. The small steps are important too because, even given the divisions within and between countries, it is the small steps that take us on to common ground, which is a good place on which to build.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: …. One of the missed opportunities was when the former Prime Minister, the right honourable Gordon Brown, who had established a considerable international reputation in the field of nuclear non-proliferation, inspection and, not least, verification, decided in April, because the election was so proximate, not to declare what he was inclined to declare; namely, that the United Kingdom would not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear country that was in alignment with its requirements and in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It was a long step forward in the long battle to have a more civilised approach to nuclear weapons. Understandably, the former Prime Minister felt unable to make that statement at the United Nations in New York because the election was so close. Only a few weeks later, we had such a statement from President Obama in the nuclear posture review. In taking the position that he took, he repeated that commitment to non-nuclear-weapons countries in compliance with the NPT. That was an important step forward for the United States.

I was at first concerned that, as a country, we were not taking a sufficient lead in this matter, not forgetting that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference will end in two days’ time, on 28 May, and that we might therefore lose the opportunity to be heard internationally on an issue of the greatest importance. I was therefore very pleased that the Foreign Secretary in the coalition Government said what he said today in the House of Commons, and I hope that every possible step will be taken to convey that speech to those still engaged in negotiations in New York. He said that he would state openly the number of nuclear warheads that the United Kingdom has in deployment and in active alert status at present and expects to have in future: 225 nuclear weapons in total and as a maximum. That was an important statement and bore out the commitment of the P5 nuclear powers to be transparent with the rest of the world, which is a crucial element in building trust.