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Nuclear Defence

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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We now come to the debate upon nuclear defence. I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and that in view of the number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate, I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. If those who are fortunate enough to be called before make brief speeches, it may be possible to relax the limit.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. You will no doubt be aware of the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and others calling for the scrapping of Trident and the decommissioning of Polaris. May I draw to your attention the fact that 130 members of the parliamentary Labour party, if not more, are also members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and therefore that that amendment represents the majority view within the Labour party?

In those circumstances, Sir, would it not be more appropriate if you called the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North rather than that in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, who apparently represents a minority view in his own party?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the selection of amendments is a matter for the Chair, and that I never give reasons for my decisions on such matters.

No doubt it will be possible to make these telling points in the debate.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a relevant point. As you have announced, this is a debate on nuclear arms and this country's defence policy. I am surprised that rumours are circulating that the Opposition spokesman who is to reply to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is the shadow Foreign Secretary. Are we not entitled to a reply from a leading Opposition defence spokesman if this is to be a fair and proper debate? Could this position have arisen because the Opposition defence spokesman is not a member of the Shadow Cabinet and the issue of defence is so unimportant in the eyes of the Opposition that they have had to press-gang somebody else as a front man?

It is no rumour—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will open from the Front Bench—but the Opposition spokesman on defence will wind up.

3.45 pm

I beg to move,

That this House supports unequivocally the concept of nuclear deterrence and the retention of a credible United Kingdom nuclear deterrent, while other countries have, or seek to acquire, nuclear weapons; notes the great dangers apparent in the increase in the number of countries gaining, or seeking to gain, access to nuclear weapons; understands that the country's nuclear deterrent remains essential for the defence of the United Kingdom and NATO; recognises the vital contribution to world peace which the United Kingdom's nuclear forces have made, and will continue to make, through deterrence; and supports NATO's policy of also maintaining an up-to-date, sub-strategic nuclear capability based in Europe.
I notice that the words "nuclear defence" are absent from the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock).

I welcome the opportunity to debate in the House today the crucial issue of defence, particularly nuclear defence. it gives me an opportunity to report to the House on what, since we last met, have been the developments in the territory which represents the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and in which an extremely disturbing and alarming sequence of events is currently taking place, of which the House should take note.

When we debated related issues in November, the Soviet Union existed—now it does not. There was then a central control over the nuclear arsenal and assurances by President Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, who had returned to government, and Marshal Shaposhnikov. We were also given what I suppose must be the shortest lived assurance of all time by General Lobov when he visited this country. When asked who was in charge of nuclear weapons, he said that he was, and two days later he was sacked. All those personalities and figures have gone.

I am sure that Opposition Members can occasionally show a sense of humour on the subject—I reflected how they must have felt as we watched the amazing pictures of the flag being lowered over the Kremlin. All those who had sung for so many years, "We'll keep the red flag flying here," could no longer stomach it being flown over the Kremlin.

Since then, in place of the USSR and President Gorbachev, there is the fragile creature of the Commonwealth of Independent States. While I am sure that all hon. Members wish it well and hope that it will be possible for a new relationship to develop, we must recognise that, as I speak to the House, there are continuing disputes between the republics over both nuclear weapons and their custody, and the conventional forces.

The House may know that one of the recent developments identified are changes in the communication patterns—the fact that some communications have been cut between existing headquarters and units whose allegiances have moved between central control and the republics. There have also been disputes about the strategic nature of the air force. We hope that the disputes over the Black sea fleet can be satisfactorily resolved.

I do not know how many hon. Members know that there was a public meeting in the Crimea attended by a substantial number of members of the Soviet fleet at one of the most acute moments of that dispute, at which a motion was overwhelmingly passed that the commanding admiral should be decleared president of an independent Crimea. We can see some of the tensions that affect the situation and the way in which they relate to military forces. Wholesale changes are occurring in the former Soviet Union's defence policy. We believe that, for the first time since records were kept in 1960, there is not a single combatant Soviet warship in either the Mediterranean or the Indian ocean. That is a measure of the withdrawal that is under way.

Although it is difficult to obtain accurate information about the Soviet Union's industrial situation and defence industries, we believe also that four out of five tank factories have been closed, and that Russia is proposing to halt all production of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, small arms, and aircraft.

Would it not have been more appropriate if today's debate had been initiated by the Foreign Secretary, and had dealt with what steps could be taken—particularly by the west—to help the former Soviet Union to avoid anarchy and a return to dictatorship? Today's debate—as every right hon. and hon. Member and all the media know—is held because the Government are on the skids, terrified of holding a general election, and trying to deflect public attention from domestic issues.

That intervention did not do the hon. Gentleman justice, and he will excuse me if I do not deign to reply to it.

Is it not a fact that—contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—with the majority of Members of Parliament in the Ukraine determined to go their own way, the House should address this issue, which is of crucial national importance?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) accepts that I am trying to set out as fairly as I can, on the basis of the best intelligence available to me, the current situation in the former Soviet Union. We make no apology for debating defence, but every time we do so, someone on the Opposition Benches says, "Talk about something else." We happen to believe that defence is of critical importance to our country.

At a time when the largest nuclear power that the world has seen is in the process of potential disintegration, we believe that we have a duty to tell the country where we stand. We as a Government do not shirk that responsibility, and any party with aspirations to government should not do so either.

Perhaps the most worrying feature is not the withdrawal from operational activity of the Soviet fleet, which might have been caused by fuel shortages or uncertainties about control at home, but that which we indentify as happening within the armed forces. [Interruption.] That situation may be a laughing matter to some, but its seriousness is of gravity to others.

There now appears to be virtually a total collapse in conscription. One might expect the strength of the Soviet conscript army to number between 650,000 and 750,000. The latest figures that I have make us doubt whether more than 20 per cent. of that figure have come forward this year. There is arguably a shortfall of half a million conscripts entering what were the Soviet armed forces.

In a sense, that is hardly surprising. There are uncertainties as to whether those personnel will get paid and fed, and whether there will be any housing for them.

The right hon. Gentleman approaches the subject with his usual lack of seriousness, and looks for any opportunity to make a snide remark, in the way that he did in respect of the meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Yeltsin and President Bush. The right hon. Gentleman described that critically important meeting between world leaders as a glorified photo opportunity, which shows that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) fails to rise to such occasions with the seriousness that is needed.

Many of us had suspicions about the awfulness of the Soviet conscript system, and as discipline now breaks down and further information becomes available, the appalling problems that were already evident of trying to control a conscript system that attempted to meld as many as 30 different nationalities in one uniform armed force are becoming very clear.

We know of the contempt of the officer groups for their conscripts, and the arrogant, arbitrary and bureaucratic way in which they were treated. We know of the lack of control that that treatment reflected, which led, in turn, to the death of a number of officers. Hon. Members may know of the army's appalling record in that regard, and of the attacks that were made. We also know that there is no regular non-commissioned officer corps in the Soviet army system, and we are aware of the ill-discipline and criminality that have developed. Marshal Yazov, when he was Minister of Defence, estimated that up to 30 per cent. of conscripts entering the army either had criminal records or were known to the police for various reasons.

We know of the existence of gangs—of ethnic groups, for instance—and of the bullying and torture that have taken place. Some 4,000 conscripts die every year, of whom more than 1,000 may be suicides. A serious breakdown in discipline and morale has now been aggravated. The latest figures that I have received suggest that some 400,000 people are homeless, living either in tents or in the corners of barrack rooms. That problem is likely to worsen. The supply of food has broken down in some instances, and units are having to barter fuel supplies for food.

Because of the effects of inflation on the armed forces, a regimental commander may now earn half as much as a city bus driver. A sense of defeat and despair is affecting the forces. In recent years, they have been expelled from Afghanistan and East Germany; now, they face virtual expulsion from what they had thought was their country, in the shape of the Baltic states. The sense of alienation and desperation that exists not only in the officer corps, but throughout the armed forces, represents a very serious development. Although the current changes present no external threat at present, they pose a major threat within what was the Soviet Union, along with the risk that that represents.

The Secretary of State's description of a breakdown in social organisation must move some of us to wonder about its effect on morale within the unified structure of the armed services, especially that of the strategic containment forces, which are trying to exercise some control over nuclear weapons.

Can the right hon. Gentleman offer any assessment of the effectiveness of the command and control of those containment forces, given his conversation with General Lobov and the successor whom we know to have been appointed, and his meetings with Marshal Shaposhnikov? How effective is that crucial central command of nuclear weapons?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correctly identifying the reasons why I thought it important to set some of the background for the House. We are talking about the condition of the armed forces. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, different elements exist within those forces: that applies particularly to the elite forces, which have the particular responsibility of guarding nuclear weapons. While we may seek assurances, at the highest level, of the determination to ensure the most careful security in regard to such weapons, that security will ultimately be only as good as the commitment, morale and dependability of the people concerned.

That is the seriousness of the present position. I am talking about the morale not of some small, insignificant, backward country, but of a country that, through its obsession with armaments and defence expenditure, has made itself a major military super-power—a super-power that is now fast disintegrating, along with control. In such circumstances, a breakdown in morale is very serious.

I have not given the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) a clear answer, for the simple reason that I have been given assurances—I have mentioned the assurance that I received from General Lobov—which have been good for about 24 hours. That underlines the difficulty we face.

Is it not clear from what the Secretary of State has been saying that the Soviet Union's possession of nuclear weapons was no guarantee of its security? That security has now broken down.

Is it not also clear that the army that has followed that disintegration is in no position to threaten this country, and, moreover, that the British Government and other western Governments for a long time did all they could to bring about the present situation? Part of western strategy was the encouragement of nationalism, and even of Islam—as was high defence expenditure in the Soviet Union.

Will the Secretary of State look again at Churchill's memorandum to the Cabinet, issued in 1918? Churchill warned the Cabinet then that the division of the Ukraine from Russia would pose a very serious danger. That memorandum is included in "The World Crisis: The Aftermath", and the right hon. Gentleman would do well to study it before he addresses us on the basis of his present approach.

I should take up too much of the House's time if I answered all those points.

I want to talk about the grave situation that we face and what we, together with NATO, our allies and the west, can best do to help meet it.

I have given way many times. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will hope to catch Mr. Speaker's eye and have an opportunity to make his speech.

Currently, there is a dangerously explosive mix of catastrophically low morale and a feeling of alienation.

Right hon. and hon. Members have said that we must welcome the changes in the sense of the end of the cold war and, we hope, the end of confrontation and the opportunities that will arise. However, because of the risks that remain, I wish to put soberly to the House the reasons for our belief in the continuing importance of nuclear defence.

We estimate that there are about 27,000 nuclear warheads within the Soviet Union and, of those, there are some 13,000 strategic nuclear weapons in the four republics—Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Byelorussia. If they stayed as they were, it is significant that each of the republics would have more strategic nuclear weapons than China, and three, excluding Byelorussia, would have more than the United Kingdom.

The republics assure us that they will proceed with and honour the strategic arms reduction talks. If they continue with that and with the further reductions proposed by Mr. Gorbachev, they would halve their nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years. We estimate that 10 years is the minimum time that it would take to remove that number of nuclear weapons in a stable society with a well-organised system. At the end of that time—there are many qualifications to what I have said—the republics would still have 20 times more warheads than we have now. Within the territory which was the Soviet Union and which, if the plans go ahead, may be contained within what is now Russia, there will, for at least the next 20 years, be a substantial nuclear arsenal of strategic weapons. We must address that.

In addition to the strategic weapons, there is also the risk of tactical nuclear weapons, whether they be torpedoes, air-launched missiles or nuclear artillery shells. My best estimate shows that they are located on 100 sites in 13 different republics. Considerable effort has been made to withdraw them to within Russia. That is the objective, and it is hoped that it will be achieved by the middle of July. Some of those weapons are under the control of some of the elements to which I referred earlier, whose morale, must, at the very least, be described as extremely dubious.

We are concerned not just about the vast nuclear arsenal but, as I said in an earlier debate in the House, the technology and nuclear scientists. It has been suggested that there are some 3,000 nuclear scientists who could make a significant contribution in other countries that may be seeking to develop their weapons. My information is that at least one group of those nuclear scientists was not paid in December and that control of and responsibility for them appears to have broken down. We also have evidence that some countries are undoubtedly actively trying to enlist the services of some of those people, so the risk of proliferation has never been greater.

As some hon. Members may know, my colleague—or my friend—the United States Defence Secretary said yesterday that the United States estimates that nine third-world countries are likely to have nuclear weapons in 10 years. The news this morning of further developments in Iraq and the further evidence of the steps that some people have taken to pursue a covert programme is warning enough that some countries—some of them rich—are able to develop a substantial industrial programme.

No, I am conscious of the time.

I deal now with what I believe our response should be. I welcome the new contacts that are developing, and I also welcome—as does the whole House—the meeting of what is called the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, at which, before Christmas, the Foreign Ministers of the former Warsaw pact countries met those from NATO countries. I very much welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in inviting President Yeltsin, who, as the House will know, will be coming to London at the end of the month on his way to New York, where the leaders of the permanent members of the Security Council will meet.

We also welcome the fact that the START negotiations and agreements have been confirmed. We welcome the proposal to consolidate the tactical weapons in the 13 republics in Russia and the agreement that that should be achieved in July this year. We have made clear our willingness to help in the handling of nuclear weapons and to give any assistance we can, perhaps by providing extra facilities for their dismantling and disarming in Russia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Kazakhstan on Sunday, from where he will go to Kiev and to Moscow. His visit to Kazakhstan is especially important, because that republic has expressed a different view about what it will do about nuclear weapons.

Such developments are important, but beyond them it is clear that the lessons that we must have learned from Iraq are the difficulties experienced by the International Atomic Energy Agency and those experienced in the enforcement and observation of the non-proliferation treaty. We and our allies in the agency are giving high priority to the work of strengthening the safeguards. With our European Community partners and other like-minded states, we have made and will make specific proposals.

An especially important matter is that of special inspections. Particular importance is to be placed on them, and I am sure that the House will accept that their importance is clear from what happened in Iraq. Anyone who has been watching developments in Iraq will know of the problem of undeclared sites, and will know how few of the sites on which we have found material for weapons of mass destruction were originally declared. The problem of undeclared sites is fundamental, and limits the effectiveness of the present safeguard system.

We believe in the strictest supplier controls, and we are keen to promote them. We welcome the reactivation in 1991 of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the supportive work to draw up a regime to control nuclear dual use items. Of course, the skill in exploiting what were dual use items has been a key in the Iraqi programme. We also intend to introduce the full-scope safeguards for nuclear supply. The lessons of Iraq bring home clearly that area of work, and we will pursue it actively——

as we shall also pursue discussions in the United Nations. I referred to the meeting that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has called during our presidency of the Security Council to give the opportunity to start to discuss the ways in which the United Nations can be more active in that area.

The House will know of the welcome early visit to this country yesterday by the new Secretary-General of the United Nations and of his meetings with the Prime Minister, with the Leader of the Opposition and with the Foreign Secretary.

We face uncertainty and great danger at present. We need to take every step possible to try to ensure that, both in the security of the weapons that are in the Soviet Union and in the risks of proliferation, we act as effectively as possible and as closely together as possible with our allies and with all those who share our concerns.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

There can be no guarantee that we shall succeed. I have set out for the House the time frame we face, and I have explained why we believe that, as we face a period of real danger and uncertainty in the nuclear area, we must ensure that our own nuclear defences are sound.

I will set out clearly where we stand. We face the risk of a major strategic arsenal, and we cannot be sure under whose control that arsenal may fall. I have talked about the prospects for the next 10 years and about the number of weapons that would still be left—perhaps for 20 years. To be blunt, we do not have a single idea about who may be in control in 10 years' time. We do not even have a good idea or any confidence about who may be in control 10 weeks from now.

Against that background, it is important for the House to restate its commitment to the need for a strategic deterrent. If we have a strategic deterrent, it must be credible. That means that it must at all times be available and at all times able to preserve its effectiveness. The House knows—there is no point in arguing—that we need four Trident submarines. There is no point in saying that we shall have half a deterrent or three quarters of a deterrent, or that we may say a bit of money if we do not have the last quarter. The professional advice to me, which I accept and which has been accepted by successive Governments, is for our deterrent to be credible and effective. The minimum need is for four Trident submarines.

As has been recognised in the NATO strategic concept and by all our NATO allies, we also need to have a sub-strategic capability to ensure the flexibility of our nuclear response and to ensure its credibility. That is the NATO policy, which has been endorsed only recently—the new policy in the new situation—and that is the policy by which we stand.

In dealing with the existing time scales—the years for which we have to provide—we cannot turn our deterrent on and off like a tap. One either believes in, supports, maintains, equips and trains to ensure the operation of our sub-strategic deterrent for year after year, or one does not invest in it at all. That is our policy.

As the right hon. Gentleman has spoken about the importance of the availability and credibility of the nuclear deterrent, will he tell the House in what circumstances the Government would use nuclear weapons?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We reserve the option of nuclear use if circumstances are sufficiently dire to warrant it. We will not give the precise details of those circumstances.

I will not give way.

What one does not do is stand up and say:
"There are no circumstances in which I would order or permit the firing of a nuclear weapon".
The House knows that I am quoting the words of the Leader of the Opposition of 1983. In May 1989, the right hon. Gentleman tried to crawl back from those words and correct himself, but the damage had been done. Lest any hon. Member does not believe that the damage was done, I remind the House that 50 Labour Members did: they signed a letter that appeared in The Guardian dated 5 May 1989. A number of them are sitting on the Back Benches now; I recognise their faces.

The letter said:
"We believe it is impossible for any Labour Prime Minister to convince the British public there are any circumstances in which a Labour Prime Minister would press the nuclear button."
They were right. The credibility of the Leader of the Opposition has gone. He said that there were no circumstances in which he would take such action, and both the people and his own party believed him.

In response to my earlier question, the Secretary of State said that it would be wrong for him to state the circumstances in which the Government might use nuclear weapons. He therefore concurs with the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who said:

"It would undermine our strategy of deterrence to spell out in advance the precise way in which nuclear weapons would or might be used in any given circumstances."—[Official Report 7 June 1989; Vol. 154, c. 160.]
Those are extremely sensible words, which the present Prime Minister would do well to learn, given that he asked the Opposition in what circumstances we would use nuclear weapons.

The right hon. Gentleman and I will return to the problems of credibility faced by the Leader of the Opposition on nuclear defence.

We have made our position on nuclear defence absolutely clear. We believe that we need a four-boat Trident fleet, and that our nuclear deterrent should continue in operation. We believe in the need for a sub-strategic capability and have determined to support Nato in its policy on sub-strategic nuclear weapons. Our position is absolutely clear. Only to those unwilling to listen is it not clear.

We think that we have a duty to tell the country what our position is now that the situation has changed—at the end of the cold war and at a time when there is no longer a Soviet Union, but when a huge nuclear arsenal is lying there and could fall into the wrong hands. Is it so outrageous—so embarrassing—to ask the Opposition to tell us, just for a moment, what their policy is?

In their amendment, the Liberal Democrats support the Government's policy on the Trident submarine. They are not so good when it comes to supporting NATO policy on the sub-strategic deterrent, but then they have the rather engaging additional policy of cutting defence expenditure by 50 per cent. over the next 10 years, which means that they could not afford it anyway, so we can see where they stand on that.

Why will the Labour party simply not answer the question? Why does Labour publish policy papers on every subject under the sun but nothing on nuclear deterrence? I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition asking, "How can we avoid the coming election being about personalities and not policies, when you have no policies?" It is significant that I received no reply. I do not often resort to quoting Mr. Martin Jacques, the former editor of Marxism Today, but he made an interesting comment with which I think many would agree:
"The Labour Party has virtually abstained from the post cold war debate on defence. Paralysed by the memory of the 1983 and 1987 elections, its only concern is to reassure. Labour"—
listen to this—
"does not want a defence debat: the very mention of defence sends it running for cover."
Nothing that I have seen today contradicts that.

Why is the Labour party paralysed? It is paralysed because it is split from top to bottom. Let us look at today's Order Paper. Nowhere does the official Opposition's amendment make any reference to nuclear defence. But what about the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)? Obviously he is quite confident, because he knows where the bulk of Opposition Members stand—behind him.

Only two years ago, 50 members of the Labour party—among them the hon. Member for Islington, North, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Newham North-West (Mr. Banks)—wrote to the Guardian as follows:
"We, members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, reaffirm our support for Labour Party defence policy as set out in composite 56, carried at last year's Annual Conference of the Labour party, namely 'to unconditionally remove all nuclear weapons and nuclear bases from British soil and waters in the first Parliament of the next Labour Government.'"
That is where Opposition Members stand.

What about the Leader of the Opposition? Only three years ago, he wrote to Sanity, the magazine of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, to congratulate the organisation on 30 years of effort to secure a nuclear-free Europe. He stressed the need to make and win the argument for non-nuclear defence.

But the Leader of the Opposition is not the only Labour Member who adopts that position. I need only draw attention to several Front-Bench Members—the hon. Members for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), for Livingston (Mr. Cook), for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Barking (Ms. Richardson). It has been estimated that 16 of the 22 members of the present shadow Cabinet have an anti-nuclear background.

I have some sympathy for the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who has to take a lot of flak. It is disgraceful that defence is not represented in the Labour shadow Cabinet. People may have different political views, but it is scandalous that defence is not represented. For the hon. Member for Clackmannan, it must be really galling that the person who beat him for the last place in the shadow Cabinet is the hon. Member for Barking, who, I understand, has shadow Cabinet responsibility for women. It is interesting that the hon. Lady is also a vice-president of CND.

When we raise the question of the CND background of Labour Members, we are told that it is a McCarthyite thing to do. Why should it be regarded as McCarthyite? The hon. Member for Islington, North does not think that it is McCarthyite; he is proud of it. He does not think that membership of CND is a matter for shame. He is proud to say what he believes, and we respect him for standing up for his beliefs.

I cannot give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say that he too stands up for his opinions.

I apologise for being unable to give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I have done so once already.

The shameful thing is not that there are Opposition Members who are in CND and are prepared to stand up for what they believe in, but that there are people who pretend that they are no longer members or who have let their membership lapse. They are the people we despise. Anyone who wants to know what the parliamentary Labour party thinks about nuclear defence should note the identity of those who are officers of the newly elected Back-Bench committee. How many people know who is the chairman of the Labour parliamentary defence committee?

On cue, the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) identifies himself.

Who are the hon. Gentleman's noble colleagues as vice-chairmen? They are two well-known multilateralists—the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). If ever one could hear the voice of the Labour party, and if one wanted to know what Labour Back-Bench Members think, they have spelt it out very clearly indeed.

I am grateful that, at last, the Secretary of State has given way. It is all very interesting stuff that he is giving. Will he explain to the people of this country why it is necessary to spend £23 billion on purchasing a Trident submarine system that has a fire power equal to 3,800 Hiroshima bombs, when there is no discernible enemy whatsoever, yet the world is split apart by poverty in the south and militarism in the north? Will the right hon. Gentleman address the real needs of the people of this country and the rest of the world, and instead opt for nuclear disarmament and arms conversion rather than the madness of the militarism that he is talking about?

I am grateful to the hon. Member, because he might not have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and then we would have been denied the real voice of the Labour party. I wonder how to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I understand his sincerity. I happen to believe that, while a massive number of nuclear weapons could be targeted on this country, it would be madness to deny ourselves a minimum nuclear deterrent. However, I suppose that what really must get to the hon Gentleman is that people who he thought supported his point of view but who have now deserted him would actually claim to support my position. I do not believe that they do so, but that is the pretence that they are carrying out at this moment.

If my hon. Friend will excuse me, I shall not, as I am conscious of the time that we have taken.

As with nuclear, so with conventional. Three successive Labour party conferences have voted for overwhelming reductions in defence expenditure. Whether it is £6 billion a year, other hon. Members who supposedly support our defence expenditure claim that it is much more. At successive conferences, the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends have been conclusively and substantially beaten by a coalition led by Mr. Bruce Kent and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. They have tried to repudiate that. They have tried to say, "No, that won't happen. We don't have to pay attention to these conference resolutions." Unfortunately, they forgot that repudiation and that resolution when they printed "Looking to the Future".

Last year, we looked forward to huge negotiated cuts in conventional armaments. The effective collapse of the Warsaw pact and such international agreements can make possible reductions in United Kingdom defence spending far beyond anything envisaged at last year's Labour party conference. The hon. Member for Clackmannan went further and said:
"The scope for defence cuts will likely be that much greater."
Of course, the secret came out in that leaked memorandum from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), in which he said:
"Defence cuts could arguably be the North sea oil of the 1990s."
We got the message. As the House may know, North sea oil has been worth £100 billion. Over the next 10 years, defence expenditure might be £240 billion. We see the hidden agenda. Indeed there are plans, not just on the Labour Back Benches and not just in the reaches of a Labour party conference, but on the Opposition Front Bench and in the inner workings of any ambitions of a future Labour Government for a massive reduction.

I doubt whether we shall get any straight answers. The right hon. Member for Gorton will try to insult and smear any comments that we make. No doubt he will tell us that Labour's policy is already clearly spelt out in "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change". It has been reaffirmed in "Looking to the Future", and it has been reaffirmed in "Opportunity Britain". That is the inspired policy that called for the simultaneous dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw pact, and they really subscribe to that. We have made it quite clear that, when we tackle the very real challenges of the Soviet Union, we shall do what needs to be done.

If one challenges the Labour party on defence expenditure, its members say, "We shall do what needs to be done when we get into office." Their slogan is, "Trust us," but to do so would be to give a blank cheque to all those who have been wrong on every count in the past two elections and who would have destroyed our defences. They expect the British people to buy unseen a defence policy of which they know nothing. This is the end of the road for consumers—[Interruption.]

The purpose of today's debate is to ask two direct and straight questions of the right hon. Member for Gorton. As we sit here, we have a nuclear deterrent which is maintained by our service men. What we and the country need to know from the Opposition is whether they now believe in the importance of keeping a strategic nuclear deterrent while other countries have nuclear weapons targeted on us. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the fourth Trident boat is built to guarantee the effective operation of that strategic deterrent? In addition, and separately, do the Opposition support NATO's policy of sub-strategic nuclear weapons based in Europe and kept up to date?

The time for fudging and evasion is over. The time for telling the country where the Opposition stand on nuclear defence is here. The country is entitled to straight answers to those questions. We shall listen with interest to see whether we shall now get them at last.

4.31 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"calls on Her Majesty's Government, taking into account the perils, problems and uncertainties of the world situation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and while providing an effective defence for the United Kingdom based on the necessary level of forces provided with the appropriate equipment and weaponry, to formulate a policy based on arms control and reduction negotiations involving the eight nuclear powers, a strengthened and extended nuclear non-proliferation treaty backed by sanctions, a comprehensive test-ban treaty, and a new round of conventional forces negotiations involving the participation of the post-Soviet republics to promote an internationally structured aid programme for the post-Communist countries of central and eastern Europe under the auspices of the G7 countries and to implement a diversification programme within the United Kingdom to assist the defence industries to maintain employment and continue their contribution to the national economy."
Since the House adjourned for the Christmas recess, unprecedented events have taken place in the world. The Soviet Union has been dissolved. Mikhail Gorbachev has resigned as Soviet president. The Commonwealth of Independent States has been born. Three additional nuclear powers have arisen, two of which have larger arsenals than the United Kingdom. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has disappeared, with a completely new sovereign state seeking to take its place. A world power balance which lasted for 46 years has ended. A super-power has vanished. Alarming uncertainties have arisen. The danger of nuclear proliferation through the seepage of weapons and of scientists is immensely disturbing.

In those extraordinary circumstances, the Labour party took the view that a narrow debate on nuclear defence did not meet the scale of the problems and perils facing the international community, especially since the House debated nuclear defence only six weeks ago, when the Secretary of State made largely the same speech, with the same poor cracks and the same old quotations that he has given us today.

The Labour party therefore proposed to the Government that the scope of the debate should be widened and that the Foreign Secretary should participate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has appropriately proposed. But the Government refused that proposal because they are wedded to staging a stunt debate to serve their petty party agenda and to distract attention from the "John Major economic slump—made in Downing street" that is driving the Tory party to electoral defeat. The Tory party believed that the Foreign Secretary's obligations to Parliament could be fulfilled by a shoddy little interview in the Sunday Express——

I shall give way in a little while, but I should like to proceed for a moment. The hon. Gentleman generally seeks to intervene in my speeches and I give way to him from time to time.

The Labour party has therefore tabled an amendment to the Government's motion so as to give the House the opportunity for a sensible and serious debate on the international situation. How wise we were has been proved by the trivial and inadequate speech that we have just heard from the Secretary of State for Defence, a speech which sank under its own lack of weight.

A year ago, the world was dominated by two nuclear super-powers which, after more than 40 years of confrontation, had learnt to work together and had brought a new stability to our planet. Now there is one nuclear super-power, which paradoxically has to cope with profound world instability. The end of the cold war celebrated in Paris in November 1990 brought peace but uncertainty. The end of the USSR has opened a Pandora's box. The conflict in Georgia could be just a foretaste of what might follow.

The west bears its own heavy responsibility for what has taken place. At the G7 summit six months ago, Mikhail Gorbachev was treated like a mendicant. Seeking aid for his country, he was sent home empty-handed and humiliated. The Tory Government in Britain could have altered the balance of three to four in the G7 and could have helped to provide meaningful aid for Gorbachev. In their narrow view of world affairs, they chose not to do so. The August coup followed, and the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev was in ruins. Mikhail Gorbachev was the greatest peacetime leader in international affairs this century. The Prime Minister paid a mawkish tribute to him when he resigned last month but did not lift a finger to help him when he might have been saved.

The question now for the international community is not what can be done to restore the old stability—that is not possible—but how to create a new and lasting stability. With the United States still dominant, but economically weak and ready to accept others sharing its hegemony, there is an unprecedented opportunity for the United Kingdom to give a lead not as a super-power but as a catalyst. Britain can count in the world. There is an agenda waiting to be implemented and Britain can help to formulate that agenda.

It would be unwise to try to rewrite history so quickly. The reality of the G7 meeting was that President Gorbachev could not satisfy the leaders that he could use the aid properly and that it would go to the right quarters. Those assurances were sought but not given, and the lack of those assurances was well understood by Yeltsin and other people in the Soviet Union at that time. The failure of President Gorbachev to apply his reforms ultimately led to the crisis.

That failure was not recognised in the way that the hon. Gentleman implies by Chancellor Kohl or President Mitterand who, with the Italian Government, wished to provide substantial aid for the Soviet Union at the G7 summit. If the United Kingdom had been with Germany, Italy and France, there would have been a majority at the G7 summit for structured aid to the Soviet Union. That is the scale of the Prime Minister's shortcomings at the G7 summit.

Britain can count in the world. First, we must try to contain the nuclear instability that has arisen and prevent it from leading to a nuclear free-for-all. The START negotiating process between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, which was continued by President Bush, resulted in the agreement to reduce American and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons by a third. It is essential that the successor republics to the Soviet Union fulfil that agreement. But there will be no further START process involving the two super-powers. That process is over because there are no longer two super-powers.

All the eight nuclear powers should now become involved in the next phase of the START process. That means negotiations involving the United States, the four former Soviet nuclear powers, France, China and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom should take the lead in urging the convening of such talks, aimed at reducing the stockpiles of all the eight and with the hope of reducing them to low and unthreatening levels. Elimination of all eight stockpiles is the obvious and sensible goal, although when that will be possible it is far too soon to say.

No, I will not give way. I want to proceed a little. When I have dealt with this passage, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Beside that sensible and reasonable objective, this Tory Government look particularly puny and petty as they brandish their nuclear weapons like some macho symbol. They are the Government who have stood in the way of all progress on nuclear disarmament by negotiation the Government who insisted that the Lance missile system should be modernised even when its owner, the United States, accepted that Lance modernisation made no sense. They are the Government who alone opposed negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons when the rest of NATO saw that such negotiations were necessary.

Two years ago, the Secretary of State for Defence sat on the Government Front Bench nodding like an obedient poodle when his Prime Minister said this:
"Removal of the imbalance in conventional forces would not obviate the continuing need for short-range missiles. Short-range nuclear weapons must be available to commanders in the field at all stages."
That is what the Prime Minister said; that is what the Secretary of State for Defence expounded. Yet exactly three months ago, the Secretary of State told the House:
"we will entirely give up the short-range nuclear capability of the Lance system …the 50th Missile Regiment Royal Artillery will disband. Similarly, we shall give up our nuclear artillery capability." [Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 58.]

Of course things have changed. That is the point. The whole point of defence policy is that the Government stick there in the mud not acknowledging that the world situation has changed.

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman—not in any circumstances.

The Secretary of State for Defence likes to accuse the Opposition of advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament. Yet six weeks ago the Secretary of State for Defence announced to the House unilateral British measures to divest this country of nuclear capability, and boasted of it as an achievement.

As far as I can gather, Mr. Deputy Speaker, every one of the hon. Gentlemen who seek to intervene on me will not be a Member of the House within six months.

The right hon. Gentleman knows as little about my constituency as he does about defence policy.

The hon. Gentleman may not know much about his constituency either. However, since I believe that there is no place like home, I will give way to the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill).

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this country would not have a nuclear deterrent today had a Labour Government been elected in either 1983 or 1987?

According to the Government's own calculations, we do not have a nuclear deterrent. The Government say that the minimum necessary deterrent for this country is four Tridents, and the number of Polaris warheads is far fewer than four Trident warheads, so I am not too sure of the status of the deterrent at the moment.

After first of all advocating Lance missiles and opposing the negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons, the Secretary of State for Defence, after two years, has boasted of getting rid of the Lance missile and of unilaterally getting rid of short-range nuclear weapons. This is the right hon. Gentleman who had the nerve to say in the debate on 22 November:

"It is also important that it should be understood that this country adopts a consistent and relevant approach to nuclear matters.—[Official Report, 22 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 544.]
The right hon. Gentleman said that in the House six months ago. He has stood on his head in nuclear matters, turned a public somersault, yet he has the nerve to give the Opposition lectures on consistency.

The Government not only change their mind on what they regard as basic nuclear defence issues—they do not even understand what to do with the nuclear weapons that they possess or seek to retain. They are led by a Prime Minister so completely illiterate on defence matters that on 11 July last year he challenged the Labour party to state in what circumstances it would use nuclear weapons, when the Secretary of State for Defence today rightly refused to do so and when his Prime Minister also refused to do so on the basis that it would undermine the strategy of deterrence.

The Government cannot be relied upon to take the lead in international nuclear arms control discussions, but the Labour Government soon to be elected will certainly take that lead.

A great danger arises from the multiplication of ownership of both strategic and short-range nuclear weapons: the danger of proliferation. There is a real peril that weapons will find their way from former Soviet republics to less responsible and more reckless ownership. There is a danger that nuclear scientists, ill paid and uncertain about their future, might be bought up by other countries, taking with them perhaps materials and certainly their know-how. Dick Cheney, United States Defense Secretary, yesterday gave a sombre warning about that possibility.

That is a prospect never before experienced or expected, and we must do all that we can to prevent it from happening. That is why the nuclear non-proliferation treaty must be extended. All the successor Soviet republics, especially those already in possession of nuclear weapons, must be persuaded to sign the non-proliferation treaty. The treaty must be strengthened, with more intrusive inspection. Any country refusing to sign it must not be permitted to buy any nuclear materials even for professedly peaceful purposes.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The whole process should be backed up by sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. It is highly encouraging that China has decided to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty. That gives all five permanent members of the Security Council a common interest in ensuring that the non-proliferation treaty really works.

Would this proposal not carry more weight and have more moral force in terms of reducing escalation and stopping proliferation if the Conservative and Labour parties were not both engaged in a unilateral escalation—by a factor of eight—of the British strategic strike force? What possible contribution can that make to non-escalation and non-proliferation?

The hon. Gentleman is unacquainted with what we have said about this matter, which is that we would not agree to more warheads on Trident than there are on Polaris. That is the position of the Labour party.

The Minister of State is wrong. It is not new—we announced it two and a half years ago, so the hon. Gentleman may as well catch up now.

It is very reassuring to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about the fourth Trident boat in answer to my hon. Friend the member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). Will he, however, clarify the uncertainties that his hon. Friends have introduced on the subject by confirming that the Labour party intends to order a fourth boat but will ensure that it carries only the same number of warheads as the Polaris boats?

We shall have to wait for the Government to order the fourth boat first. The Government put it out to tender six months ago, and so far they have not placed an order. Indeed, the press expected the Secretary of State to surprise us all by announcing that order today. The Government cannot make up their mind about an order, yet they ask us to say whether we would cancel it.

No, no, the Trident programme does not belong to the hon. Gentleman. He has only a few weeks left in the House, during which he would do well to press the Government to provide work for the Barrow shipyard beyond any Trident programme. I have spoken to the work force there and I know that they are desperately worried about the work programme for Barrow even beyond a fourth Trident submarine.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that I am right in thinking that it is a convention of this House that, when an hon. Member refers to another hon. Member, he must then give way to him, should the latter wish to intervene.

As I said, the hon. Gentleman has an obligation to his constituents beyond seeking a formula that can get him through to the next general election.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you give us a ruling on what I said?

I understand the point of order, but I was hoping that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) would respond to it.

I do not respond to points of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will respond to your response to a point of order. I therefore give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I would usually say that I was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but he gave way with such a lack of dignity that he does not deserve my gratitude.

The question that I put to the right hon. Gentleman—he can save his hyperbole for the general election—is one that I put twice in writing to the Leader of the Opposition, who refused to answer it. I put the question on behalf of constituents from the shipyard who came to see me at my advice bureau, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reply to it now. Will the Labour party build the fourth Trident submarine—yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman had better ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence whether he intends to build the fourth Trident. He put it out to tender in July and he has not yet placed the order. There are arguments within the defence community about it.

I can, however, tell the hon. Gentleman what his right hon. Friend cannot tell him: with or without a fourth Trident, a Labour Government will provide the Barrow shipyard with work equivalent to the fourth Trident. We said that too, in May 1989, when we published our policy document on this matter. It is not new, and if the Minister of State for Defence Procurement had paid serious attention to these matters he would have known this nearly three years ago.

The right hon. Gentleman has given a categorical pledge to the work force at Barrow, who are deeply involved in defence expenditure and whose jobs depend on it. Will he give the same assurance to the workers at Yarrow and at Swan Hunter?

We gave our assurance to the workers at Barrow in May 1989. If the right hon. Gentleman had studied our policy document he would have known that long ago. It is about time he announced whether he will place the order for the fourth Trident before the general election.

On 22 November, the Secretary of State for Defence was not very clear about this. He said:
"subject to a successful analysis, we shall proceed with the project".—[Official Report, 22 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 542.]
That is not unequivocal. Today the right hon. Gentleman could have told the House that he was placing the order for the fourth Trident. Perhaps he will now do so in an intervention.

As the right hon. Gentleman correctly said, the project went out to tender in July. The tenders have been received and are now being evaluated, and we intend to proceed. We are talking about substantial sums of public money. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) has said, we have already given the authority to proceed with long-lead items. We are already building the fourth Trident submarine at this moment, and authority has been granted in line with previous practice. We are dealing with a monopoly supplier—a nuclear submarine cannot go out to competitive tender and we have a heavy responsibility to ensure that the contract is fully evaluated, but we intend to proceed. Will the right hon. Gentleman proceed?

And that from a right hon. Member whose hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) asked me for a yes or no answer.

We have heard much recently from this Tory Government about the need to prevent nuclear proliferation and to stop Saddam Hussein obtaining nuclear weapons for Iraq. The Foreign Secretary told the Sunday Express this week in a statement that revealed the Tory old Adam beneath that bland image that, with a Labour Government, Saddam
"might think it might be worth taking a risk or two".
We will not accept that kind of slander from a Government and Foreign Secretary who connived at the export from Britain of nuclear weapons materials to Iraq in violation of their own arms embargo. We will not take this sort of slander from a Government and Foreign Secretary who allowed Iraq to obtain from this country components for a supergun that could have fired nuclear warheads. We will not take it from a Government and Foreign Secretary who, in violation of their own arms embargo, permitted the export to Iraq—right up to the day of the invasion of Kuwait—of the following products, as listed in the Department of Trade and Industry memorandum to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry.

I quote only part of the list of what the Government have admitted they allowed to be exported to Iraq in violation of their own arms embargo:
"38 mm signal cartridges; air defence simulator; armoured vehicle spares; armoured vehicle; artillery fire control; artillery body arm; explosives; fast assault craft; guns sound ranging equipment; helicopter engines; hostile fire indicator; laser range finder; long range surveillance; mortar locating radar; naval spares; night vision equipment; night vision goggles; night vision training; pistols; rifles; shotguns; portable explosive detectors; radar systems and equipment; secure phone spares; secure telephone systems; short-burst crypto; small aircraft; speech encryption units; speech scramblers; tank helmets; under water training aids".
How many of those were used against British forces when we were fighting in the Gulf a year ago? Yet these are the people who have the nerve to say that a Labour Government might encourage Saddam Hussein.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we sat here listening to the Secretary of State for Defence trying to preach to the Labour party? Now that my right hon. Friend has read out that list, it is clear that the Government cannot be trusted.

My hon. Friend puts the point with his usual moderation.

The Government, against the advice explicitly given by the Opposition Front Bench, went on granting increasing trade credits to Iraq right up to the invasion of Kuwait. So I say to the Government, "Spare us your sanctimony and your hypocrisy—it is too much to stomach."

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on placing that list on the record. While we are on the subject of selling arms to dictators, is my right hon. Friend aware that last September the Secretary of State was touring Indonesia, one of the bloodiest regimes in the world? On 19 September he had a meeting with the Indonesian dictator, General Suharto; the subject under discussion was the sale of more arms to Indonesia. The massacre in East Timor—only a small part of what has gone on in Indonesia—occurred two months later. What right have those people to lecture us?

When it comes to these matters, there is about the Government a duplicity which makes one wonder how they have the nerve to bring such a motion before the House. They lack the credentials to take an initiative which will strengthen the non-proliferation treaty. The Labour Government, soon to be elected, certainly will take that lead.

I shall give way to my hon. Friend. After that I must proceed, because I do not want to take as much time as the Secretary of State took.

1, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on placing on record what the Tory Government have done in regard to exports to Iraq. When I had an Adjournment debate in April 1990, some months before the criminal invasion of Kuwait, I argued that trade credits should be discontinued. The Minister who replied—the present Secretary of State for Health—argued that, if Britain did not export to Iraq. other countries would. So the Tory Government knew full well what was happening.

I know that my hon. Friend argued that trade credits should be stopped. We did so too from the Front Bench, in particular after the supergun was found and after the case of the nuclear triggers. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told us that we were going over the top in making that request.

I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me for not giving way; I have said that I do not want to take any more interventions because of the lack of time.

There is another way in which nuclear proliferation can be prevented. Any country which becomes able to manufacture nuclear weapons needs to test them. so a comprehensive text ban treaty would be of great value. Any disadvantage to powers already in possession of nuclear capability would he more than counter-balanced by the advantage derived from preventing new nuclear powers being created. Such a treaty would need to be backed by international sanctions through the Security Council.

Last September, Mikhail Gorbachev imposed a moratorium on Soviet nuclear testing. That should be the first step to a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, but the Government show no interest whatever in such a move. The Labour Government, soon to be elected, will take the lead on that as well.

While the prevention of nuclear proliferation is the greatest prize, further moves in conventional arms control and negotiated disarmament are essential. Some countries are already making cuts. The Germans have just announced cuts. President Bush is expected to propose cuts and a peace dividend for the United States in his state of the union message later this month. While other Governments, even including the Tory Government, are committed to making cuts, negotiation is the best way of achieving cuts because negotiated agreements open the way to verification.

If the former Soviet republics become involved in new talks on conventional forces in Europe, it may help to allay their mistrust of each other if they observe each other to be part of an arms cutting process. The Tory Government have shown no interest in a renewed CFE process. The Labour Government, soon to be elected, will seek to give a lead in bringing about such negotiations.

The former communist countries, ex-Soviet republics and others, continue to face grave economic problems which threaten their stability and in consequence threaten world stability as well. We believe that the G7 countries, in co-operation with the European Community, should take the initiative in working out a structure plan to assist those countries to rebuild their economies. Such a plan would include financial aid and credits, technological help and assistance in making convertible currencies possible.

The Labour party called for such a new Marshall plan two years ago. We have since been joined in advocating such a scheme, with that name, by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe—only last month—and by Lech Walesa, the President of Poland. The moment we proposed it, that wiseacre the Foreign Secretary scoffed at it. I understand that last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer included the cost of a new Marshall plan in the mythical total from which he derived his estimate of taxation under a Labour Government.

Until discussions take place about such a plan, it is not known how many countries would participate, how much finance would be involved and what the time scale would be. Therefore, it is impossible for any rational person to cost it. That the Chancellor of the Exchequer has seen fit to do so lets us into the secret of how he arrives at his own economic forecasts, which even he has now admitted are wrong.

If our proposal for such a plan had been followed up when we first made it two years ago, real progress could have been made and it would have been possible to avoid the demeaning scenes of Russians scrambling for food belatedly supplied halfway through the winter. The Tory Government show no interest whatever in such long-term planning so the Labour Government, soon to be elected, will give a lead.

The impact of the end of the cold war is being felt not only among our former adversaries; it is hitting hard at home as well. Tory defence cuts, together with technological change in the defence industries, have cost an estimated 74,000 jobs in Britain in the past 18 months. The Defence Manufacturers Association has warned that, as the decade proceeds, 123,000 more defence jobs will he lost. The country cannot afford that additional unemployment, that casting away of scarce and expensive skills, that destruction of a whole sector of our economy. The Tory Government have shown little or no interest in that grave problem. When the defence manufacturers recently sought a meeting with the Prime Minister, they got no response.

It is known that the dialogue between defence manufacturers and the Ministry of Defence is inadequate. How can it be otherwise when the latest White Paper on defence states:
"It is not for the Government to seek to influence such decisions."
Those who work in our defence industries have the right to hope for a more reliable future from a country that relies on their contribution to its defence. The Tory Government show no interest in that problem. The Labour Government, soon to be elected—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh?"] Yes, the Labour party that will be elected as soon as the Conservatives have the nerve to call a general election—why do they run away from it if they are so confident?

We shall set up a defence diversification agency that will work with industry and unions to provide information, advice and retraining to ensure that the country is not deprived of vital skills and talents. We have good reason to know that the leaders of the defence industry will be ready to co-operate with us and with the work of such an agency.

While the Labour party takes a positive approach to the problems that beset us, the Tory Government are bereft of ideas. Nostalgic for the cold war, they can only mouth the slogans of that war, as the Government motion and the Secretary of State and his colleagues do. I resent their untruthful re-writing of the Labour party's commitment to the nation's defence.

The Labour Governments of 1945–1951, 1964–1970 and 1974–1979 were as diligent in providing for this nation's defence as any other Government that there have ever been. I know how the Secretary of State may respond: he may say that the 1945 Government were different from the Labour party facing him today. Of course, he is right—the 1945 Labour Government were the one that the Tories said in the 1945 election campaign would bring the Gestapo to Britain.

Whenever the Tories know that they are facing electoral defeat, they dive head first into the political sewer—[Interruption.] I think that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), is having a seizure. The 1945 Gestapo scare has its equivalent in the 1972 scare that Saddam Hussein might take a risk or two. The Tory bogeymen may change, but the Tory lack of principle remains the same.

The Opposition resent even more the Conservative's arrogant assumption that Britain's defence is the property of the Tory party. Labour voters are among the work forces that produce the planes and ships of our forces. Labour voters were among the men who last week were used by the Prime Minister as a background for a photo opportunity at a tank factory. Labour voters were among the men and women who risked their lives, and the men who sacrificed their lives, in the Falklands and the Gulf. Labour voters are among the men who patrol the dangerous—[Interruption.] Labour voters opposed David Irving and all that he stood for—they opposed the Nazism of David Irving.

Labour voters are among the men who patrol the dangerous places in Northern Ireland—risking and sacrificing their lives. When an IRA sniper aims his rifle at a British soldier, he does not pause to check which way he votes in a general election. It is about time that the Tory party, which stages phoney defence debate after phoney defence debate, accepted that patriotism knows no party. We are sick and tired of the Tories claiming that only their supporters are patriots—we are not having that, and they had better stop making the claim.

The Falklands and Gulf wars were not won on the playing fields of Eton, but in the comprehensive schools and colleges of Manchester, Strathclyde, Gwent, Clwyd, Lincolnshire and Somerset. The nation's defence is the concern of all hon. Members and all our people. In a very few months, a Labour Government will be entrusted with the defence of our country and, as it always has in the past, the Labour party will keep faith.

5.15 pm

I suppose it was inevitable that such a debate would involve an element of overheating. I do not want to blame any hon. Member for using a touch of hyperbole. I do not think that anyone doubts that most people who vote Labour are patriots, and that is not the point that Conservative Members seek to make. We are talking not about the millions of people who support the Labour party for whatever reason and who are nevertheless thoroughly good patriotic British citizens, but about Members of Parliament who are sent here under false pretences and who, using the public platform that this place provides them, do nothing but talk down our defence and all the efforts made by those very people to whom the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred, thus damaging and undermining the credibility of our defence. To the right hon. Member for Gorton, I say:

"By their fruits ye shall know them",
not by their fine words.

Now that we face an election, the Opposition offer to bail out some defence companies. "We shall take £8 billion off the defence budget," they say, "but no one will get hurt." Their constituents will be guaranteed to keep their defence jobs or be given different jobs as swords are turned into ploughshares. The Opposition's schemes are unquantified—how much money will they need? We do not know, as they do not tell us.

The serious point underlying my comments has been made at length and stands repeating. With the world changing at the speed that it is, we must keep reassessing commitments and what we are planning to do to discover whether our plans still make sense. I believe that nuclear deterrence makes more sense today than ever before.

Some hon. Members have remained consistent and signed the 50-signature Labour motion, stating their utter abhorrence of and opposition to all forms of nuclear weapons. At least their position is consistent. I think that it is wrong, but I understand it and can respect it. It is those who have changed—wriggled and squirmed from positionto position with nothing more than political opportunism in mind—whom one cannot respect.

During the past four years, I have usually followed the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who seems deeply uncomfortable as he delivers speeches that make Labour Back-Bench Members almost retch because they know that the words that he issues on behalf of the Labour party are not those of the true Labour party. One has a certain sympathy for him.

My right hon.Friend the Secretary of State concentrated most of his fire on the Labour party as the only credible alternative Government, but the Liberal Democrats are not very different. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) does not have to worry about those behind him, because there are none. He stands alone in debate after debate constantly trying to correct some of the worst excesses uttered by and voted on by his party's members at conferences. We need to turn an electoral spotlight on the Liberal Democrats' defence policy.

I think that the most significant meeting that is likely to take place this year is the one to take place shortly between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Mr. Yeltsin and President Bush. It will be the first occasion on which a leader of most of the former Soviet Union, having control of a large part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, will be attending a meeting at which it will be in his own vital interest to ensure that nuclear weapons are kept under control. That has not been the case before. It is arguable that, at the start of the Gorbachev negotiations, he saw the way that things might go and wanted to devise a way of controlling his own nuclear arsenal—but I am not sure that history will bear that out.

As for today, it must be so important for President Yeltsin to make certain that he can reach with the west some accommodation in respect of sensible nuclear reduction, arms control and inspection and verification—so that, with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States and other republics, he does not face a great danger to himself, and to his own security and stability, in having an uncontrolled nuclear arsenal loose on what was formerly Soviet territory. For the right hon. Member for Gorton to scorn that meeting as an electoral photo opportunity is to demean the whole cause for which those three men will be trying to work together.

The problem with debates about nuclear deterrence over the past 40 years is that no one could say who was right and who was wrong. One body of opinion held that deterrents kept the peace, while another argued that the possession of nuclear weapons posed the threat of war. No one knew the answers, because it was only in a negative sense that one could prove that deterrence was working.

When we reached the end of the cold war—which began with our determination not to let the old Soviet Union get away with introducing a new generation of intermediate nuclear forces into the European theatre and our deployment of cruise, which was a brave political decision made in the teeth of opposition by all the Opposition parties—we were given the answer on whether or not deterrence worked. We were told so not by anyone here but by President Gorbachev himself.

When the INF treaty was concluded and we were able to wipe from the slate a whole range of nuclear weapons for the first time in history, someone asked Gorbachev whether he would have given up his intermediate weapons if we had not deployed cruise. He answered, "Of course not. You do not give up something for nothing." We forced him to do that, and events forced him to do so as well. It was acknowledged that, by negotiating from a position of strength on both sides, one can lower the threshold and reduce strategic, intermediate and sub-strategic weapons. We know that, without them, one has no cards to lay on the table and one can do nothing.

Can the hon. Gentleman therefore explain why he and his party support the adoption of the Trident submarine system—which represents a massive proliferation of nuclear firepower—in a world that he claims is becoming more peaceful?

I do not agree that that does represent proliferation, or that it is a new deployment. It is clear that Polaris is out of date and that, in four or five years' time, it will not be an effective deterrent. Does one replace it or abandon it? The hon. Gentleman and I take a comprehensively different view of those two ends of the argument, but Trident is the minimum deterrent that we can maintain in the present circumstances, and will see strategic deterrence through into the next century. There is no other way that that can be done.

The fact that Trident has a longer range and the capability for carrying more warheads is a function of the development of nuclear technology over the years. One cannot disinvent that technology or build a more primitive weapon—except at prohibitive cost, and there would be no effectiveness at the end of it. Although Trident may be slightly more than is needed or desirable, one must have it if one is to proceed with a deterrent at all. That argument has been rehearsed many times, so I will not repeat it.

Far from knocking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for preparing for what could be one of the most important and significant meetings ever on the future of nuclear deterrence, right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House ought to wish him well and hope that he can persuade Mr. Yeltsin—as I am sure President Bush will try to do—that it is in everyone's interest to get negotiations going again. First, we must introduce a regime of inspection and verification, which will do much to allay the anxieties that Mr. Yeltsin and his helpers must themselves feel about the nuclear weapons that exist in the old republics.

Hope springs eternal! I can tell the right hon. gentleman without fear of contradiction that I will be briefer than he will.

As we near the time of a general election, it is as important as it was in the past two or three general elections to make the British public aware of what it is that the various competing parties are offering in defence terms. That is an easy job for us, because we have done so successfully for the past 14 years, with public confidence. We have had difficulties, and are having some now over defence reductions that had to be made as a consequence of changes in the world scene over the past year or two.

There has been a debate in the Conservative party as to whether those reductions have at the margin gone a little too far, or not far enough, and whether the balance is right. Those are perfectly legitimate concerns, and my party continues to debate them openly—but no one doubts our intentions.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence covered comprehensively what Labour is offering, so I will consider instead what is on offer from the Liberal Democrats. While the spotlight has been on the row between the haves and the have-nots in Labour—between those who want to destroy our nuclear defences and those who want to retain some credibility for electoral purposes—the Liberal Democrats have sat in the shadows saying very little, and hoping that what little they do say is not getting too wide an audience.

Some of the remarks made by the Liberal Democrats' leader do not stand up to too much examination. He has the useful asset of being a former Royal Marines captain, and so is thought to be sound on defence. Again,
"By their fruits ye shall know them."
I believe that I can say without any fear of going too far that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) once showed that he sympathised with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, having shared a platform with the Leader of the Opposition at a great rally against the deployment of cruise and Trident.

No, I just have a note of some of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil that I will share with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East.

I suppose that one cannot blame the leader of the Liberal Democrats for appearing in the communist Morning Star alongside the then chairman of CND—the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock)—and Labour's parliamentary CND chairman, when he was reported as describing the Trident programme as
"a monstrous folly which we should divest ourselves of as soon as possible."
That did not go down very well with the voters in 1983, so like Labour—but more slowly and less perceptibly—the Liberals decided to shift their position. A brave speech was made by the party's leader at that time, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), who said that his party must not keep its unilateralist policies
"because I believe they are politically disastrous. The electorate has demonstrated time and time again that, rightly, in my view, they will not vote for any party which dodges its basic responsibility for the security of our country."
However, as that same news item reported, the right hon. Gentleman's standing ovation could not match the ecstatic applause for the right hon. Member for Yeovil, who was the architect of the policy demanding the abandonment of cruise missiles, and was tipped then eventually to replace the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale.

If that is the way in which the good captain of the Royal Marines parades his service, patriotism and commitment to defence, it is a very strange way of doing so. What the Liberal Democrats have in their locker is even better than what Labour has to offer. Labour will slash £8 billion from our defence budget, although it has not told us how that will be done or who will be affected, or what time scale will be involved. The Liberal Democrats have gone one better:they intend to halve the defence budget and, moreover, they have given us a time scale. They say that they will have completed the process by the end of the century.

That means a cut of about £12 billion over eight years—a cut of £1·5 billion each year—and it provides us with a yardstick of sorts. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East intends to speak in the debate, and will tell us what the effect of such a cut would be; or perhaps he will hide behind the saving remarks of the right hon. Member for Yeovil, who observed that it was not a policy but an aspiration.

If the people are to decide to whose care to entrust our defence over the next four or five years, they—and we—need not aspirations, but a policy. If the policy of the Liberal Democrats is indeed to halve the defence budget in eight short years, I need not tell the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East that the effect on our forces—on manpower, equipment, morale and, perhaps above all, defence industries throughout the country—would be catastrophic.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman knows a way in which he could achieve his aim without causing such a result, I suggest that he write it down on one side of a sheet of foolscap and send it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I believe, however, that if a sound method of achieving that aim existed my right hon. Friend would have discovered it: he is, after all, under some pressure himself to cut the defence budget in the present difficult times.

Of course, our friends the Liberal Democrats constantly seek to be all things to all men. As recently as the occasion of the last Scottish by-election, they were saying that we had gone too far with our defence cuts. We have announced a cut from 160,000 men to about 116,000; the so-called Liberal Democrats' White Paper mentions a figure of 73,000. That, of course, does not include the Gordon Highlanders, because there was a by-election in their recruiting area.

How cynical can people get when we are trying to hold a reasoned debate? Ultimately, a judgment will be made about the policy around which the right hon. Member for Gorton skirted for 40 tedious minutes as he tried to challenge us about what we would do. By their fruits ye shall know them. We have looked after the country's defence faithfully and well for the past 12 years and, God willing, we shall do so for the next 12 years.

5.32 pm

Few could have foreseen that the end of the cold war would bring the world not more security, but a great deal less. As the Secretary of State told us at the beginning of the debate, the end of the Soviet Union threatens to bring anarchy and an outburst of tribal passions—"a Yugoslavia with nukes", as James Baker has put it. Given that fearful prospect, we must ber thankful for the loose association of 11 former Soviet republics that is now called the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS; but the years of Soviet power have so inoculated each republic against centralisation that co-ordination will be a struggle.

Earlier this month, at Minsk, the 11 leaders failed, for example, to agree to keep a joint conventional military force. Tricky decisions lie ahead about how to split up the 4 million-strong ex-Soviet force. Last week's Ukraine claims to the full Black sea fleet is a case in point.

Last Friday, here in London—as the Secretary of State is only too well aware—Mr. Richard Cheney, the right hon. Gentleman's opposite number in Washington, said that the United States was watching the dispute over the Black sea fleet very carefully, because
"a dispute over military assets could slop over and affect the nuclear industry".
The west is now resigned to having to deal with four nuclear powers on the territory of the old Soviet Union. It is clearly not possible to ask Mr. Yeltsin, the President of the Russian Federation, to destroy his strategic arsenal when he has nuclear-armed China as a neighbour. The other three nuclear republics—the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan—are thought unlikely to disarm completely, because they are fearful of giving Mr. Yeltsin a monopoly of nuclear weapons.

The greatest confusion, however, surrounds the fate of central Asia, which contains five Muslim republics, of 60 million people. If they opt to break for Moscow's control, that will clearly have a profound effect on the middle east and China. Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are all interested in stamping their mark on them. Saudi Arabia has already established financial links with Kazakhstan, and there are disturbing reports of secret visits by delegations from Libya, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia to Dushanbe, the capital of Muslim Tajikistgan. All are reported to be interested in buying enriched uranium from the republic, which has deposits of the ore and houses the former Soviet Union's first uraniun enriching plant. Does that portend an Islam bomb?

The major concern of the West is to ensure that nuclear weapons are kept safe from the turmoil that threatens to engulf the area of the old Soviet Union. As we have already been reminded in today's debate, only last month General Vladimir Lobov, then chief of general staff, pronounced during a visit to London that—as he had personally assured me in Madrid in October—he was entirely satisfied with the nuclear safeguards covering the arsenal of 27,000 warheads. Within 24 hours of his return home, however, General Lobov was sacked and replaced by General Viktor Samsonov. That added to uncertainty in the west about who was really in command of the nuclear weapons.

How can there be effective central control of the systems when there is no longer a real political centre? That is not to say that Armageddon can be instigated by a group bent on mischief simply through the pressing of a button; as the Secretary of State knows, it does not work like that. The chain of control is too complex and too sophisticated. Unfortunately, the more sophisticated safety measures are found only on the more modern weapons. More disturbing are recent reports that Russia and the republics will run out of money: the Secretary of State has already given us an instance of that. Soon, there may no longer be any cash to pay the armed forces, or to buy food imports.

The military-industrial complex, which may account for as much as half of the Soviet economy, is already starting to fall apart. Before Christmas, the head of Soviet military counter-intelligence, Major-General Yuri Bulygin, warned that safety standards were falling because of instability in the demoralised armed forces. While long-range strategic weapons may be secure, that is not necessarily true of shorter-range tactical weapons. Many of those are old, and may not even be as well safeguarded as the more potent strategic weapons.

The repatriation of nuclear systems—strategic and tactical—to, say, the territory of the Russian federation could be both difficult and dangerous. There would be a problem of storage, as existing facilities are overloaded. Even destroying them on the spot would be very expensive, and would probably require western help.

The best technical measures to control nuclear weapons cannot withstand the complete breakdown of social organisation. Instead of just having many hungry people, the Commonwealth of Independent States may soon have many well-armed but hungry people who may be tempted to sell their weapons and skills. As a result of such a black-market brain drain, a growing number of countries in the third world may acquire weapons of mass destruction. Thus, at a stroke, the collapse of the Soviet Union will have unravelled all the work of the non-proliferation treaties. Critically, at a time when smaller nations, from Iraq to Pakistan, have circumvented the cartel to the very edge of nuclear capability, a host of potential nuclear mini-powers has appeared on our horizon.

What can be done? First, as with the Germans, there must be more active involvement in eastern Europe and the CIS—prodding here and hand-holding there. Secondly, in exchange for western aid, technology, and expertise, there must be a binding agreement on the political control of nuclear weapons within the CIS. Thirdly, safety procedures, including physical measures as well as codes, must be strengthened in order to reduce the risk of unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.

Fourthly, last month's NATO meeting in Brussels with representatives from several of the new republics must be repeated on a regular basis, and the emphasis on deterrence must be replaced increasingly by concern with disarmament, restructuring and co-operative arms control measures.

Fifthly, signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty have a chance to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency when its board of governors meets in February. Sixthly, there are two favourable domestic factors—the only constant factors—in the chaos that was once the Soviet Union. The first is the red army and the second is the character of the peoples that made up the Soviet Union, especially the Russians.

The military was always the least corrupt and morally compromised of the pillars of the Soviet state, and the officer corps remains, even now, fundamentally honest and less cynical than any other section of society. Therefore, I believe that we should intensify the dialogue that began between the Soviet army and its western counterparts during the Gorbachev years.

Incidentally, that was preceded by a dialogue involving NATO parliamentarians—notably, the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Mr. George), the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and his colleagues on the Select Committee. They all entered into dialogue even before our professional colleagues did so in Brussels and at other command centres. They had discussions with senior political and military Russians and with senior political and military figures throughout the Warsaw pact while it was still in being. Such dialogue forged real friendships at a high level, and I believe that they are much valued throughout what used to be the Warsaw pact as well as the Soviet Union. I hope that such friendships will be maintained and, where possible, intensified.

The other factor is the character of the peoples of the old Soviet Union. Their capacity for endurance is remarkable. Without it, they would not have survived the war years—they could not have overcome the German onslaught—much less the trials of the past 70 years. Now, their ability to endure what western Europeans might find unendurable may be the salvation of Russia.

It is likely that the west will have to rethink its entire defence strategy, giving increased emphasis to anti-missile defence. In the new environment, can we be sure that the Trident system—however essential its deterrent value—will continue to head our strategic priorities?

5.44 pm

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy). As he pointed out, in company with other right hon. and hon. Members, he has played anotable part in forging relationships with the eastern European countries—former members of the Warsaw pact—and leading members of the now disbanded Soviet Union. Such work, although at a low level compared with that done by Ministers, has played a useful part in building confidence between what were, at that time, two opposing blocks. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a continuing role at that level, and I believe that his suggestions should be given close and detailed attention by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

During his speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and hinted at other means of destruction which are also a cause of growing concern. He also said—I support his view—that for the foreseeable future we shall need a strong nuclear defence. It is a necessary and vital part of our defence structure and the defence structure of the western world.

I understand that that is also the official policy of those on the Opposition Front Bench. To be fair, their conversion lacks the fervour normally associated with converts, possibly because their conviction is muted by the memory of many of them—both on the Front and Back Benches—that they have devoted the best part of their adult lives to unilateral disarmament. That is why we continue what some people say is a wrangle.

It is important that, in debates such as this, we should test the sincerity and devotion of what is often professed from the Opposition Front Bench, especially by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), that there is no difference between the two Front Benches. There is a difference and, although we regret it, we believe that it will continue. Today, as often before, little has been said from the Back Benches that restores my conviction that, if there were to be a Labour Government, they would have the guts to go ahead with the policies that we know are right for this nation.

My purpose is not to dwell on the integrity of the Opposition and their defence policy. I have a high regard for the talents of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). He speaks with knowledge and a great conviction as a member of the North Atlantic Assembly. However, I could not agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) that there is a Janus aspect—it is appropriate that the debate should take place in January—to the Liberal Democrat approach. They look both ways.

It is not credible to say that they are committed to a fourth Trident boat and that they support that aspect of nuclear policy, while muttering loudly and clearly to the wider public that their aspiration is to cut defence by 50 per cent. in the next decade. When politicians talk that way, some people believe them. I hope that, in due course, the views of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East will prevail, because it is not in the interests of our nation or Parliament that we should be divided on this point.

My purpose is to look at the international aspects of nuclear weapons and follow some of the points made by the hon. Member for Attercliffe. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State drew our attention to those nations that are seeking to develop nuclear weapons, he underlined the fact that the passing of the cold war still leaves us facing a greater variety of potential threats to our security and that, in some ways, that creates a far more volatile and dangerous situation than we have faced before.

Whether or not it is more dangerous and volatile—I believe that it is—I am sure of one thing: that we got into the habit of knowing how to second-guess the Russians. We began to learn how to out-bluff them and how to face them down. We began to develop confidence and a unity developed between the United States and the western European nations. That was one of the great achievements of statesmanship in the post-war world.

What worries me is that, in facing a new situation in which we are not sure where the next threat is coming from, we shall not have the mechanism in place to deal effectively with the problems. Therefore, the ruthlessness of Saddam Hussein, the unpredictability and exotic behaviour of some of today's leaders and the instability of so many countries pose new and more threats of a different type from those which we have faced and with which we became used to dealing after world war two.

The most dangerous aspect is that the ambitions of so many of today's world leaders are fuelled by nationalist aspirations and sometimes by religious fervour, which supports the belief that the possession of chemical and even biological weapons will further their economic and political aims. That is sheer lunacy.

Nearly half a century has elapsed since the end of world war two, when it seemed to Britain that our very existence depended on developing weapons which would ensure our survival. Who would doubt that our judgment on that occasion was right? We had the knowledge, which was confirmed after the war, that our main enemy—Nazi Germany—was developing nuclear weapons and was soon to be followed by the Soviet Union, which did the same.

I shall give way, but not for long. I do not want to disrupt the debate, because I want to allow other hon. Members to speak.

How will the hon. Gentleman dissuade the countries from what he rightly describes as their lunacy by adopting the posture urged on us today, which would involve our not reducing arms but increasing them?

I had set up my argument to deal with that very problem, and I respect the hon. Gentleman for asking the question. I see a reduction in our nuclear weapons and in our reliance on them, which is why, for example, the Government have announced that we shall withdraw the use of nuclear artillery, and that no surface ships will be equipped with nuclear weapons. There is in train a massive reduction in nuclear weapons, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred and in which we are already playing our part.

However, as the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) said, we face the daunting task of persuading the nations that were not threatened as we were that it is not in their interests or in those of world peace to initiate nuclear programmes just as—as I said earlier—the existing nuclear powers have begun to contain and reduce their nuclear arsenals, which will lead to their virtual elimination together with that of other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical weapons. I refer, of course, to the agreement on chemical weapons made between the United States and the Soviet Union.

It is regrettable that, at this time in the evolution of the relationship between the democracies and the former communist powers of eastern Europe, the situation has been complicated by the emerging capability of some countries outside Europe to develop or to buy at cut prices delivery systems using other forms of mass destruction. The nations which are behind their regional rivals in developing a nuclear capability can—as we know—acquire a chemical capability as an equivalent deterrent which is cheaper and easier to make.

That is why I believe that chemical weapons delivered by ballistic missiles are such an attractive proposition to nations in the middle east which are concerned about Israel's nuclear ability. Therefore, the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and missile technologies is closely linked. That poses a major challenge to our efforts to stop these forms of proliferation. If we are to succeed, we must deal with all the problems simultaneously.

The verification and other control procedures are inadequate. We know that, but we also know that they pose enormous technical and financial problems. No one should underestimate them, but we must—and I believe we can—do better. The common denominator of all the systems is the delivery system—the ballistic missile.

The belated discovery of the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme has shown that the International Atomic Energy Agency non-proliferation safeguards are not up to the job. Therefore, I hope that, when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is reviewed—as it shortly will be—the Government will urge that ballistic missiles be brought under the control of the NPT formula and that they will back the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with increased powers of surveillance.

As we know, export controls and diplomacy can delay missile projects, but they need to be reinforced. That is why some nations drop a few not very well disguised hints that they are within reach of developing a nuclear capability, but never openly admit that they have already become nuclear powers. They know that, if they were to do so, they would be in breach of the NPT and would be subject to enormous financial and economic pressures. Many hon. Members—including the hon. Member for Attercliffe—referred to that issue. Any decisions taken on this front to tighten the nuclear non-proliferation treaty must have the force of economic trade pressures behind them.

The trouble with schemes designed to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is that it is difficult for the haves to persuade the have-nots. It is fundamental to the success of arms control that the haves are seen to be negotiating reductions in good faith. The recent agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union—not only those involving nuclear and chemical weapons—are good examples of what I have in mind, but we shall need to move beyond such bilateral agreements.

To succeed in reducing proliferation as well as cutting the level of nuclear and chemical weapons will require from all the nations a degree of international co-operation and intrusion into their defence, industrial and research establishments which some will certainly not find it easy to accept. Nor will they find it easy to accept the cost not only of inspection but of the safe disposal of chemicals and of nuclear materials.

The destruction of Soviet chemical weapons was due to begin at the end of 1992 under the terms of the American-Soviet agreement. However, the Soviet Union has not yet begun—it cannot start. It has no place to put the material to be destroyed and, if it does find a special site, as we hope it will, it will cost about 3 billion roubles. That is the estimate of one of the committees of the North Atlantic Assembly.

It is also estimated that the building of the facilities to destroy that category of weapons alone will be 10 times as expensive as the creation of the weapons themselves. The verification of the United States/Soviet nuclear agreement, if it is carried out effectively in the first year as promised, will be about $1 billion. Clearly, the costs will have to be shared between nations if a system of international verification is to succeed. That is why I welcome the assurance by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that it is the Government's intention to help with those costs.

We know that the European Community, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, NATO and the other bodies can play a part in monitoring the trade of weapons of mass destruction and in making agreements, but if there is to be a widespread system of verification which will have the confidence of all the nations with their widely differing cultures and political traditions, our country must press hard to put such matters increasingly within the ambit of the United Nations, of a United Nations agency working to internationally agreed procedures. That point was well and truly recognised by our Prime Minister who got the United Nations to increase its role last year when he put forward the idea of a register of conventional arms sales. We should take the initiative a stage further; that is the only way in which to ensure that the haves and have-nots work together in good faith. That is beginning to happen in Europe.

The former Warsaw pact countries do not fear the NATO alliance: they even want to join it. The republics in the new commonwealth which was the Soviet Union are heirs to the arms and inspections agreements that have already been negotiated. All those are the first steps, and they are important. They have done a great deal to bridge the gap that once divided us, and what is being done in Europe can be done globally.

6 pm

Notwithstanding the latter part of the remarks by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), I will begin by paying him a compliment. He may recall that, approximately 18 months ago, on an occasion similar to this, he said to the House that the pace of change until then had seemed breathtaking, but that it was nothing compared with the even swifter pace of change which was likely in the future. If he had told the House then that, within 18 months, the Soviet Union would be no more, none of us would have thought that that was a credible proposition. He has certainly been proved right, because the speed of change has accelerated far more than anyone could have expected.

The hon. Member for East Hampshire could have used a better source of information than the recently published Conservative party pamphlet, which I have had the opportunity to read. It is a rather tawdry little missive. I hope that, in future, he will find authorities for his propositions which carry a little more dignity. As he has heard me say many times before in the House, the proper approach to the changing nature of our defence requirement is to have a full-scale defence review and to follow that with an analysis of what our obligations are and are likely to be. That will determine the military resources necessary to meet those obligations, which in turn will determine what financial resources are necessary to meet the military resources. That is also the view of my colleagues in the House of Commons.

The 50 per cent. figure is an objective. However, I must make it clear—I hope that the hon. Member for East Hampshire will accept this—that it is entirely subordinate to the requirement to provide for the United Kingdom a defence policy that recognises the changing nature of the defence obligations to which we are likely to be subject in future.

I may have difficulty sitting here with no one behind me. I recall that, in the days when the hon. Member for East Hampshire ploughed a lonely furrow against the poll tax and when young men used to be sent in to ambush him at every opportunity, he made a point of making his speeches from the precise position in which he is sitting at the moment, to ensure that his back was no more exposed than his front.

I feel a sense of disappointment that there is nothing in the motion about how we might limit nuclear proliferation. I understand that it is wrong to be too literal about the terms of the motion on an occasion such as this, but I feel a sense of disappointment that there is nothing about how we might limit nuclear proliferation; nothing about how to continue the process of multilateral nuclear disarmament—the process begun in the INF treaty and carried on by the signing of the START treaty in July between the United States and the Soviet Union—nothing about the contribution that the test ban treaty might make to discouraging the spread of nuclear weapons; nothing about how to persuade the emerging republics of the Soviet Union that their security need not depend on the possession of strategic nuclear weapons; and nothing about how we may inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons technology or the sale of tactical weapons out of the deepening disarray which now grips what was once the Soviet military machine. As the debate has demonstrated, those are matters on which there is substantial consensus in the House. It is a pity that the terms of the motion were not drawn to attract that consensus.

We cannot sensibly debate the issues raised by the motion without some discussion of the nature of nuclear deterrence. There is no intrinsic merit in nuclear weapons. Their utility is the perception they raise in the minds of a potential adversary. We all know that nuclear deterrence fails as a strategy if the weapons that lie behind it ever have to be used. Nuclear deterrence depends for its success on uncertainty, not about the availability of the weapons, but about their use.

To try to define more precisely the circumstances in which one would use nuclear weapons is extremely unwise. Here I part company from the approach of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who seemed to be anxious to try to establish the circumstances in which a Secretary of State for Defence might feel compelled to use nuclear weapons.

I was present for that part of the debate. If my understanding is wrong, I have no doubt that I will be better informed after reading Hansard.

What is clear beyond question is that it is wrong to say in which circumstances one would use nuclear weapons. Apart from anything else, that is almost certainly an invitation to an adversary to press on to the point at which nuclear weapons might be used.

Similarly, to announce a policy of no first use seems to be wholly contradictory to the theory of deterrence. Such a declaration, even if made in good faith, is worthless. It is unenforceable and can easily be abandoned without notice. It embraces not deterrence, but retaliation. It accepts by implication that deterrence may fail. It may provoke an adversary to test the sincerity of a declaration of no first use.

Theories of deterrence within NATO have been the subject of considerable change. First there was mutual assured destruction—I always thought that it was aptly referred to by the acronym MAD—which was replaced by flexible response. That theory was displaced by the idea that nuclear weapons should only be weapons of last resort, and that in turn has been replaced by the theory of minimum deterrence. As the nature and the scale of the threat have changed, so has the doctrine.

It would be morally indefensible to continue to deploy nuclear weapons if there was no justification for doing so. Nothing would be more reprehensible than to indulge in an intellectual scramble to create some ex post facto justification for weapons that it had already been decided to keep. The deployment of nuclear weapons can be justified only if it is appropriate to the risk. Minimum deterrence means minimum in relation to the nature and scale of the weapons to be deployed. It cannot mean minimum in relation to the availability of the deterrent. A deterrent that is not constant may induce in an adversary a willingness to take risks in the hope that it is either inoperable or unavailable. In that real sense, a deterrent that is not constant may prove destructively destabilising.

If we are to have a strategic nuclear deterrent which is constant in the terms in which I have sought to define the word, we require a four-boat submarine fleet to bring it about. Before the topic for today's debate was announced, I had arranged to visit Barrow-in-Furness and Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. so that I could be better informed about the circumstances of that company.

Apart from the impression of extraordinary realism on the part of the confederation of trade unions and of the management, whom I met, the clear impression that I took away from the meeting was that, although people were clearly concerned about the provision of employment and about the continuation of the company, they did not see surface vessels, for example, as a substitute for the fourth submarine. They believed that, without the fourth submarine, which would have consequences for their business, they would be precluded from becoming involved in surface vessels.

The right hon. Member for Gorton appeared to suggest that, if there was no fourth submarine, it would be the policy of an incoming Labour Government—if that were the flavour of the month in which the election was held—to provide work for VSEL. My impression—the right hon. Member for Gorton can check this if he likes—is that those responsible for the conduct of the management of VSEL are more than doubtful about the company's ability to survive without the submarine.

I may have been completely wrong, but I thought that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was going a little further than the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting, by guaranteeing employment for the work force—more than 11,000 people, if I am right. Perhaps when the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) sums up, he will alter one letter—change "B" to "Y"—and we will get the same guarantee for Yarrow.

That missile was aimed not so much at me as at those on the Labour Front Bench. I think that I will keep my head down and leave those concerned to have the necessary exchanges in due course. I would merely reinforce my point that the clear indication that I took away from my meetings in Barrow-in-Furness yesterday was that, without the fourth submarine, the survivability of VSEL is very much in question. Both management and unions told me, without any question of its being confidential, that, if the number of employees ever falls below 5,000, the question of the yard's continuation will become a matter of acute importance.

The hon. and learned Gentleman was here an hour or so ago, and no doubt heard the exchange between the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and myself. So far as I am aware, the right hon. Gentleman has not visited Barrow during my eight and a half years as an hon. Member or ever—unless he has come in the middle of the night.

I wonder whether, during the hon. and learned Gentleman's visit yesterday, representatives of management took him into the Devonshire dock ship hall. If so, no doubt he was taken to the ninth floor and could look down and see what was being built. Can you confirm—[HON. MEMBERS: "He."] Can the hon. and learned Member confirm that, as the Secretary of State said earlier, the fourth Trident submarine is currently under construction and is roughly one quarter built already?

I understand that to be the case, although I have to say that I was not invited to view the submarine under construction because security clearance had not been obtained sufficiently far in advance. I may have a somewhat sinister appearance, and for that reason may not be regarded as someone to be trusted, although, as a member of the North Atlantic Assembly, I was invited to inspect one of the French nuclear submarines. Clearly, the French authorities trust me more than the Ministry of Defence does.

The agreements at Maastricht have confirmed two things—first, the continuing primacy of NATO for the foreseeable future; secondly the acceptance by the countries of the European Community of an organic growth in the nature of the defence relationships between them.

NATO is likely to remain a nuclear alliance for the foreseeable future. The British contribution to NATO's nuclear armaments is not, nor need it be, designed to meet all the eventualities that NATO might face. Neither in NATO nor in the Community are we the only country that possesses nuclear weapons. If NATO's doctrine is truly one of minimum deterrence, surely it is not necessary for the United Kingdom to contribute at every level. That is why I see no reason to increase the number of warheads on the Trident system, if deployed, beyond those of the Polaris system which it is said to replace—I shall come back to the question of replacement in a moment.

If Polaris currently provides an effective contribution to minimum nuclear deterrence within NATO, why is it necessary to increase the number of warheads available with Trident by what may be a factor of three? In some respects, it is misplaced to call Trident a replacement. The range of Polaris missiles is 4,600 km, whereas the range of Trident missiles is 9,700 km. Trident missiles are generally regarded as more accurate.

Moreover, Polaris warheads are not independently targetable, whereas the warheads on Trident missiles are. That means that, if one adopts the approach that I have urged on the House and on the Secretary of State in the past—that we should deploy no more warheads on the Trident system than are available on the Polaris system—it would be able to hit 192 targets instead of 64.

The Government's answer to the proposition that we should not deploy any more warheads than are available on Polaris is that, because of the increasing sophistication of defensive systems, we need the enhanced capability that Trident possesses. But those defensive systems are to be found around Moscow, and the question that we must ask ourselves—even taking the Government's position as the correct one—is whether the United Kingdom, as a member of NATO, requires a strategic system with which, acting alone and independently, it can penetrate the defence system round Moscow.

To put the question another way, do we foresee circumstances in which the United Kingdom, acting independently, would want to fire strategic nuclear weapons at Moscow? I cannot conceive that the answer to either of those questions can be in the affirmative. In my judgment, the United Kingdom's contribution to NATO's doctrine of minimum deterrence can be met if we limit the number of warheads on the Trident system to be deployed.

I am also of the view that NATO's philosophy of minimum deterrence can be met without the United Kingdom having recourse to a tactical air-to-surface missile at a cost now put at around £3 billion. I understand that a decision on that has yet to be made. If what Ministers say is to be accepted, such a decision may be made towards the end of the century. There may be a NATO case for a tactical air-to-surface missile, although I think that a number of questions require answers.

First, in the absence of the doctrine of flexible response, is a tactical air-to-surface missile required? Secondly, being deployed on aircraft, is not TASM vulnerable to pre-emptive strike? Thirdly, did not the Gulf war show that the power of conventional weapons is so great that any so-called benefit from TASM can be more than outweighed by the use of conventional means? I can see no merit in the case for the United Kingdom deploying TASM. In the end, that case must depend on the proposition that all the NATO strategic and tactical nuclear weapons will be an insufficient deterrent without the addition of a united Kingdom tactical weapon. I beg leave to doubt the validity of that proposition.

May I seek to clarify the hon. and learned Gentleman's thinking? I have heard him argue the case against TASM. Will he tell the House whether, in addition to what he said against TASM, he is saying that a sub-strategic weapon of any kind is unnecessary from the point of view of the United Kingdom?

From the point of view of the United Kingdom, yes. I argue that the United Kingdom is a member of NATO, an alliance that is likely to be a nuclear alliance for the foreseeable future, and that there is no justification for the United Kingdom endeavouring to provide that alliance with nuclear weapons at every level. That seems a well-founded proposition.

I should like to make some progress if I may. I have given way once or twice, and I know that other hon. Members want to speak before the witching hour of seven o'clock.

It is clear that the end of what came to be called the east-west confrontation has given rise to a whole range of new threats. It is clear from what has been said today that several hon. Members recognise that fact. Those threats are based on the nuclear proliferation that has been caused by the break-up of the Soviet Union and by the access to nuclear technology that several other countries have been able to achieve.

Following the successful containment of the Soviet empire, it seems to me that our efforts must be directed towards non-proliferation. In that respect, I agree with what the right hon. Member for Gorton said, in a particularly powerful and appropriate passage of his speech. The one thing we know is that we cannot afford a rash of new nuclear states. In the short term, it may not be possible to prevent some of the former Soviet republics from obtaining a nuclear capability, but surely it is essential to persuade them to subscribe, and to continue to subscribe, to a strategic-weapons centralised commandand-control system. We should be encouraging them to destroy both strategic and tactical weapons, and should be giving them the means to do so.

The scale of the problem with which we are dealing may be reflected in two figures. First, some estimate that there are 14,000 tactical nuclear weapons in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Secondly, it is estimated that there are 5,000 scientists—people previously in the employment of the Soviet Union—with experience in plutonium separation and uranium enrichment. One recalls that, after the second world war, the United States was careful to ensure that Dr. von Braun was transported to the United States-not because of any inherent qualities of personality but because he was the leading exponent of rocket technology. [Interruption.]

The names may sound similar, but I fear that comparisons are not easy to draw.

Under the somewhat frenetic stimulus of the impending general election, our own domestic concerns may seem increasingly urgent, but this debate may justify the conclusion that our safety is more likely to be assured by vigorous pursuit of the goals of non-proliferation and arms reduction in the international arena.

6.23 pm

Having listened to the expose of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), I cannot say that I have a crystal-clear understanding of Liberal Democrat defence policy. However, the hon. and learned Gentleman raised some very interesting points. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) unkindly said that Liberal policy was two-faced. Having heard the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think that it would be quite an achievement for the Liberal Democrats to have just two faces. There is some work to be done before Liberal policy reaches that stage.

I fully concede that, in the past, one of the problems in debating nuclear deterrence has been that the issues are so fiendishly complex that it is very difficult to state them at all. It is a relief that, on this occasion and in these times, one issue stands out with stark clarity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave an assessment of the dangers in the world today, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), who is extremely well versed in these matters, made a very informative speech. My right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman made the point that there could not be a worse time to contemplate weakening our nuclear defences or our commitment to them. It is crystal clear that, because of the terrifying vista of proliferation, now is the time to keep our nuclear defences and to ensure that they are totally effective. If our policies were not to succeed, we could be on the verge of a quantum leap in nuclear proliferation.

The number of nations with nuclear or ballistic missile capacity and the ability to gain access to plutonium warheads or enriched nuclear warheads could be about to double or treble. This is what, 20 or 30 years ago, defence and policy experts saw as a nightmare. The stark scene was set with great calmness and clarity by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by other hon. Members. It is one for which we have to plan with the utmost care.

Reference has fairly been made to another obvious point: that there must be some evolution of the nuclear doctrine of the west. Although there has not been final confirmation, it looks as though the context has changed totally. We are facing entirely new conditions and new threats. As the hon. Member for Attercliffe said in what was almost an aside, it may well be that, given the fact that threats could come from all sorts of areas and in all sorts of ways that we cannot yet quantify, the need will be not for major cuts in our defence spending but for expenditure in that voraciously expensive area of defence—effective anti-missile systems. In the world into which we are moving, people will rightly want to feel that their nations are absolutely secure against totally unpredictable and wild acts of international banditry. It is into anti-missile defences that we shall have to put many more resources.

Whether or not that is the right way forward, however, it seems to me that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) missed a point again and again. It is a point that his hon. Friends missed in the early 1980s. I refer to the fact that all improvements and other changes in the nuclear climate—all effective means of heading off the horror of proliferation, such as the achievements, jointly with the former Soviet empire, in winding down nuclear defences—are the result of operating from a position of strength. All the successful moves have resulted from negotiation from a position of strength. If that is not understood—and I fear that Labour Front Bench Members still do not understand it—those who see things differently would condemn this nation and the rest of the western alliance to ineffectiveness in dealing with the terrors and horrors of the spread of nuclear weapons.

The new dangers and challenges have been mentioned by almost all hon. Members who have spoken, so I shall not refer to them in detail. There has crept up on us the prospect that Iraq, probably Iran and perhaps even Algeria—countries which were dismissed as being incapable of producing ballistic missiles or nuclear warheads—have a very advanced capability. In addition, the break-up of the Soviet Union raises the prospect of proliferation and of the export of warheads, equipment and personnel. That is something of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reminded us. In that area, therefore, our mission is to do everything possible, by means of our own policies and strategies and those of our NATO and other western allies, to discourage proliferation and, where possible, to encourage denuclearisation.

A number of the states which have succeeded the Soviet Union have said that they want to be non-nuclear. However, I am not hopeful on that front, and I think that the same can be said of the hon. Member for Attercliffe. The independent states may say that non-nuclear status is their intention, but Kazakhstan, for instance, is in what amounts to a nuclear neighbourhood of central Asia. It is surrounded by countries—Pakistan, India, China and Russia—with nuclear weapons openly developed or with the prospect of achieving nuclear weapons. It could be a very long time before the understandable aspiration of those new democracies, or semi-democracies, to be non-nuclear powers is realised. That is one challenge, anyway.

The next challenge—in a way, it is the biggest and the most immediate—is to help to locate, control and destroy thousands of nuclear weapons, as required not only by START but by the September Bush-Gorbachev proposals for non-strategic weapons and by the aspirations of those countries. Hon. Members are right to remind the House that those weapons are not just the new ones that are easily coded and described, and for which procedures are laid down, but old nuclear weapons as well.

We do not even know the number. We talk about 27,000 or 30,000 strategic and non-strategic weapons being around somewhere in the established Soviet system. It makes us warm to feel that Marshal Shaposhnikov and his colleagues have a location not only for the strategic weapons being controlled through their authorising and enabling codes—incidentally, we do not know whether they are authorising or enabling—but for all non-strategic weapons, both the warheads and the launchers, which I understand tend to be kept by different branches of the former Soviet armed forces.

On top of that, we do not really know—and we do not know whether the former Soviet command in control of communications systems knows—where all the older weapons are. We know by comparison that, since 1945, the United States has manufactured some 60,000 to 65,000 nuclear weapons, of which it has about 18,000 to 20,000 outstanding. Over the years, it has had a programme of, first, maintenance and control and, secondly, destroying, degrading, deactivating and dismantling nuclear weapons. Has that gone on in the successor states? Has it gone on in the Soviet Union? We have no idea. Until we establish that point, the danger of some of those warheads going for a walk and ending up in utterly irresponsible hands is very acute.

We are now entering—I detect almost a lack of urgency even in policy-making circles—a terrifying transition period in these matters. What existed before in the united Soviet Union was not just a few generals and a few little bags with code numbers. It was a huge complex of nuclear fabrication—the making of rich uranium, of course, and plutonium, and the component parts, the gigantic culture of science behind all that, and the vast knowledge and organisation required to maintain all those weapons under the control of the custody cadres—the custody troops, as opposed to the launch troops.

I refer also to the huge organisation and bureaucracy required for the transport and movement of those equipments and weapons, which at one time covered not just the Soviet Union but the whole of eastern Europe. It is possible, although I agree that it is anecdotal, that some tactical warheads are still in areas of eastern Europe and have not finally left. Above all, there is the vast complexity of the control system at all levels, both for the strategic weapons which are in the four major republics and for the tactical weapons which we now know are spread over many more republics.

That is what existed before. It is too optimistic to assume that that system still exists. If it existed before, it depended upon central political authority. We know for a fact that central political authority does not exist. There was the Minsk agreement that the three signing-up members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and perhaps Kazakhstan, would carry on with the stategic nuclear control system in the hands of the military, Marshal Shaposhnikov, and the four political heads of the four states.

We have no guarantees at all of the huge complex system which has to lie behind an effectively maintained system of control over a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, some new, some old, some well maintained, some deteriorating, some under close guard near Moscow, and some perhaps lost away under guard or perhaps not under adequate guard in faraway places. We have no guarantee that the politico-technical system required to contol all that exists any more. In fact, it is almost certain that it does not exist.

That leads me to the view that, when thinking about maintaining and being committed to nuclear deterrence—there was never a more important time to do that—we should also combine it with the most accelerated and intense efforts to work with our other NATO allies, including the Americans, in coming to grips with the problem in the successor states. Mr. Bartholomew, the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Defense, has gone with a team to Kiev, Alma Ata and other places. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will travel in that direction at the weekend. The American Senate has had some very good debates on the subject. After talking earlier about a $ billion sum that it wanted to devote to resources for coming to grips with the control of that splintered and dispersed vast arsenal, it voted an initial $400 million, which is still a vast resource.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm that the Americans have invited their NATO allies to begin to form a coalition force—an international task force—this time, not for getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait but for bringing together all the nuclear expertise of NATO to ensure that the crumbling system of nuclear command and control in the former Soviet Union is replaced extremely quickly by effective systems which can maintain control of the system before real irresponsibility and real danger creep in.

What is needed over and above strengthening the territorial defence of this nation—as I suggested in my remarks about improved anti-missile defence, perhaps we should do more in that direction—is, of course, that the successor republics carry through their commitment to stick to the START provisions. It looks as though they have done that. They need also to carry through their commitment to stick to the principles outlined at the Bush-Gorbachev meeting in September 1991, which in theory was far-sighted in its undertakings and its verbal side as it pointed to a huge mutual destruction of non-strategic weapons.

We do not know whether any capacity exists to carry that out. We shall not know, until we ourselves assist in the forming of task forces, whether forces are equipped and have the resources to move all those weapons to deactivation and dismantling sites. We do not know whether the political resources exist, even if politicians are found in Alma Ata, Kiev and Moscow to agree to the fulfilment of START and the Bush-Gorbachev deal, and whether their political power extends to actually achieving all that at present.

There is a problem about sending vast teams of people to remote cities. They sit in hotels and discover that they cannot find anybody in charge of programmes. However, I do not think that that should deter us for one moment. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to chair a Security Council meeting at the end of the month to try to focus on those matters, on how the new successor states fit into the international order, on how Russia takes its place as a member of the Security Council, and on what that will do to relationships with the other successor state countries. That is very good, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and our right hon. Friends to accept that the issue is by far the greatest and most dangerous issue facing the world at this moment.

The urgency is immense, and the task forces should now be mobilised. I know that the cry "public expenditure" goes up, but heaven knows, the prize is very great. If we fail to prevent proliferation and ensure that safe systems are in place, defence expenditure further down the line would dwarf anything that we might have to spend to get the task forces moving. We must also ensure that all successor states sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. As we know from the Iraq experience, that treaty is not good enough. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, which may be a worthy organisation, failed in the Iraq case. It did not spot what was going on. Clearly, the whole treaty needs beefing up very fast indeed. That, too, should be done not in a few months, not when we have considered all the factors, but now—at this moment—before the equipment begins to fall into other hands, as it will.

As has been said, if some of the Muslim states in the transcaucasian republics find such equipment on their soil, their incentive to hand it over to Moscow is low whereas their incentive to hand it over to their Muslim brothers in other areas is high. We must remember that irresistible incentives are being offered to some of the scientific teams, experts and individuals who could earn hard currency, be given housing facilities and exchange their present misery—their shortages of food, freezing conditions, inadequate heating and low salaries in devalued roubles—for the sort of salaries being offered in Baghdad, Tehran and Peking. The incentives are irresistible, and they will not be resisted. Those people will be—may already be—on the move.

The House, the Government and the policy makers of the west must consider either how to keep such people in Moscow where the former Soviet—now the Russian—academy of sciences is considering that question, or whether to bring them into western universities and academies, as happened with some of the leading German rocket scientists after the second world war. We must consider how to do that and how to do it quickly because time is passing and the splintering effects that I have described are happening now.

My message to my right hon. Friends is that they are right to think in terms of total commitment to a strong nuclear defence at this time. All those who want to tinker with it or to suggest that we have half a deal or, say, three submarines should think again at what is a time of potential proliferation on a terrifying scale. Another message to my right hon. Friends and to policy makers in the west is that we need to move not only fast and thoroughly, but on what might be an expensive scale if we are not to leave the next 10 or 20 years with a terrifying legacy of proliferation of nuclear weapons that may be cheap, can still be delivered by ballistic missiles, but can nevertheless still inflict the most hideous damage on all our peoples, including this island.

I repeat that this issue is the major concern of our time. Playing games with our own deterrent is a form of global irresponsibility. As the right hon. Member for Gorton said, defence is the property of the nation. Having heard his speech this afternoon, I must confess to being glad that it is not the property of the Labour party—and never will be.

6.41 pm

When the election comes, I shall present myself to the people of Chesterfield as a candidate who is committed to the ending of nuclear weapons and bases in Britain. I shall do that because that is what I put to the electors in 1987 and 1984. I know that this is not a debate about individual records, but I resigned from my Front Bench in 1958–34 years ago—because I could not support a policy of using nuclear weapons. That is my position. When people ask, I shall also make clear to them the fact that there is a wide measure of agreement—if not total agreement—across the House about what should be done.

At the end of the cold war, it is necessary for those of us who take the view that I take to restate our position, given contemporary circumstances. One of the things that has happened in the past 12 months is that British, American and other forces have killed 200,000 Iraqis and have almost certainly caused the deaths of 150,000 children under five in Iraq. That was done with modern conventional forces, using more weapons and dropping more bombs than were dropped in the whole of the Vietnam war. Despite that, the Government still stress the importance of nuclear weapons. I opposed the Gulf war, and nothing that I have heard today has convinced me that it would have been better if we had had more powerful weapons.

When I listend to the Secretary of State's arguments, I became even more convinced of the rightness of what I have been saying. The Soviet Union had nuclear weapons on a huge scale, but they did not protect the Soviet Union. It collapsed. Indeed, it collapsed partly because it had wasted so much money on nuclear weapons but I shall return to that point in a moment. Nuclear weapons do not guarantee the integrity of a state against either internal or external enemies.

If it is really true that some nuclear weapons are now in the hands of hungry, riotous and underpaid soldiers and are being serviced by nuclear scientists who are not receiving any money, what effect can a British deterrent have? Those people probably do not have sufficient communications to know of the existence of such a deterrent.

I am outside the constraints of the 10-minute rule, but should like to develop my points first.

I put it to the Secretary of State that it was the policy of the west to bankrupt the Soviet Union. Ken Coates, who is a Member of the European Parliament and a friend of mine, has just returned from a mission to the Soviet Union. I asked him for his best estimate of the amount of gross national product that the Russians spent on defence. He said that it was between 30 and 70 per cent. I do not know the exact figure and I have no doubt that the Ministry of Defence has a better figure than that, but the fact is that the Soviet Union was bankrupted by its military expenditure. That, more than anything else, probably explains why changes have occurred in the Soviet Union.

I hope that no one thinks that what has happened in the Soviet Union happened because people in Moscow went around whispering to each other, "The British Government are ordering Trident: we had better abandon communism." That had nothing to do with what happened. The Soviet people wanted freedom. What happened had nothing to do with the threat from the west.

I must say something else so that it is put on the record before it passes into history. The western intelligence agents used Islam to undermine communism. There is all the evidence in the world to show that Khomeini was brought to power because it was thought that the fundamentalists in Iran would help to encourage rebellion in the Soviet Union. Nationalism was also encouraged.

We are also told that it is wicked for Russian scientists to leave the Soviet Union to get more money elsewhere. I thought that that was what market forces are all about. The Conservative party says that one cannot interfere with market forces, but if a Russian scientist goes to Tehran to work on nuclear matters. Conservative Members say that that must be stopped—if necessary by having more Trident missiles. What nonsense the whole businesss is. Turning to arms sales, are we not the world's second largest arms exporter? But if the Russians cannot get enough food and sell a few weapons to buy food, Conservative Members say that that must be stopped.

I fear that at the end of this period we shall see a repetition of the Gulf war—against Libya and Cuba and, possibly, the toppling of Castro and Gaddafi—because the Soviet Union's weakness has led the Americans to believe that they can run the world. That is what the new world order is about.

I should now like briefly to rehearse some of the arguments against nuclear weapons because people listening to the debate or reading the Hansard of it should know——

The whole House respects the integrity of the right hon. Gentleman, who is a signatory to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). How many of his hon. Friends does the right hon. Gentleman think will put before their electors the clear policy that he intends to put before the voters of Chesterfield? How many Labour Members and Labour candidates does the right hon. Gentleman think would support the amendment that has been tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North? Does the right hon. Gentleman regard himself—I say this in a friendly manner—as something of a political dodo?

My position is unilateralist and always has been. The hon. Gentleman has asked a very silly question because a substantial number of people in this country share my view—far more than might be suggested by the number of their parliamentary representatives.

Let us start with the argument that the cold war was ended by the nuclear deterrent and that we did not have a war because of that deterrent. It was not until I went to Hiroshima that I learned that, far from the bomb being dropped there to bring the Japanese to the peace table, they had offered to surrender weeks before. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima to tell the Russians that we had such a weapon. That all came out at the war crimes tribunals in Japan.

As those who know anything about me will know, I have never had any sympathy with the Soviet system and its lack of democracy, but I never believed that the Russians were threatening to invade western Europe. Like, I am sure, most people in this country, I never believed that. Does anyone honestly think that the Russians, with all their domestic problems, planned to take over West Germany, Italy and France and come to London to "deal with Ken Livingstone" or go to Northern Ireland to "deal with Ian Paisley"? Does anyone honestly think that that was their strategy? That threat was the most convenient political instrument ever used in domestic politics because those who criticised the Conservative Government were regarded as agents of the KGB.

Indeed, when the Secretary of State for Defence talks about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he ought to know. His Department ordered the bugging of CND and treated its members, who were honest, decent people, as though they were enemies of the state. Cathy Massiter resigned from MI5 because she would not go along with its KGB tactics. So of course the Secretary of State knows a lot about CND. He probably knows a lot about what we say to each other on our telephones today. I hope that he does, because my telephone is the only remaining link that I have with the British establishment. So I speak clearly and I hope that those who are listening understand what I am saying.

The second argument against nuclear weapons is that we cannot afford them. I am one of probably only two or three remaining Members of Parliament who heard Aneurin Bevan make his resignation speech from the place where the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) now sits. He made it in 1951 when the big defence budget was introduced. It is worth reading what Nye said. He said that we could not afford it. When we look back at the reasons why the British economy has been weak in the past 40 years, one of the main ones is that we have wasted too much money on weapons of war that are not necessary.

I think that I am right in saying that six out of 10 scientists in Britain still work on defence or in defence-related industries. Let us consider the country which now has the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world—America. Bush has to go to Japan to plead with the Japanese to buy a few more gas guzzlers from Detroit. Why is Japan so rich? Because it has not wasted all that money on nuclear and other weapons. Neither have the Germans. We would not let them do so at the beginning. But the shops are full of Japanese cameras, videos, cars and Japanese this and that. All that we can offer to sell is a few missiles to a sheikh. That is our major export drive as a major arms supplier. We cannot afford those weapons. That is a powerful reason for not having them.

The third argument against nuclear weapons is that they do not deter anyone. Has anyone re-examined the deterrent argument? Argentina attacked a nuclear state—Britain—when it went into the Falklands. Did nuclear weapons deter Galtieri? Not on your life. He knew that we could not use them against him. Saddam Hussein defied an ultimatum from two nuclear states—the United States and Britain. Did nuclear weapons deter him? Not on your life. He dropped some Scuds on another nuclear state—Israel. Did nuclear weapons deter him? Not on your life. The whole deterrent argument is a fraud.

I watched the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), the spokesman for the Liberal party dancing on a minefield with the skill of a ballet dancer. He was really saying that, unless a country says that is will use nuclear weapons first, it is not worth having them.

The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, but I will read Hansard.

I now come to another point, and perhaps I may put on another hat. I was the Minister responsible for Aldermaston from 1966 to 1970. Like most people, I have had a chequered career. We do not have our own nuclear weapons. Since the Vulcan and the early bombs, we have depended on the Americans. Aldermaston may not even be able—I do not claim inside knowledge; if I had it, I would not speak in this way—to refurbish the weapons that the Americans give us. We do not have a nuclear deterrent and if we did we could not use it without the American worldwide satellite network which provides communication.

The Labour party was never unilateralist in Parliament. I challenge anyone to find one motion tabled in the House of Commons in which the Labour Front Bench advocated unilateralism. It simply talked about it at conference and then came back and did nothing about it. But can anyone imagine a more absurd democratic fiasco than that there should be election after election in which we discuss whether we should, or should not, have what we do not have anyway?

I tell the House solemnly one thing that the Americans would do. If Boris Yeltsin said, "I will take my nuclear weapons away from the Ukraine if you will take them away from Britain," the Americans would be wise to do so, because the Ukraine is more of a threat than Britain. The Americans could take our weapons away simply by cutting off the supply.

My last point is dear to my heart. Simply having nuclear weapons destroys democracy. When a country has them, Ministers—of all parties—lie. No Minister has ever told the truth about any central question of nuclear policy. We heard that today. We were told that the Government could not say when they would use nuclear weapons. If we ask whether they exist in any one location, the Government say that they cannot confirm or deny it. Every party has done the same. I am not making a party point. Mr. Attlee built the atom bomb without telling Parliament. When Aneurin Bevan made that speech, he may have known—although I doubt it—that atomic bombs were being built. But Parliament did not know.

I think that there were some nuclear weapons on HMS Sheffield when it went down in the Falklands, but that has never been admitted. Then there was Chevaline and all the rest of it. To lie about nuclear weapons in the interests of defending one's country undermines what one is defending.

If the world continues spending money on weapons, the problems will worsen. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, the real problem of the world is poverty. The dangerous thing about hungry soldiers with nuclear weapons in Russia is that they are hungry. The dangerous thing about the third world is that it does not have enough to eat. If nuclear weapons would give a country a little more territory or something else, it might well be tempted by them. I do not believe that the world would be a safer place if we had more nuclear weapons.

Of course, any leader of a third-world country who reads the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence will be able to use it in his own assembly to say, "If the British say that, it must be right for Iran, Libya and everywhere else." The Secretary of State made the most powerful case for nuclear proliferation. We are proliferating with Trident. It represents a major addition to our armoury.

Britain is a small country, but we have such pretensions—we speak as though we were a super-power. We are a tiny country, and the idea that our deterrent will somehow determine whether Kazakhstan will agree to inspection is misleading. If one continues misleading people, in the end it will catch up with one. That is what Russia learned. It is time that we came to terms with the fact that we are a small island off the west coast of Europe. We depend on a new association across the whole of Europe. I have introduced a Bill to create a commonwealth of Europe including the whole lot. That is a better way of dealing with the problem of Russia. We should bring them into a pan-European association rather than building up our own weapons, which is what the Liberal party has policies for. We must seek political solutions to problems which we are still told are best dealt with by military means.

There is a great deal of poverty in the world. In the west we are heading for a slump. I do not think that it is a recession. I refer to the whole of the west—I am not merely joining in the swiping at the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We must recognise that in a slump people swing to the right, not to the left. I am old enough to remember the pre-war Europe, with Pilsudski in Poland, Field Marshal Mannerheim, King Zog, King Michael, King Carol, Hitler, Mussolini, Salazar and Franco. That was a world which had weapons and had a slump. Unless we put our money into recovery, meeting human need and giving people hope again, and unless we build political structures to deal with those problems, the problems will get worse. People will blame the Germans or others when in fact our economic system is deteriorating. Someone once said that we had the best defended dole queues in the world. That was an old joke in the Labour movement. It is even more true now.

We must find political answers. Obviously, I shall oppose the Government tonight, but neither can I support the Labour amendment, as I have told the Opposition Chief Whip. Without spelling it out, the amendment incorporates the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent, so I cannot support it. I say that in all conscience, and I hope that conscience still has a tiny place in British politics. But it is not just conscience. The arguments against the policy are strong, and millions of people in Britain and throughout the world share that view.

Order. I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches operates from 7 o'clock.

6.58 pm

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) must be commended, for two reasons. First, he has woken up the debate, 'which was getting into a sombre mood. Secondly, he has brought us back to the central point of the debate. If, one day in the future, the Labour party won a general election, would the views that we have just heard expressed have majority support on the Labour Benches or not? I know my answer to that question.

At the start of this debate, there was some suggestion that it was inappropriate, that the House was pursuing the wrong hare. Those of us who have sat through the debate so far will have realised that it is a highly relevant debate. We have had some excellent speeches and I believe that the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was most important.

People outside the House, as well as those inside it, are extremely concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons within what was the Soviet Union. It is the central issue in terms of British foreign policy, and I am delighted at the way in which the Government have been handling it. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Security Council and I am delighted that the Government recognise the great role that the United Nations must play if we are to avoid further proliferation. We have a new Secretary-General in New York, Dr. Boutros Ghali, and I believe that he well understands the need during his five-year term of office to turn into reality President Bush's phrase about the new world order, and what better way of doing that than by making genuine progress in checking nuclear proliferation?

In October, I was in Moscow at the human rights conference with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and we had a discussion there with the Ukrainian delegation to the conference. To start with, members of that delegation said that they expected that it would be the Ukrainian Government's policy to have no nuclear weapons. Then, of course, as the discussion proceeded, they admitted that they would not give up their nuclear weapons without striking a very good bargain with Russia in return. I think that matters have moved on even during the intervening few weeks.

I have always been a strong supporter of Britain's having an independent nuclear deterrent. Unlike the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, I believe that we have just that. Since the war, eight different Governments have looked into this question—obviously, Governments of different persuasions—and have come to the conclusion that it is in the national interest to have such a deterrent. Taking that a little further, it means that several hundred Cabinet members must have heard the arguments for and against, and reached that consensus.

There are two main reasons for having an independent nuclear deterrent. First, I believe strongly that one western European NATO country should be in possession of such a weapons system. We know perfectly well that, while France has a force de frappe, that country has distanced itself from NATO planning over the years and continues to do so.

Just after I came to the House of Commons I was taken on a tour to see the French nuclear deterrent. We visited one of its nuclear submarines. I shall never forget seeing a fish bowl in the wardroom mess; several hundred metres below the surface, the officers relaxing over dinner could watch fish swimming around in the tank. We were also shown the command and control centre and funny things sticking out of silos. I have no doubt that the French have a good system, but it must be an integral part of NATO; that is the important point.

Secondly, I support the argument which was well to the fore during the time of the east-west confrontation, that there should be two different centres of decision making. I happen to believe that the United States will withdraw from Europe to a large extent over the next decade, unwelcome though that may be to us, if not to the French. That is why I believe that it is particularly important to emphasise the need for two different centres of decision making.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was Secretary of State for Defence, I detected signs that in certain circumstances the British Government would be prepared to throw Britain's nuclear deterrent into the disarmament pot. It was never really spelled out exactly what those circumstances would be. I believe, without there having been any major statement from the Government Front Bench, that we have now given up that policy, and that we are right to do so.

In recent years, there has been a dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons involving Israel and Iraq, and we read that Pakistan may also be in that league. It would be fatal at this time of great uncertainty for Britain to decide either that we did not need a nuclear deterrent or that in some way we could get by with a half-hearted job—three boats instead of four, for example. I could equally argue the case for five boats, so that we could have two permanently on patrol. I should hate to stand up in a public place and argue the case for three.

Equally, I should hate to stand up in a public place and argue the case for a nuclear deterrent that did not deter. How much the Russians and others have improved their defences in recent years seems to have been forgotten. If the deterrent is to work, it must to be able to get through such defences.

I feel sure that our allies welcome Britain's nuclear deterrent. They formally stated their position in the 1974 Ottawa declaration. Rather more recently, on 11 March 1982, President Reagan, speaking of the help that the United States had given Britain over Trident and its components, said:
"The United States' readiness to provide these systems is a demonstration of the great importance which the US Government attach to the maintenance by the UK of an independent nuclear deterrent."
Some years ago President Reagan talked in terms of a world free of nuclear weapons. I seem to remember that President Gorbachev echoed the same cry. I thought that that was a fatal mistake. Imagine a world free of nuclear weapons, when we all know perfectly well that one cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. There is an old story—I have no idea whether it is true—about a professor at Princeton university asking his students to see if, over a few weeks, they could invent a nuclear weapon from the records available to the public in the United States. After a few weeks, the exercise had to be aborted because they were proving all too successful.

A world in which there were no nuclear weapons, in which one evil country could set about inventing and producing nuclear weapons, strikes me as an extraordinarily unpleasant world in which to have to live.

Finally, I wish to counter the suggestion which I have been reading in articles published during the Christmas recess that somehow the world today is more dangerous than it was a few years ago. I, like other speakers, have emphasised just how alarmed we are about nuclear proliferation, but I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to the Khrushchev era, when the Soviet Union was hellbent on expansion in north Africa and southern Africa and was prepared to use force to gain its way, when the Warsaw pact was still in existence, when there were vast conventional armies waiting to be deployed by the Kremlin. Surely we can all see that times were far more dangerous then.

I happened to be serving in the Berlin garrison at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. I did not doubt the possibility that the Soviet Union might retaliate in Germany, over Berlin, rather than nearer the United States. I was in the House in January 1990 when Francis Pym, then Secretary of State for Defence, addressed the House on the subject of nuclear weapons. He said:
"For good or ill, we live in a world where nuclear weapons exist. We seek increasingly to control them in various ways, but we cannot disinvent them.
I should dearly like…to see the world kept in peace and freedom by a security system which has less need to possess such awful instruments in reserve, or better still, no need. To desire a new system is one thing; to make it real, effective and dependable is quite another…The Government are not prepared to dispense with, or weaken, the structure which shelters us now."—[Official Report, 24 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 672–3.]
Those words are just as appropriate in 1992 as they were in January 1980.

7.10 pm

I want to explore a perspective which so far has been missing from the debate, although the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) touched on it when he mentioned the importance of the European Community; unfortunately, he then veered away from that point.

A succession of speakers have discussed how best to defend and secure our vital national interests; how our national defence planning will be affected by changes in the east; how much we as a nation can afford to spend on defence; and how we can contribute to the progress of arms reduction and non-proliferation in the world. All these questions start from too narrow a premise, and all could be more sensibly discussed, and need to be discussed, from the perspective of our part in the European Community.

If, as the Government say, we are engaged in a fundamental review looking forward 20 or 30 years, we need to recognise that the biggest adjustment with which this House will have to cope over that period will be the move away from a purely national concept of our security interests to one based on a more European, and more precisely a more Community, perspective. That idea represents a striking omission from tonight's debate and from previous debates on these issues, which have focused too narrowly on national interests that are rapidly becoming out of date.

The shape of Britain's world in 20 or 30 years' time was drawn in Maastricht. What was agreed there was not a treaty of collaboration or of closer co-operation; it was not even a treaty of friendship or an alliance; it was nothing less than a treaty of political union, a fact which has yet to penetrate the public consciousness. It was not taken up even in the most aware journalistic comment after the agreement, but in the remainder of this year it will become the salient, all-absorbing fact demanding our attention.

Two historic forms of agreement on defence were entered into at Maastricht. Gone is the old separation between foreign policy and defence. Gone too is the theological distinction between political and other aspects of security. At the heart of political union is a commitment to develop a common defence policy leading in time to a common defence. The text is absolutely clear on that score—it is one area that the Government did not opt out of. The commitment in the treaty is unmistakable, and the Government must begin to base all their long-term thinking and planning on the perspective of the Community, even in defence.

Two aspects of the Maastricht agreement relate particularly to this debate. One is that the European Commission is to be involved in this process from the outset. The treaty requires that the Commission be consulted and kept informed on defence matters. That is important, because it represents a move away from the separate pillar approach advocated by the British Government. The Commission already has a foot in the door, and over time that will lead, no doubt, to it taking on a co-ordinating and servicing role in defence.

The second point of the treaty to which I draw attention is that the chosen vehicle for defence co-operation, the Western European Union, is, contrary to what the Government repeatedly say, de facto an integral part of European union. Theoretically it may be true, as the Foreign Secretary continually says, that WEU is a separate institution based on a wholly separate treaty, but it has no independent life. The members of WEU are a sub-set of the members of the European Council, so anything decided by the European Council is automatically agreed to by the Western European Union——

As I said, the members of the WEU are a sub-set of the European Council; some members of the Council are not members of WEU. The distinction that some try to draw between WEU and other institutions of political union in the Community is nothing more than a formality. I suspect that, after 1997, even that distinction will disappear.

These developments are irresistible. We cannot have political union without defence union, and we cannot have monetary union without political union. That is not just a matter of theory; it is a matter of supreme practical importance for British nuclear defence. By the end of this decade, it will be inconceivable that British strategic nuclear weapons—or French, for that matter—should be used or even threatened or deployed separately from and against the wishes of the Community. We must face that fact. There will be no space in the Community of the future for an ultimate defence of separate and divergent national interests.

As always, other European Governments are exploring these emerging realities. President Mitterrand talked over the weekend of placing the French nuclear deterrent at the disposal of Europe. Jacques Delors, possibly the next President of France, has gone even further and spoken of a Community deterrent collectively owned and controlled. We need to think urgently about these ideas. Unless we do, we will find the agenda set in this area, as in social and economic policy, by others.

The British and French Governments should be talking about establishing co-operation in nuclear matters on a more formal basis. They should be discussing combined patrolling and targeting. They should be implementing immediately the recommendation in the first report of the Defence Select Committee to establish permanent liaison officers at French bases. Above all, they should co-ordinate their work on procurement policy.

Doe we really need an aggregate of nine or 10 strategic submarines in Europe? Would not fewer than half that number be enough to service our collective needs? That would release public funds for other more productive purposes aned contribute positively on a European scale to the process of arms reduction in which Russia and America are already engaged.

Far from being the birth of a bloated nuclear super-power, the emergence of a collective European defence identity can contribute directly and powerfully to the process of arms control and non-proliferation. Consolidation, above all, is the very opposite of proliferation, and consolidation is exactly what the Government advocate in the ruins of the Soviet empire. We rightly fear the emergence of four strategic nuclear powers where one existed before in the Soviet Union.

We urge a collective defence identity upon them in the form of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Is it not hypocritical, therefore, for us to resist that logic in western Europe. A European defence community can and should mean fewer weapons in fewer hands. That is what we should be talking about instead of the arcane and absurd debate about four versus three submarines.

7.19 pm

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. Any Government are responsible for the defence of the realm to avoid attack, to avoid occupation and, perhaps more important these days, to avoid political blackmail. We live in a dangerous world caused not so much now by the eastern and western blocks as by the break-up of the Soviet Union, which may lead to great problems. The question is, do we lower our guard?

My father served in three wars—the Boer war, the great war and the last war. He gave me just one piece of advice: "Do not lower your guard—all three wars were terrible and two of them could have been avoided if we had not lowered our guard." I have always supported that view.

We face uncertainty in the east and in the Arab countries. We do not know where proliferation of nuclear weapons will take place. It may happen in south America—one does not know. We hear that North Korea is possibly only a year away from having a nuclear weapon. Knowledge about nuclear weapons may be sold, stolen or provided by western Governments to some of those countries. Iraq was a good example.

The Government have maintained a nuclear deterrent all the time they have been in office, in spite of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The women were at Greenham Common, just down the road from me, for months and months, but they made not a ha'p'orth of difference. It was an abortive and ineffective campaign. They did not stop the arrival of cruise missiles, nor did they stop the training or the tests, although they sat there month after month.

Then we had crazy Labour councils with nuclear-free zones. I lived in a nuclear-free zone just across the river in Lambeth.

No thanks to the council. I used to sleep easy in my bed because I thought that the Russians would not drop anything on me in Lambeth, although they might in Westminster. We have already heard from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that he doubted whether Mr. Gorbachev would have taken any notice of nuclear-free zones. It was a crazy policy, which cost a lot of money.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield made a good point when he said that his party had always been against nuclear weapons at conferences but not on the Front Bench in the House. We have seen that many times. In September 1985, Tribunerelaunched a statement headed "Democratic Socialism", which said that the search for peace was a determination to disengage immediately from the nuclear arms race. It also said that a Britain not aligned to any major power was best placed to advance those policies.

Who signed that statement? It is a surprising list of people, including the hon. Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and, above all, for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who was described by Tribune as one of those instrumental in winning the Labour party to a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. That was in Tribune on 6 September 1985.

I only wanted to give a helpful view. At least half the Labour Members do not believe what their Front Bench is saying. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) signed that document, too, so there is no confidence there.

We must have all four Trident submarines. On 28 December, The Timesagreed with that view and was critical of the stance of the Labour party. The wife of the Leader of the Opposition was a leading member of CND and went to Greenham Common. The Leader of the Opposition was also a member of CND—he was not very active, but I understand that he paid the subscription until recently.

There is no credibility when Opposition Members say that they are in favour of retaining the nuclear deterrent and Trident. Their record is bad. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and some of his Back-Bench colleagues are honourable and have always stuck to their view. Like the hon. Member for Chesterfield, they have promoted their view. I do not agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman says, but at least his position is honourable.

What would happen if Labour were elected next time? Who would call the tune—the Labour conference, the Tribune group, or the extreme left? I do not believe that it would be those on the Front Bench, but rather those who sit on the Back Benches.

7.26 pm

In examining the problems of nuclear defence, I take as my starting point NATO, which has kept the peace in Europe for the past 40 years. It is a tried and trusted organisation. Therefore, British nuclear defence policy should be firmly in line with the nuclear policy of NATO. The Rome declaration of 7 and 8 November last year set out NATO's strategic concept. That made it clear that, to prevent war and to protect peace, the alliance should retain a mix of nuclear and conventional forces in Europe.

The communiqué also stated the central point which is coming out of the debate—that conventional forces alone cannot prevent war. Nuclear eapons are unique in rendering the risks of aggression incalculable and unacceptable. No other weapons can sow such seeds of doubt in the mind of an aggressor. That is what gives them such great deterrent power.

The NATO concept also made it clear that there must be flexibility and survivability of nuclear weapons to ensure that they remain effective and credible. There is no point in clinging to nuclear weapon systems which are outdated or ineffective. That is common sense. However, it means that, if we maintain a nuclear deterrent, it must from time to time be modernised and brought up to date.

The NATO concept also called for adequate sub-strategic forces based in Europe to provide an essential link with the strategic nuclear forces and to reinforce the transatlantic relationship. The welcome removal of the intermediate nuclear forces and the negotiating away of the short-range and tactical battlefield nuclear forces means that the sub-strategic systems that NATO has will consist solely of dual-capable aircraft.

We have to accept that manned aircraft will be increasingly vulnerable to improving air defences. The experience in the Gulf war does not invalidate that view. Iraqi air defences crumbled under the sheer weight of a non-stop onslaught. That unequal scenario is unlikely to be repeated in any more balanced conflict. The early stages of the Gulf war underlined the effectiveness of straightforward Iraqi conventional anti-aircraft fire and the importance of stand-off weapons which could be launched from aircraft well beyond the reach of anti-aircraft systems.

Therefore, I believe that it is absolutely vital that NATO develops and deploys an effective tactical air-to-surface missile with a nuclear capability. If it does not, I believe that NATO's sub-strategic systems will steadily lose both effectiveness and credibility. Against the background of growing nuclear proliferation, that would be a matter of great concern.

Even without the events in the Soviet Union, which have been mentioned so frequently in today's debate, there are obvious risks in increasing the number of nations with not just the ability to develop nuclear weapons, but the technology involved in ballistic missiles so that they can develop the delivery systems related to nuclear weapons. That is a dangerous enough prospect, but the disintegration of the former Soviet Union adds to the risks.

Most of us accept that it should be possible to maintain effective controls and safeguards over the former Soviet Union strategic nuclear weapons, but there are large numbers of sub-strategic systems, including short-range weapons, tactical weapons, battlefield systems and nuclear artillery. No one seems to know how many systems there are, but estimates that I have seen put the figure at about 14,000. Those are systems about which we should be most seriously concerned because they could easily find their way into dangerous hands. As other hon. Members have said, the obvious risks of former Soviet scientists selling their expertise to willing buyers is a chilling prospect.

Therefore, I believe that the British policy should rest clearly on the completion of the Trident programme. I have heard the arguments that it is possible to co-ordinate the pattern of patrols and refits to ensure that one boat can be kept on station with only a three-submarine fleet. However, that gives us no margin for the unexpected, and Murphy's law should have taught us that the unexpected is always likely to happen. We are well aware of the problems with the nuclear propulsion systems in Polaris submarines, and similar problems can occur in the Trident system. A four-boat Trident fleet would provide assurance against unforseen emergencies. There is no point in having a deterrent unless it is clearly seen to work. The comparatively small saving gained by cancelling a fourth submarine would be a false economy because it would seriously undermine the credibility of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

Is Trident enough? It is a flexible system, based on four submarines that each carry 16 missiles which each have eight warheads, giving a total potential of 512 warheads. As other hon. Members have said, particularly the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), the missile does not have to be operated at that level. It is a flexible system which can be used at much lower levels of fire power if circumstances allow.

The number of missiles in each submarine can be reduced, as can the number of warheads on each missile. Therefore, it can be used to provide a minimum strategic deterrent at whatever level is needed. I strongly agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East when he questions our slavish adherence to the concept of the Moscow criteria. Why should we take the best protected Russian city and say that our ability to deliver a nuclear deterrent must be geared to the ability to strike Moscow? I believe that Trident could be operated effectively at a much lower level of fire power.

We must also ask whether Trident, by itself, is enough to meet the nuclear deterrence that Britain needs. However flexible Trident is, it clearly cannot provide a sub-strategic nuclear deterrent in the United Kingdom. At present, that sub-strategic system is carried by manned aircraft with WE177 free-fall nuclear bombs. We all know that it is an aging system that will have to be replaced, if not by the turn of this century, certainly early in the next one. Here I part company with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East——

Or, I guess, for the last time.

In my view there is a powerful case for Britain to deploy a tactical air-to-surface missile. I have already referred to the problems of improving the aircraft defences with which manned aircraft will have to deal. TASM is a flexible system which can be used against a wide variety of targets including airports, ports, barracks, troop concentrations, industrial facilities or even ships. There is no way that Trident can be used in such a scenario.

TASM has the ability to respond swiftly, almost anywhere in the world and the flexibility to be retargetted during an aircraft's flight. It can deliver small numbers of nuclear warheads against widely spaced targets. It enables the aircraft to be used in conventional or nuclear roles. Trident cannot play such a flexible sub-strategic role.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Harding argued at a lecture last year that Britain needed options in the nuclear basket in addition to Trident. He saw Trident—as most of us do—as a last-ditch weapon to be used only against a threat of total destruction. TASM provides the ability to deal with risks that fall well short of that doomsday scenario but which are likely to occur in an unstable world.

I do not believe that any of us needs to read newspapers or watch television to know that the world remains a dangerous and uncertain place. The clear and obvious threat under which we have lived for the past 40 years may have gone, but it has been replaced by a series of new threats. They may be less clear, but they are no less dangerous in a world in which there is likely to be an increasing number of nuclear-capable nations.

This is no time for vagueness, uncertainty or dubious double talk. We must make it absolutely crystal clear that, while other nations maintain nuclear weapons that can threaten this country and its people, we must maintain an effective nuclear capability of our own. I believe that most people in this country regard that as simple, prudent common sense.

7.37 pm

My sense of commitment to defence started early, as I am just old enough to remember the time when this country was under missile attack in the last war, with Vls and V2s flying over. That led me to believe that we must always remain strong enough to defend ourselves fully.

I formed my political views during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s—a time of considerable danger and threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact countries. Wherever we looked, in whichever category—helicopters, artillery with nuclear capacity, tactical nuclear weapons or aircraft—the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact had that superiority of about two and a half or three to one which analysts of defence and offence have always felt to be sufficient to enable an attack to succeed.

That was a time of danger. People could not work out why the Warsaw pact countries needed such massive forces. Why did the Warsaw pact forces need such a huge submarine superiority? It could not possibly be merely to defend their communication lines, because those were internal land lines. Therefore, the only conclusion for a cautious person to reach was that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact forces were poised for offence.

I suppose that, with hindsight, it is possible to say that the military-industrial complex within the Warsaw pact Soviet Union countries led to that massive military expansion, but any wise observer in those days had to recognise that the western countries and NATO faced a threat. However, that was the time of the flowering of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the "Ban the Bomb" marches, the campaigns for one-sided unilateral disarmament. CND campaigned actively and swam against the tide of facts and public opinion. Fortunately, public opinion had much more sense than CND both now and then, and the unilateral disarmament policies of the Labour and Liberal parties played a significant part in their electoral failures of 1983 and 1987.

There is now a completely new position, especially in terms of nuclear weapons. The resolution of the United Kingdom and the United States in particular led to the western powers deploying cruise and Pershing missiles. In turn, that led to the intermediate nuclear forces treaty and proved a significant factor in encouraging the Soviet Union to agree to it. Ultimately, it resulted in the removal of intermediate nuclear weapons from Europe. That seemed a big step at the time, but it was nothing compared with the massive steps taken since—the abolition of the Warsaw pact and dissolution of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, the Ukraine, of all places, has become the world's third largest holder of strategic nuclear warheads after the United States and Russia. The six Islamic republics within the old Soviet Union have nuclear weapons, and they are all in economic and political turmoil, with no certainty of steady military control.

Several estimates have been made tonight of the number of scientists and military specialists within the old Soviet Union who are now available because their skills are no longer required or they are not being fully paid. Those estimates were low. The authoritative defence magazine Jane's Defence Weeklyreported last week that there were 1·7 million skilled weapons technologists in the former Soviet Union, of whom 30,000 were specialists in developing nuclear weapons.

Whatever the number, there are fears of a brain drain of scientists recruited by regional powers within the old Soviet Union or by other middle European powers. We know that Iran, helped by Pakistan and China, is recruiting individuals from the old Soviet Union, and that Algeria is building nuclear plants with Chinese help. One can add to that the probable nuclear bombing capacity of Israel, South Africa, China, India, and Pakistan. Other countries are close to possessing nuclear bombs, with North Korea, Libya and Algeria on the nuclear threshold. All that is deeply worrying.

The world has changed, but the principles on which we should base our approach to nuclear weapons remain the same. Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented; it is a fact that they exist. As one of the original nuclear powers, we must maintain a minimum appropriate nuclear capacity as a deterrent—and, despite the remarks of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), as a stable democracy with a high worldwide standing, we must participate in the future dialogue on controls and limits on proliferation.

The way ahead must be to strengthen international controls. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna is well respected, but it is acknowledged that its powers are severely limited. The 1970 non-proliferation treaty was signed by 142 nations, but it is widely thought that five of them subsequently developed a nuclear bomb capacity. With Iran and Iraq both signatories, and many other powers within the IAEA seeking to build up a nuclear capacity, no reliance can be placed on present powers. The need for wider powers of inspection and verification is demonstrated by the fact that the IAEA took some six to eight months to discover the extent of Iraq's nuclear bombs.

I respect very much the way in which my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs have been working to set a list of arms exports and to develop a dialogue in respect of non-proliferation. The Government's position is clear. They will maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent, and negotiate to prevent further proliferation and to reduce arms stocks.

Labour's position is transparently clear. We know that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) wants to be Prime Minister. The Opposition do not like us making a political point out of defence. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) gets very angry, saying that Labour voters are just as patriotic as Conservative voters and have fought with the same bravery and courage. That is absolutely true. Of course Labour supporters in the armed forces are as loyal and brave as those who support the Conservative party. I may add, however, that it appears that many Labour supporters in the constituency that I represent vote Conservative.

The point at issue is not the loyalty and bravery of Labour supporters but the leadership of the Labour party, and the leadership that Labour would provide if it ever formed a Government. It is a question of whether service men and women can have confidence in political leaders who have manifestly sacrificed their principles in pursuit of power and who in their heart of hearts lack conviction on the need to maintain Britain's nuclear deterrents.

Labour's present posture owes nothing to conviction and everything to expediency. Long may my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues maintain their responsibility for defence.

7.44 pm

One might assume that, in taking up a whole day of parliamentary business this close to a general election, the Government genuinely wanted a national debate about the usefulness or uselessness of nuclear weapons as a means of protecting our people and our country at a time of massive and rapid political change. The majority of right hon. and hon. Members might have done so—at least until they clapped eyes on the Government motion, whose nine lines reveal the Government's abject failure even to begin to understand the massive changes sweeping the world.

Those nine lines manifest the cold war mentality into which the Government are hopelessly and helplessly locked. They could well have been drafted in 1979 for all the notice that the motion takes of recent world events. All the cold war claptrap is to be found there. It asks the House to support
"unequivocally the concept of nuclear deterrence and the retention of a credible United Kingdom nuclear deterrent, while other countries have, or seek to acquire, nuclear weapons".
Against whom are those nuclear weapons to be directed? All the theories that surround the concept of nuclear deterrence—mutually assured destruction, flexible response, nuclear wars, and first use of nuclear weapons—have a common denominator: the perceived threat from a known enemy capable of launching a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom and its allies.

That enemy was once perceived to be the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, but the Soviet Union no longer exists, and the Warsaw pact is no more. Who are we now threatening with nuclear assured destruction? Against whom are we to make a flexible response and to fight a limited nuclear war? On which territories are Trident's new missiles targeted?

We heard tonight that the perceived threat now is the new Soviet republics—perhaps the four that the Secretary of State for Defence said possess between them 13,000 nuclear warheads. However, the Secretary of State said that those same republics are experiencing a complete collapse of morale in their armed forces and are unable to pay their nuclear scientists—who are being poached not by other nuclear powers but by third-world countries.

It is now generally acknowledged that those republics are so broken that they cannot hope even to feed their own people in the immediate future—yet we are asked to believe that those same broken-backed economies can credibly maintain a huge strategic nuclear stockpile and target it efficiently and effectively on the United Kingdom and thousands of other targets in the west.

If the Secretary of State for Defence recognises the need for a credible nuclear deterrent in Trident, he must also acknowledge that the perceived threat to this country's security must be credible. In truth, the nuclear threat posed by the post-Soviet republics cannot and will not be taken seriously by anyone outside the ranks of the Government supporters.

We are asked to accept as credible also a Government policy that offers those republics food aid, technical know-how, a seat at the summit, friendship with the Prime Minister at least until the next general election, and western investment—while also threatening those same republics with annihilation. No one can say with any sincerity that that represents a credible defence and foreign policy.

However, the real trouble with the Government's defence policy is not its lack of credibility. After all, a Government who lack credibility in all their other policies cannot be expected to offer a credible defence policy.

The real trouble is the danger posed by the Government's policy to world peace in general, and to the country's security needs in particular. The Secretary of State himself described what he called a very grave and dangerous world situation. He said that the risk of nuclear proliferation had never been greater; he spoke of non-nuclear countries actively enlisting nuclear scientists from the former Soviet Union; he referred to at least nine third-world countries that were likely to acquire nuclear weapons in the near future, and said that that must be stopped at all costs.

Those are fine words—but what is to be done about the facts? What the Government obviously will not do is act on those words. We do not deter other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons by refusing to abandon such weapons ourselves. The fact is that, if nuclear weapons are essential for our defence in an uncertain and dangerous world, they must also be essential for the defence of every other sovereign nation that has the ability and the capacity to build them.

We cannot expect other countries not to acquire nuclear weapons while we are refusing to abandon them in exactly the same world circumstances—sometimes, indeed, in much less threatening circumstances. What credibility can the Foreign Secretary possess when he goes to the Ukraine and tries to persuade it to abandon nuclear weapons? The Ukraine sits next door to Russia; it has no conventional forces of its own, and it is threatened far more by Russia than are the people of this country. If Conservative Members cannot appreciate that, in such circumstances, the Foreign Secretary can have no credibility whatever, limited intelligence must be preventing them from doing so.

The real problem with the enforcement of the non-proliferation treaty is not so much the lack of special inspections, or the lax controls on nuclear supplies, as the blatant hypocrisy and inconsistency displayed by permanent Security Council members such as the United Kingdom, which are demanding one set of rules for themselves and a completely different set for every other country in the world. That is a recipe for proliferation, not for non-proliferation—a recipe that will lead the world into catastrophe if we allow the Government to get away with it.

Although the Foreign Secretary has not taken part in today's debate, he made a contribution earlier this week, via the press. He suggested that any weakening of our support for nuclear weapons would send the wrong message to the likes of Colonel Gadaffi. Where has the Foreign Secretary been for the past 40 years of so-called nuclear deterrence? Where is the evidence that the existence of nuclear weapons has had any effect in deterring those who have launched military adventures around the world, terrorist outrages and wars that have wasted millions of lives?

Why did a period of nuclear deterrence not prevent the wars in south-east Asia? Why is the middle east not now a beacon of security and stability? Why did the events in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cambodia and East Timor all occur? Why was Pol Pot not deterred? Why was Galtieri not deterred from invading the Falklands? Why was Saddam Hussein not deterred from invading Kuwait? Why do wars continue to rage, and millions continue to die, in an age of' so-called nuclear deterrence?

The answer is, because the Foreign Secretary and the Government simply do not know what they are talking about. Nuclear weapons have never prevented wars, and they never will. The Government's policy is completely bankrupt.

The argument is especially relevant to Britain's so-called independent deterrent. Trident is designed to have four submarines, each with a potential to hit its targets with the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshimas. Some may think that that represents something of an overkill, if we are really trying to deal credibly with the threats posed by Colonel Gadaffi and those in other third-world states.

The truth is that Trident was designed to get through the Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences, and still inflict unacceptable damage on Soviet cities. It exists for that purpose; it has no other credible purpose. The end of the Soviet Union has rendered it completely redundant. It is a waste of money, effort and talent in this country; and, if we ever make the mistake of thinking that we can use it, it will represent potentially an even greater waste of human life across the globe. If a peace dividend is to be obtained anywhere in our defence budget, surely it must be obtained through the scrapping of Trident.

The Government's motion is not only incompetent, inconsistent and irrelevant to Britain's real security needs; it is positively harmful. It threatens world peace, and, by undermining the concept of nuclear non-proliferation in the world today, it threatens Britain's genuine security needs. That is possibly the greatest threat that faces the world at present. The motion should be opposed, and, along with several of my hon. Friends, I shall oppose it in the Lobby.

7.54 pm

We have heard a great deal tonight about the potentially awesome consequences of the break-up of the Soviet Union. We have heard much about not only the risk to individual weapon systems but the much more serious risk of widespread proliferation of Soviet nuclear technology. As we listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and a number of other speakers—including my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell)—it was difficult not to gain a sense of the seriousness of the potential threat to us.

Most of the other speakers—with the solitary exception of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright)—have focused on Trident. I strongly believe that we should purchase Trident; indeed, I consider it essential that we do so. Rather than discussing Trident, however, I wish to deal with another nuclear issue: the sub-strategic air-launched system known as TASM—the tactical air-to-surface missile.

Incidentally, TASM is of crucial political importance. Whatever fussing or fudging we may hear from the Opposition about Trident, we know for certain that both the main Opposition parties are firmly against TASM, while the Government favour purchasing it and, indeed, will do so.

The hon. Member for Woolwich alluded to the various roles in which TASM could be used—mostly against heavy conventional threats of one kind or another. I wish to focus on its anti-nuclear role, in the light of the potential threat from the third world. An interesting parallel can be drawn with the 1950s, when there was considerable military debate about the respective merits of missiles and aeroplanes as platforms for nuclear weapons. Superficially, it appeared that we could get rid of manned aircraft altogether; but, for a political rather than a military reason, we decided that it was essential for us to maintain an aircraft-launched nuclear capability. Only in that way could we have the political flexibility that we required—a flexibility that can never be provided by missiles, especially submarine-launched missiles.

It is impossible to recall a missile; it is not always possible even to know whether communication can take place with the submarine on which it is based. When it comes to a showdown, the flexibility that is provided by air-launched systems is sometimes essential.

We are speaking of a world of nightmares when we speak of the possible use of a nuclear weapon in anger. Certainly, we are speaking of a much greater disaster—or, rather, of many more deaths—than occurred at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Any modern strategic nuclear weapon would kill far more people. We should not doubt, however, that we live in a world in which nightmares can, and sadly do, happen. The world has seen the concentration camps, and the killing fields of Cambodia.

The most important duty of any British Government must be to make certain that such nightmares never happen in this country or, as far as possible, in the countries to which we are allied, and which we seek to protect.


The pattern of nuclear proliferation into third-world countries has, I fear, been set by Saddam Hussein. A number of features of his case illustrate our need for a flexible nuclear capability. First, there is the dispersal of sites, which would no doubt be further magnified with dummy sites. Secondly, there is the tendency to use underground sites—sites which, in some instances, would be very difficult to reach with conventional weaponry. Thirdly, there is the tendency to put such nuclear sites into civilian areas, where a civilised country would be very unwilling to strike at them.

Let us suppose that we are faced with a dictator—it does not matter whether he is in Iraq—who has developed a nuclear capability and is threatening the world with it. He need not even use missiles. Let us even suppose—it is by no means impossible—that he has already armed a number of terrorist groups with such weapons, and that one may even have been used. Our intelligence sources tell us where the bulk of his nuclear sites are. How should we respond? Western Europe could not possibly afford the level of conventional capability necessary to cope with such a threat. America might not be willing to help, or it might not be able to.

We might well face a situation within a few years where the only way to prevent a nuclear attack on Britain or some other country may be the threatened, or even actual use, of a number of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy such sites. In such circumstances, it is immediately obvious why Trident, although it is an essential cornerstone of our defence against the still strong Chinese and Russian capabilities, would not be suitable. It lacks the flexibility that I mentioned earlier and it is much more powerful than is necessary. If a site is in a civilian area, one would wish to use the smallest possible bomb to destroy the nuclear installation. Also, there would be the communication difficulty to which I referred earlier. One can send aircraft loaded with bombs or they may be seen on the edge of a dictator's radar screen, acting as a psychological pressure. However, once a missile has been launched, it cannot be recalled.

For all those reasons, it is essential that, as well as Trident, we retain an air-launched sub-strategic system within our armoury in the United Kingdom—it should be western Europe, but only Britain and France are involved now. That is essential for peace in the world.

Some people say—we have heard it again tonight—that, if we spent less money on weaponry, which we are trying to do, we could spend more on schools, hospitals and other services. No other aspect of Government expenditure compares with the importance of preventing a nuclear attack on this country, and within a few years we may need such systems to prevent such an attack from the third world.

I want to make a political point. Whatever fussing and fudging there is on the Opposition Benches about Trident, there is a clear division of policy between the Conservative Government, who are committed to the NATO policy of developing this system, and both the major Opposition parties, which are determined to scrap it. The Liberal Democrats have put that in their amendment.

It is not only the system that matters, but the willingness, in the last resort, to use it. I believe firmly that there is no surer way to keep this world safe from the actual use of nuclear weapons by the ever-increasing number of countries that are acquiring them than western democracies such as Britain possessing a deterrent that is capable and is backed by a political willingness, in the last resort, to use it. Only the Conservative party, as the British Government, will provide that.

8.4 pm

I welcome this debate. In the last such debate, instigated by the Conservatives just before the recess, they managed to rustle up only seven Back Benchers, and some of those were critical of the Government. It required a three-line Whip to persuade hon. Members today to support the Government. I suspect that, despite the Government's endeavours to whip up feeling against the Labour party, defence will not be a major issue in the next election. The Government's record, contemporary and historically, is far from adequate and, although some Labour Members dislike it, the Labour party has changed its policy in many ways which will satisfy NATO and our allies and, most importantly, potential Labour voters.

We are living in an uncertain world. The euphoria of 1990 has dissipated and a greater sense of realism has emerged. Some people thought that the collapse of the Warsaw pact would bring peace and justice throughout the world. Those who are serious about security issues realise, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has, that 30 wars are currently taking place and there have been about 150 wars since the second world war, although none was between nuclear states. For those who use the argument about why non-nuclear powers were not deterred by nuclear powers, the answer is simple: nuclear powers have said that they will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers. I believe that the possession of nuclear weaons has acted as a deterrent.

I do not like nuclear weapons and neither did Attlee, but he felt that Labour had to have them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) told us that Nye Bevan opposed nuclear weapons, but not that a decade later he was converted. The Labour party's policy is that, for as long as other countries have nuclear weapons, a Labour Government will have them. It is vital to get a handle on proliferation, but I suspect that, even if one buttressed any non-proliferation treaty, there would still be countries that would violate it and, regrettably, some will remain or become nuclear powers.

Over the past 10 years or so, the Tory party has benefited from the Labour party's defence policy. Students of the German language or congnoscenti of commercial television now know the word "schadenfreude", which we are told is the malicious enjoyment of other people's discomfort. I suspect that the Conservative party wishes to see that continue on defence in the future. Having attended the last debate, I shall coin a more appropriate word—"gazzered" which means to intend to do grievous bodily harm to an adversary but to end up inflicting more harm upon oneself. I suspect that that is what will happen at the next election.

I want to discuss a number of issues, but because of the time constraints I shall discuss only one. Is it true that the Conservative party is the only party with which defence is safe? The Tories have published a scurrilous little document entitled, "Britain's Defence: unsafe in Labour's Hands". In the document they talk about the Labour party being historically in the grip of men such as Ramsay Macdonald. I should like to point out to Conservative central office that he was Prime Minister of a Conservative Government, a national Government, for far longer than he was Prime Minister of a Labour Government. His pacifism endeared him to his colleagues such as Baldwin and Chamberlain.

The so-called party of defence does not deserve that title. I am not saying that I fear for our defence when there is a Conservative Government, but each party has its lapses. We had ours in the 1980s, and it was matched only by the Conservative party's lapses. We are told in the Tory document that the Labour party has an inherent aversion to defence and contempt for it. That is wrong. Is it not ironic that when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1951 he said that it was
"a curious commentary on British politics that it should fall to a Conservative Government"
to have to curtail a military budget to which a socialist Government had committed Britain?

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, whom I admire in many ways, lectured us on dissent. He has been involved in many rebellions, and is the Wat Tyler of the Conservative party. It is no wonder that, having gone through what he has, he stands with his back to the wall. He talked about how awful the Labour party has been and about the Liberal Democrats' intention to cut expenditure. In the Chairman's draft report, which became the Defence Select Committee report on the statement on the Defence Estimates, it said that defence expenditure under this Government had fallen from a peak of 5 per cent. of GDP to about 3·8 per cent. It said that defence expenditure in 1993–94 is estimated to acount for 3·4 per cent. of GDP, the same as or less than it was in 1978–79.

The Conservative party has thus maintained the fiction of improving British defence while expenditure has fallen to a level below that at which they took office in 1979. NATO figures show that the amount spent on defence in terms of GDP in 1974–79 was higher than under the Conservative Administration of 1979–92. Hon. Members can study the NATO figures if they disbelieve me. Conservative party policy has meant a smaller proportion of GDP spent on defence. Our Navy has been cut to its smallest size ever, our Army is about to be cut to its lowest levels since the Crimean war, and I have documents on the collapse of the merchant marine. They show that in 1981 United Kingdom registered shipping had 37·7 million deadweight tonnes but that it now has 3·7 million tonnes. That is a disaster.

I give a brief list of the Tories' record on defence. The reliance on nuclear weapons has been to the detriment of conventional defence. To cut the Army to 116,000 is to make it dangerously small. We now have the smallest number of submarines ever; nor do we seem to build them very well, and as I said, there has been a dangerous decline in the merchant marine. There are inadequate airborne warning and communication system offset arrangements and a shared responsibility for the catastrophe of Nimrod.

We have seen procurement foul-ups by the score—the vertical-launch Sea Wolf followed by the Challenger, the seabed operational vessel. There was a delay in replacing Fearless and Intrepid, and a prodigious collapse of the defence industrial base. The checklist goes on and on. There was the messy path of regimental reorganisation. The Conservative party has not a clue what to do with decommissioned nuclear submarines, and morale in the forces is very low. We were lucky to get away with the Gulf in view of Government policies in the 1980s.

We have seen that the Conservative party has little credibility in saying that it is the party of defence, but perhaps it is better on nuclear weapons. Let us consider the record. When Attlee left office, we had an atomic programme which was almost exclusively British. Under the Tories, we saw reliance on the V-bomber force. That was a disaster, because it became obsolescent. The Conservative party then decided on Blue Streak and Blue Steel, all of which were abandoned.

A decade after his party took office, Harold Macmillan was reduced to going to Nassau to plead with Kennedy to be given an off-the-shelf purchase in the form of Polaris. Sorensen, the biographer of Kennedy, said that Macmillan told Kennedy that he was like a ship which looked buoyant but was apt to sink: did Kennedy want to live with the consequences of sinking him? He warned that the collapse of his Government on that issue would bring to power a more anti-American, more neutralist group from either party. That is what we were reduced to. Sorensen said that Kennedy asked whether Macmillan would like to share expenditure on Skybolt but was told, "No thank you, sir." He asked whether he would like Hound Dog but was told "No, we want Polaris." Subsequently, we got a nuclear system on which we are dependent.

We hear talk of the fourth Trident submarine, but let us remember the fifth Polaris submarine which, when the Tories left office, was only an option. When the Tories came to office again in 1970, they had the opportunity to build the fifth Polaris submarine that they are supposed to have wanted, but they declined to do so. It is possible to manage with three Tridents; I should prefer four but the Labour party has said that when it takes office it will consider how much has been spent and how much is contractually committed and then decide, bearing in mind the paramount importance of seeking to control proliferation. Our record——

8.13 pm

Whether the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) which renounces the use of nuclear weapons and seeks to cancel Trident

"substituting it by a process of arms conversion"—
whatever that means—is the true position of the Labour party remains open to doubt even after this afternoon's debate. It is also a matter for political argument whether it makes common sense, and the electors will be called to judge, whatever the result in the Division this evening.

I have read the official Opposition's amendment several times. I am perhaps intellectually less astute than some hon. Members, but I cannot make head or tail of it. We heard very little about it from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but it might have helped us to understand his position if, in discussing it, he had mentioned nuclear defence. It would have helped to have those two words in the amendment so that we should know precisely what was the official Opposition's position.

I do not believe that now is the time to let down our guard; nor do I think that the electorate believe that it is time, and they will not be convinced by the Opposition's stance today. This is a vital issue. If we do not defend our country adequately at a time of international unrest, and if a madman obtains a weapon that we cannot counter with our own, the arguments about the economy, education and health are all for the birds. Defence must be the prime issue facing us at the general election. It is right that we should set out out not only for Members of Parliament but for the world outside where each party stands on the subject.

I and other hon. Members have referred to international uncertainty. Can anyone doubt that, if Saddam had not been stopped in his tracks, he would by now have had a nuclear capability which would have been a threat to us? Can anyone doubt that Libya takes no notice of what we in the west do or think? However, it will take note of how strong our guard is. Indeed, where would the threat from the rickety empires which were together formerly called the Soviet Union be if we had no nuclear arms?

The answer must lie in trying to prevent further proliferation of nuclear arms. The 1968 treaty was a start, but not all countries with nuclear arms have signed it, and many of those who have signed have their own nuclear capability in any case. Another problem is that the treaty does not cover nuclear missiles. It deals with technology, but there are no verifiable powers of inspection. There are now opportunities under the new world order to ensure that, together in friendship, countries can sign a new non-proliferation treaty covering nuclear missiles and verifiable powers of inspection.

We have been told today that there are about 27,000—or perhaps more—nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. They are in danger of being sold to other third world countries, so co-operation is absolutely vital. The building up of unnecessary arsenals by half the world should no longer be a part of international strategy.

This country has enormous good will towards other countries. We may disagree with their leaders, but there is hardly one country that we do not wish well. The problem is that many of those countries do not believe that we have that good will, and consequently, it is vital that we sit around the conference table and convince one another of our good will and of our peaceful intentions.

Since the breakdown of the east-west confrontation, there is an opportunity for a new reality among nations. In the meantime, our nuclear programme must continue, with, I believe, our first Trident to be launched later this year and a fourth boat available in the late 1990s. Trident must always be available and on patrol. An aggressor must know that a nuclear attack would produce unacceptable retaliation. Polaris has kept the peace for us for 30 years and Trident will do so for the next 30 years. We have never used nuclear weapons in those 30 years.

Terrible conflicts have taken place in the Falklands, in Iraq and elsewhere, but we have never threatened to use nuclear weapons, although some Opposition Members thought at the time that there was a danger that we might use them. The weapons have been there in reserve, and that is the whole point. An aggressor has always known that even a limited attack would be met by unacceptable retaliation.

It has been nail-biting stuff over the years. I sat through the debates in the House on the Falklands, and we all sat throught the debates on the Gulf. We have lived through difficult times, yet we never had to use the weapons that we possess. Nuclear weapons have kept world peace, apart from conflagrations such as those I have mentioned, over almost the past 50 years. In turn, we must now reduce our nuclear weapons, and other countries must reduce theirs. It is right to propose that half the present arsenal will go in the next 10 years, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned. It is right that all sub-strategic nuclear weapons should soon be reduced to one tenth of what they are now.

Our policies are clear. We believe that we should reduce the number of warheads, and press for greater and more effective non-proliferation agreements, with verification. Above all, we should keep up our guard at a time of great and worrying uncertainty, because the future of our country depends on it.

8.21 pm

This has been an interesting debate, because we have heard speeches from Conservative Members and especially from Labour Members which have illustrated the fact that parts of the Labour party which were threatened with extinction still exist. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made an interesting speech and the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is a member of the same party, made a speech that was diametrically opposed to it. There is no harm in that, especially if hon. Members accept what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said—that he would make it clear to his electorate where he stood on the issue. That is an honourable position.

I am concerned about the falsity of the debate. The real situation in the disintegrating Soviet Union has not been addressed. What was in place in the Soviet Union for 40 years? There was no threat then of a disintegrating command and control structure. There was clear subordination, by dictatorial means, to the political will of the communist party. As others have said, the army in the Soviet Union was loyal because the communist party permeated it. The army had to obey the political will. That system has suffered a severe shock and we are concerned about what is now in place.

Can the permissible action links be recreated? What are the controls over strategic nuclear weapons? More importantly, what are the controls over sub-strategic, especially battlefield, nuclear weapons? People who have studied the question know that, although there are permissible action links and coding, no sensible military command structure would allow the weaponry and the warheads, especially battlefield weapons, to be under single control. There are extreme dangers in relation to strategic weapons, but time does not permit a discussion about that.

Surely no one suggests that, to make us feel safe in the west, we should go back to a recreation of the monolithic hegemony of the Soviet Union. We must deal with the situation that exists. What is the position on our own strategic deterrent? There has been little mention of the so-called "four-boat" Polaris submarine fleet. It is claimed that we need four boats, although there is some doubt about whether the Labour party means three or four. The current position of both the Tory party and the Labour party on the possession of a strategic deterrent is meaningless in relation to the real issues of defence.

All intelligent observers admit that the United Kingdom does not have a viable four-boat Polaris fleet. The expectation is that, later this year, SSBN Revenge will go into Rosyth—the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement may contradict me if he wishes—to be paid off and decommissioned. Everyone in Dunfermline says that that is the expectation. The other known fact is that SSBN Renown is in Rosyth at present and its refit cycle has been delayed. By the end of the year, there will be two boats out of the possible four-boat Polaris fleet. We all know that all four boats have severe problems with reactors. Whom are the Government kidding and whom are the Opposition kidding about the possession of a viable deterrent?

An incoming Labour Government could not put the Trident fleet into the bargaining because it does not exist, with either three or four boats. We are waiting for the launch of the first Vanguard class boat. A Labour Government would be able to put in only an obsolescent, if not obsolete, Polaris fleet. That may have some persuasive force in relation to Russia, the Ukraine or whoever is in possession of strategic weapons in the new Soviet system, but we cannot kid the people that there is a viable four-boat fleet.

On what are we embarking by continuing to give the impression that possession of nuclear weapons is a cheap military virility symbol? The United Kingdom invites copycat reactions from other states which will strive to become nuclear powers. The best example that the United Kingdom can give the world is to cancel the Trident programme and to devote the resources so saved to far more useful purposes. That is the policy of the Scottish National party which we will put forward in the coming general election campaign, when it will command the support of the people of Scotland. That policy has commanded the support not only of Scottish National party conferences but of repeated conferences of the Labour party in Scotland.

I have mentioned the command and control position that existed in the Soviet Union, although I have not described it in detail. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield mentioned the secrecy involved in nuclear weapons. We are concerned about the command and control structure that was in place in the Soviet Union. What is our own command and control structure? What is that of the United States? Do we have any real information about that? If we ask questions about what is happening to the Drell committee report, and about the investigations into the safety of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in the United Kingdom, a great wall of secrecy engulfs us. If we ask questions about the composition of certain committees and about the terms of reference, a great wall of secrecy comes up.

Would anyone try to kid us that in the United States, for example, President Bush, carrying his little box, is the sole repository of the power to release the United States strategic deterrent? Of course there are variations in the command and control structure.

Let us consider the "aid" that we are offering the Soviet Union. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that $400 million of aid was being offered by the United States Senate to the Soviet Union. And to do what? To go to the emerging republics and say, "We will assist you in dismantling your nuclear weapons as you do not know how to do it. Remove all your secrecy and we will come in and help you." That concept is to be put before NATO and the United Nations. The British are in effect saying to the republics, "You must dismantle your nuclear weapons while we modernise ours. Not only do we want a four-boat Trident fleet; we want a tactical air-to-surface missile as well." If the emerging republics in the disintegrating Soviet Union buy that, they are very naive, but I do not expect that they will.

I recognise that these serious matters must be dealt with in a serious way, and it is a serious proposition that we are putting forward. The best suggestion, in the interests of the United Kingdom, and of Scotland, in particular, is to renounce the deterrent now, and now is a good time to do it because Polaris is obsolescent—indeed, obsolete.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) is a very fair man. Last Friday, he and I attended a meeting in Edinburgh—I do not think that I am transgressing any rule of secrecy—at which Sir Robert Easton explained the parlous position in which Yarrow would be if it did not immediately get an order. Earlier, we were given a guarantee, as I interpreted it, by a Labour Front-Bench spokesman that Labour would secure employment at Barrow. May we have a similar guarantee that the Labour party, if elected, will secure employment at Yarrow by placing orders for type 23s or their equivalent there?

8.31 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, albeit, as is often my habit, towards the tail end of the debate.

I begin by saying that I have a natural antipathy to the amount of expenditure that is necessary to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. The reason for that is that I feel very strongly that Governments should never spend money on something that is not used—let alone something that is designed never to be used.

The prospect of spending 2 per cent., and perhaps 3 per cent., of our entire defence budget on a system that we all hope and pray will never be used sticks in my gullet. In other circumstances, the money could and should be spent on equipment and manpower that have a more serviceable purpose. Unfortunately, however, the circumstances in which that might be possible are not at hand.

Many hon. Members have referred to the dangers posed to this country and others by the break-up of the old world order with its monolithic bloc system, and particularly by the break-up of the Soviet Union. The danger of there being scientists and weapons for sale makes Britain's possession of an independent nuclear deterrent more essential than ever. I regret that, because, as I said, I regret the element of expenditure that is necessary. I believe that these uncertain times dictate that we must continue to have an effective independent deterrent, and it has to be effective.

In one respect, that is more necessary now than ever before. In the past, in our adversary, the Soviet Union, we had an opponent who, as many of us were well aware, respected our ability to respond to nuclear attack. I believe that there is a possibility, in the not too distant future, of our facing potential opponents—tyrants, despots, fundamentalists perhaps—who are quite happy with the idea of using weapons of mass destruction in a way with which even the Soviet Union command structure would not have been happy.

Such Governments may have already used weapons of mass destruction on their own people. I refer, for example, to the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Those hon. Members who saw Sunday night's BBC "Everyman" programme will realise just how horrific that regime has been in the past three years. We may have to respond to nuclear blackmail from a state which has no compunction about using a weapon of mass destruction and which has used it on its own people.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) made a very good point when he said that it was not simply a matter of there being one Islamic bomb: there might be several Islamic bombs, none of them in the hands of a particularly stable or peace-loving Government. I therefore agree with the comments made by my right hon. Friend in justifying the level of nuclear deterrence which the Government have defended and paid for and which is to continue.

Let me say something about the position held by the Liberal Democrats, as outlined by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who questioned the necessity for Britain to have an independently credible nuclear force. I believe strongly that Britain needs to be part of an alternative centre of decision taking on nuclear matters. I can readily foresee a situation in which America withdraws sufficiently from Europe—or has other preoccupations—and no longer feels that it has to provide an intimate nuclear umbrella for Europe.

I should not be happy explaining to my constituents that we were prepared to leave that responsibility in the hands of the French, because I do not believe that their position outside NATO gives them that integration of command structure and that joint responsibilty that we have had in this country within the NATO structure. That argument alone puts to bed the comments made by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East about the need for independence.

The Labour party's equivocation on the matter is transparent. It is not enough for Labour Front-Bench spokesmen simply to say that they differ on the number of boats or that they would never use the weapons but think we ought to have them if other people have them. My hon. Friends and I find it extremely worrying that, in times such as these, with such danger and division all over the world, the leader and deputy leader of the Labour party in their recent keynote policy speeches made not a single mention either of Britain's defence and nuclear defence or of the larger threat posed by nuclear proliferation in the middle east and as a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union.

I hope that the Labour party's spokesman will reassure Conservative Members who feel that the two parties have common ground that this is an Opposition priority and not a political matter for point scoring. We should like to hear that, in spite of its omission from keynote speeches, this is very much a Labour party priority. Nobody doubts the Opposition's patriotism or its commitment; it is a question of priorities, and priorities have financial implications. In the past, there has been uncertainty about the Labour party's commitment to nuclear defence, so it is reasonable for us, in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, to expect reassurance on this matter.

I support the Government motion, and I urge my colleagues to do so.

8.40 pm

The problem about the speech of the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves), like the speeches of many of his colleagues, is that it was made in the wrong decade. There has been reference to Sunday's programme about the dreadful massacre of the Kurds. At that time, the British Government had a presence in Baghdad, in the shape of the present Secretary of State for Social Security. His purpose in going there was to sell arms to Saddam Hussein, and he was very successful. As has been said, we have now discovered that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons programme. One Conservative Member said that we had stopped Saddam Hussein in his tracks. We did not stop him in his tracks; we stopped him in our tracks. The tank tracks that he was using were British, and he had a full range of other equipment.

There has been a move among Conservative Members to have the IAEA safeguards strengthened. Conservatives are slow learners. In April 1990, a question relating to precisely that matter was placed on the Order Paper. The reason for the desire to strengthen nuclear safeguards was that Iraq had a nuclear weapons programme. What was the Government's response to that suggestion from the Opposition? They said that they would not seek to have the IAEA safeguards strengthened, and they asked the Opposition whether they were aware that Iraq was a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty and, as such, had undertaken not to develop nuclear weapons. The Government said that they expected Iraq to abide by its international obligations. A few months later the Iraqis took part in the invasion.

When the Kurds were massacred, hon. Members were denied the chance to table questions about Saddam Hussein's programme, in exactly the same way as, in 1939, Members of Parliament were prevented from criticising Adolf Hitler because he was the head of a friendly state. A great many lessons emerged from the Gulf war, but many of them have not been learnt. One of them is that conventional arms, as used in the Gulf war, are as destructive as weapons of mass destruction.

On 30 January, there were 28 B52s over Iraq and Kuwait, and they dropped enough cluster bombs—small, three-pound bombs—to destroy an area one fifth the size of Wales. The main lesson of the Gulf war is that there has been an escalation in conventional weaponry. I refer, for example, to cluster bombs and to multiple-launch rocket systems, where the escalation has given rise to as much danger as arises from weapons of mass destruction.

There is a link missing from the logic of the Government's case. They say that we must keep nuclear weapons, but they do not relate that assertion in any way to the present crisis. The most compelling metaphor about politics is that we live in a saucer-shaped world. We are obsessed by our own affairs. The rim of the saucer, over which no one can see, is the date of the next general election. This is all about general elections. But those who look over the rim of the saucer see a nuclear abyss more threatening than any we have ever known.

In the early 1980s, there was a strong case for British unilateral disarmament. At that time there were two men with their fingers on the nuclear button. One of them—Andropov—was on a life-support machine; the other was Ronald Reagan. One of them was dead from the neck down; the other was dead from the neck up. That was a great peril to the world.

We now have a worse threat. There are several problems that have not been addressed. No Conservative Member has attempted to put forward any practical ideas. None has mentioned the reasons for the likely escalation. Let me list the countries that possess ballistic missiles: Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Italy, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Syria and Yemen. How many of those countries, knowing that Britain is having three or four votes on this matter, will be thinking tonight that they ought to make sure that they have nuclear weapons to go with their ballistic weapons?

The Government's case is irrelevant. Because of nationalism and fear, the countries which I just mentioned want nuclear weapons. If one starts at the Pacific coast and draws a line through Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea, the Gulf, Israel and north Africa, one goes through a number of countries, every one of which is frightened of its neighbours. Many of them, indeed, are frightened of all their neighbours.

In respect of disarmament one interesting thing has happened in the past few months. I refer to the attitude of the United States to the great threat of the emergence of North Korea as a new nuclear power. Next on the list is Algeria, and after that Iran. What did the United States do to discourage North Korea—a frightened country feeling threatened after the loss of all its friends in the communist bloc—from going full scale for nuclear weapons? It unilaterally disarmed South Korea.

The Government's argument has no logic, no meaning. Conservative Members are simply trying to score political points, as they attempted last week, futilely, to scare people about taxes. Next week they will probably use the racial card, and the week after that the trade union bogey. Among Government Members there is culpable ignorance of what is happening in the world. They have failed to provide answers to questions about the very serious threat of proliferation.

There are terrible problems in the old Soviet Union. That is a real issue that has broken through in the debate. What the Government are putting forward is false. Nuclear technology is now half a century old. There is no secret about the technology itself. It has been denied to many nations, but in that regard there has been only partial success. We know that it is available. In the end, the only answer is political persuasion. In the long run, that will form the basis of international non-proliferation policy. We see on the Government side a group of confused, old cold war warriors without a clue about how to deal with the present situation, and no idea how to deal with the new threat. They are raking coals that are long dead.

8.49 pm

These issues are certainly the most important that I have witnessed since I came to the House more than 30 years ago. They represent an unforeseen danger far greater than that of the Falklands or the Gulf war. I strongly support the policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I regard four Tridents as essential in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. I support my right hon. Friend's policy for two reasons—the first is history and the second is the present situation. After all, for 40 years peace in Europe has been kept because of the possession of Polaris by the allies. An enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons has been possessed by the Soviet Union. I fear that if those weapons were loosed, the whole world would be destroyed. That is the lesson that we must learn. Moreover, the Soviet Union was controlled by one man rather than 20 people as is the case now.

There was rightly jubilation when Mr. Gorbachev overthrew a regime which was thoroughly repugnant to us all, but he himself was overthrown by Yeltsin. How long will Yeltsin last? Already, the army is getting restless. As my right hon. Friend said, the Soviet army is in disarray, with a multitude of nations and with dissatisfaction at being disarmed, indeed demobilised, and discipline is undermined. There is an undisciplined force under Yeltsin. How can he control what happens not only in his own country but in the parts of the Soviet Union that have been split? The Soviet Union has broken up into component parts, all of which have atomic weapons. Those areas are also impoverished. Is it likely that those weapons will be used against or sold to other countries for grain and other food? We are up against a serious situation. There are bankrupt states, and they like to flog some of their atomic secrets to other countries.

There is a danger of the union of Muslim states in the former Soviet Union combining with states such as Libya, Algeria, and so on, as the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) said, and forming a fundamentalist group or, alternatively, fighting among themselves and using atomic weapons. We are in a very dangerous position. If Muslim countries such as Iran and Iraq and Soviet Muslim countries formed a super-Muslim federation, rather than a commonwealth of independent states, we would again be in great difficulty. Who could possibly control such forces? Nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous. There is also the matter of countries such as Israel, which also have nuclear weapons. The present uncertainties demand that we have a strong and united front.

It is a great sadness to me—I shall be leaving the House at the end of this Session—that, on this matter, we cannot have a bipartisan policy such as we had in the war. The dangers are so awful that they could affect our children. I am terrified that everything will go up in smoke.

We must remain a strong country. We must remain powerful and be able to resist any aggression. To do that, we must do the things that were suggested by my right hon. Friend. But that is not enough. To protect ourselves, we must have force to resist. We must look further ahead. We owe an obligation not only to ourselves but to the rest of the world. We must be able to lead in the control and detection of missiles. How we do that I do not know, but do it we must. If we do not, at some time or other somebody will loose a nuclear weapon. Those are the real dangers that face this country.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to chair the forthcoming Security Council meeting. I do not know how far he will get. I do not know to what extent we can control other countries. Even the detection of missiles could be difficult. If they are deeply hidden, modern technology may not detect them. Those are the ghastly problems that we face. If the Security Council itself cannot do that, we have to use every method and organisation that we can to persuade the rest of the world that it is no use having atomic weapons, because they will destroy either themselves or the world. But it will be extremely difficult to persuade them.

It is most important to locate weapons and to have a system of international inspection and, eventually, international demobilisation. We cannot live in a world in which missiles are under no control. I do not believe that even Russia will be able to control enormous stocks of weapons. I was alarmed by the figures relating to the quantity of weapons floating about in the world. That is why I said that this is one of the most dangerous situations that I have seen for more than 30 years.

We have always known of the Russian danger. Thanks to American technology, we know roughly how many weapons Russia has. At least we knew that we had someone with whom we could negotiate, but now there is nobody. With perhaps 50 or 60 countries holding such weapons, we must find some way of making sure that those weapons are not loosed off by irresponsible people. I do not know how we can do that. The Security Council will try, but we must go further to ensure the security not only of this country, but of the world. It is a frightening situation.

Our primary duty is to be effective and to ensure that we are adequately defended. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State carefully outlined two issues. The first related to the dangers of proliferation and of the results of the break-up of the Soviet Union. He also laid down a firm defence policy, which included four Trident submarines. If that policy is followed, I am sure that we shall be able to defend ourselves. However, it is not enough simply to defend ourselves—we must defend the rest of the world, because if the rest of the world attacks us or if various countries attack one another, the effect would be——

Order. I am sorry to call the hon. Gentleman to order, but he has had the 10 minutes that he is allowed under the Standing Order.

8.59 pm

I am grateful to be called, Madam Deputy Speaker, even so late in the debate. I understand that, by agreement, the two Front-Bench spokesmen intend to start their replies at 9.10 pm. I deeply regret that, because I should have thought that they could have allowed sufficient time to enable my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and myself to speak for 10 minutes each. I shall have to shorten my speech to enable my hon. Friend to speak. Having been present throughout the debate and tabled an amendment to the motion, which my hon. Friend has supported, I believe that we should at least have an opportunity to put our point of view to the House.

I am the author of an amendment to the Government's motion. I tabled my amendment because I believe that the Government's attitude to nuclear weapons is, frankly, barking mad. When the Secretary of State made it clear earlier that he was refusing either to confirm or to deny that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons, I thought, "What sort of world does he live in? Has he visited Hiroshima to see the actual effects of using nuclear weapons?" The right hon. Gentleman should understand that, once a nuclear weapon is fired, it murders, kills, maims and destroys those on whom it is targeted, those under its flight path, and those who fired it. People are dying of cancers across northern Europe because of what was, in effect, a minor explosion at Chernobyl. That is an example of what happens when a nuclear explosion takes place. The idea that in 1992 we should be seriously contemplating the use of nuclear weapons is abhorrent.

Many people across the world have sought to oppose the use of nuclear weapons. Many brave people, including scientists, who developed nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered systems in the past now recognise their dangers. Just before Christmas, I took part in a demonstration in Kensington High street, opposite the Israeli embassy. We were there to protest about the continued imprisonment of Mordecai Vannunu, a man whom I believe to be very brave. He spoke out about the development of nuclear weapons in Israel. For his pains, he has been given a prison sentence of 18 years, of which he has served at least two years in solitary confinement with a bright light on in his cell all the time. That is a mind-bending experience, as it was intended to be. When our Government's observers attend the middle east peace talks, I hope that they will raise the question of Mordecai Vannunu, his bravery and the need for his release.

At the start of the new year, we have seen the new world order revealed for exactly what it is. The 5,000 nuclear warheads of the United States that used to be targeted on Moscow, Berlin, Belgrade and many other eastern European capitals have been swivelled round and are now targeted on unspecified cities and military installations in the third world. The new world order appears to be one in which the northern industrial nations are getting together to ensure that the world's economic inequalities continue.

We have come to the end of the cold war period, during which the Soviet Union and the United States were engaged in an arms race which wrecked the economy of the Soviet Union and brought it to its knees. It also impoverished the rest of the world, with the United States becoming the world's biggest debtor as it paid for its own arms race. Yet, since 1945, about 20 million people have died in wars around the world, so where is the deterrent in that?

The brutality of those wars is that they have been wars by proxy and about injustice. What was the Vietnam war about other than the Vietnamese people waging a war of national liberation? What was the war in central America about other than being against the oligarchies in El

Salvador and the Contra guerrillas seeking to overthrow the Government of Nicaragua? What are the other wars in the world about, other than instability and inequality?

Tomorrow we shall "celebrate"—if that is the right word—the start of the Gulf war. It ill becomes Conservative Members to talk about the brutality of Saddam Hussein and of the Baathist regime in Iraq when the Government have refused to reveal how much of the billions of pounds' worth of export credit guarantees given to Saddam Hussein and his regime have been lost to the British taxpayer. The Conservative Government armed Saddam Hussein to the teeth. I went to Iraq this August and I saw the destruction in Kurdistan. It did not all happen during the uprising or during the Gulf war. It happened when our Government were buddy-buddy with Saddam Hussein and the Secretary of State was there selling information and materials to him.

In this world, brutally divided between north and south and between rich and poor, in which a billion people are on the point of starvation and serious poverty, the British Government's solution is to spend £23 billion on the Trident missile system, which breaks the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and to continue an annual defence expenditure of about £24 billion. And what is NATO's solution? Instead of winding itself up, as it should, it turns itself into the political police force of the rest of the world—and the European Community seems to me to be trying to follow in the same direction.

Nuclear weapons are not a deterrent. They are inherently dangerous and unstable. We should say honestly that now is the time to get rid of all nuclear weapons and nuclear bases. Now is the time for massive nuclear disarmament. Now is the time to take stock of the situation in which the world finds itself. That situation is not a pretty sight. It is time for us to do something to redress the imbalance in the world. The imbalance between north and south, the plight of starving children in Africa and India, and the debt crisis that ravages Latin America cannot be solved so long as the west maintains its massive expenditure on arms and supports economic inequality in the world.

I hope that the issues that we have discussed today will feature in the general election campaign. I have been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament since I was 15 and I intend to continue being a member. I have never supported nuclear weapons, and I never will. I ask any of my hon. Friends who believe that there are electoral benefits in supporting the principle of maintaining nuclear weapons to look at the dole queues in Britain, the crumbling schools and hospitals and the inequalities in the world, and to see that there is a solution which involves arms conversion, turning swords into ploughshares and turning away from nuclear madness towards a saner, freer and more democratic world. That is impossible if we maintain nuclear weapons.

9.6 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), for giving me four minutes—now three minutes—to solve the problems of the world. I am sure that I can do a better job in three minutes than the Government have done in 12 years.

When Conservative Members describe weapons of death and destruction, they become positively orgasmic. Looking at them, those are probably the only orgasms that they are ever likely to have. The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) used to tremble with excitement at the thought of being able to press the nuclear button. That frightened me, and it should have frightened every other sane person in the world. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made it clear earlier that he was not prepared to press the nuclear button.

Conservative Members have made great play of the differences of opinion within the Labour party. I, too, am a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I have been a member since the late 1960s, and I remain so to this day. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I shall make that clear in my election manifesto in Newham, North-West. I do not expect any difficulties when it comes to that election. I shall lay my cards honestly and openly before the electorate, and I shall make arguments in my election campaign that will convince people that my stance is worthy and worth voting for.

I listened to the Secretary of State for Defence, who never fails to fail to rise to the occasion. He had an opportunity to talk about the momentous events in the world and about how Britain could perhaps take a lead. After a few references to that, he reduced his arguments to petty party political mud slinging. The Conservative party knows that it is on a losing streak. It knows that it is done for, come the general election. So, of course, all the smears come out, supported by the fascist loonies on the Daily Mail,the Daily Expressand The Sun.They will smear the Labour party, but I do not think that the people of this country will be deceived. They can see through the bankrupt arguments of a bankrupt Government.

If the Secretary of State really wanted to do something about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the crumbling eastern empire—and the real possibility, I accept that, of those leaking out and going to countries which are prepared to buy the hardware and the technology—instead of saying that we would give them advice on what to do, he should have said that we would help them by giving them hard currency in exchange for dismantling those nuclear weapons.

The Government should tell the 100,000 or so nuclear scientists in the former Soviet Union that we will give them jobs. Of course, we have to give jobs to a lot of ordinary people over here, but we could say that in Europe we will give them jobs; we will give them jobs in their own country by helping them to use their great skills in civilian production, so that the people of the east can get the advantages that they now want from democracy. Those are the arguments that the Secretary of State should have put before us, not the petty party squabbling that he has thrown at us in a squalid attempt to win a few votes.

The best defended country is a country which unites its people, a country which can deal with problems of unemployment and homelessness and poverty. A country which can deal with those things is a country well defended. This country, under the present Government, is not defended at all.

9.11 pm

This is the fourth opportunity that we have had to discuss these matters since October. We had the defence estimates debate when the House resumed, we had the Loyal Address, we had the nuclear defence debate on 22 November, and now we have today's debate.

The only justification for tonight's debate is the reality of the collapse of the USSR, although I suppose that another would be an attempt by the Government Whips Office to get a few more Conservative Members to stand up and defend the Government's nuclear policy. On 22 November, as I recall, only three Back Benchers were dragged into the Chamber to sit alongside the Secretary of State and his colleague. Certainly, the Secretary of State's remarks today are the same stale mixture of bluster and abuse that we have come to know as a substitute for any Government defence policy.

Today we have had the opportunity to reassess the significance of events since the House rose. We can see the emergence today of four independent states on the territory of the former Soviet Union—independent states with substantial strategic nuclear systems in their territories, as well as an unknown number of states with tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons on their soil. Each one of those states is different in its nuclear capability and in the political, social, cultural and geographical factors that might influence its intentions.

This is the argument and the rationale for recognition of the need for a diplomatic as well as a military response to this complex set of security problems. Just as the definition of threat implies not only the capability but the intent, so deterrence demands not only the ability to respond but the willingness to seek non-military solutions to apparently intractable security problems. Following the famous Hoftihouse meeting in Reykjavik in 1986, the United States and the then Soviet Union established that it was possible to construct an arms control and disarmament regime which could reduce and in some instances eliminate elements of the world's nuclear arsenal.

The debate so far over the break-up of the Soviet Union has tended to ignore the tactical nuclear and chemical weapons that were deployed widely throughout Soviet territory. The existence of those weapons, the uncertainty about their command and control system, the confusion over the political institutions and the authorities responsible for them, the attraction of selling off even small amounts of those nuclear and chemical arsenals, and the dangers of the brain drain of the technologists are all present today.

Those are some of the new risks which confront not only Britain and NATO but all states. Concerns about proliferation have been expressed by Members of all parties today. Proliferation is no longer the old problem of new weapons falling into the hands of old-established states with old-established problems and disputes. The reverse is now true. Old weapons are falling into the hands of newly established states with new and little-known problems and disputes.

In the face of all this, it is not enough for the Prime Minister to claim credit for inviting President Yeltsin for a comfort stop on his way to New York. There has to be a framework to incorporate all the CIS states which will permit the implementation of the conventional forces in Europe treaty and enable that treaty to be readjusted to take account of the new military districts which will have been created as a consequence of the military organization within the former Soviet Union. Rapid steps must also be taken to ensure that the START reductions can be carried out.

The reduction in the nuclear arsenal could be carried out either by a suitably monitored central authority, probably Russia, or through the provision of facilities to the other states, such as the Ukraine, first to disable and then to dispose of unwanted weapons. There is a debate about whether the nuclear weapons in the Commonwealth of Independent States should be disabled immediately and then disposed of at a later date, or whether they should be disposed of without first disabling them. In that process we could make use of the skills of Ukrainian, Russian and other scientists.

In November last year we raised this question and put it on the agenda. So far, it has met with studied indifference on the part of the Government. Two months have passed. Anyone with any sense of history or of what was taking place in the former Soviet Union would have known and anticipated what the probabilities were—that the union would break up, that Pandora's box would be opened, and that myriad problems would emerge. The Government should have known that the countries with expertise, with the diplomatic, technical and political skills which because of its totalitarian character the Soviet Union suppressed for generations, would have to deal with the problem.

This is the complaint that we make about the Government: they come to the problem purely and simply in the interests of a general election, to try to divert attention from the horrendous economic and social problems that twelve and a half years of Thatcherism and Majorism have created in this country. They are more interested in trying to foment an artificial debate in the House about security matters than in dealing with the real problems of the economy and of the social fabric of this country.

The debate is artificial because speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House have reflected very similar concern about the problems. There has been little difference in the prescriptions for how to deal with the problem of proliferation, the uncertainties of nuclear control and our difficulties as a nuclear power in responding to those challenges.

We are not talking only about a massive strategic arsenal. In some respects, that is the easiest problem. That arsenal is well documented and reported. It has been discussed for a number of years, through the long days of the START process and before. We know the size of the arsenal, and we know roughly where the weapons are. What we are not sure about is the size and composition of the massive inventory of tactical nuclear weapons and warheads. Various estimates have been made today, and 16,000 is probably the agreed figure. We are concerned about the uncertainty on the size, the content and the location of the arsenals. Reciprocal agreements were made between the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce the arsenals. When they were announced at the end of September, it was explicit that there were to be no verification procedures because no one knew where all the weapons were or was confident that their removal and disposal could be adequately inspected and verified.

It was significant that the agreement was a product of the new trust which had grown up between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was an expression of that trust that they could take each other's word that they would use their best endeavours to get rid of the tactical nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. The problem has been blown back on us because trust no longer exists, and we do not know where the weapons are, who is responsible for them and who eventually is capable of dismantling them.

We require an agreement of the Commonwealth of Independent States for the collection and disposal of the weapons. It is well known that, as yet, there are insufficient facilities for the storage in Russia prior to disposal. It is not too much to ask that the highest priority is given to the matter. If necessary, we could surely provide the means whereby the weapons could be stored, and enter into agreements to ensure that they would be protected. The military required to do that should be paid, with payment based on international agreement between the G7 states, the members of NATO and the members of the European Community. Those countries could afford to assist, and it is as much in their interest as in the interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Independent States that the weapons are taken care of properly.

The ability to deal with those weapons of mass destruction is completely unaffected by the existence or otherwise of British nuclear weapons. The self-satisfied breast beating of Tory Ministers is a matter of total indifference to those members of the Russian military and to the former Soviet scientists who now have nothing to sell but their nuclear materials and expertise, since their labour is no longer a marketable skill in post-Communist society.

Those are the problems which confront us. It is incumbent upon the remaining four original, permanent members of the Security Council—the United States, China, France and Britain—to assert the authority of the Security Council and the United Nations. That is where we can put items on the agenda soon. Because of the British chairmanship of the Security Council, and the leadership role which that affords us in the short term, we can ensure the support of countries which hitherto have not paid their dues to the United Nations and which have not supported institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. We can ensure that such institutions get the financial support and political backing which will not only enable them to carry out their monitoring work and expand their activities but will provide staff to address the problems which lie at the heart of the new peace process.

If we have to work on the process of non-proliferation and also ensure that the sources of dispute between potential proliferators are diminished, we can do so only with a UN secretariat which is capable of handling the problems. If we want to give support to the new Secretary General of the United Nations, the first thing that we must do is to make sure that the organisation that he is inheriting has the appropriate funds and financial support to address the tasks of greatest importance.

We must set in place quickly a framework to stop the leakage of nuclear skills and equipment to the neo-nuclear powers. It is a far higher priority to prevent them from obtaining the means to blackmail us than to spend vast sums of money on as yet untried weaponry which might or might not deter a pre-emptive strike. Once agreement is reached on the implementation of the START treaty. the United States and Russia should be encouraged to go even further. People such as former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara said that it would be possible to reduce levels to as low as 1,000 warheads in the United States and probably in Russia.

Those figures have not been plucked out of the air, but are within the capability of negotiators and the disposal process if we are prepared to give it the support and backing that it deserves. People of the distinction of Robert McNamara have stated time and again that we should seek the peaceful route towards a better world rather than continuing with needless and unnecessary stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

Much has been said today about the ability to deter mad dictators and fanatics. We must not forget that the war in the Gulf started almost 12 months ago. No one should be persuaded that the lethality and accuracy of conventional weapons will not be enough to deter conventional military action by third-world powers. The Government have first-hand evidence of the effectiveness of our troops and forces in the Gulf. We have seen the disastrous and dreadful consequences of conventional weapons. If anyone is in doubt about whether this or any other western country can be held to ransom by third world powers, he need only reflect on the war in the Gulf and the capability that we were able to bring to bear then.

Tonight I do not simply want to say that we should seek to reduce nuclear arsenals; we should also seek to bring about a comprehensive test ban agreement. There is no longer any need for full-scale nuclear testing. There is plenty of scientific evidence to show that non-nuclear tests—computer simulations and other technical means—can provide adequate information on safety and reliability. It can be argued that the complexity and sophistication of many simulations are such that, if other countries seek to test nuclear weapons in the open air and cease to do so in non-laboratory conditions, they will quickly and easily he spotted and could quickly become the targets of sanctions and other such punishments. A comprehensive test ban treaty would quickly expose those countries which do not have the sophistication and capability to carry out such tests. That would enable us to deal with them far more quickly than we can with the ear stroking which currently passes for diplomacy.

If we were able to show our willingness to sign a comprehensive test ban treaty and could persuade the other three permanent members, plus Russia, to sign as well, we would give a clear signal to all potential proliferators that we were sincere in our intent to reduce the increase and spread of nuclear weapons.

The agenda that I have outlined tonight could have been introduced by the Government and have enjoyed the unanimous support of all hon. Members. It could have provided the Prime Minister with the authority that he needs to assume the chair of the Security Council. Tonight the Government have thrown away that opportunity and betrayed the trust that the international community could have given this country, based on its position as a nuclear power which is not only a member of the permanent five, NATO and the EC, but has a unique link with the third world through its membership of the British Commonwealth.

Instead, we have been presented with a narrow, meaningless, and partisan Government motion. I urge all my right hon. and hon. Friends to join us in the Lobby in support of the official Opposition amendment to the Government motion, which shows the route that a Labour Government will take after the general election in addressing the problems of the international situation and the realities of nuclear defence in the new world ahead.

9.29 pm

Defence policy is always about national security. Sometimes, it is about national survival. Its objectives must always include the deterrence of one's potential enemies and the reassurance of one's friends.

A Government defence policy thus defined will fail, be of no effect, and neither deter nor reassure unless the policies themselves carry public conviction and the politicians who articulate those policies command respect.

There can be neither conviction nor respect unless those who conduct an express defence policy are believed to mean what they say, and to be ready to do that which they say they will do. A defence policy must be founded on a solid basis of conviction. It must be the settled expression of belief. It must clearly reflect a unity of purpose around which a party will rally.

Defence policies that are but expressions of a draftsman's pen, employed to save a political party's fortunes, are contemptible in themselves, discreditable in their purpose, and unavailing in their implementation. As today's debate has made plain, Labour party's defence policy is all of those.

Labour's policy was expressed—if that is not too gracious a word—by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the Obadiah Slope of the House of Commons. He made one of the most lacklustre and undistinguished speeches from Labour's Front Bench that I have heard these 12 years.

The right hon. Gentleman made three pledges, and only three. The first was an uncosted and previously undisclosed pledge to compensate the workers of Barrow against the loss of work caused by labour cuts. The right hon. Gentleman will be obliged to give a similar pledge to any other worker who may be affected by labour cuts. Indeed, he has already been asked to do so by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). I will place a small bet that pledge was never cleared with the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), and I do not believe it.

The hon. and learned Gentleman shows his utter illiteracy by those stupid comments. Anyone who has studied Labour party policy documents—as Mr. Julian Lewis, who briefs members of the Government Front Bench on such matters, surely—has will know that we made that announcement on 9 May 1989, and that it has been well known ever since. Of course, it is part of the costings on which the ludicrous tax fiction drafted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who cannot get his own Government's costings right, is based.

We see how concerned the right hon. Gentleman is when yet another undisclosed pledge is brought to the electorate's attention. No wonder the taxpayer would face a bill of about £39 billion.

The second commitment or pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman was to subscribe to a test ban treaty. That would make it less easy for the United Kingdom to retain a safe and effective nuclear weapon system, and to that extent it is wholly incompatible with the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that he wants a nuclear defence policy to operate. His third commitment was to embark on a course of further reductions in conventional armaments, which is clearly set out in the amendment to which he has attached his name and which, moreover, clearly represents the implementation of Labour's commitment to a reduction in conventional defence spending of £6 billion year on year.

What the right hon. Gentleman did not do was give any pledges about either Trident or, for that matter, our nuclear deterrent. Time and again, he was pressed to tell the House whether he proposed to order a fourth boat—if he was in a position to do so—or to cancel it if it had already been ordered. He declined to answer that question.

More extraordinary still, the right hon. Gentleman declined to say whether the Labour party intended to retain a nuclear weapon. I listened to his entire speech, and I know that he gave no assurances in that regard. If Labour believes in a defence policy based on nuclear weapons, Labour Members were very careful not to say so.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), who said that never had a convert shown so little fervour. It is worth noting that the Opposition amendment proposes to strike out all the commitments to nuclear defence policy contained in the motion. It wholly rejects nuclear deterrence, and Britain's possession of a nuclear weapon. It suggests other things, such as disarmament, but it says nothing about a nuclear weapon.

That is all that I can sensibly say about the right hon. Member for Gorton—no, no; I am being unfair. The right hon. Gentleman made one sensible point, about proliferation. He was supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy)—who knows a great deal more about the subject than he does—and, indeed, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).

The question of proliferation in eastern Europe is certainly a serious issue. So far, some encouraging steps have been taken. First, the republics have committed themselves to a single control of nuclear weapons. Secondly, they support the concept of the ratification of START—the strategic arms reduction treaty. Thirdly, they accept that nuclear weapons should be removed from the republics outside Russia; and, fourthly, they accept—or, at least, Byelorussia and the Ukraine accept—that they should join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty organisation as non-nuclear states.

I entirely agree with the concern expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford about the status of Kazakhstan. He feared that the republics might be less willing, as time went on, to surrender nuclear weapons that they currently possessed. I also agree that NATO has a prominent role to play in assisting the process of dismantling the nuclear systems in eastern Europe. That point was urged strongly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, and I agree with it.

That is partly what lies behind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's decision to convene the Security Council at the end of January, and it is partly that which explains the invitation to President Yeltsin to visit London. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said, the United States has allocated $400 million to that matter, ande a in December last year NATO committed itself to helping in the dismantling process. That is highly desirable.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Attercliffe said about strengthening the IAEA. That point received support from his right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton. There is a powerful case for reinforcing its powers in terms of inspection and an obligation imposed upon suppliers to furnish more information than they do at present.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden spoke powerfully about the need for Britain to possess a nuclear weapon. He was right to stress, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) that, in eastern Europe and elsewhere, nuclear weapons may be possessed by national Governments who are enthused by nationalism, religious bigotry or just plain tyrants. However, I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden that the circumstances are more dangerous than they have been in the past. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), I believe that circumstances were more dangerous 10, 20 and 30 years ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden drew attention, rightly, to the dangers of chemical and biological warfare. He is correct to focus on the requirement For an effective verification regime. The absence of such a regime makes the prevention of the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons so difficult. We hope that, in the 1992 chemical warfare convention, there will be a much more effective verification procedure than we have previously contemplated. In April this year, experts will be further exploring how we could introduce an effective verification procedure for biological warfare.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) expressed the defence policy of the Liberal Democrats. He skilfully shrugged off the reminder of my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has shared platforms with CND and has, in the past, committed himself to withdrawing cruise missiles and cancelling Trident.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East tried to reconcile his defence policy with what he described as his aspiration to reduce defence expenditure by 50 per cent. He cannot have it both ways. It is not achievable in any foreseeable defence position, and it is disingenuous of him to call for it. He said—I strongly agree—that it is wrong for anybody to define with exactitude the circumstances in which a nuclear weapon would be used. It is equally foolish for the Leader of the Opposition to say that he would never use a nuclear weapon. That destroys the principle of deterrence. The statement that he would never use such a weapon has never been withdrawn.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East also expressed his doubts about a sub-strategic weapon. There is a logical gap in his argument. He concedes—it is part of his policy—that Britain should have a nuclear deterrent. He must accept that there are certain circumstances in which the threat of the use of a strategic weapon would not be credible whereas the threat of the use of a sub-strategic weapon might be credible. If one did away with the latter, one would leave a gap in Britain's defence policy which I would regard as a very substantial one.

I shall not give way. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me.

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) made a point of considerable importance about the European dimension. It is a sensible point, and we entirely agree that we need to develop a European element in our defence arrangements. We foresee that role being adopted by the Western European Union. It is not a role which is subordinate to the Twelve—the hon. Gentleman was mistaken in that—but nor is it a function which will be prejudicial to NATO, which is at the core of our defence arrangements. However, it is certainly a role which will add to Europe's capacity in area and out of area.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made the type of speech that the House enjoys hearing. Indeed, it was a pleasure for us to hear him champion the cause of unilateralism. He said in terms that he did not think that the Soviets posed a threat to western Europe. I fancy that he would not have cared to make that argument in Budapest or in Prague, and I find it difficult to make a distinction between the two.

Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman said in terms that neither Iraq nor Argentina was in any way deterred from attacking British interests by reason of our possession of a nuclear weapon. That is not surprising, because it is inconceivable that we would have used a nuclear weapon in those circumstances, not least because of the negative security assurances which positively precluded their use in such circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman is asking a question which he knows will receive no answer, because the nature of a deterrent is that it remains uncertain—the nation that has it might be prepared to use it.

I return to the language of the motion.

As far as I can make out, the hon. and learned Gentleman has just created a precedent by telling the House that, in the two wars in which we have been involved, it was to—use his word—"inconceivable" that the Government would have used nuclear weapons. In what other circumstances would it be inconceivable for us to use nuclear weapons? Will he elaborate and tell us in what circumstances we would have used them?

I am surprised to hear a defence spokesman ask that question, because he knows that the two cases to which I referred are covered by the negative security assurances which made the use of nuclear weapons in such circumstances inconceivable. If he did not know that, I do not mind him admitting it, but it is extraordinary ignorance on his part.

I deal now with the motion on which the House is shortly to vote. It endorses the long-standing commitment of the Conservative party to the concept of nuclear deterrence, to a nuclear-armed NATO, to Britain's own nuclear deterrent, to disarmament through negotiation on strength and to updating where necessary the weapon systems that the United Kingdom possesses.

All those commitments, which are broadly supported by the country, are expressly denied and excluded by the Labour party's amendment. In every one of those commitments, the Conservative party and Conservative Government have led and reflected public opinion and the national interest. The same cannot be said for the Labour party which fought the previous two elections on a programme that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said was disastrous and should have been consigned to the rubbish heap.

I have already said that the success of a Government's defence policies depends on the conviction that those policies and their spokesmen carry in the eyes both of prospective opponents and of present friends. It is therefore right that, when analysing Labour's current declared policy, we should look well at what, until a few months ago, that declared policy manifestly was.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), when presenting Labour's nuclear policy in the House on 22 November, said:
"Throughout the 1980s the Labour party was committed to a defence policy which, with regard to nuclear weapons, required the Labour Government to renounce ownership of Polaris and to abandon the Trident programme."—[Official Report, 22 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 550.]
The hon. Gentleman was somewhat less than full in his description of Labour party policy. In addition to the unilateral measures which I have just described, the Labour party's 1983 manifesto called for the rejection of any fresh nuclear bases or weapons on British soil or in British waters, and the removal of all existing nuclear bases and weapons. The same manifesto committed a Labour Government to preventing the siting of cruise missiles in Britain and to the removal of any that were then in place. Broadly similar commitments were repeated in the 1987 manifesto.

Seldom has the passage of time so swiftly, effectively and comprehensively destroyed the intellectual foundations of the main plank of a party's defence policy. The truth is that, for the past 12 years, Labour has espoused a defence policy which never had intellectual validity and which, if implemented, would have exposed Britain to grave security risks.