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Nuclear Proliferation

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 26 March 2009


Moved By

To call attention to the potential for nuclear proliferation and the Government’s plans to respond to it; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, 64 years ago on 16 July 1945, the first test of a nuclear weapon occurred in Alamogordo, New Mexico. As he saw the now familiar and sinister mushroom cloud arise, Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Manhattan Project to develop a nuclear bomb, said, “I am come, Kali, destroyer of worlds, brighter than a thousand suns”, a quotation from the holy scriptures of Hinduism, the Upanishad, which to this day resonates with those of us who look at the issue of nuclear power.

The world pulled itself together and established a nuclear proliferation treaty, originally signed in 1968 and coming into effect in 1970, which established a system of regulation and control over nuclear power that has lasted extraordinarily well among the disarmament treaties that the world has signed at one time or another. In the 40 years since, the number of nuclear powers has risen from five to nine. That is troubling, but it is in many ways remarkable that the world has managed to restrain the development of nuclear military power to that extent.

Also in those 40 years, there has been a strong awareness of the dangers and threats constituted by nuclear power. However, the nuclear proliferation treaty was based on a crucial bargain, which is expressed in Articles 4 and 6. Under Article 4, nations have the right to develop civil nuclear power to enable themselves to produce energy from nuclear fuel under strict safeguards. However, each nation state is absolutely free to take the advantages offered by Article 4. Under Article 6, the other part of the bargain, the existing nuclear powers, which by this time were the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, committed themselves to energetically and persistently pursuing nuclear disarmament. That is the fundamental bargain on which the NPT rests.

That bargain has unquestionably eroded. In 2005, the preparatory commission for the nuclear proliferation treaty, which has to be renewed in the spring of 2010, was unable to reach agreement because the non-nuclear weapons powers felt that they had been effectively deceived. They regarded the nuclear powers as having failed to carry out their commitments under the treaty.

If we go back to the years between, we can say quickly that in the 1980s there was a remarkable movement forward in disarmament treaties that affected military nuclear power. The long, and in many ways extraordinarily benevolent, American presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush the elder, if one can properly so describe him, produced in START, SALT and the Moscow treaty remarkable disarmament agreements. Under them the world’s supply of nuclear weapons was, very broadly, halved. They deserve credit, as do President Brezhnev and, even more, President Gorbachev of Russia, for the active part that they played in those disarmament treaties.

By the end of the 1980s, it began to look as if the world would be able to control nuclear weapons. Sadly, there succeeded a whole decade of, effectively, lost time. Between 1998 and 2008, the world saw its movement towards control of nuclear weapons moving backwards and not forwards. A large part of the responsibility rested on the Administration of the United States, who pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without consulting their allies, let alone their potential enemies, and who essentially weakened the conventions that dominated the control of chemical weapons and biological weapons.

By 2008, Russia still had 14,000 nuclear warheads and does so to this day. The United States had 9,400 nuclear warheads, although it is fair to say that 4,200 of them are due to be dismantled. However, they have not yet been dismantled, or made operative. Finally, the little nuclear powers, which, paradoxically, include China as well as France and the United Kingdom, had between them just over 1,000 nuclear weapons, which constituted only 4 per cent of the world’s supply.

There are now, I think, two major threats. The first is to the existing system under which we live—the new risks. The second is to the nuclear proliferation treaty structure itself. The first of those new risks is familiar: the probable massive expansion of civil nuclear power. At present in the world, there are 439 power stations or, more often, small research centres, mostly based on low-enriched uranium, which are matters of concern to those who wish to control nuclear materials. Most of them are small, well organised and well controlled, but all these centres exist. On top of that, we now have another 37 proposals for new nuclear power stations and some 300 in the planning process. In other words, the potential for new nuclear power centres or stations would double the existing provision of nuclear centres in the world.

Perhaps even more important is that a great many of those planned and those under construction are in countries with virtually no experience or knowledge of managing nuclear power. The lack of knowledge and awareness is terribly important. Already, we have in the world a couple of generations of men and women who have no idea of the threat that nuclear power can present and are therefore in some ways rather apathetic about it or even complacent.

Therefore, the first issue is the huge expansion of nuclear power. Does it matter? Yes, it does. The process of producing nuclear power for civilian purposes and for producing nuclear weapons is similar in the early steps. In the first stages of the enrichment of low-enriched uranium or other nuclear materials to the point where they can be used either to produce energy or to produce nuclear weapons, it is difficult to know the intention of a country.

The second major threat to existing structures has been little discussed and debated: the emergence of cyber power in a major way. Cyber power, the capacity to effectively disrupt, alter or diverge information in the computer world and in the world of space, can effectively disrupt and even destroy the command and control systems on which the present controls over nuclear power and nuclear weapons are conducted. This is much more dangerous than people believe. You only have to read a little bit about cyber hackers and others, many of whom are individuals with rather curious intentions, to see how dangerous cyber power can be. It is one of the reasons why China is particularly concerned about the move towards space weapons and the shooting down of cyber satellites. With cyber satellites goes a fully sophisticated inspection system on which we all now depend for our safety.

For reasons of time, I will mention the third danger only in passing, as I have spoken about it already. Put simply, there is a population in both nuclear weapons powers and non-nuclear weapons powers that is fundamentally unaware of the dangers of what it is dealing with.

On the threats to the system, the discussions about the extension of the nuclear proliferation treaty—I repeat that it will expire in the spring of 2010 unless it is extended or renewed—are already in considerable danger because we have seen that the non-nuclear weapons powers are increasingly not prepared to co-operate. What can be done about that? The coming of the Obama regime in the United States, which coincides with what at least seems to be a more questioning regime in Russia, is the best chance, and perhaps the only chance, that we have of controlling this extraordinary multiplication of nuclear power in the world.

What steps should be taken in order to bring that about? The first is passing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The parallels with the banking crisis are close. In both instances, trust is the factor that has disappeared, which has made producing a new architecture extraordinarily difficult. In the case of a nuclear architecture, the CTBT is vital to restoring trust, a first step, which means that it has to be ratified by the American Senate. In my view, the second crucial step is to move from that to reducing the arsenals. I have said how large they are. Privately, the United States and Russia agree that 500 nuclear weapons would suffice, and would be far more than is necessary, as a minimum deterrent. Therefore, to get from 14,000 to 500 or from 9,400 to 500 is a perfectly possible second step towards building trust.

The third step is a fissile material cut-off treaty, which means that we do not keep pouring more and more nuclear weapons into the system. The fourth step was interestingly debated only a few weeks ago at the fuel cycle conference in London, which, to his great credit, Gordon Brown initiated. It is to recognise the need to internationalise the fuel cycle from its beginning in fuel materials to its ending in waste materials from nuclear power and other nuclear installations. That is a huge step, as it involves confronting the immense pressures of national sovereignty. National sovereignty is the great enemy of building a new nuclear architecture. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to confront that.

The United Kingdom has already proposed bringing down the existing deterrent of Trident to the absolute bare minimum that would leave it as a deterrent, from 160 warheads to 120. There may come a time when we have to look again at Trident. That will be the point at which we move away from the idea of a minimum deterrent to the glittering idea of a nuclear-free world. It is an idea that the Prime Minister has adopted, as has President Obama in the United States, although, understandably, neither offers us a timetable at present.

How do we get to the first base? Most of us agree that the abolition of nuclear weapons cannot be done in one great leap. I think that it was the French historian Braudel who said that you cannot cross a chasm in two leaps. To cross this chasm, we must move from island to island. I have already mentioned the first island of CTBT, fissile material cut-off, reduction in arsenals and the gradual multilateralisation of the fuel cycle, which would mean that fuel banks were available to any country that obeyed the terms of the nuclear proliferation treaty. The United Kingdom has put forward a proposal for what is called nuclear assurance. In turn, this must be linked to a fuel bank. The first fuel bank already exists. I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an American-led, non-governmental organisation that has so far raised $116 million, some of it from Sunni Arab powers, to create an international fuel bank, which would be available to any country that keeps to the rules.

The final step, as I have mentioned, is the abolition of nuclear weapons. That means taking one further step and introducing a treaty of fuel material stocks and international globalised inspection. The IAEA is central to this and we must build up its resources and inspectors to enable them to carry out this huge task. I conclude with a quotation from a speech that our Prime Minister made at the nuclear fuel cycle discussion on 17 March, when he said that,

“the nuclear question … is about the values of the global society we are trying to build”.

Let me put it more succinctly, in the words of a great poet, Wystan Hugh Auden:

“We must love one another or die”.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her initiative on this debate and on her speech, which showed a magisterial command of this vital subject. She has an expertise in this field that is second to none in the House. I am glad, as she is, that the United Kingdom has taken a lead in the build-up to the NPT review next year. I cite both the FCO document of 4 February and the Prime Minister’s speech to the IISS, to which the noble Baroness referred. I cannot claim nearly to match the expertise of the noble Baroness in this field, but I will make a number of rather random reflections on the broad subject.

First, non-proliferation is now increasingly recognised as a key problem of our age. Henry Kissinger said in his famous International Herald Tribune article:

“Proliferation of nuclear weapons has become an overarching strategic problem for the contemporary period”.

Until recently, the whole issue appeared to have slipped further down the agenda of concern from the alarming predictions of President Kennedy in the early 1960s that by this time perhaps 40 or 50 countries would have the know-how to produce the bomb. That prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. Of course, other threats have tended to take centre stage. One thinks of the strong lobbies for climate change and the environment generally; for action on world poverty; and, of course, the war on terrorism, as defined by the Bush Administration. Yet the threats of nuclear proliferation are more imminent and more fundamental to our survival.

It is also a problem where we have, perhaps, a greater chance of success than in certain of the other fields, as the noble Baroness has said. I recall reading an article recently by one US academic who argued that the problem in respect of Iran’s wish to obtain military nuclear capacity is so fundamental that one should strike a bargain with Russia on Iran, bringing Russia on board as a first priority, which could mean ditching the enlargement of NATO and the proposed missile sites in central Europe. It is so vital to have Russia on side in seeking to persuade Iran. Similarly, the message of the Prime Minister’s speech on St Patrick’s Day was for a global nuclear bargain that would encourage countries to go along the civil nuclear path, helping them in every possible way so as to avoid the military path. Much needs to be done to reduce the explosive power of the existing arsenals. In the same speech, the Prime Minister showed that Britain is prepared to contribute to further reductions.

In relation to nuclear weapons generally, the recipe is well-known. We cannot disinvent them. The FCO pamphlet quotes Einstein:

“If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker”.

The world, as the noble Baroness has said, needs a greater reliance on civilian nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions. Essentially, the problem is how to harness nuclear potential for the good of mankind, while minimising the dangers. Some look back nostalgically to the Cold War period of mutually assured destruction, when both superpowers knew the rules of the game and there was a degree of stability in the nuclear stalemate. Now, of course, that stability is no longer there as nuclear capacity appears to move to less stable and less responsible states, and even, possibly later, to non-state actors. Yesterday’s government document, Pursue Prevent Protect Prepare, mentioned the danger of dirty bombs.

There were cracks in the old certainties immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I recall the concern in the 1990s about Russian nuclear scientists, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, being lured to Iran and less stable regions; and the lack of security in Russian military installations, photographs of which I saw at the Rand Corporation in California. The United States in particular, and the European Union to a lesser extent, are to be commended on what they have done to assist Russia in this field.

On Pakistan, when we learnt of the activities of AQ Khan, we gained some indication of the difficulty of enforcing global controls. It is difficult to accept that his activities were unknown to high officials in the Pakistan Administration. That is why, realistically, the situation in Pakistan is probably a greater threat to world peace than the Middle East, given the instability of the Government. One thinks of the recent deal with the Taliban in the Swat valley and also of the nuclear device that was exploded in 2002. How do we remedy this? Obviously, we need to assist Pakistan with the security of its installations and seek generally to reduce tensions in the area, particularly in their bilateral relations with India. The US new strategy in relation to the Taliban is particularly important.

Realistically, Iran is in many ways less of a risk; there is a Government in control of the country. Israel views the nuclear pretensions and aspirations of Iran as an existential threat and, given the precedent of the Osirak strike against Iraq in 1981, would probably consider a surgical strike at some stage. However, that would need the agreement of the United States which, given the current mood of the US in its talks with Iran, is highly unlikely and would be counterproductive for Israel.

A group in Israel accepts that Iran, perhaps for reasons of self-respect and deterrence, would need to have only an initial nuclear capacity. It is obviously worth dissuading Iran from going further along that road by using big sticks and big carrots to avoid the danger of instability and the temptation of other states in the region to go along that same path. Yet much of the evidence is that Iran is now buying time and is unlikely to accept the sticks and carrots that are and are likely to be on offer. Historians may well say that little can be done if Iran obtains that capacity. President Obama’s Iran initiative is encouraging; the response of the Supreme Leader is particularly discouraging.

North Korea is an unknown quantity, even to the South Koreans. The six-power talks trundle on, but North Korea is highly unreliable and has shown itself in the past to be an arch proliferator. As we saw yesterday, the United States Secretary of State expressed concern about the proposed North Korean rocket launch into space. To produce a bomb, one needs highly technical know-how and the financial resources, which would rule out many states. There is, however, always the danger of leakage and another AQ Khan, who might still sell the capacity for a nuclear bomb to terrorist groups.

I have one final reflection. Some talk about a world without nuclear weapons. Perhaps I am being too cynical when I recall the aspirational visionary initiatives of the period between the wars, such as the Kellogg-Briand accord of 1928 to outlaw war, and later debates on no first use and nuclear-free zones.

Theologians are about to take part in this debate. I always enjoy Reinhold Niebuhr’s phrase about the relevance of an impossible ethical ideal. He used it in a theological sense, but I apply it here. It is clearly highly relevant to proceeding along the path of seeking maximum reductions. It may be impossible to have absolute certainty, but it is still worth striving energetically in the direction of the best attainable controls, as can be seen in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, which was published in the Times last June. The noble Lord is here today and I look forward to hearing his contribution later in the debate.

As a start, we know that 95 per cent of nuclear arms in the world lie with the US and Russia, so when START expires later this year and needs to be renegotiated, we wish them well with that. However, the danger is in the 5 per cent and those who aspire to having a nuclear capacity. We should work for the success of the NPT and should seek confidence-building measures step by step to deal with volatile and vulnerable countries. I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative in offering to reduce our own stockpile. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has said, the whole debate on the UK’s nuclear capacity needs to be revisited as the facts on the ground evolve. With all the dangers, it is imperative that we seek agreement to prevent the proliferation and reduce the dangers of leakage. All should recognise the mutuality of our interest in this area, and I am heartened by the changed attitude of the US Administration and by the initiatives taken by our own Government.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in expressing my warmest congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the absolutely outstanding speech that she made when she introduced this debate. This is quite a complicated subject, but as her initiative today has shown—many others have already been taken—it is of increasing interest and concern. To the people who ask what it is all about, I shall simply say, “Get a copy of Lady Williams’ introductory speech in Hansard. That is your best beginning to understanding the background to these issues”.

I am delighted by the timeliness of this debate. I associate it with my late great friend and colleague Sir Michael Quinlan, who spent a lifetime being interested in these subjects. I had the privilege of working with him for five years. He was my Permanent Under-Secretary in two different departments, and we greatly mourn his recent loss. This is a timely debate because, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just said, we are catching the tide. This is the moment, with President Obama and the new American Administration coming in and on the back of a move that was promoted, ironically I thought, by two quartets that included gentlemen whom some of us have had the pleasure of working with over the years: George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and Bill Perry—two Republicans and two Democrats; and, from our own country, my noble friend Lord Hurd, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is in his place, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who similarly echoed concerns about this issue, and absolutely rightly so.

Still on the question of the timeliness of the debate, I was pleased to see the interview in today’s Financial Times with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, who welcomed the American initiative and said he thought that the improved climate creates hope of progress on nuclear arms controls. This is a moment when we need to catch the tide and move forward. I am participating in this debate to add my own modest voice to those that have already supported this cause.

My first point is not about the major issue of nuclear weapons, about which I will say a word in a minute, but about my enormous concerns about the very dangerous world in which we now live and the risks presented particularly by the permanence of fissile material. The noble Baroness referred to the importance of that.

When we first experienced the problems of 9/11 and Afghanistan, a failed state, it seemed a rather isolated item on the world stage. When one looks at the situation now, one sees Somalia and the extremely daunting situation in Pakistan—a nuclear weapon state—and, amazingly for the Americans, the present challenges in Mexico. We thought that the world order was reasonably stable, but it now looks much more uncertain. Into this dangerous mix have come non-state actors and terrorist groups, whose ambition is to cause as many casualties and as much destruction as they possibly can. The existence of nuclear or radioactive material is a major challenge, and we go into this situation against a background of the considerable failure to control nuclear and other materials of this nature. I was interested to see the reference to the evidence of smuggling in the Caucasus in eastern Europe; Mohamed El Baradei has talked of 1,500 incidents of trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.

It is also assessed that there is enough uranium and plutonium in the ex-Soviet Union for another 40,000 weapons. When I was thinking about what I might say today, I recalled a meeting in Downing Street, at which John Major, President Yeltsin, Marshal Shaposhnikov, who was then the commander-in-chief of the CIS, the successor to the Soviet Union, and I were present. We were discussing then what we in Britain could do to help recover some of the nuclear weapons, and providing transport and other containers to help. At that time, some may remember, Boris Yeltsin was going around with great satchels stuffed with roubles to try to ensure that the security guards on the nuclear sites were still being paid at the time of that complete collapse of the Soviet Union. It had to withdraw nuclear weapons from some of the countries for which Russia no longer had responsibility and wanted to recover its nuclear weapons. That brought home to me very clearly how dangerous the situation could be.

In that situation, of course it will not be made any easier by what is clearly going to be a long-lived and very serious economic recession, which is going to have, I think, an extremely damaging impact in a number of countries least able to resist it. The other element, which I have not included, but which the noble Baroness rightly mentioned, is the terrifying new element that has crept into this of cyber power. She is right to emphasise the dangers that that poses.

At this time, it is vital to keep control of nuclear material. That coincides with the fairly general agreement around the world that we need a lot more nuclear power. Therefore, the challenges we now have in this particularly dangerous new situation could not be a more appropriate time to try to tackle these problems. I briefly support the statement made by Mohamed El Baradei of the urgent steps he sees as now essential—multinational control of the production of fissile material; significantly improved physical security of nuclear materials throughout the world; and to strengthen the IAEA, its authority, its capability and its resources. That is an essential step.

Then, of course, as the noble Baroness said, we move on to the other side of the bargain. That has to be active measures by the nuclear weapons state to reduce their own stockpiles. Ninety-five per cent of the nuclear warheads are now held between Russia and the United States; 25,000 is a number that I have never been able to comprehend. It cannot possibly be justified. It is capable of massive reduction while in no way endangering the security of the United States or Russia or seriously risking their national sovereignty and situation.

The noble Baroness also referred to the UK position. We have made significant reductions. We made some reductions in my time as Secretary of State and some have been made since. There is no perfect answer and I am perfectly prepared to accept that there would be scope in a multilateral context for further reduction to be made without endangering our security and without actually undermining the ultimate credibility of our retaining a nuclear deterrent.

The noble Baroness took us on to the next stage, which is to achieve the ultimate objective of total disarmament and a nuclear-free world. I find it difficult to believe that that is achievable at the present time. The problem about this is that it is the elimination of fear. It is a noble objective but in the present uncertain world and against the background of our failure in so many areas to solve the grievances, the problems and the hatreds of the world, I do not see an early outcome to that. I turn in my approach to, I thought, a rather apt analogy by Sam Nunn, which is that it is like climbing a mountain when the top is covered in clouds. You do not know what the obstacles may be, you do not know what the crevices may be on the way up the mountain, but if that is your objective, you have to start and as you climb and maybe climb above the cloud level then you may see the peak and see how it may be achieved. So I lend my fullest possible support to the initiative of the noble Baroness in introducing the debate—the way she has done it and what she has had to say—and I strongly support the need for this now to be the opportunity for the world to take this matter again seriously and make real progress on these issues.

My Lords, I apologise to the House for having a rather bad throat. I may have to abandon my attempt to speak, but I want to speak because of the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has set out the debate and its immense importance.

The decision of the new American Administration under President Obama to “press the reset button” on relations with the Russian Federation is of immense importance. There is a very real possibility now that we will see, even before the non-proliferation treaty starts next year, two important agreements made between the United States and the Russian Federation. The first relates to the agreement which George W Bush and Vladimir Putin made in Moscow in 2002 to reduce their deployed nuclear warheads by 2012 to 1,700 to 2,200 each.

In my view, when one Administration make a positive move on nuclear disarmament, it is extremely important for the next Administration to consolidate them. In 1977, when President Carter came in with very good intentions, he asked for a dramatic reduction in nuclear missiles and warheads from the then Soviet Union, going beyond the Vladivostok agreement which had been negotiated by Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately, the then Soviet leaders, Gromyko and Brezhnev, mistook this genuine effort, which I believe it was, from President Carter and blocked all future discussion, even when the Americans went back to the Vladivostok agreement. I see tremendous advantages in President Obama doing what President George W Bush was not prepared to do—to put this agreement in treaty form very quickly, and he should be able to easily get ratification. That would be a very significant gesture and an important decision, and it could be done before the NPT starts.

I think that there are quite good prospects now of getting the American Congress to ratify a comprehensive test ban. A treaty has been signed up to, but Congress has not ratified it. If one reads carefully Senator McCain’s speeches, particularly during the presidential election campaign, he is ready to look again at this issue, and there are enough Republicans to be able to get ratification of a comprehensive test ban treaty. Of course, if China would do the same it would be doubly significant. That would make it much easier to hold the non-proliferation conference in a genuine spirit. Agreement on non-fissile material is an interesting measure. I do not think we should exaggerate its importance, but that might be possible too.

We all know that haunting a non-proliferation treaty will be the outcome of discussions and negotiations—call it what one will—between the United States and Iran. Here I think we have to recognise a few basic things. There is little doubt—experience of our failure to stop Pakistan getting nuclear weapons shows this—that we always underestimate the extent to which a country has gone in its objective of achieving sufficient nuclear-enriched material to make a bomb. There is little doubt that Iran has passed that threshold. One cannot realistically discuss this without recognising that reality.

There is an air of unreality about the current negotiating position. I will not go into it in depth while negotiations are at a delicate stage; that would not help. However, the idea that countries have to stop enrichment before serious talks start is not realistic. The nature of enrichment is an important question. There cannot be any escape from far more stringent on-ground IAEA inspections, without warning. That is essential; but putting all your weight behind stopping enrichment prior to getting into detailed dialogue is a mistake.

The other questions relate to the business of ultimately giving up nuclear weapons. The idea is not new. The non-proliferation treaty countries would say, with justification, that it is already in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The difference is that people in nuclear weapon states who have a long record of believing that they had to have nuclear weapons are now ready to talk about “disinventing” the nuclear weapon—giving it up. They are realistic people—certainly those in the United States—and they have given credence to this initiative.

I come to the Government’s position. We all know that nothing will be done about nuclear weapons this side of a general election. However, this country has been spending far beyond its means. If you look at the decision in the White Paper of 2006 on Trident replacement, and the subsequent papers that have come out of Select Committees and the National Audit Office, it is abundantly clear, taking into account a 25 per cent trade-weighting reduction in the value of sterling, that the bill will be far higher than first thought. Also, we see day by day our defence budget so obviously squeezed that it is causing actual deaths among our servicemen. No Government who come in after the next election will be able to avoid looking again at the question of Trident replacement; that is not credible.

I pray in aid, first, that the decision announced to Parliament in 2007 in another place is more tentative than many people have understood. It says that there must be a review by 2014, and explains the decision-making framework of 2009—the first phase of submarine replacement—then 2011 and 2013. I was struck by a recent book by Michael Quinlan, the high priest of nuclear theory and a remarkably able man. Even he was not dismissive of the need to reconsider the 2007 choice by Parliament. He wrote that it should take place,

“not later than about 2013”.

He went on to write:

“The central decision of principle might at that stage be significantly influenced by whether the cost estimates remained of the same order as those assessed in 2006-07”.

He argued that this revisiting should be approached “seriously”.

We should try to get from the Government a decision that was made by James Callaghan in 1978. He set up a study by the Civil Service, not influenced by Ministers, to decide what would replace the existing Polaris deterrent, and have it ready for any Government who took office after the general election of 1979. That study was the Duff Mason report. Sir Anthony Duff was a distinguished diplomat and former submariner. Ronald Mason was a chief scientist at the Ministry of Defence. The document was on the desk when Margaret Thatcher came to office, with an explanation written that day by James Callaghan of the discussions about a successor system that he had had in Guadeloupe with President Carter.

These issues are too serious to be left hanging from 2007 until a new Government come in, with all the tremendous pressures that they will be put under. We should undertake that study now. One option that should be considered was excluded, for ridiculous reasons, from the 2007 decision. That is for the UK to put nuclear weapons on cruise missiles in our SSN fleet. This is what has happened in the United States, which only deploys its nuclear missiles periodically in its SSN fleet. Of course, it has a very different, hyper-sophisticated ballistic missile deterrent. If you can afford it, that is the best system; but I believe increasingly that this country cannot afford it.

If we are serious about ultimately moving to abolition of nuclear weapons, some countries will have to move faster than others. It seems logical that those of us who have chosen a minimum deterrent must be ready at some appropriate moment to take the first step. I agree that this will not be in the immediate future of the next 10 years. However, I find it very hard to consider spending billions of pounds on a deterrent that will last into the 2050s when it is possible to retain our nuclear option over the next 15 to 20 years at a much cheaper rate, and hold open the option of giving up nuclear weapons.

People tell me that it would mean no longer having a veto power in the Security Council. This is a complete misreading of history, and how the veto power came out of the 1946 negotiations over the United Nations. There was never any doubt that a veto power would have to be there, because the United States Congress would never have agreed to anything else. It must also be recognised that the veto power cannot be taken away from Britain. We can veto any measure to take it away, and France and Britain have made it clear that they would do this.

I do not believe that France will be first to make a move on nuclear weapons. We might persuade France to move with us. However, some time down the track—it might be in 2020, or a little before or after that—I can see all logic backing a UK decision to give up its nuclear weapons, and to claim it as a virtue to justify our continued presence as a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power. I also wish to extend the number of permanent members, though without veto power, and I hope that this will be done in the next year.

I will not go on any longer. These are troubling times. What worries me about the commitment ultimately to give up nuclear weapons is that it has been made by a lot of people who do not really believe what they are saying. The commitment risks going the same way as the pledge in the non-proliferation treaty, and that would be a tragedy. We have to give substance to that commitment. There is no country better placed than the UK to give that substance, and no Government will face the realities of the defence budget more than the Government that takes office in this country in 2010.

My Lords, as a new Member of this House, may I have the temerity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her speech? To presume to take part in this debate after the many excellent contributions thus far may seem presumptuous.

Some 30 years ago, I was asked to act as a positive vet for a young serviceman seeking promotion. The interviewer who came to see me was a former high-ranking military police officer. At the time, I lived in a Christian community in the north of England—rather a remote place. On my study wall was a poster. It read simply, “It is a sin to build a nuclear weapon”. During a sandwich lunch, the investigating officer asked whether I believed the statement. I assured him that I did and, as you may imagine, it led to an interesting philosophical, but quite convivial, conversation, which concluded with him saying that in his former life he was responsible for protecting such weapons from people like me.

What was, I hope, not evident to this man at the time was the internal and divisive dispute in the particular Christian community of which I was a member. Regrettably, I was not an insignificant contributor the arguments, and there were times when the anger among us would have been sufficient to start the third world war all by itself. Paradoxically, I was at the time participating in the occasional “Ban the Bomb” demonstrations, declaring that Britain must unilaterally disarm.

The internal disputes of our community caused me to seek the help of a wise counsellor who I though might offer me consolation and justification, perhaps even siding with me. Instead he asked me, “When are you going to unilaterally disarm in this conflict?”. My response was somewhat incredulous. “You must be joking”, I said. “If I do, they will win.” “So”, retorted my friend, “if you can’t make a unilateral declaration, what makes you think that nations can?”. The question bothered me and, after a time, led me to two conclusions. First, reconciliation is the essence of Christianity. When its adherents, like me, fail to recognise and seek to live that out, something at the very core is missing. Secondly, however, I was reminded that human beings, whether people of faith or not, often fail to live up to the highest ideals to which they might aspire. When we do so, two possibilities face us: either we give up, or we begin again.

In my situation at the time, those options faced me. In reality, the only option was to begin again: to commit myself to the task of reconciliation, however difficult and painful. Beginning again calls for a certain letting go, a leaving behind—an opening up to new possibilities. The Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is timely and I welcome it. She has judged a certain mood towards nuclear disarmament, not just within this House but within the wider nation as a whole. We must try to see the possibility of a new “grand bargain” in the light of the forthcoming nuclear proliferation treaty review in 2010 as a new beginning. The noble Lords, Lord Hurd, Lord Robertson and Lord Owen, together with Sir Malcolm Rifkind, spoke last June of a powerful case for a dramatic reduction in the stockpile of nuclear weapons.

In his St Patrick’s Day speech, the Prime Minister spoke of the nuclear question being at the heart of what he called the four great and interconnected challenges of our global society: the financial instability, climate change and energy needs, global poverty and global security. This is not an item on its own. In that same speech, he spoke of a need for a new internationalism that is both hard-headed and progressive; that has been borne witness to in speeches this afternoon. However, somewhat more controversially, he suggested that we will not meet the challenges of climate change without the far wider use of civil nuclear power. He spoke of the right of all nations to acquire nuclear power safely, and said that Iran should be a test case for this new philosophy.

While few can doubt that that will be anything but a difficult path, which the Prime Minister observed will be crossed in steps and not in one leap—I agree—what causes nations to arm themselves to the point of mutually assured destruction is a complex mix of fear, anger, xenophobia and much else besides. When the Prime Minister speaks of the need to act together to take the next steps in building confidence in a new and dangerous nuclear era, one can do little but say, “Amen to that”. However, I believe not in simply wishing for it, or being unrealistic about what we might determine as the future of disarmament programmes. We need a new ethic for our times: an ethic that enables us to leave for future generations a time marked by hope and not by fear and despair.

In your Lordships’ House last week, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, introduced what was to become a remarkable debate to mark the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Predictably, perhaps, religionists, non-religionists and self-declared rationalists participated. There was a surprising unity within diversity. For my own part, I sought to observe that open-minded, honest, scientific research leads to wonder, mystery, respect and humility. I believe that these elements—wonder, mystery, respect and humility—are the building blocks of a new ethic of shared responsibility. Like the noble Baroness, I agree with WH Auden that love is the ultimate, but sometimes we have to build our way towards love. That comes about through understanding and learning to respect through mystery and wonder, and being humble enough to accept that we do not know all the answers. These elements are integral to both religion and rationalism at their best. The mystery and majesty of splitting the atom, or the cells that divide to begin the journey to human birth, ought to lead us, in the words of Amnesty International's slogan, “to protect the human”.

While there is much to debate over the issue of civil nuclear power, and at the risk of being too controversial this late into my speech, if it is “even handed”, as the Prime Minister has put it, to,

“enshrine the right for all nations to acquire civil nuclear power safely”,

with due verification, rules and sanctions, by what criteria do we decide that it is even handed not to allow the possession of nuclear weapons? Who decides the moral case for some to have and others to have not?

Surely the future must lie in a universal commitment to disarmament: “to protect the human” in its totality. We must regain respect for the human through a new ethic based not on xenophobic fear, but on wonder, mystery, respect and humility—not least because the nuclear issue is inextricably tied in to the issues of poverty, climate change, energy, financial instability and global security. A friend of mine during the Northern Ireland peace process many years ago said that we must learn to be “1 per cent peacemakers”. Well, 1 per cent or 99 per cent, let us work towards the nuclear proliferation treaty review discussion in 2010 not by giving up but by beginning again; offering a “Yes we can” to the task of reconciliation and protecting the human; and knowing that if we cannot live together, then we shall certainly die together.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for introducing this debate. That it is far from being a debate on the theoretical matter of foreign or defence policy was underlined on Tuesday by the Government launching their new counterterrorism strategy.

By and large, the provisions in that strategy were welcomed. However, in part 2, it talks of the need to improve the security of fissile material around the world and of the global threat reduction programme. It says that that is the UK’s largest co-operative counter-proliferation assistance programme. That strategy brings right home the urgency of what my noble friend has been talking about this afternoon. She gave us a clear picture of the urgency, which has been underlined by other speakers, with the volatility in the price of oil and the uncertainty of gas supplies encouraging so many new countries to look at developing their civilian nuclear capability. Countries are looking more and more to nuclear power, so any increase in the use of fissile material must be matched by a substantially increased effort to ensure its safe storage through robust stocktaking exercises. If the counterterrorism strategy had one fault when talking about these issues, it was that it did not stress enough the urgency of matching any development of nuclear power with the necessity for that work.

This spread also means that no country should fail to address what is happening not only within its own borders, but also those of its neighbours and the region. As a member of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, a global network of over 500 parliamentarians from more than 70 countries, I can confirm that we share a common interest in working to prevent nuclear proliferation and, eventually, to achieve nuclear disarmament. The group’s strength lies in its non-partisan, international collection of parliamentarians who can play some part in leading public opinion in their own communities and in doing what George Schultz said when he visited the UK Parliament and spoke to the All-Party Group on Global Proliferation. He talked about how when Governments, leaders and presidents make the right moves, we need to get behind them and applaud, and that in itself is a very important role. I see that disarmament will be a long and difficult process and that leaders will need encouragement to keep going with it.

Every political party needs to sign up at least to a vision that a world without nuclear weapons is possible and desirable, but even signing up to that vision is a difficult move, as we know in this country where such a view has historically been held to be a sign of weakness. We cannot leave the debate only to those with an in-depth knowledge of foreign affairs and defence. As parliamentarians, we need to become involved not only in applauding actions taken, but also in questioning inaction and welcoming each step that our own or another Government take.

A fear shared by many of the parliamentarians I have met through PNND is that even as we take the small steps we are talking about today, or we take bigger steps, there is the distinct possibility of an accident due to the high alert status maintained by the US and Russia. I imagine that all who contribute to the debate today will be aware of the near misses. Some of them have been widely reported, but others may never have hit the headlines. Perhaps the US is more open about these issues than others, and some of the incidents are quite bizarre. My noble friend described to me how a flock of geese flying in formation could be mistaken for missiles and thus set off a nuclear holocaust. Last year, a Channel 4 documentary examined an incident in 1983 in the film, “The Brink of the Apocalypse”. De-alerting to a more acceptable level that does not lay us open to such random rolls of the dice must be the highest priority.

My Lords, I listened with enormous admiration to the opening speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. With others who are speaking in the debate, she and I attended the conference held last week at Lancaster House and listened to what I regarded as a very remarkable speech by the Prime Minister. I am not normally given to admiration, but I do not hesitate to say that I was impressed on that occasion. Most of the media reports of the conference concentrated, quite rightly and understandably, on what the right honourable gentleman said about the need for major nuclear weapons countries to reduce, as he put it, “step by step” their arsenals of nuclear warheads as part of a process to prevent proliferation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Other contributors to the debate have clearly demonstrated that they know a great deal more about nuclear disarmament than I can possibly profess to, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, one has to remember that one of the main purposes of the conference was to take forward the proposals for a multinational approach to the nuclear fuel cycle for civil nuclear reactors, and I hope that it will not be regarded as a distraction from what has so far been the main thrust of the debate if I devote a little attention to that topic.

There are two underlying drivers of the need to take the multinational approach forward. First, modern reactors require a guaranteed—that word is very important—supply of low enriched nuclear fuel if they are to attract investment into new power plants, but few countries in the world are planning to spend the huge sums necessary to build enrichment capacity. However, they need low enriched fuel. Secondly, while the uranium enrichment process can be used to provide that fuel, it can also be misused to provide fissile material for a bomb. With an increasing number of countries across the world now planning investment in nuclear power plants primarily to provide a secure, low carbon source of energy, it is becoming, if I may put it this way, increasingly urgent for the international community to find a mechanism for ensuring supplies of enriched fuel to these countries, while ensuring that guarantees are in place that they have complied with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

It is now four years since the IAEA launched the search for such a mechanism. The director-general, Dr Mohamed El Baradei, has spelt out what he sees as the four essential criteria for success. The first criterion is that the system must unambiguously be under some form of multinational control because that is essential in order to reassure the rest of the world that it will not be misused. Secondly—this point has already been made—the system must be available to all states, as is their right under the NPT. It is a legal right and it must be honoured. Thirdly, the sale of nuclear materials should be,

“determined by non-political criteria established in advance and applied in an objective and consistent manner”.

That is more difficult, but it has to be done if one is to operate the guarantee effectively. Fourthly, he said that the system must be part of an overarching multilateral nuclear framework.

These principles have attracted very wide support, and in response to the appeal for proposals, no fewer than 12 separate proposals were submitted by states or groups of states. The issue now is for the international community to reach decisions on the best way forward. Of course, this is far from being a simple question. The issues are extremely complex, and if anyone doubts that, I refer them to the papers that have been produced about the UK’s proposal for a nuclear fuel assurance programme. It is extremely complex.

These 12 proposals are different in many respects, and I have to say that I do not think I was alone in finding that the ways in which the different speakers at last week’s conference addressed the proposals became immensely confusing. Many conferences have been held and much study undertaken, but we do not seem to be any closer to arriving at a solution acceptable to all than we were two years ago. The Minister will recall that I was asking about this at the beginning of 2007. I say this having studied the Prime Minister’s speech again and having read the chairman’s winding-up remarks—while not a full communiqué, he indicated what might be the substance of the final communiqué. In between those, the conference was presented with a bewildering array of proposals, classified in several different ways.

We had a table by the UN Institute for Disarmament, which grouped the proposals into short-term, mid-term and long-term. There was an address by an extremely able Dutchman, Mr Henk Swarttouw, whose task was to give the conference what he called a forward look. He grouped the proposals under four different heads. The first was to leave it to the market, but I do not think that anybody is advocating that. The second concerned the various nuclear fuel bank proposals. These could function, but there would be no guarantee of security. The third consisted of several proposals that embodied arrangements to guarantee supplies of nuclear fuel to the users. This included the UK’s proposed nuclear fuel assurance scheme. However, it is described as a “virtual” arrangement, which I find difficult to grasp as the fuel cannot exist in cyber space. The fourth envisaged the establishment of multinational enrichment facilities—the speaker instanced the URENCO plant in this country, a joint UK/German/Dutch facility—and a Russian proposal for a plant at Angarsk. He also referred to a proposal for a new enrichment plant in neutral territory. After suggesting that all of them could be pursued side by side, he urged his audience to be creative. That was it. There was no guidance, no preference, just another rehearsal of the options.

This debate gives the Government a chance to tell the House what they now expect will happen. When do they expect a preferred solution to emerge, and how will this be achieved? Are they satisfied that there is a sufficient sense of urgency on this issue? It is clear that the IAEA has a crucial role to play. It launched the process and it sees itself as the guardian of its international nature. But we know that Dr El Baradei is due to retire in November this year and that the process of selecting his successor is going on as we speak. I am told that the vote took place a few hours ago. Can the Minister give us an up-to-date picture on that? I warned his office that I was going to raise this question. What has happened? One of the two candidates must attract at least a third of the votes of members of the IAEA council—not a third of those voting but a third of the whole council. If he does not, the whole process must start again, which would set it back enormously.

I return to last week’s conference, at which Iran was the elephant in the room. It is to the Prime Minister’s credit that he at least did not dodge the issue but insisted—I emphasise that—that the problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions should be addressed, if Iran responds positively, not by isolating and abusing it but by applying the very processes which the Lancaster House conference had been convened to progress; namely, the MNA process. In this he was clearly drawing attention to President Obama’s dramatic offer to Iran in his inauguration speech. But if finding an MNA solution as regards the supply of nuclear fuel to countries that do not possess enrichment takes very much longer, I find it hard to see how, in the short term, it will make any contribution to solving the Iranian problem.

As has been said by all other speakers, the overriding issue has to be to pursue a process of nuclear disarmament. I firmly agree with those who argue that this must—I stress, must—go hand in hand with the establishment of an international mechanism for guaranteeing the supply of low enriched fuel for peaceful use by countries exercising their right to deploy civil nuclear generation. I wish I could see a more hopeful prospect of this being achieved but I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some comfort when he winds up.

My Lords, like other speakers, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for initiating this debate and express my admiration for the way in which she introduced this extremely complex subject.

I declare an interest: I am on the advisory board of Thorium Power, which owns the technology for replacing uranium with a blend of thorium and uranium in large nuclear reactors, which could make it impossible to produce the amount of material needed to make nuclear weapons. A thorium/uranium blend is designed to make proliferation impossible. Of course, we desire to see a world where all nuclear weapons are abolished but we have to be realistic and face the fact that this is unlikely to happen soon. Indeed, we will be fortunate if a nuclear weapon-free world comes about during the lives of any of us in your Lordships' House today or, indeed, before the 100th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This does not mean that we should give up and do nothing as there are significant risks, and nuclear proliferation is one of the greatest challenges we must face up to and do all we can to prevent.

A number of measures have been introduced since the 1960s designed to prevent further proliferation, the most important one being the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1968. In many ways the treaty has been very successful. In the 1960s many forecast that by the turn of this century about 40 nations would possess nuclear weapons. This has not happened. Today, as we have heard, both the United States of America and the Russians still have vast nuclear armouries. As other noble Lords have said, many would judge these arsenals to be too large. They are unnecessarily large and could be reduced with little or no risk. But what should we in this country be doing now? The British Government have acted wisely in deciding that, with so much uncertainty and potential danger, now is not the time to abandon entirely a capability which we have had for more than 50 years. I believe that Trident is affordable and needs to remain so even today. However, I agree very strongly with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on Trident’s replacement. Although I do not think the time is right to abandon nuclear weapons, we should seriously examine the number of submarines that we have and whether we always need to have one boat at sea. I also wonder whether we need to have 16 missile tubes in each boat.

Remaining a nuclear weapon state for the present enables us to carry more weight and leverage in discussions about non-proliferation. Giving up nuclear weapons today would be something of a gesture which I doubt would influence many who continue to move towards becoming nuclear weapons states. I am afraid that I am extremely sceptical that the money saved by abandoning our nuclear weapons would be immediately ploughed back into the defence budget. Trident is coming to the end of its life and we certainly need to be prepared for that. Nuclear weapons are a good bargaining chip which we do not want to cash in at the moment. The day has not come yet and I think that the Government are on the right course.

My Lords, I, too, begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on introducing the debate in such masterly fashion. This debate is, as other noble Lords have said, very timely, and I was particularly glad and interested to hear her mention the cyber-dimension, which is all too often ignored, because if command and control is missing then the danger is magnified greatly.

I must declare two past interests. First, I was once on the council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies which, last September, produced the admirable document Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, calling for a broad and deep international debate based on serious analysis of what it would take to achieve the immensely important and equally difficult goal of nuclear disarmament. That debate must include all states, whether nuclear or non-nuclear. Secondly, for a time I worked for a company that had the extraordinary multinational role of providing British ex-servicemen to guard Russians protecting Americans who were breaking up intercontinental ballistic missiles in Kazakhstan in the 1990s.

The call for the debate was also reflected in a letter that my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall and I wrote to the Times. I have colluded with my noble and gallant friend, who unfortunately cannot be here today to apply the passion and intellectual vigour that he has so often deployed on the issue on the Floor of this House. As other noble Lords have mentioned, this debate is timely because of the quinquennial review of the non-proliferation treaty that takes place next year. I was particularly glad, therefore, to see the government paper Lifting the Nuclear Shadow, which was published last month, and to hear the admirable speech by the Prime Minister, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred. Both of those are covered in the admirable briefing provided by the Library, for which, I am sure, all Members of the House are, once again, hugely grateful.

As other noble Lords have done, I start my comments on the Government’s plans to counter possible nuclear proliferation with a brief look at how the world has come to the situation in which it finds itself, and thus the platform on which plans must be based. In view, particularly, of the human casualties resulting from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was inevitable that the moral dimension of what nuclear weapons could do became the immediate focus of attention. During the Cold War, however, the political dimension came into play more.

It always seemed something of a paradox that the comparative stability in the world depended more on uncertainty than certainty. Neither side knew precisely what the other might do, although it always seemed likely that the side that appeared to be losing would be more tempted to use nuclear weapons first. To some extent, the moral dimension was mothballed by those nations who deemed it in their national self-interest to maintain a seat at the top table thanks to possessing nuclear weapons, as well as the intellectual conviction that the impact of such holdings would have more influence over a potential aggressor than more affordable conventional weapons would.

However, in the years since the end of the Cold War, when we have seen and been involved in an exponential growth in asymmetrical warfare—or, as General Sir Rupert Smith has so accurately described it, “War amongst the people”—the practicality and utility of nuclear weapons have also edged out the moral dimension from the top of our concerns. Of course, the political dimension has not gone away—far from it, because possessing nuclear weapons puts us on the opposite side to those who do not. Possession, therefore, carries certain rights and responsibilities in the debate for which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and many others are now calling.

The recent government statements to which I referred very clearly announce a commitment to an eventual nuclear-free world. No one pretends that the road to that goal will be covered quickly or easily, nor do I pretend for one moment that, by unilaterally giving up our weapons, we will encourage other weapons possessors to do the same. The sheer number of weapons possessed by America and Russia makes that a practical impossibility and justifies the separate START process, which involves them alone. Yet the two statements made by the Prime Minister on 17 March give me hope that he is determined that we do not merely follow others in paying lip service to the opportunity presented by the review for measures to prevent proliferation. First, the Prime Minister said:

“We cannot expect to successfully exercise moral and political leadership in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons if we ourselves do not demonstrate leadership on the question of the disarmament of our own weapons”.

Secondly, he said:

“As soon as it becomes useful for our arsenal to be included in a broader negotiation, Britain stands ready to participate and act on our current holding of 12 tubes per submarine and fewer than 160 warheads”.

However, those commitments require, and should only follow, deep analysis and serious debate about national defence self-interest. I entirely agree with the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Owen, about the study that should be started now; the more you look at the practicality and utility of using weapons with the capability of the Trident system, the more useless they appear to be as deterrents of the types of violence against which we are currently, and for the foreseeable future appear likely to be, faced. One can, of course, never be certain about that, as recent reports of nuclear refurbishment by President Medvedev confirm.

There is also always the great danger either of a disastrous nuclear accident, or of technical know-how—as well as weapons and nuclear material—getting into the wrong hands. In that connection there will always be fears, for example, of Pakistan’s weapon falling into fundamentalist Islamist hands. Yet nuclear weapons of the size and capability of Trident are unusable because of their effects against both the guilty and the innocent, which could be catastrophic in both the short and long term for us as well as for any target.

However, before we even think of using them, we have to remember that we do not own the D-11 missiles on which the warheads are mounted, and it would be incredible to think of our using them without consulting America, of whose overall capability our Trident fleet forms a very small part. On the national defence self-interest, we also have to ask ourselves whether we can continue to afford so much of our defence budget being devoted to what is essentially a political weapon when, day after day, we are reminded of the inadequacy of our conventional forces, who are currently being called upon to carry out commitments for which they require increasingly expensive and technically advanced equipment, including precision guided munitions.

If we are to exercise moral and political leadership in line with the Government’s announced intentions, then what plans should we make? Of course, the six steps announced by the Foreign Secretary are critical. They include as their first five: stopping further proliferation, action on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, as well as encouraging US-Russian negotiations and working with the IAEA to help those nations who wish to develop civil nuclear energy systems. However, great attention must also be paid to what David Miliband described as,

“the exploration of the technical, political, military and institutional challenges that need to be resolved if states such as ourselves, that possess nuclear weapons, are to reduce and ultimately eliminate their arsenals securely”.

In relation to the national defence self-interest, I have called before in this House for consideration of whether nuclear should be removed from the defence budget, because of the political nature of its possession. If we are to be properly equipped to meet the requirements of our conventional forces, their size and shape should not be determined by budgetary competition with the nuclear force. A seat at the top table, except at the NPT table, is not now linked to the possession of nuclear weapons, but more to economic power.

Recently, therefore, the Government showed considerable courage and leadership on the issue of cluster munitions. Any pretension to moral leadership in the proliferation debate is likely to be undermined if we press ahead with the expensive replacement of our current capability. Indeed, in view of the parlous state of our conventional forces, I would go so far as to say that it is irresponsible to spend vast sums on new and irrelevant weapons, purely to satisfy domestic political amour-propre. If the Government exercised similar courage over the possession of nuclear weapons, declaring that they will carry on with what they have for as long as possible, while considering further reductions or change in the context of the NPT, we are much more likely to earn the respect of those nations who do not possess them and who are understandably questioning the whole NPT process, because they do not see much sign of those who possess such weapons, including us, moving towards the goal to which we say we ultimately aspire.

My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for some very wise words, which I am sure other noble Lords also support. I thank him particularly for highlighting once again the fallacious irrationality of the submarine-based deterrent arguments and their continuation in the future. In fact, in referring to that, he reminded me of a recent incident that was hilarious and amusing in one sense but disturbing and sinister in another. We await the results of the inquiry, but unfortunately and inevitably some of the answers will be covered by the Official Secrets Act in this country and, I imagine, by similar provisions in France.

It was either early in February, or maybe before Christmas, when it was reported in the press—maybe from a leak, or else it was announced by the French and British ministries of defence—that a collision took place recently in the Bay of Biscay between HMS “Vanguard” and “Le Triomphant”, the equivalent French nuclear submarine. As others have mentioned, each had 16 missile warheads on board, of something like 15,000 tonnes each, with over 100 crew members each. They are very similar vessels, coated in a strange kind of black material—the name of which I cannot remember, it is so complicated—which means that they are undetectable and totally silent. They avoid active sonar and use only passive sonar so that they cannot be detected. They are supposed to be able to immediately ascertain everything that is going on around them.

These vessels, which cost £2 billion each and thousands of millions of pounds to repair and maintain under the normal programmes, let alone if there are accidents, both had to limp back to suitable ports in the UK and France. I think that our vessel was towed, and perhaps the French one made it under its own steam. They collided; and they are not supposed to collide. The destructive nuclear power of these vessels, if there had been a worse accident, would have been truly appalling, not only for the crews involved but for everyone else because of the radiation and fall-out results.

That hugely expensive so-called deterrent system has been our mainstay for a long time, since nuclear bombers were replaced. The idea of its continuing on this irrational basis, which is so expensive for countries of our size of a population of 60 million, with hugely stretched resources because of the worldwide financial and economic crisis, is to my mind utterly absurd. That is the case even if the surrounding arguments for the maintenance of nuclear capability of one machinery or another are continued, as they will inevitably be for some time, particularly by the five principal nuclear powers that started off before other countries, such as India, Pakistan and Israel, joined in.

The considerable reduction of the nuclear arsenals has been referred to by my noble friend Lady Williams—I pay tribute to her for her outstanding speech—and by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his compelling and riveting speech. He suggested future prescriptions for continuing the process of reduction. Yes, the Russians and the Americans have shown impressive leadership in recent times, despite the awful nature of the Cold War. That surely must continue, I hope, on an accelerated basis.

In fact, more and more people now think that you do not have to be a unilateralist any more, but you can be a multilateralist and get on with it, and you can make sure that the countries under the new treaty frameworks that are going to be created from next year onwards covering all the fields—I thank my noble friend Lady Williams for mentioning the specific mechanics, modalities and machinery for doing those various bits and pieces—of the total nuclear disarmament, nuclear reduction and non-proliferation exercise. It is hugely complex task, which is now more and more urgent and is often put aside in people’s thinking because of other pressing economic and financial problems. However, it is one of the most important examples of the dangers facing us.

The nuclear weapons and warheads reduction by France and Britain, starting at a much more modest and higher level, has been reasonable. France has done less than Britain in numerical terms, but that is understandable because France became an independent nuclear power in its own right later on. I happen to live in France as well, and often when one discusses these matters in Paris the old cynicism comes out. There were many different arguments about what happened, but the French like to think that they were prevented by the Americans from having atomic secrets because they had a large Communist party that was inherently unstable, and there were lots of people who rather liked the Soviet Union, Stalin and so on in the post-war period in France. Therefore, they could give the secrets to the British, and the British had the sharing of nuclear secrets eventually, even though they did not at the beginning. The French muse on that in an amused way that all the nuclear secrets given to Britain by the Americans were given away by rather posh undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, some of whom ended up living in the Soviet Union.

All this madness now has to be looked back on with an idea of changing the world, creating a new situation and saving a huge amount of money. Even if some part of that saving goes back into defence spending, that is a separate argument. It is very important for countries that now wish to contribute to the modern form of warfare, which is the peace process, trying to maintain peace and create peace where war exists. That is the new kind of warfare, which we find more acceptable, though tragically inevitable. We would prefer not to have any wars at all, but that is the real world in which we live. It is that kind of thing, rather than imperial struggles and the nuclear arms race which went up to a total of 70,000 warheads and now is down to 20,000 plus because of the disarmament process, which we now look back on.

It would have been impossible a few years before that people such as Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Senator Sam Nunn and others would have said what they said recently, about the need for us to see a new world and to respond, in a solemn international compact, which the advanced countries should now accept more and more, with this fresh treaty-building on which we are about to embark. It has been said that we have sorely and savagely let down other countries that expected us to do this business much more rapidly and much more creatively.

I do not think that anywhere near 20,000-plus warheads are necessary in this unstable world. The way in which you stop the spread of nuclear fissile material and dirty bombs, and all the sinister terrorist threats that may be conjoined with those, is to put an end to those weapons as soon as possible, even if, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, it could take 10 years, which is not a long time in these processes, and it may be longer. Whatever the time taken, the whole world and the United Nations must be supported in these matters. We do not seem to be able to get modernisation and reform of the Security Council or an acceleration of the process of nuclear disarmament to create a proper non-proliferation nexus for the global society, where we are more and more interdependent.

Apparently the Israelis have 200 nuclear bombs. What is the use of those nuclear weapons? As a friend of Israel, I agree entirely that Israel has to be militarily unbeatable otherwise it would be too vulnerable in the Middle East to attacks from surrounding countries which might believe that they could win in warfare. Israel, once armed with that superior unbeatability in conventional terms and with the latest aircraft which any air force in the world can possess, does not need nuclear weapons. What if they were unleashed in some tragic circumstance against Arab countries which surround Israel and the pollution and the nuclear fallout came back on to Israel because of the way the wind was blowing or something equally absurd? It would be absolutely crazy for them and they know it. They were acquired in a strange, illicit fashion.

In more recent years we have seen the spread into Pakistan and India. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Falkner will refer to Pakistan, which she knows so well. This is a time for huge change and a time to get away from nuclear weapons. I thank my noble friend Lady Williams who has not only been helping the Government officially on disarmament matters but she has the unusual distinction of teaching with great commendation in both Harvard and Yale. I remember an old story of a graduate from Yale—a young man, not a distinguished lady—who said, “I graduated from Yale which stands for youth, ability, leadership and energy”. Although my noble friend and the rest of us in this Chamber are of a more mature age in physical terms, in no way does that remove from her the youthful approach which she has to new ideas on this matter. Long may she prevail, like all of us, in this battle to achieve common sense and the end of madness. I believe that nuclear weapons were effective only between 1945 and 1949, and not in a very nice way, in view of what happened in Japan. The sooner we get rid of that madness—mutually assured destruction is MAD and is madness —the better for all of us.

My Lords, it is no exaggeration to say that at no point since the non-proliferation treaty came into force, some 40 years ago, has the risk of a substantial degree of further nuclear proliferation been greater than it is today. That risk is not limited to the two countries whose nuclear programmes provide the greatest cause for concern, North Korea and Iran. If either of those countries were to become a fully fledged nuclear weapons state or were to acquire the capability to do that in short order, few believe that the matter would rest there. Each of those countries is in a region full of tension with other neighbouring states which would not lightly sit idly by in such circumstances. I believe we are faced with the risk of a major breakout from, if not a complete breakdown of, a rules-based regime, which has made a major contribution to international peace and security. Therefore, we should not lull ourselves into a false sense of security with talk of a soft landing, even if attempts to prevent those two countries acquiring such a capability were to fail.

That sombre prospect is a reason to welcome the timeliness of the debate and to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on initiating it. In recent years, she has worked tirelessly as a member of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as the Government’s adviser on non-proliferation and now as a member of the Australian and Japanese Governments’ Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. She has also worked tirelessly to strengthen the regime which others are working so assiduously to undermine.

What needs to be done? Put simply, I suggest that we need to ensure that the 2010 nuclear non-proliferation review conference does not turn into the sort of fiasco which the last quinquennial review turned into in 2005, unable even to adopt its own agenda let alone achieve anything positive. To do that we need to ensure not only some positive results next year but also to set a clear direction of travel for both nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states for the years ahead, a direction of travel which demonstrates that they all mean to make a reality of their commitments under the treaty, on the one hand, to move towards nuclear disarmament and, on the other hand, to strengthen the safeguards against any blurring of the line between civil and weapons programmes.

Of course, those broad objectives will require deeds and not just warm words. First, efforts need to be resumed to bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In that context, the new US Administration’s willingness to return to the charge with Congress is extremely welcome. Others too, like China and India, will need to match those efforts. Secondly, we surely need to find a way to initiate rapid negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. If the procedural deadlock created by the consensus rules of the conference on disarmament in Geneva remain an insuperable obstacle to initiating those negotiations, I ask the Minister whether the Government have given any thought, and whether they are prepared to consult their fellow recognised nuclear weapons states, all of whom have said that they favour such a treaty, to the possibility of proceeding on a narrower basis. After all, such an approach worked quite well for landmines and for cluster munitions. Thirdly, there is an urgent need to reduce the seven or eight different schemes. Here I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about making available internationally guaranteed supplies of enriched uranium and reprocessing services to bone fide civil and nuclear users, thus removing the damaging temptation of a spread in enrichment and reprocessing plants and having one scheme which everyone can back. Last week, the Government’s conference on the nuclear fuel cycle was a genuinely welcome initiative but, I suggest, that we now need to move to decisions at the IAEA, if possible by the time of the June board of governors’ meeting. What are the Government’s plans in that respect?

I suggest that we should look at other ways of narrowing the gap and the discrimination between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states. In 1995, when it was decided to prolong the non-proliferation treaty sine die—it is now prolonged sine die, so there is no question of it coming to an end next year—the nuclear weapons states gave certain negative security assurances which were endorsed in a Security Council resolution. First, could we not now strengthen those assurances, perhaps stating flatly that the Security Council would act if any non-nuclear state were attacked or were threatened with nuclear weapons? Secondly, could we not also revisit the vexed issue of no first use? Throughout the Cold War, the West refused to contemplate any such undertaking, given the massive superiority in conventional weapons in northern Europe of the Warsaw Pact, but that consideration no longer exists. Thirdly, surely all nuclear weapons states could do more to de-alert their weapons systems so that our nuclear arsenals are not only much reduced—there is still plenty of scope for that to go further, particularly in the case of the US and Russia—but also so that they became weapons of last resort, not weapons deployed as part of our normal defence posture.

There is nothing particularly original about many of the points that I have raised—other noble Lords and other participants in this debate have covered much the same ground—and they are not matters which will necessarily be negotiated at next year's review conference. However, they will critically affect the outcome of that conference and the outcome of the efforts to handle successfully the problems which have arisen in relation to North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programmes. Of course, both of those latter problems of Iran and North Korea will need to be handled separately on their own merits within the existing negotiating frameworks which have been established for them: the six nation group for North Korea and the 3+3 group for Iran. In both cases, it is late but not, I would argue, too late to hope to achieve outcomes consistent with what the Security Council has called for. The chances are better now that the US is prepared to talk directly to Iran, as it has already been doing for some time to North Korea, and now that there is a willingness to address both countries’ wider security concerns, not just the narrow nuclear issue. I would also argue that a fundamental shift towards multilateral nuclear disarmament will influence positively the prospects for the future handling of the three nuclear weapons states that stand outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime: India, Pakistan and Israel. The prospects for progress on these must be slight in the short term and probably for so long as the disputes over Palestine and Kashmir remain unresolved. In particular, I urge that we must not lose sight of the objective of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East as part of an end-state in that region.

I began on a sombre and rather pessimistic note, but I conclude on a note of hope. The first moves by the Obama Administration in the nuclear field seem to me to have been well judged and to have signalled a fundamental shift in US nuclear policy away from the unilateralist nostrums of their predecessor back towards a comprehensive revival of multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament. The response in Moscow so far as bilateral nuclear negotiations with the US are concerned has been positive, so there is something to work with there. The Prime Minister’s speech last week was a welcome and serious contribution to the debate over future policy, as was President Sarkozy’s letter last December to the UN Secretary-General when he wrote on behalf of the European Union. Above all, I hope to hear from the Minister at the conclusion of this debate that we in this country intend to give these nuclear issues a much higher priority in our foreign policy than has been the case in recent years and that the Government will sustain the kind of comprehensive approach that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, many other noble Lords and I have been calling for for some considerable time.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Williams for initiating this debate and for setting out so clearly the challenge confronting us in advance of the review conference on the NPT next year. I want to concentrate on the potential for nuclear proliferation in the Muslim world, primarily on the threat of proliferation in Iran and the reality of proliferation in Pakistan and India.

Several noble Lords have spoken about Iran and, at this stage, it is difficult to bring a unique perspective to this issue, but I want to make a few simple points. First, despite the pressing issue of proliferation and the NPT review conference, we in the UK and the US might wish to desist from commenting on or indeed making approaches to Iran in the lead-up to the presidential election there on 12 June. Anything that we or the US might say in this period will at best be ignored or at worst be politically manipulated or hastily dealt with against a stressed political campaign. A hasty or unconsidered response could further be seen as limiting the possibility for movement on a future Government in Iran. A veil of silence for 100 days now may well shed more light in the 100 to follow after 12 June.

Secondly, the United States has to negotiate with Iran directly, and is doing so. That is a fact now well established in Washington but, in doing so, it has to improve co-ordination between its attempts to prevent Iranian nuclear proliferation and its recognition of Iran’s strategic interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not to say that the US and UK should ignore the views of other regional actors, including Israel, who arguably feel more threatened by Iran than we might, but we should consult them while being clear about our preparedness to have a more constructive dialogue with Iran.

A further issue to do with Iran is for the P5+1 states to come to a realistic assessment of what can be achieved in terms of non-proliferation. We know that sanctions have not worked to dissuade Iran’s nuclear ambitions—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, made that clear in his elegant speech—nor will they work in the longer term. Iran’s people are too resilient to be brought down by the limited sanctions that we might apply.

A further issue with Iran is history. To its east, Iran knows that India, which first tested in 1972 claiming that its pursuit of nuclear technology was for civilian purposes only, was able to continue down the path of proliferation until 1998, when it finally came out as a nuclear weapons state. It has now been rewarded by the US with a treaty that brings it firmly into the declared NWS club with all the attendant benefits that membership brings. To its west, Iran sees that Israel has also benefited from a covert nuclear programme, not only to go unpunished, but then to use pre-emptive strikes against others that might wish to go down the same road. The lessons of history weigh heavily in Iran and the threat of Israeli strikes against its nuclear facilities à la Syria in 2007 have served only to reinforce its determination to move as fast as possible to attain highly enriched uranium. It is clear that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, almost certainly lead to the end of what co-operation exists between Iran and the inspection regime of the IAEA and drive Iran’s covert nuclear programme further underground. It is not something that one hopes the Obama Administration will support.

So what is to be done with Iran? I am influenced by thinking in the US that points to support for the idea that the Europeans form a multinational consortium with Iran to produce enriched uranium inside the country, thus transferring a purely national programme to international ownership, management and supervision. This way, all nuclear-related developments in Iran would be monitored by an enhanced verification system with the full participation of the IAEA to ensure that military nuclear activity is not taking place. It appears that the Iranian Government have raised the possibility of a multinationally owned enrichment facility on Iranian soil that would provide them with a guaranteed supply of fuel for a civilian nuclear energy programme, which they say that they have the right to pursue, and that must be acknowledged.

Several noble Lords have spoken of the dangers inherent in Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons. In the case of Pakistan, with its history of conflict with India, it was inevitable that, once India had tested, Pakistan would strive for a similar capability. Had it not, India would have had sufficient asymmetry of power to become an existential threat to Pakistan. That both countries went down the road to possession of nuclear weapons is the failure of our—the West’s—overall lack of imagination to have come up with an even-handed, ongoing commitment to that region. It is a failure that continues to preoccupy us and will do so for several more years, I fear.

There is also growing fear that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may fall into the wrong hands. Several noble Lords have touched on this. We know that Pakistan is currently dysfunctional; some say that it is even on the verge of becoming a failed state. To worry about that is the rational thing for us to do. However, it may help us in thinking about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons —to paraphrase Michael Quinlan’s title for his excellent book—to recognise that Pakistan’s military continues to exercise considerable power within that country. Indeed, while we despair at the military’s inability to remain in barracks, we can take some comfort from the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is in the hands of the national command authority, a body dominated by the military. While we might have concerns about the radicalisation of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, the military is far more cognisant of the deterrence value of its nuclear arsenal. In other words, it is much more likely to behave responsibly, even in a conflict situation, because the cost of not doing so would almost certainly result in its devastation.

In closing, I shall make a few general points about the scale of the task of disarmament. I agree with almost everything laid out in my noble friend Lady Williams’s road map for the review conference next year. What I would add is that there is a real and heartfelt belief in the Muslim world—by which I really mean the Middle East and south Asia—that in this new talk of disarmament in the West there is an agenda. Public opinion in those regions sees Israel given a free hand while the Israel/Palestine issue remains unresolved. It sees India rewarded for proliferation with a new co-operation treaty while Kashmir remains unresolved. It sees UN resolutions that favour the resolution of those conflicts ignored, while those that ratchet up sanctions and actions against Muslims are upheld—sometimes, even recently, with the force of arms. It is unsurprising that on the Muslim street there is a sneaky respect for Iran’s standing up to the West, as it is seen.

If the Prime Minister is serious in now taking the lead towards re-engaging with disarmament in his Road to 2010 Plan, he needs alongside that to begin a fresh approach to a resolution of those twin conflicts in Israel/Palestine and Kashmir. They are both as old as or older than 1945 when in Hiroshima and Nagasaki we saw the full power of man’s propensity for destruction.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for the opportunity to debate the issue and to learn from her long experience and key role in it. No less, like other noble Lords, I would like to pay tribute to the late Sir Michael Quinlan. I was privileged to be a member of a number of groups thinking hard and long about the ethics of nuclear deterrence in the 1980s. In nearly all those groups, he was the formative influence. His recent book, Thinking about Nuclear Weapons, once again put us all hugely in his debt. I once asked him whether it was his long years in the Civil Service that had given his thinking such rigour and precision. He said, “No, Richard, it was my education with the Jesuits”. I say that with all apologies to noble Lords who were senior civil servants.

During that time, I remember being surprised when he suddenly stated that we must never lose sight of the goal of a nuclear-free world. It seemed a surprising thing for the architect of British nuclear policy in both its strategic and ethical aspects to say at the height of the Cold War. Yet that is what he holds out and considers seriously in the last two chapters of his recent book. He does so, first, because since 1946, that has been a repeatedly stated goal of our Governments—for example, in the recent speech of the present Prime Minister. Closely linked to that is what he describes as an essential load-bearing element in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He argues that both righteous abolitionists, who think that states can give up nuclear weapons as if they were giving up smoking, and dismissive realists are wrong and that there can be a convergence of both approaches in working towards that eventual goal, however far off and however massive the difficulties to be overcome on the way, which he spells out with his characteristic unblinkered realism.

If I am suspicious of some of those who emphasise the goal of an ultimately nuclear-free world, it is because I worry that they may ignore that sober realism and slip into an unhelpful and perhaps even dangerous utopianism. My emphasis is therefore rather different: not on the goal as such, but on the essential steps that need to be taken now, whether or not that goal is ever achievable. We know that a nuclear-free world would need to be very different from the one that we have now. Above all, it would need much stronger international arrangements to resolve disputes without recourse to war. In short, we must continue to do all that we can to support and strengthen the work of the United Nations, not least the Security Council, and the work of the United Nations through its other instruments and organisations.

Many people can get depressed or cynical about the United Nations. Although that is understandable, we cannot allow it to happen. If nations are to be encouraged to reduce their reliance on armaments, particularly nuclear armaments, they must have the confidence that, when potential conflicts arise, there is an international body with both the authority and the means to resolve them in as impartial a way as possible. In short, if we are to budge even an inch in the direction of a nuclear-free world, we will have to change the political landscape. That means not only resolving the conflicts that have been before us for 50 years or more—as was just mentioned—over Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, and China and Taiwan, but, no less important, strengthening a whole range of international instruments.

As several noble Lords have mentioned, that particularly includes the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. As civil nuclear power is essential for the future, and countries are to be encouraged to acquire it without at the same time acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, there must be a tough inspection regime and the means to enforce its requirements. As we all know, important points have been made by Dr Mohamed El Baradei, which I will not repeat because they have already been mentioned several times in this debate.

Strengthening the international instruments for resolving conflict is a prime requirement in the pursuit of a nuclear-free world. The second, very closely linked to it, is the reduction in nuclear arms by the nuclear weapons states. If we are realistic, that is not because, say, 200 nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them is less of a deterrent or threat than, say, 400 such weapons. The point is simply that a willingness to reduce numbers can build confidence and trust. As we all know, “confidence building” was a vital phrase in arms reduction talks in the 1980s. I was very glad that the Prime Minister put stress on that in his recent speech, when he said:

“With each step we must aim to build confidence, confidence that action to prevent proliferation is working and that states with weapons are making strides to live up to their commitments ... this is the time to act together to take the next steps in building that confidence”.

On the issue of Trident, I am not one who believes that, if we divest ourselves of nuclear weapons, others will necessarily follow. Countries such as Pakistan and India have their own strategic reasons for the possession of such weapons and are not likely to be much influenced by us at this stage. Nevertheless, without exaggerating the effect of going non-nuclear, on 24 January 2007 in a debate on nuclear deterrence I argued that on balance—it is very finely judged—we would be better off without a nuclear capability ourselves. That would at least be some contribution to building trust and confidence. This afternoon that argument has been put particularly powerfully by the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Ramsbotham.

It is interesting that, when Sir Michael Quinlan wrote about replacing Trident, he said that the case for going ahead was not so plainly and “unconditionally compelling” that it should be taken as entirely beyond reconsideration. We all know that weapons themselves are not the cause of war. Wars are caused by human beings—sometimes by overt aggression but often through mutual fear and mistrust. So the prime aim of the twin-track approach, both in relation to nuclear weapons specifically and in building up the political instruments and means of enabling people to feel secure, must be to build up trust and confidence.

The nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons is with us to the end of time. There is a risk even in a nuclear-free world of a race to use that knowledge to build such weapons again. The only way in which such a race could be prevented would be the existence of authoritative and strong international instruments for conflict resolution. Furthermore, as Michael Quinlan used to emphasise, the final move from a small but effective nuclear arsenal to none at all would be a particularly fraught and dangerous time for the world. That again highlights the need for much stronger internationally agreed political mechanisms than we have at the moment.

As a Christian, I accept the goal of a nuclear-free world as an “impossible possibility”, to quote Niebuhr, and as such I am simply not allowed to lose sight of it. My emphasis would be on doing all that we can to change the political conditions of international life, for without this nothing is possible. Closely linked to that—we are talking about a twin-track approach—we need to take all the steps that we can not only to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty, taking account of all the wise and important things that have been said this afternoon, but to build confidence by reducing reliance on nuclear weapons and having international safeguards on the use of all forms of nuclear energy.

My Lords, I, like other speakers, must congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. As a preliminary, I owe her an apology as I was late and came in when she was half way through her speech. I misled myself as to the hour when the debate was likely to begin.

This has been an extremely interesting and important debate. However, an aspect that has not been mentioned, or even alluded to, is, curiously, that at present we have the pleasure of an opera being staged at Convent Garden on the subject of disarmament called “Doctor Atomic”, which is about Oppenheimer. Also, a month or so ago, the Duff Cooper prize, a primary literary prize, was won for a biography of Oppenheimer. This is perhaps an example of art preceding politics. I hope that it is; it would be very encouraging if it were. Certainly, the history of the slave trade showed that there was a great deal of discussion about abolition long before its possibility was achieved.

It is worth while coming to the questions raised by the opera and the biography. Those events were the first reaction to nuclear weapons after the war in 1945. Oppenheimer was the genius who presided over the creation of the atom bomb but he was also interested—who would not be?—in its control and subsequent abolition. The Oppenheimer Plan was based on a document written by him, changed by Dean Acheson and David Lilienthal, author of the Tennessee Valley project, and changed again subsequently by Bernard Baruch. It was the first effort to control nuclear weapons in 1945. That is worth considering now that we are discussing methods of control once again.

The interesting aspect of the control mechanism suggested by Oppenheimer was that it would be an effort to articulate the wishes of those who wanted to work in the nuclear field but not in nuclear weapons. The Oppenheimer-Baruch Plan suggested that this difficulty could be overcome by having all nuclear weapons and nuclear material owned by an international authority. Perhaps we should reconsider this. It may seem as fanciful as the idea of a world without nuclear weapons; nevertheless it is an approach which could be tried again.

Another point to be emphasised is that these plans, which informed the plans of the West for the next 20 years, were all to be integrated in conventional disarmament. Thus, the plan between 1946 and 1950 was for nuclear weapons to cease to be produced at the moment when the conventional weapons of the great powers had been cut by one third. As one who took part in such discussions, I remember very well the one-third cut proposal being a controversial one. We were to try to find a method of enumerating the number of Soviet tanks, infantry and aircraft, and when they had cut a third of those items, we would begin to consider nuclear weapons. I am not sure it was such a bad plan. I speak as a veteran disarmamentist, since in those days I was a secretary of the British delegation to the UN Disarmament Commission and had the pleasure and interest of serving that lost leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Anthony Nutting. His dedication was remarkable and deserves to be remembered more than it is.

A third point I would emphasise in relation to our present problems and possibilities is that, unlike in the 1940s, a large number of countries are involved in nuclear weapons. We and other possessor states could approach them by suggesting that we might be prepared to consider abolition if abolition was also considered by them. I do not know if the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, could conceive of such a suggestion in his plan for not possessing nuclear weapons, but it could perhaps be considered now in a way that it could not when he launched his sensational speech a year and a half ago.

My Lords, the world faces three major threats or challenges: an economic and financial threat; the threat of climate change involving food and water shortages; and of course nuclear catastrophe, perhaps by accident as was referred to by my noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Dykes—he referred to the submarine collision—or by design. While there is a relationship between all three, as the right reverend Prelate said, for me the nuclear threat is unquestionably the most deeply worrying. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, time is not on our side.

In preparation for the debate, I looked at the estimated nuclear arsenals, dominated of course by the United States and Russia, with over 10,000 nuclear weapons each—surely a massive overkill with substantial opportunity for reductions, as acknowledged by Kissinger and Shultz, and by the noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Owen, this afternoon. Then we look at those countries with three-figure stockpiles, France with 300 nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom with 160 and China with perhaps 125-plus. Fortunately, they are disciplined nations with no current obvious major adversary. Then Israel—never admitted—has 80-plus nuclear weapons. It is a disciplined nation, but potentially ruthless if its survival is ultimately threatened. It would be marvellous to think that we could work long term towards a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East but that looks as though it will be a long time coming. With 50 to 60 nuclear weapons each, India and Pakistan face each other in a state of considerable tension, as was referred to by my noble friend Lady Falkner. North Korea—an enigma, dangerous and unpredictable, with severe power and food shortages and large conventional forces—has maybe up to 10 nuclear weapons. Then one must add Iran, whose intentions are uncertain, but many believe that it is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Our Defence Secretary, John Hutton, clearly believes that, as do United States military chiefs. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made it clear that he is also convinced that Iran is very much on that path.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Williams, not only on securing this apposite debate but on all her work in disarmament, as has been referred to. Of course, her work was warmly acknowledged by the Prime Minister in his 17 March speech on nuclear energy and proliferation.

It is not all gloom and failure. Something like 40,000 warheads have been destroyed since the end of the Cold War, mainly United States and Russian weapons. We in the UK have cut our warheads by 50 per cent since 1997 and have disposed of all our freefall and tactical nuclear weapons. A number of countries—not many, but some: South Africa and Libya—have been dissuaded from continuing on the nuclear journey.

As my noble friend Lady Williams said, the basic principle of the non-proliferation treaty is that, while non-nuclear powers are free to develop civil nuclear power, the nuclear powers commit to pursue and develop significant reductions in their nuclear arsenals. With the expansion of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, the director-general of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei, estimates that 35 to 40 states could have the knowledge to acquire nuclear weapons.

We should take some encouragement from the Prime Minister’s recent speech—the pledge to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons; the step-by-step approach; pledges to set out a “road to 2010” plan, with detailed proposals on civil nuclear power, disarmament, non-proliferation and fissile material security; a role for the development of the IAEA; and the hosting of a conference for recognised nuclear weapons states on nuclear disarmament issues. With the START treaty expiring later this year, there was a welcome commitment to find and to work for a legally binding successor and, finally, if possible, a commitment to reducing the number of UK warheads further, consistent with national deterrents.

The role of Trident has been increasingly questioned today. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is not with us, but he has written on this subject, which was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Owen. There would be a replacement cost of between £15 billion and £20 billion, and a possible annual running cost of £1.5 billion. Both major parties presently are committed to replacement. The Lib Dem policy is that the Trident nuclear system should be continued and maintained, and its operational life extended. The final decision of any successor system should be taken around 2014 when significant capital spend would begin to be incurred.

However, questions must be asked about the independence of our deterrent, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred. Apart from the points that he made, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment is virtually American controlled. Who is our likely enemy? If we have to use nuclear weapons, the deterrent will have failed. We wonder what instructions are in the sealed letter from the Prime Minister to Trident commanders on missile launch. No one is suggesting that Trident should be given up immediately, but, surely, it could be considered to be used as part of future negotiations, to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, referred. Perhaps we may be able to develop a joint force with the French. Cancelling Trident would obviously be a momentous and serious decision for this country, which could not be reversed. Certainly, at least part of any financial savings must be devoted to building our conventional forces.

On Iran, I can do no better than to quote from the book, Under a Mushroom Cloud, by Emanuele Ottolenghi. He writes:

“Iran has chosen concealment over transparency. Its nuclear programme remains opaque and it continues to prevaricate and deny the international community the opportunity to conclusively verify the real nature of its programme. Iran is not to be sure refusing to co-operate with the IAEA, but it is engaging in an elaborate stratagem of delay, obfuscation and deception”.

Having said that, we must welcome the new American conciliatory tone under President Obama and must not be put off by the initial dismissal of the overtures he has made. I would suggest that the United States must talk to the other major regional powers, apart from attempting to talk to Iran, and involve Syria, Turkey and Russia, which, it is believed, are considering supplying Iran with a substantial, defensive missile shield.

On terrorism, clearly, there are considerable worries about the dirty bomb and the stability of Pakistan, as have been referred to earlier. Only today, there is an article in the Times on the way in which Pakistan seems to have abdicated and withdrawn from the Swat Valley and the Taliban have moved in. Numerous stockpiles remain unaccounted for in the former Soviet Union. Some claim that there is enough uranium or plutonium to make a further 40,000 weapons, to which I believe the noble Lord, Lord King, referred. Security Council Resolution 1540 obliges nations to improve stockpile security and allows teams of specialists to be deployed to other countries to assist monitoring and accounting. We have to expand the IAEA’s budget.

In conclusion, while we cannot disinvent nuclear technology and while, ultimately, I do not believe the world’s superpowers will ever totally give up their nuclear arsenals, we have to speed up the disarmament process, reduce excessive stockpiles, support our Government’s step-by-step approach and take a hard look at our Trident replacement policy. Above all, we have to believe that substantial nuclear disarmament can be achieved in the Obama slogan “Yes we can”.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for raising this debate. I was hugely impressed with the elegant way in which the noble Baroness delivered her speech, which, as my noble friend Lord King said, contained some very complicated points, while only once referring to her notes.

Given the Prime Minister’s recent statement on this issue and the publication of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy paper, Lifting the nuclear shadow: Creating conditions for abolishing nuclear weapons, I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, this “immensely important” issue. I commend the FCO’s policy paper and helpful two-page summary to the House and very much welcome it. Its launch, by the Foreign Secretary, was the last public appearance of Sir Michael Quinlan. Like other noble Lords who have spoken in today’s debate from both sides of the House, I pay tribute to his unique contribution to these debates.

The Minister will be aware that we have long called for this country to lead a drive to revive and reinvigorate the non-proliferation treaty. Thirty-nine years after it came into force, it is showing strain. Problems have increased because today much of the WMD technology is 50 years old, and so much more accessible both to states and non-states. We know that up to 40 countries have the technical expertise to produce nuclear weapons. Despite the exposure of AQ Khan, the nuclear black market continues to thrive. My noble friend Lord King, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, mentioned the letter to the Times of last June. In that letter, former Foreign Secretaries the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and the former Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary-General the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, argued that,

“During the Cold War nuclear weapons had the perverse effect of making the world a relatively stable place”.

Today, however, nuclear proliferation means that,

“the world is at the brink of a new and dangerous phase—one that combines widespread proliferation with extremism and geopolitical tension”.

This prospect seems all the more real because of the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, and those against other western targets. These attacks have shown our increasing vulnerability to terrorist assault and opened up the horrific possibility of a nuclear or chemical device being detonated in one of our own cities.

We can see that the NPT is being stretched and is not providing sufficient support because of these developments and strained relations—or complete lack of agreement—between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. Discussions with North Korea, for example, involved immense diplomacy, incentives and isolation, which we will now have to direct towards Iran. Furthermore, as high oil prices and concern about climate change mean that people move towards nuclear energy, there is an increasing possibility that countries may obtain nuclear weapons through the nuclear fuel cycle. We have seen this already in North Korea and now Iran may be trying to do the same. We therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s speech of 17 March in which, among other things, he pledged to hold a conference of the recognised nuclear weapons powers, action to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a leading role for Britain in tackling proliferation.

It is unsurprising that we should welcome these measures, as they are Conservative proposals. The next review conference of the NPT will take place next year, and we very much hope that real progress will be made, given the failure of the 2005 conference to reach an agreement. We look forward next year to what we hope will be very productive discussions, followed by a substantive agreement that includes a mechanism for safe access to nuclear fuel.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding raised some important issues, particularly the increasingly urgent need to find a mechanism for providing a host of new countries with low-enriched fuel for peaceful use and to enable them to comply with the NPT. Iran is a signatory to the NPT.

Efforts to revive the NPT will be in vain if we cannot stop Iran from undermining it fatally by acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. President Obama has announced his intention to engage with Iran. Does the Minister agree that this diplomatic strategy must be underpinned by resolute action from the EU as a whole if Iran is to be persuaded to return to negotiations?

It is now well over a year since the Prime Minister said that the UK would seek tougher sanctions both at the United Nations and in the European Union, including on oil and gas investments and the financial sector. Will the Minister say why these sanctions have not yet been adopted? Will he also say what is being done to secure a formal ban on European export credit guarantees to Iran, which subsidise trade to that country?

While we welcome the fact that the Government are adopting so many Conservative proposals, they must also do more in an area which the Prime Minister did not mention in his 17 March speech. Will the Minister say whether the Government are making progress in addressing the financial underpinnings of non-proliferation? There is an utmost need for the Government to ensure that we have the capacity, at a national and international level, to isolate nuclear proliferators from the international financial system. By identifying and blocking these financial activities, illicit nuclear programmes can be slowed down and pressure can be put on the Governments behind them. What action have the Government taken to ensure that government departments have the right expertise and experience to cope with this rapidly expanding area? Given that defence against nuclear proliferation depends in vast part on multilateral action and co-operation, will the Minister say what the Government have done to ensure that we have sufficient capability to help other countries to co-operate with this policy?

We look forward to next week when President Obama meets the President of Russia here in London. We hope that their negotiations will mark the beginning of a new era in the prevention of nuclear proliferation. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out the importance of new Administrations consolidating progress made by their predecessors.

Finally, I will, in the friendliest way, make an observation about comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, about HMS “Vanguard” and “Le Triomphant”. I understand that, although the two vessels made contact while travelling at a very low speed, no one was injured, the nuclear security of the submarines was not compromised, and both boats returned to their bases under their own power. I trust that the Minister will, so far as he can, correct me if I am wrong.

My Lords, let me immediately join all who have paid tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for the debate today. She has set a tone, which many have matched, of extraordinary historic sweep in describing the development of nuclear weapons since the testing of that first weapon in New Mexico.

I was forced to reflect that there is probably no other legislative Chamber in the world, except perhaps China, where the average age of the Members is greater than that of nuclear weapons, which gives us a historical sweep not allowed to others. Perhaps that is also what makes many of us so certain that we want to see the age when nuclear weapons, too, are pensionable.

On listening to the debate, I came back to the point that I always come back to in my own mind: the nuclear weapon of the greatest threat to our security and to world security today is no longer very sophisticated nuclear warheads but pirated fissile material. That reflects the fundamental change in global security, the relatively reduced threat of war between states—states being the owners of those high-technology nuclear weapons—and the rising threat of terrorists and other groups taking advantage of asymmetrical warfare to use pirated fissile or other weapons, chemical and others, to bring desperate harm to defenceless civilian populations.

I want to return to that theme later because I do not think that ultimately you can have a view of nuclear weapons separate from a view of the changing nature of security in the 21st century. Let me at this stage pick up on, I thought, the very interesting, if mildly provocative, suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, of a Duff-Mason summary that the Prime Minister might leave on the desk, by implication, for his successor. I would only argue, as I am sure the noble Lord would agree, that such a memorandum which sought to systematise, synthesise and sequence the next steps we need to take would be as much value to the author as to a fresh reader. In that sense I think it is a very good suggestion, even if I hope that it will be Prime Minister Gordon Brown who gets to read that memorandum at some point next year. If there were such a memorandum, I think that it would pick up points made in the debate today.

The first is the enormous importance of securing a safe nuclear fuel cycle in a way that makes nuclear power available to countries that have a legitimate demand for it and are willing to accept the safeguards. That was the purpose of the conference in London last week, to which a number of kind references have been made. In his speech at that meeting, the Prime Minister observed that we would need to build 32 nuclear power plants a year between now and 2050 to achieve our goal of halving emissions and bringing us into line with the climate change commitments that we envisage. It is worth repeating that to remind ourselves of the astonishing challenge we have in terms of the peaceful use of nuclear power and the need to expand access to it on a dramatic scale if we are to go down that road.

I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and thank him for having attended that conference. I recognise that there may not have emerged as much clarity on the way forward as we might wish. Some customer countries voiced confidence in being able to continue to access the commercial market. However, as more countries knock on the door—they will very shortly as the need for nuclear energy increases—the fuel bank and fuel assurance proposals of the kind that we and others have put forward will become indispensable.

There is progress. Jordan and Turkey, for example, made it clear that they see a valuable role for assurances of supply. We understand that Armenia and Ukraine are likely to become stakeholders in a new international uranium enrichment centre in Russia. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have helped to raise the $150 million for the creation of the IAEA fuel bank proposed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. We have not boiled everything down to one approach, but there is strong progress and we hope that after the conference we can advance it.

Beyond the safer fuel cycle, the issue of weapons and the disarmament example that the UK can or cannot make in terms of Trident is a key next step in the prime ministerial memorandum. The Prime Minister said last week that we would reduce the number of tubes on submarines from 16 to 12. It would not be possible to reduce the number of submarines in service from four to three, because that would not allow us constant coverage at sea. I acknowledge that these are marginal changes that we are contemplating, which fall far short of the prospect that a number of noble Lords properly raised of the retirement of the weapons system.

I share the view that there will potentially come a time and place when this is an extraordinarily important card to play. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was quoted in the Times as saying that it was the queen on the chess board that we could play at the right time, but that you only play the queen at the very end of the game, when you have secured the right concessions from the other side. In that sense, any changes to Trident would have to be made at the culminating stage of a careful, multilateral bargaining process.

In an era of very tight defence budgets—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, and others, mentioned—it is a significant cost, accounting for about 3 per cent of the defence procurement budget, and on an ongoing basis, about 5 to 6 per cent of the defence budget. At that level, it is an expensive insurance, but not one that necessarily crowds out other vital expenditures. A new Government will need to look at the issues of the military strategies that we are adopting, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the need going forward to project British power in a realistic, plausible way in this new age of failed states and terrorist threats. Simply taking Trident off the books would not solve that: fundamental issues of right-sizing and properly resourcing our military capabilities are not addressed by just removing Trident.

The argument for removing Trident comes entirely from a successful multilateral negotiation the ultimate purpose of which, as so many noble Lords have said today, is a no-nuclear world. On the intermediate steps towards that, we must deal with the issues of doctrine that in some ways provide building blocks. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about the “no first use” issue, and the assurances to non-nuclear states that if they came under nuclear attack, they would be defended. As the noble Lord knows well, we have signed up to three of the nuclear weapons-free zones. Between them, we have signed and ratified protocols that provide 100 countries with that essential protection. The great opportunity—I do not pretend that it is easy—comes in forming such a nuclear-free zone for the Middle East. There was at a recent NPT meeting some indication from Egypt of an interest in that, but we are obviously a long way from the countries of that region being likely to be willing to bury the nuclear hatchet and allow us to put those kinds of arrangements in place.

Critical to moving forward is the strength of the institutions involved in this whole area. First among them is the IAEA. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about today’s votes. I know that nothing alerts a politician more than news of an election. There were two votes today in Vienna, and neither the Japanese candidate, Mr Amano, nor the South African candidate, Mr Minty, secured the two-thirds majority of votes cast that is required on the second round; Mr Amano led Mr Minty by 20 votes to 15. We expect that there will be another vote tomorrow to determine the leading candidate, but the fact that neither candidate has secured that two-thirds of votes means that the process is likely to extend for a while. It is worth noting, however, that Mr El Baradei’s term does not expire until the end of the year, so there is still plenty of time to resolve this.

Behind the election of a new director-general of the IAEA is this critical point of resourcing it and giving it the authority to be the broker in the important nuclear issues that lie ahead. We have made contributions, for example, towards its efforts in Pakistan to control fissile material. We have been big supporters of its efforts to increase monitoring in difficult countries such as Iran and North Korea. However, this organisation, together with its director-general, won the Nobel Peace Prize just several years ago, but has perhaps not been given the status and recognition that it needs to perform the increasingly difficult task with which we have charged it—a task that it obviously carries out through a role that is clearly, in some ways, secondary to that of the Security Council. I would argue that it is nevertheless indispensable. In many cases it is a less political forum in which to resolve some issues of monitoring and controls than the council itself.

I turn to the great enchilada of all of this: the NPT. There are important issues, such as the potential progress on a CTBT as well as a non-fissile materials treaty, which have been commented on this afternoon and move us towards the prospect of a more successful NPT review conference in 2010 than we might otherwise have foreseen. Again, however, as has been said, it was only in 2005 that we had a completely disastrous failure of a conference. In some ways, the NPT’s authority hangs by a fairly thin thread. That said, it remains one of the most contemporary and forward-looking treaties, with its balance between the requirement of the five original nuclear powers to engage in a process of extensive disarmament and the requirement upon the no-nuclear powers not to proliferate and gain nuclear weapons. Combined with that, there is the third commitment that there be availability of civilian nuclear power for those who wish to access it. That remains a formidably strong framework on which to deal with these issues.

While on the one hand we have avoided the kind of proliferation that was feared 40 years ago, where we would have dozens of nuclear powers today, the fact is that a number of regional situations are on the edge—Iran and North Korea have been mentioned this afternoon. The important India negotiation is not, but it shows the difficulties we face: absent a strong multilateral framework there is a risk that we will fall back on single-country solutions to proliferation issues, which, while they may be of value in themselves, as the India one clearly was, undermine the kind of multilateral approach that is so critical to maintaining a secure world and driving towards the eventual goal of a nuclear-free world.

In that regard, I remain of the view that the fact that such formidable figures on both sides of the Atlantic in the field of national security have signed up to the letters and articles promoting the idea of driving towards a nuclear free world has changed the debate. Promising a nuclear-free world is the kind of thing political leaders may have done lightly over many decades, but I do not think that Henry Kissinger or George Schultz have done it lightly, and I suspect not the noble Lord, Lord Owen. In that sense, this has created a very different environment in which we can proceed with the negotiation and conversation. Moreover, if, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, Sam Nunn talks of the mountain that you cannot see the higher reaches of through the fog, the fact that you know you are climbing the mountain marks a critical change in the direction of discussion and the seriousness of purpose with which you proceed.

In closing, let me come back to the extraordinary importance of an effective multilateral way forward. I began by observing that the nature of insecurity in our world has changed. For now, at least, it is less a threat between states and more of one within states. One has to qualify that by saying that both Iran and North Korea have on occasion made some very old-fashioned remarks about rockets that would reach Europe or North America, so one cannot discount the fact that old threats may resume. One cannot assume that the use of nuclear weapons between states is unlikely for ever. But as we focus on today’s threat, it makes the case for multilateralism more than ever because it is a multilateral negotiation to control nuclear materials and bring down nuclear weapons, move forward on disarmament and, above all, move forward on access to nuclear power. But it is also multilateralism that offers us a means to deal with the broader underlying security threats that shape this. It is within a multilateral approach that we hope we can move forward to find regional security for Iran, and to deal with the issues of North Korea and the Middle East. It is to multilateralism that we look to deal with the grotesque inequalities in the world that fuel so many of the political divisions of our times.

In welcoming the debate, I close in saying that it is important that, just as we seek to revive the NPT and for Britain to lead as a multilateral player willing to make concessions itself where it sees pragmatic and realistic advantages of moving the process forward and signing up strongly and forcibly to a no-nuclear-weapons future while recognising, as has been said, that it may not be achieved in our lifetime, we must also sign up to and lead on multilateralism to change the underlying security conditions and create a more just and fairer world where, truly, these weapons become unnecessary.

My Lords, I very much thank noble Lords on all Benches and in all corners of the House who have contributed in such a constructive and foresighted way to this very important debate. I was moved by the sensation that the spirit of Sir Michael Quinlan, who was the friend and acquaintance of so many of us, appeared to be present in the debate.

Many noble Lords have referred to the Prime Minister’s speech of last week, which was, indeed, groundbreaking. The Minister deserves the congratulations of us all as an advocate of that speech, capable of building on it beyond the capacity of most of us. Having travelled with him, I am well aware that the high respect in which he is held in this House is multiplied and reflected in other parts of the world, where he is also accorded the highest respect. If anybody is to push forward the programme on which, I think, we are all agreed, he is the right person to do so. It gives me great pleasure to thank him once again and to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.