Baroness Goldie (Con)
I wish to reassure my noble friend and the Committee that the spirit and intention of the Government is that scrutiny is important; it is at the heart of what they wish to see Parliament do, and it would be exceptional if scrutiny were denied. I hope that reassures my noble friend to some extent.
Moving on to the substance of AUKUS itself, it is a security and defence partnership between three like-minded, democratic allies to enhance security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and globally. AUKUS is not a new treaty, it is not a mutual defence agreement, and it does not replace nor cut across other alliances, such as NATO or Five Eyes; it complements them and supports their aims.
As your Lordships will be aware, the main effort under AUKUS is the delivery of a nuclear-powered submarine capability to Australia. In September last year, an 18-month programme of work commenced to understand how we can best achieve this goal. I want to be clear that Australia asked for our help in acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine; we are meeting the request of a close partner with whom we have a long history of co-operation, including on submarines. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke with authority on our long-standing United Kingdom/Australia relationship.
Our work to deliver this capability for Australia reflects the unique level of trust and co-operation between our three countries, and we can rightly be proud of that. This will help Australia to fulfil its defence and security responsibilities and to promote stability and security in the region, which this Government strongly support. As your Lordships will be aware, we have built and operated a world-class nuclear-powered submarine capability for more than 60 years. We bring deep expertise and experience to this partnership, as indeed do our American allies. AUKUS showcases the UK’s competitive and innovative defence industry and our role as a global leader in science and technology.
I emphasise, because a number of your Lordships alluded to this, that the programme of work will be fully in line with our international obligations. Australia has impeccable non-proliferation credentials, and it does not, and will not, seek nuclear weapons. It is important to reiterate that the proposed submarines will use a nuclear reactor uniquely as a power source. All three partners take their obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty extremely seriously and have been in regular close contact with the International Atomic Energy Agency as this agreement moves forward into the next stage.
Let me try to deal with some specific points that arose during the debate. My noble friend Lord Lansley raised the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement. We enjoy a close and growing bilateral security relationship with Japan. AUKUS does not replace or reduce the importance of any other strands of our relationship with Japan. Instead, through AUKUS, we intend to deepen, not limit, co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region. The Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement is for these Governments to comment on, but is a sign of their developing strategic partnership.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Liddell and Lady Smith, raised the transfer of intellectual property. The agreement provides protection for the originating parties under Article VIII. As part of the ongoing programme of work, we will further consider how to deal with the exchange of intellectual property.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Smith, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the important issue of international relations, not least with France, Europe and China. We fully recognise the French disappointment. We are keen to move forward and are keeping channels of communication open. As the Prime Minister said to President Macron, we are committed to the United Kingdom-France relationship and we believe in the powerful role we can play together.
France is an important partner to the United Kingdom. We have a long-standing security and defence relationship with France that is underpinned by the Lancaster House treaties and by us being close NATO allies. We continue to consult each other daily on international defence and security matters, and that defence relationship remains strong. As was recently illustrated, our close collaboration on Afghanistan and our military deployments in the Sahel to tackle terrorism indicate that we are working together and consulting each other, just as we are working together to tackle global challenges such as climate change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, focused particularly on China. I make clear that AUKUS is not aimed at a specific country; it is about supporting our allies and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific region. AUKUS will work to protect our people and support a peaceful and rules-based international order. It is about the long-standing and deepening defence and security relationship between the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter, Lady Liddell and Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, specifically raised Five Eyes. That remains a unique and highly valued partnership. We have been sharing intelligence to address global threats and support international security and stability for over 60 years. We noted that Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand welcomed the increased engagement of the United Kingdom and United States in the region. We compare notes and work together as five like-minded countries on a range of issues and in a variety of formats. Of course, each of us also has its independent foreign policy and works with different partners and in different groupings, according to context and need.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about devolution. In this context, defence and foreign affairs are matters reserved for the Westminster Government, so there is no specific devolved locus on this matter. When the MoD receives inquiries from representatives of constituencies in the devolved nations or from the devolved Governments, we respond and always do our best to co-operate and be helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, particularly raised the nuclear aspect to this and the responsibilities of the United Kingdom, United States and Australia. I give the reassurance that we want to reinforce the global non-proliferation architecture and set a precedent for the future that retains confidence in the fulfilment of our NPT obligations. We regularly update the International Atomic Energy Agency and are fully engaging with it throughout the 18-month feasibility study. We will continue to be transparent and consultative, especially on issues regarding nuclear materials, facilities and activities relevant to the IAEA.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Bilimoria, were interested in the inherent character of this new security partnership. That is what it is. I think they were seeking clarification and reassurance. This is a partnership focused on joint capability development and technology sharing. It reflects the unique level of trust and co-operation between the UK, the United States and Australia. It is about nuclear propulsion, not nuclear weapons and, very specifically, it does not include any obligation to consider an attack upon one as an attack against all participating states. That is not the character of this agreement.
The noble Lord, Lord West, sought detail about specific representation on various groups within the UK, the United States and Australia. I do not have specific information to that level, but I shall investigate, and if I am able to share information with him, I shall do so.