HC Deb 24 November 1992 vol 214 cc731-2
7. Mr. Jon Owen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to announce changes to Government policy on testing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

The Government continue to believe that a minimal testing programme remains the best means of ensuring the safety and credibility of our deterrent.

Mr. Jones

As President-elect Clinton has said that he intends to go ahead with a comprehensive test ban treaty and as France and Russia have intimated that they are happy about going ahead with a comprehensive test ban treaty, can the Minister first tell the House where we shall be able to test our nuclear weapons? We do so in America at present. Secondly, does the Minister not feel embarrassed—I certainly would if I were he—that we are making common cause with the likes of Iraq and China in going ahead with the testing of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Hamilton

It is surely the problems in Iraq, China and other countries where proliferation is taking place that make it so important that we maintain a deterrent. If we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it is important that it should be both safe and effective. For that reason, we believe that a limited amount of testing is important.

Mrs. Gorman

While discussing weapons testing, will my hon. Friend assure the House, and also our good friends in Australia, that the rehabilitation of the Maralinga site remains of great importance to the Government?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes. That Australian Government have had talks with my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on the rehabilitation of the Maralinga site. Those discussions continue and the question of compensation is being raised.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Perhaps I may put a direct quotation to the Minister: The reliability, effectiveness, safety and security of our nuclear arsenal can be maintained without nuclear tests. Those are not my words, but the words of Carson Mark, the former head of the theoretical division of the Los Alamos laboratory in the United States. Why will the Government not accept his advice and throw their weight behind a comprehensive test ban treaty?

Mr. Hamilton

We do not believe that we have yet reached the stage where we can carry out the effective testing of nuclear warheads in other ways. The view of that man may be as the hon. and learned Gentleman states, but it is not shared by our experts who deal with nuclear warheads.

Mr. Day

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the so-called peace dividend, the world is in its most precarious state, certainly in my lifetime? There is an air of unpredictability and therefore danger, so it is essential that the Government do all in their power to maintain the credibility of our nuclear force, including continuing with testing.

Mr. Hamilton

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. We hope that the Trident system will run for another 30 years, and it is difficult to foresee what development will take place in the world over such a long period. The proliferation of nuclear weapons seems to be a continuing trend, despite the great international efforts that have been made to constrain it.

Dr. Reid

Why are the Government so obstinate on this point? Why do they think that everyone is out of step except them? Is the Minister aware that in another place the Under-Secretary of State, Viscount Cranborne, said that the United States congressional legislation which restricts nuclear testing is "unwise and misguided"—

Madam Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman recalls, I said yesterday that there should be no quotations during Question Time. Will he paraphrase, please?

Dr. Reid


Mr. Skinner

The Liberal just quoted.

Madam Speaker

Order. I make it clear to the entire House—there seems to be some confusion—that there is no quoting whatsoever in Question Time.

Dr. Reid

I defer to your guidance, Madam Speaker. The Under-Secretary of State is reported to have said that the United States congressional legislation, which restricts nuclear testing, is unwise and misguided. As one of the co-sponsors of the legislation is the new Vice-President elect of the United States, do the Government still agree with that view? Do they wish to revise it, or do they believe that the new Vice-President is following an unwise and misguided course?

Mr. Hamilton

We have always made our position clear: we think that a limited testing programme is important, and we shall be unhappy if the United States does not decide to continue with one. The hon. Gentleman suggests that we are alone on this, but that is not so. The French are considering their policy on tests, and it is not guaranteed that all nations with nuclear weapons will give up testing.