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Nuclear Weapons (Negotiations)

Volume 15: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1981

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asked the Lord Privy Seal whether it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that any nuclear weapons possessed by the United Kingdom shall be regarded as negotiable in the context of theatre or strategic arms talks between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

No, Sir. By agreement between the two Governments concerned these talks are bilateral, involving the Soviet Union and the United States. It would be unacceptable for British nuclear forces to be the subject of negotiations to which her Majesty's Government are not a party.

Does the Minister realise that, whereas in 1950 the nuclear weapon countries had 200 nuclear weapons, they now have 50,000, each of which is more destructive than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshirna? Does he agree that the Government should play their part in seeking successful negotiations and that, to ensure the success of talks, they should consider cancelling the proposal to purchase Trident?

We give our fullest support to the talks that are taking place in Geneva between the United States and the Soviet Union, and we hope that they will succeed. They are related specifically to intermediate range nuclear weapons. The hon. Gentleman's question is directed towards whether our independent nuclear force should be a part of the talks. We regard our force as a strategic force and, therefore, not part of the Geneva discussions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the talks are so important for the future defence of Western Europe, there is a need for negotiations between the United States and its Western Allies? To what extent are the Government being consulted by the American negotiators on the progress in Geneva?

There is the closest possible consultation between the United States and its Allies within the NATO Alliance. There have been discussions this week between the United States and the other members of the Alliance on the Geneva negotiations.

Does the Minister envisage that Trident will ever feature in multilateral disarmament negotiations to which Britain is a party?

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is not related directly to the question, and it should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

As the outcome of these discussions is of such importance to the British people, and as the British Government are about to embark on a whole new phase of nuclear capability, is it not unrealistic for the Government to continue to suggest that the discussions are a matter solely for the Soviet Union and the United States? Will the Government give an assurance that the House will be kept informed of developments in this area and that there will be no exclusion of any aspect of our nuclear capability?

I make it clear once again that our independent nuclear force is separate from those discussions. It is a strategic force. The discussions in Geneva are between the United States and the Soviet Union on intermediate-range nuclear forces. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is of course the closest possible consultation between the United States and the rest of the NATO Alliance on that matter.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is right for United Kingdom nuclear forces to be the subject of future disarmament negotiations, to which the United Kingdom should be a party, it would be entirely irresponsible for this or any other British Government to follow the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and unilaterally renounce British nuclear weapons without adequate safeguards on multilateral arms control?