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Arms Reduction

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what United Kingdom forces have been offered for inclusion in the proposed START agreement; and if he will make a statement on the defence implications.

The START negotiations are bilateral between the United States and the Soviet Union—British nuclear forces would therefore not be included in any agreement.

Why have none of Britain's nuclear forces been included in the START agreement? Is it because the Government are made up of closet warmongers who do not believe in the principle or practice of arms control? Do the Government remember their commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to negotiate away our nuclear weapons in good faith? Why, when the time is right, are the Government not prepared to make any reductions?

The hon. Lady is a bit wrong about this. The START treaty was between the United States and the Soviet Union. We were never part of it and it was not intended that we should be. I remind the hon. Lady that the Government's policy is to have the minimum independent nuclear deterrent that we need. We differ from the Opposition, who would like that deterrent negotiated away as soon as possible. I am sure that the hon. Lady supports that stance. There is a major difference in our attitudes. We want Britain to have a minimum nuclear deterrent and I hope that that will remain the position for a long time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be foolish to include any British nuclear weapons in the START treaty until the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal is reduced to the extent that it no longer poses a threat to this country?

I totally accept what my hon. Friend says. It is difficult to envisage a time when the Soviet nuclear capability would be reduced to that degree. That certainly has to be one criterion. We must also remember earlier contributions to the effect that the non-proliferation treaty has not worked as well as it might and that other countries are now achieving a nuclear capability. We should not be concerned solely about the nuclear capability of the Soviet Union.

Why cannot Trident be included in the START agreement? Is not Trident an eight times increase in capability over Polaris at a time when world tension is reducing? Would not cancellation of the fourth Trident save Britain about £1 billion per annum? Why will not the Government cancel that?

As I have already explained, Trident is merely an uprating of our nuclear capability, and that is the minimum deterrent that we think we need. It is important for us to maintain Trident because if we did not we would cease to be a nuclear-capable nation. It is not the intention of the Government that we should be in that position, although I know that, in the unlikely event of a Labour Government, the Opposition would negotiate away as early as possible our independent nuclear deterrent.

Following the START treaty, may we look forward to a reduction in nuclear weapons throughout the world? Do the principles of those reductions—that they should be balanced, mutual and verifiable—hold good today and will the Government have nothing to do with the unilateralism about which we still hear from the Opposition?

Yes, indeed, and the basic preliminary agreements of the START treaty are ceilings of 6,000 warheads on 1,600 strategic offensive delivery systems. That would certainly lead to significant reductions. My hon. Friend talks about a reduction in nuclear weapons throughout the world. But other nations are trying to develop nuclear capability and there is a difficulty about making the non-proliferation treaty stronger and have verification in such countries.