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Nuclear Weapons

Volume 227: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list those countries which possess nuclear weapons capable of being delivered to targets in the United Kingdom.

Such weapons are possessed by Russia, China, France and the United States. Some weapons are also possessed by Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, but these are controlled by the Commonwealth of Indpendent States.

Is the Minister aware that the list is growing ever longer, with the Ukraine selling missiles to whoever is prepared to pay for them? Does not that mean that this country's safety is threatened even more? Does he agree it is important that the Walworth road is protected because we want our children and grandchildren not only to read about the demise of socialism in libraries and schools but to be able to go down the Walworth road to see for themselves where the last of the Bolsheviks lived and worked? Does he agree that the Walworth road should be a nuclear-free zone because the safety of that lot is in our interests?

I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that all tactical nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from the Ukraine and, as I said, strategic weapons are not under its control. I am sure you will agree, Madam Speaker, that it is just possible that if we had four seagoing versions of my hon. Friend, we would probably need no other equipment. However, in the absence of three clones of my hon. Friend, I think we perhaps need to maintain our minimum deterrent.

Will the Minister now list all the countries in the world that can be hit by nuclear weapons? Does he accept that, if Britain argues that nuclear deterrence is essential for our defence, so can the Government of every other country in the world? Is not the logic of the Government's position that the entire world should now embark on a policy of nuclear expansion, because there is no other defence against countries that have nuclear weapons?

Updating our minimum deterrent is entirely consistent with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Furthermore, I would say that we have adhered closely to our responsibilities. After all, in recent years, the United Kingdom has cut its RAF nuclear strike squadrons from 11 to eight; we have given up nuclear artillery and Lance missile roles; we have announced a reduction of more than half in the WE177 bomb stockpile; and on 15 June last year, we announced the elimination of our maritime tactical nuclear weapon capability—in that area, we have felt able to go further than other nuclear powers. I believe that our record is good, but, for the safety of the world, we need to maintain our minimum nuclear deterrent.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we also need a sub-strategic nuclear weapon? Does he not believe that for a deterrent to be effective, people such as Saddam Hussein have to believe that, if they use nuclear weapons, we have something with which to strike back?

My hon. Friend is right. The Government have been examining a range of options for providing the United Kingdom's long-term sub-strategic capability, and we expect to be in a position to make our intentions clear in the near future.

Does not the Minister accept that one of the surest ways to reduce the threat of any nuclear attack on Britain is to limit the number of countries that possess nuclear weapons by ensuring that the nonproliferation treaty is renewed? The Secretary of State acknowledged to me in a letter dated 14 June that various signatories to the non-proliferation treaty see a direct link between its renewal and progress on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Bearing that in mind, will Britain now join France, Russia and the United States in supporting a moratorium on nuclear testing?

The hon. Gentleman well knows why we believe that nuclear testing is possibly desirable: it maintains both our credibility and the safety of our nuclear stockpile. The matter is being discussed in the United States, perhaps at this very moment, and I believe that the President knows our views.

I have already said that we are fully signed up to the long-term aims of the non-proliferation treaty, and we have made great progress ourselves. We are therefore ensuring that our position of strength helps to encourage other countries not to possess nuclear weapons, and we are taking great pains to ensure that countries do not possess nuclear weapons of any sort.