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Nuclear War

Volume 590: debated on Monday 12 January 2015

4. If he will publish research held by the Government on the global atmospheric consequences of nuclear war. (906897)

Classified studies conducted by the Ministry of Defence focus on the effects of UK nuclear weapons and the potential impact, including on critical national infrastructure, of a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.

Under the 30-year rule, Cabinet papers for 1984 have now been published. They show that the Government at that time refused to undertake any study of the atmospheric effects of a nuclear weapon explosion or nuclear testing. As I understand it, no other study has been undertaken since then. At the conference on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons in Vienna, there were some disturbing—no, frightening—reports of what would happen to the world’s climate if any nuclear explosion took place anywhere. Does the Minister not think it is incumbent on the Government to tell the British people exactly what the consequences of a nuclear explosion are, not just for them but for the whole planet?

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to some declassified Home Office documents, which as Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence I confess I have not read. I believe that nuclear deterrence contributes materially to our national security. If the hon. Gentleman wants to read a really good study on nuclear deterrence, I recommend “On Nuclear Deterrence: The Correspondence of Sir Michael Quinlan”, published by the Royal United Services Institute in 2011. It is a ripping good read about how to keep a country safe and free.

Does the Minister understand that at a time when we are rightly outraged and mourning the deaths of 17 people at the hands of terrorists, it is a terrible paradox that every hour of every day this nation deploys a nuclear weapons system that will kill directly millions of people, and due to its climate effects could kill up to 2 billion? Does he think it is time to engage with a new Austrian initiative that could ultimately lead to a ban on all nuclear weapons and is, I stress, a multilateral initiative?

I respect the position from which the right hon. Lady approaches this issue, but as I have said, I believe that maintaining continuous at-sea deterrence is the best way to deter nuclear exchanges, rather than lead to them. In fairness, she has been absolutely consistent and long standing in her views about nuclear weapons, which is more than we can say this week for her party leader.

I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that we would all like nuclear weapons not to exist, but sadly they do. Given that, is it not rather strange to hear cries for disarmament on the very day we read that former President Gorbachev has said that the likelihood of a nuclear conflict around Ukraine is much greater than it has been since the end of the cold war?

The Conservative party remains firmly committed to continuous at-sea deterrence to provide the ultimate guarantee of our nation’s security, and as a former Armed Forces Minister, I know my right hon. Friend shares that view. Conservative Members also share that view; what is the view of the leader of the Labour party?

A recent report suggested that the long-term climatic effects of nuclear war could include low light levels, sub-freezing temperatures and heavy air pollution that could place the global ecosystem in serious jeopardy. If nuclear weapons had existed since Roman times, statistically all that may have come to pass by now. Does not that show the danger to the planet of the madness that is nuclear weapons?

A nuclear war would be a tremendous danger to the planet. That is why it is better to deter it.