HC Deb 20 July 1965 vol 716 cc1336-8
Q3. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Prime Minister what plans Her Majesty's Government have for the underground testing of various components of Polaris warheads.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the statements that I have already made to the House on this subject.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Would the Prime Minister confirm that the Royal Navy is very anxious that the firing mechanism should be retested, in view of the partial failure of the mechanism a year ago? Would he give an assurance to the House that the warhead will not be put into service until the firing mechanism has been tested?

The Prime Minister

It is always difficult to know how far to answer these questions, for reasons understood by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. To test the warhead as a whole, as I am sure the House understands, would require facilities which are excluded to us because of the test ban agreement. To test some small part of it—I had better not be more specific—is, of course, open to us, though, as I understand it, the argument here is a matter of economy of materials, to see whether we could make further economies rather than to test the effectiveness. I am not going to comment on what the hon. Member said about the failure a year ago, except to say that it was a very expensive test.

Mr. Soames

Would the Prime Minister assure the House—this is the important point—that he will carry out whatever underground tests, within the agreement, are considered necessary and which he is persuaded by his scientific and military advisers are necessary, in order to ensure the effectiveness of the deterrent? Will he carry out what testing he is persuaded is necessary and possible?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that, for the reasons I gave to the House last December about the fact that this has to be a different shaped warhead because of Polaris, it is not possible ever now to be able to test whether that warhead will work in these circumstances. I certainly agree that there may be a case for tests, particularly on the grounds of economy, of parts of the mechanism, but it will never be possible, under the, test agreement, to test the warhead as a whole.

Sir A. Douglas-Home

I will not ask the Prime Minister whether these mechanisms should be tested or not. I do not think that it is desirable that he should say one way or another in public. May we take it that what he has said means that if there is any part of the mechanism which needs testing he, as Prime Minister, will see that this is done, so that the Polaris submarine is an effective weapon of war?

The Prime Minister

If it is necessary to do this testing, it will be done. I want to make it clear again that it is not an issue of being able to satisfy ourselves that the warhead, which the right hon. Gentleman had refashioned to fit Polaris, will work or not. This is something which has to be taken on trust, as the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to take it on trust. He knows very well that the particular test in question—like him, I will not go into details—was not related to the effectiveness at all of this warhead. It was related to an attempt to save a considerable amount of money on certain of the materials concerned. If there is reason to think that a repeat of that test—which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, failed—should be taken in order to save money on materials, we shall be ready to do it.

Mr. Orme

Would the Prime Minister bear in mind that if the Labour Government, under any circumstances, were to start retesting nuclear weapons, this would be taken exceedingly badly by a large section of the Labour Party and also by the British people?

The Prime Minister

The position is, as I have always made clear, that, with regard to the so-called independent deterrent which we inherited, we are going to internationalise this deterrent. That means that, in so far as it must be kept in being for that purpose, I do not mind taking such steps as are necessary to reduce the cost of this. This is a very expensive instrument. But this does not in any sense affect Her Majesty's Government's policy about internationalising the deterrent.

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