HC Deb 26 March 1985 vol 76 cc195-7
1. Mr. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the precautions taken to ensure the safety of nuclear warheads when they are in transit.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)

Before answering the question, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence regrets that he is unable to be present today because of his attendance at the meeting of the nuclear planning group.

The answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is yes, Sir.

Mr. Janner

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the nuclear planning group the higher standards of safety required in the transport of nuclear weapons in the United States than in this country? Is that higher standard the reason why the details of the American safety precautions are lodged with the Library of Congress, while our own Government are unwilling to reveal any details to the House?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that we have extensive safety precautions that have satisfied the present and all previous Governments. In considering the standards set, we can take some satisfaction in the fact that we have managed to transport United Kingdom nuclear weapons in this country in conditions of safety over a very long period. Nevertheless, we are not complacent, and that is why we keep the safety procedures under review.

Mr. Viggers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the warheads themselves are safe, considerable danger is posed by those who seek to disrupt the convoys? Could anything be done to persuade those people to desist?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is quite right. It is not responsible to seek to disrupt the movement of nuclear weapons.

Sir John Farr

While the warheads are disarmed and are therefore entirely safe to travel by road, rail and air, are not those who seek to suggest otherwise doing serious damage to public safety?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The safety record, which has endured over a long period, certainly vindicates his point.

Mr. Meadowcroft

What are the implications for the transit of nuclear warheads to and from Greenham Common of any delay in the construction of the Newbury bypass?

Mr. Stanley

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to training exercises. As we have made clear, live warheads are not carried during cruise missile training runs.

Mr. Spencer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British Psychological Society has today confirmed the safety of the methods to which he has referred, and that the people of Leicester are much more reassured by what my right hon. Friend has said today than they are by the antics of the city council in putting up "nuclear-free" signs?

Mr. Stanley

I am not intimately familiar with the activities of the British Psychological Society, but I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his comments and for praying that society in aid.

Mr. Denzil Davies

We quite understand why the Secretary of State is not here. We understand that there is a very important meeting in Brussels and we do not object to the right hon. Gentleman's absence. However, will the Minister of State assure us that when the right hon. Gentleman returns he will make a statement to the House about what happened at that meeting? The House is often given no information about such matters despite the fact that hon. Members on both sides wish to debate the issues.

Mr. Stanley

Those matters relate to a later question, but the right hon. Gentleman is aware that it is normal practice to issue a communiqué. I am sure that one will be issued on this occasion.

Sir Antony Buck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who have tried to look into these matters are satisfied that safety precautions are adequate? Will he consider issuing something like a child's guide for those of us who find some of the technical matters involved difficult, so that we may convince even Opposition Members that the safety precautions are adequate?

Mr. Stanley

The simplest guide that I can give my hon. and learned Friend is that we have made it clear that the most rigorous precautions are taken, as a result of which we have an accident-free record that has lasted for a long time.

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