HC Deb 07 May 1986 vol 97 cc146-7
12. Mr. George Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his assessment to the current obstacles, besides the question of verification, to the negotiation of a ban on nuclear tests.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Any negotiations would need to deal with difficult questions such as scope, duration and compliance, but the key issue is verification. A resumption of negotiations would be premature until there is progress on that.

Mr. Robertson

The Prime Minister told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition a fortnight ago that the Government wanted a comprehensive test ban treaty established. If verification is the obstacle, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the technical problems have already been overcome, to the satisfaction of all the other countries involved in the non-proliferation treaty, and that the Russians have offered on-site inspection—an unprecedented offer, which they have resisted previously? Why are the Government continuing to drag their heels? Is it that they want to go ahead with their own nuclear testing programme and have no interest in a test ban treaty?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government want progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty, but we do not accept that recent arguments, including those advanced by the hon. Gentleman, invalidate the conclusions about verification that are to be found in the paper that we presented at the conference on disarmament in July last year.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

In the light of the mendacity and evasions that we have experienced regarding the Chernobyl disaster, is it any use reaching any conclusions with a power such as the Soviet Union without verification?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no doubt that the absence of candour by the Soviet Union in reporting or disclosing information about the Chernobyl disaster underlines the importance of the verification issue, which raises similar questions.

Mr. Deakins

Does the Foreign Secretary accept the growing American view that we cannot ban nuclear testing so long as we rely on nuclear deterrence and the existence of nuclear weapons?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We believe that it should be possible to achieve agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty, and we are certainly committed to seeking progress in that direction.

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