HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc158-9
6. Mr. Janner

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any plans to review the present safety precautions taken by the armed forces in connection with the transportation of military nuclear convoys; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr, Ian Stewart)

Safety arrangements associated with the movement of nuclear weapons are kept under constant review.

Mr. Janner

Is the Minister aware that that assurance carries little weight in the county of Leicestershire after a convoy carrying nuclear weapons passed through the centre of Leicester in the rush hour, after the serious accident at Salisbury, and after the Government's refusal even to give an assurance to the county council that chief fire officers will be informed when such convoys are coming? Surely it cannot conceivably be a breach of security to assure the House that, when a convoy carrying nuclear weapons or nuclear waste is to pass through towns, the local chief constables and chief fire officers will be informed on all occasions.

Mr. Stewart

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has communicated with my Department over a number of years on this subject and, therefore, he will not be surprised at the answer that I give him. Guidance is issued to some chief constables and fire officers on the basis of the need to know. However, I should like to emphasise to the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are following the practice of all previous Governments in not commenting on the details of individual transport movements. We have an exceptional safety record. No accident resulting in the release of radioactivity from nuclear weapons has taken place during all the time that they have been deployed in this country.

Mr. Key

Does my hon. Friend agree that at no time during the accident at West Dean in my constituency was there a threat to the public when a transporter slipped off the road in icy conditions? Does he also agree that the exhaustive and detailed correspondence that we have had on behalf of the district and county councils and the fire and health authorities has been extremely helpful? Does he further agree that the passage of the Military Defence Police Act 1987 has sorted out a great deal of doubt that surrounded the question of who was responsible for what in those circumstances?

Mr. Stewart

I am glad to have my hon. Friend's contribution, which sets the whole question in context. Although I am not prepared to discuss the contents of the cargo in a particular accident, I can say that there was never any hazard to the public from the accident to which my hon. Friend referred.