HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc812-4
6. Mr. David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest estimate of the number of fully operational nuclear warheads available to each country of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Mr. Rifkind

We estimate that the former Soviet Union had some 27,000 or more nuclear warheads. All the tactical warheads are now in Russia. Of the strategic warheads, we believe that there are some 7,500 in Russia, 1,500 in Ukraine, 1,200 in Kazakhstan, and 80 in Belarus. I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming the ratification by Belarus on 4 February of the START 1 treaty and her commitment to accede to the non-proliferation treaty.

Mr. Evans

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware that Ukraine is selling nuclear weapons to whoever will buy them? Is it not time that we had a fifth Trident submarine? Will he assure me that he will not listen to the CND crackpots opposite? They do not care about jobs and they do not care about defence. All that they care about is the lack of defence of this country. Will he answer a direct question? Will they knock £6 billion off their defence budget? Let us have a simple answer: yes or no.

Mr. Rifkind

I think that I can happily endorse my hon. Friend's observations. The Labour party campaigned against the Trident programme and sought to denude Britain of its nuclear deterrent, and at its party conference it continues to call for massive reductions in our defence forces. That policy is matched only by the inconsistency of Labour Front-Bench Members simultaneously calling for more soldiers, more defence spending and more regiments. The Labour party's policy has only to be described to be seen as totally unworthy of any support from any reasonable source.

Mr. Cohen

The Secretary of State will know that the United Kingdom has offered to supply 250 containers and 20 transporters to the countries of the CIS to help them destroy their nuclear weapons, but is it not the case that the transporters have not yet begun to be delivered and will not be there until the end of 1994? Is it not also the case that the design of the transporters is chronically unreliable? If they break down on British motorways, are they not likely to break down on the pot-holed roads of the Soviet Union as well?

Mr. Rifkind

I think that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. Until they are manufactured, it is difficult to deliver them, and they are in the process of being manufactured at present. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the design will be of a sort that will be suitable for the purpose for which they are being sent.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Will my right hon. and learned Friend note that the President of the Ukraine is in the United Kingdom this week and therefore may well have heard the question of my hon. Friend for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans)? Will he also note that the problem of the continuing possession of nuclear weapons by the CIS is a matter of concern and underlines the importance of maintaining NATO and safeguards and encouraging the Americans to maintain their presence within NATO at the current level rather than switching to the rotation concept which has quite a lot of support among the Democrats?

Mr. Rifkind

I am sure that the President of the Ukraine does not need to be in the Chamber to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). We do not have any evidence which shows that the Ukraine is selling nuclear weapons. Indeed, it does not have physical possession of the weapons on its territory: they continue to be in the control of the officers of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Some weeks ago, we had a visit by the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, who gave an assurance that the Ukraine remains committed to removing all nuclear weapons from its territory. All tactical nuclear weapons have already been removed, and we look forward to its ratification of the START treaty in due course.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Secretary of State realise that almost the whole world, with the exception of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), approves of the START 1 and 2 treaties, which will bring about a reduction of nuclear warheads throughout the world, including the CIS? Can he give the House an assurance that when he deploys Trident Britain will not buck the trend and increase the number of nuclear warheads on its submarines from 192 to 512?

Mr. Rifkind

Unlike both the former Soviet Union and the United States, our determination of the size of our nuclear deterrent has never been based on principles of either parity or superiority. We have always sought to identify the minimum size of deterrent which is capable of ensuring the ultimate protection of these islands. We shall continue to apply that principle. It is the only sound principle with regard to the defence of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Barry Porter

While I cannot match the elegance or eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), he elicited from the Minister some frightening figures about the nuclear presence and power of those countries that comprised the Soviet Union at one stage. Would not it make sense for the Minister to consider that Britain's submarine capacity would be better served if a warship yard of proven ability such as Cammell Laird were given at least some breathing space to see whether it can provide the defence that the Minister obviously considers desirable?

Mr. Rifkind

We attach continuing importance to ensuring that our shipyards are able to meet the needs of the Royal Navy. Those needs change as the years go by, but it is crucial not only that our naval requirements should be met within the United Kingdom, but that the principle of competition should apply wherever possible to ensure that the cost to the taxpayer is kept to an absolute minimum.

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