HC Deb 05 July 1995 vol 263 cc369-71
8. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made towards the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. [30902]

Mr. David Davis

Good progress is being made in the negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty, especially in areas such as scope and verification. Much remains to be done, but we remain committed to work for the conclusion of a treaty before the end of 1996.

Mr. Cohen

Should not the Government have an opinion on the French nuclear tests—one of opposition?

Are the above-ground non-nuclear experiments, lasers and computer simulations proper safeguards, as the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said yesterday, that will enable Britain to give a commitment not to resume tests? If so why, in another place on 20 June, did Lord Henley, on behalf of the Government, refuse to rule out the use of the Nevada test site for further British tests? Do the Government suspect France and other nuclear states of trying to kill at birth the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman is showing his Labour-CND roots, I am afraid. We recognise and understand the concern that the French decision has caused in some countries, but the decision is one for the French. It is not for us to comment on French requirements and how they decide to meet them. Our principal objective is the early conclusion of an indefinite comprehensive test ban treaty, and the French commitment to that has been reaffirmed by President Chirac. Our policy on testing remains unchanged. We are actively working for a comprehensive test ban treaty, and we have said that we shall not seek to test while the United States moratorium remains in force.

Mr. Colvin

Does my hon. Friend agree that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the growing risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, the nuclear deterrent is more important today than ever? Does he further agree that for a nuclear deterrent to work, and to be seen to work, it has to be tested? What scope is there for the United States, the United Kingdom and the French to join forces to develop credible simulation tests, therefore avoiding the need for explosions? Will my hon. Friend confirm that following the introduction of Trident, and bearing in mind the foreseen abandonment and scrapping of the free-fall bomb, we shall have fewer nuclear warheads in our armoury than before?

Mr. Davis

I start by confirming the latter point. My hon. Friend is right; since 1970 there has been about a 59 per cent. reduction in explosive power, and reductions in warheads too. As for the need for a deterrent, my hon. Friend is right to say that the world is still a dangerous place, and the first concern of any British Government must be to maintain the security of the British nation. Everything that we do concerning a comprehensive test ban treaty, and our attitude to testing in general, takes that into account and works with it as our primary objective.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Does the Minister accept that the condemnation that the French Government have rightly received from nations friendly to us such as Australia and New Zealand is mirrored by criticism from the French socialist party and from most people in France? Does he also accept that a comprehensive test ban treaty is the price that the nuclear powers must pay for an extension of the non-proliferation treaty? That was the bargain that we undertook. Does the Minister seriously believe that the world, especially the non-nuclear powers, will accept that there is a basis for trust when France has announced plans to test, China has tested and even the United States now talks about resuming a testing programme?

Mr. Davis

I am afraid the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is not the only one showing his Labour-CND origins. I repeat that our principal objective is the early conclusion of an indefinite comprehensive test ban treaty and, as I have also said, the French commitment to that has been reaffirmed by President Chirac. That is the most important point, and that is what we put at the top of our agenda.

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