HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1184-5
7. Mr. Hall

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations Her Majesty's Government received on nuclear testing by France during the recent Commonwealth summit in New Zealand. [858]

Mr. Rifkind

The Government not only received but made representations during the recent Commonwealth summit.

Mr. Hall

What vital national interest is served by the Government's change in policy from not condemning the French nuclear tests to supporting them? Given the Foreign Secretary's warm welcome of President Clinton's address this morning, how did French nuclear tests help to lift the nuclear cloud that threatens our children's bright future?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman represented a party that had genuinely changed its view on nuclear weapons, he would understand that all the nuclear powers are committed to working towards a comprehensive test ban treaty, but it is not unreasonable to be sympathetic to the problems faced by our French allies as they bring their testing procedure to a conclusion. As in nuclear power, we understand that these are complex and sensitive issues, and we will not run to criticise a good ally that is committed to a comprehensive test ban treaty but believes that this is a necessary prelude to the completion of negotiations.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. and learned Friend emphasise yet again that the commitment of the French to signing the nuclear test ban treaty in the spring is of the greatest importance and needs to be emphasised absolutely for the people who are critical of it?

Mr. Rifkind

That is the strategic objective. It is likely that the French nuclear tests will be finished in a couple of months from now and then the concentration will be on the global negotiations, to which France is as committed as any other country. It is difficult to understand why the Labour party seems to relish attacking a nuclear power when it simultaneously tries to persuade the British public that it supports the British nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Jack Thompson

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that, in July this year, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe met in Toronto. One of the topics that was debated was French nuclear testing. He will also be aware that the only people who voted against the resolution to condemn the nuclear testing were the French, obviously, and the British Conservatives. Does he believe that the British Conservatives and the French are the only ones who are in step and that the rest of the world is out of step?

Mr. Rifkind

I believe that it is the British Government's responsibility to come to a decision that is consistent with our national interest, not simply to join a pack hounding a good friend and ally regardless of our own beliefs on the issues at stake.

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