HC Deb 10 May 1999 vol 331 cc9-11
5. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

What discussions he has had about a new generation of nuclear weapons; and if he will make a statement. [82582]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

I have not had any discussions about a successor system to Trident. We concluded in the strategic defence review that no decision on any possible successor system would be needed for several years.

Mr. Mullin

Does my right hon. Friend recall that two previous Labour Governments—those of Lords Attlee and Callaghan—embarked on the development of nuclear weapons without consulting even the Cabinet, never mind the British public? Can he give the House an assurance that the Government will not begin the development of any new generation of nuclear weapons without first taking the public into their confidence?

Mr. Robertson

I thought that my hon. Friend had become so venerable and so distinguished that he had given up the conspiracy view of history, including any such view regarding the present generation of Labour Ministers. I do not have to make some defensive statement on the subject. I simply say to my hon. Friend, read the strategic defence review and see there probably the most transparent account of our nuclear forces and reserves, and all aspects of our nuclear policy, that has ever been disclosed in this country. That is the model for open government on those critical issues. So open have I been, so much detail have I given, that most people have not even noticed that that account has been published yet.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the proliferation of nuclear arms between India and Pakistan, and the proliferation generally of ballistic missiles? Does he think that the UK should consider—perhaps with its international partners—the need for an eventual ballistic missile defence system for the UK in future?

Mr. Robertson

We are very concerned about nuclear proliferation; in fact, that was one of the key subjects of the NATO summit in Washington two weeks ago. We take very seriously the manufacture and deployment of ballistic missiles by countries that previously did not have them, and such proliferation is part and parcel of the thinking that is going on and should go on at the moment.

We are not in favour of developing ballistic missile defence systems. We are in favour of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which was one of the pioneering forerunners of arms control legislation.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

With nuclear non-proliferation negotiations taking place in Geneva this coming fortnight, may I ask whether, despite the difficult international climate, especially in regard to our relations with Russia and China at present, Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to give fresh impetus to the nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament process, both at Geneva and in other forums?

Mr. Robertson

Most countries that have examined what we proposed in the strategic defence review—very serious reductions in our stockpile and in the number of nuclear weapons that we have deployed—will have seen that we are not just engaged in arms control discussions for the sake of appearances. We believe in arms control. We have shown by example what other people can do about it. Therefore, we shall bring to these arms control negotiations a considerably greater sense of urgency than previous Administrations did to previous negotiations.