HC Deb 26 November 2001 vol 375 cc720-1

Amendment made: No. 27, in page 24, line 16, at end insert— '() Nothing in subsection (7) affects any criminal liability arising otherwise than under that subsection.'—[Mr. Bradshaw.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Malins

The Minister will note that clause 47(7) states: This section applies to acts done outside the United Kingdom, but only if they are done by a United Kingdom person. Although I have the same question on this provision as I had on previous ones, I understand that the same answer will apply. I shall therefore not prolong matters. However, when the Minister is considering why the persons to whom I have referred are not covered by an earlier clause and whether they should be so covered, will he ask himself the same questions in relation to clause 47(7)?

Denzil Davies

As I was a shadow defence spokesman many years ago, I sit up when I see the words "use of nuclear weapons". Clause 47 seems to make it a prima facie offence—a term that I use advisedly, as there are later exceptions—to have nuclear weapons in one's possession. If there were no exceptions, presumably even a Government who have nuclear weapons in their possession would be guilty of an offence. However, as the draftsmen and the Home Office are clearly not that stupid, they have made exceptions.

Clause 48(1) notes: Nothing in section 47 applies— (a) to an act which is authorised under subsection (2)". I take it that that provision will permit "The Secretary of State"—which I take to mean any Secretary of State; I do not know whether the decision would fall to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—to authorise the use of the nuclear deterrent. It is a curious and bizarre provision. It must also be the first time that we have made such provision in legislation. I also note that use is permitted in armed conflict without a certificate, and that the Secretary of State can decide what an armed conflict is.

There must be some type of authorisation for the development, possession and participation in the transfer of nuclear weapons. If there were not, the Government presumably would have to prosecute themselves. Perhaps the Attorney-General will be wheeled in for that purpose—he seems to be wheeled in for the purposes of most other parts of the legislation—and will exercise his discretion. I note the matter simply because I find it bizarre.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

I have a question on tactics and the definition of nuclear weapons used in clauses 47 to 49. Do the Government intend that the Bill should include as nuclear weapons radiological weapons that are made from nuclear waste, spent nuclear fuel or other radioactive-source contaminants that are detonated with conventional explosives?

Mr. Bradshaw

The answer to the last question is no.

The exceptions in clause 48 to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) referred are required, as he suggested, to prevent essential operational and maintenance activities of authorised persons connected to the UK's independent nuclear deterrent from being an offence. In the course of an armed conflict, it may not be practical for the Secretary of State to issue all the authorisations required to operate the deterrent without imposing unacceptable delay. For that reason, it is necessary to have a more general exception.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 47, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 48 to 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Forward to