HL Deb 14 June 1988 vol 498 cc151-3

3.1 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will compare the destructive power of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima with (a) that of the nuclear weapons now carried by Tornado aircraft, (b) that of the new missile for the Tornado, and (c) that of Trident.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware following my Written Answers of 26th May, it has been the policy of successive governments not to release information concerning the effectiveness of nuclear weapons.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the purpose of this oral Question is to enable me to explain to him that there is no need for him to be so economical with the truth? I think he imagines that I am seeking to ask him to estimate the destructive power of nuclear weapons in terms of their lethality. Of course I can readily understand that he would be unwilling to do that because lethality depends on many different circumstances.

However, perhaps the noble Lord can tell me and the public—who are entitled to know because it is in their domain—the scientific kilo-tonnage of the various weapons. I think that the noble Lord is capable of doing that. Further, he is entitled to do that because it is in the public domain. If he does not have the figures in front of him at present, will he take an early opportunity to find them and publish them in the form of a letter to me?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Questions I answered on 7th June—to which I have referred today—were the ones to which I sought to give answers; not the questions that the noble Lord has subsequently posed.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord's Question is both irrelevant and unwise? It is irrelevant because surely it is not the comparative yields of certain types of weapons which have any significance in establishing a credible deterrent to war, which we all hope we will never have to use; and unwise because surely it is highly undesirable that such sensitive information should be discussed in open forum.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am certain that the House will be much impressed by the intervention of the noble and gallant Lord, speaking from the position of experience and importance that he does.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the horrific increases in destructive power of these weapons—which I think we would all admit—underlines the importance of the agreements on nuclear disarmament which have already been achieved? Further, does he understand that we on this side of the House would like to see those agreements carried through so that they apply to all nuclear weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I think that that is another question.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, if we are going into the question of lethality of weapons and seek thereby to isolate the nuclear as distinct from the so-called conventional range, is there not a danger that the public may think that Vimy, Passchendaele and Dresden were all right—sort of tea parties—and that nuclear war is something which in itself is unacceptable?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the policy of making Europe, or the rest of the world, safe for conventional war is not one that I support.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm my memory that the most powerful nuclear weapon ever exploded in test was in fact exploded somewhere east of this country during the 1960s and amounted to something like 100 megatonnes? Further, will be pay due attention to the right honourable gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition in another place, and not negotiate our weapons away for nothing?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord greatly tempt me; however, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not sucumb to that temptation.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is necessary for this information to be made public so that the public can estimate for themselves the vast difference between nuclear weapons and other forms of weaponry? Is he further aware that, if he will not give me the figures, I shall find ways and means of giving them to him publicly in this Chamber?

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, on 7th June my noble friend Lord Trefgarne gave exactly the same Answer as he has given to the noble Lord, today. The Companion to the Standing Orders adjures the House to ask Questions for information only. The noble Lord knew perfectly well what the answer to the Question would be; it would be the same as it was on 7th June. Therefore I beg the noble Lord not to press this point.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, as the Leader of the House has chosen to intervene in the matter, may I ask him to accept that there appears to be a misunderstanding between myself and the noble Lord which I shall seek to clarify?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think I ought to make crystal clear the danger that we are in. We have no rules in the House about the frequency of Questions. However, if we continue to table the same Questions which will elicit the same Answers, the House will eventually be driven into a position where it will find itself having to ask the Procedure Committee to implement a rule about the frequency of Questions and a mechanism for enforcing that frequency. I am sure that the noble Lord does not wish to drive us down that road.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I must stress that I am not asking the same Question.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, no; I understand that. Nevertheless, the noble Lord tabled a Question which was bound to elicit the same Answer.

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