HL Deb 11 May 1988 vol 496 cc1127-8

2.57 p.m.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the event of an accident to a United States nuclear weapon in this country, who would be in charge of emergency arrangements outside the site.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, in the extremely unlikely event of a United States nuclear weapon accident in this country, the United Kingdom would retain sovereign rights over its territory and territorial waters. A formal arrangement with the United States Government exists for this purpose.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, in view of the spate of press articles a month or two ago suggesting that some members of the relevant parts of the United States' administration believed that, if an accident should occur on one of its bases in this country, their first task would be to secure control—I repeat, secure control—outside the base, can the noble Lord go a little further and describe the arrangements that exist between this country and the United States as regards such an emergency on our sovereign territory?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the arrangements are perfectly straightforward. The United Kingdom will retain sovereignty over its territory and territorial waters, as the noble Lord would expect. Therefore there is no question of the United States acquiring sovereignty, or something similar, if that is what the noble Lord fears.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, would not the ratification of the INF treaty by the United States Senate reduce the chances of a nuclear weapons accident in this country by removing land-based weapons? On behalf of the Government will the noble Lord confirm support for the INF treaty?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I greatly admire the noble Lord's ingenuity but I do not believe that the INF treaty arises from this Question.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that yesterday there were press reports of a Russian satellite with a nuclear engine being out of control? Has consideration been given to what will be done when that falls down, as is predicted?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I fear that I must say the same to my noble friend as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Irving. That is another Question and if he tables it I shall be happy to answer it.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I shall try to elicit an answer from the Government to my Question. The noble Lord has told us that the Government will retain national sovereignty over their territory; that is obvious. My Question referred to who would be in charge of emergency arrangements. I repeat it. Would the United States forces be in charge of emergency arrangements or would the British Government and forces be in charge of them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the arrangements for taking charge of the emergency services in such a situation would be exactly as with any other emergency; namely, primarily the British police.

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