British Nuclear Test

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th April 1978.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 12:00 am, 6th April 1978

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will abandon the British nuclear test explosion scheduled for tomorrow at Nevada: and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

No. This test, which is due to take place tomorrow at the United States Department of Energy's test site at Nevada, is required in order to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear weapons. In accordance with usual practice, an announcement will be made as soon as the test has taken place.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Would it not assist the vital Anglo-American-Russian test ban talks if Britain set the lead by forgoing this test? What is the purpose of such a test if it is not a step towards a new nuclear weapon, which our Government have forsworn? The Government must realise that one does not need to test nuclear bombs to see whether they have gone stale like a piece of cheese.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

There is no one, and I repeat no one, more anxious to have a comprehensive test ban then myself and this Government. I made proposals to that end in Geneva as long ago as 1968. If I thought for one moment that the British test would in any way deter that very desirable objective, we would not have the test. However, while other nuclear States are testing, there is no advantage in our forgoing one of the very few tests that we do have.

My hon. Friend asked me the purpose of the test. I have a great regard for my hon. Friend's sincerity and persistence on nuclear matters, but I do not regard him as the greatest expert on nuclear technology. I assure him and the House that we have no plans for any new generation of nuclear weapons. However, there is value in a test of this character.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Will the Secretary of State accept that his own credentials are impeccable, bearing in mind what he did in the ABC negotiations many years ago? Many people in this House recognise that the rapid build-up of Soviet nuclear strength demands that we should maintain the credibility of our nuclear capability. Therefore we support the tests.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

The sole purpose of the test is to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear weapons.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that while we shall make every effort to bring down the level of armaments throughout the world, the Government will not do anything to place our Armed Forces at a disadvantage in respect of any other country?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is a very good summary of what I have been trying to do in my present office.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomery

I do not for one moment disagree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), but does the Secretary of State appreciate that there is a great deal of anxiety in this country about nuclear tests of this kind? Will he give an absolute assurance that there is no intention of this Government's surreptitiously developing another generation of nuclear weapons, and that any decision will be made openly and after proper debate in this House? Will he assure us that this test is unconnected with any intention of that kind?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I can give the hon. and learned Members that assurance. I have said repeatedly that we have no plans for any new generation of nuclear weapons, and anyone who doubts that is doubting my integrity.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

Since this test is to improve the weapons that we already have, and since they are supposed to be enough to destroy the entire population of the world, what answer do we give to those nations that we are trying to persuade not to go for these weapons when they say that they want to acquire them, bearing in mind that we have them and want to deny them to other people?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

We entered into all these discussions during talks on the non-proliferation treaty. To put the matter into perspective, while there are no reliable official figures of the number of tests that have taken place, the Stockholm Institute's year book is a good guide, and it shows that we made only two tests between 1972 and 1976 out of the 185 recorded. Of these, 86 have been by the Soviet Union.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

Is the Secretary of State aware that while we welcome any progress towards an international agreement to ban nuclear tests, we support, in the meantime, the British Government's duty to the British people to ensure that we preserve the operational efficiency of the British nuclear deterrent?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

That is the sole purpose of this test.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. This is a Private Notice Question. We must move on.