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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.