Accidental Nuclear War (Prevention)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th June 1985.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:00 am, 4th June 1985

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on measures taken by his Department to prevent accidental nuclear war.

Photo of Mr Robert McTaggart Mr Robert McTaggart , Glasgow Central

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the measures taken by his Department to prevent accidental nuclear war.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

The United Kingdom, the United States and France all have agreements with the Soviet Union to prevent accidental nuclear war. The relevant agreements for the United Kingdom are the British-Soviet Agreement on the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line —the British-Soviet hot line agreement of 1967— —and the 1977 Agreement on the Prevention of Accidental Nuclear War, Cmnd. 7072.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister recall the words of the Secretary of State for Defence to the Defence Select Committee on 8 May, when he said that there was no precedent for the reduction of nuclear arms anywhere? Given that we are now in an age where the nuclear hair trigger is at its most dangerous, must we wait for a precedent before stepping back from that brink? Are we not, with increased research, moving nearer to it, which is in the opposite direction to the wishes of our country and to the other countries that he mentioned?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that under the Government there has been a substantial reduction in NATO battlefield nuclear weapons, which is greater than that achieved by the Lib-Lab Government who preceded us.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest risk of accidental nuclear war would come about if government were entrusted to a party which had no discernible defence policy? Does he agree also that it would be a great tragedy if there were alliance Government, bearing in mind that their two wings have at least four discernible, different and wholly conflicting policies between them?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that one of the essential safeguards of the continuation of peace is the certainty of deterrence, which is ensured by the continuation of the present Government.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Is the Minister aware of the old maxim that what can happen, will happen? In view of that, why on earth are the Government increasing the risk of accidental nuclear war by deploying new nuclear weapons systems in the United Kingdom?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

The facts are clear. What the hon. Gentleman fears will happen has certainly not happened during the past 40 years.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

In a previous answer the Minister mentioned battlefield nuclear weapons. Will he try to clear up the considerable confusion between statements made to the United States Congress by Dr. Wagner about the decision to modernise British battlefield nuclear weapons, and the Government's statements in the House? Is it intended to replace the existing 155 mm atomic shell with a new atomic shell, which can be used and will be produced by the Americans, and which can also be adapted into a type of neutron bomb? What is the Government's position? Have they told the Americans one thing and the House another?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

That is certainly not the case. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are not answerable for the statements made by Dr. Wagner or any other American official. I assure the right hon Gentleman that the previous answers which he and his colleagues have been given, which is that no decision has been taken to modernise British battlefield nuclear weapons, are the case.