Nuclear Weapons

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 March 1992.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West 12:00, 3 March 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what new initiatives he plans to curtail nuclear weapons proliferation.

Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on recent progress in multilateral disarmament.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The greatest immediate risk of proliferation stems from the break-up of the Soviet Union. I announced last week assistance to Russia in the safe reduction of its surplus nuclear warheads, and we are considering with other interested countries how best to help Russia use the skills of its scientists for peaceful purposes. We are also considering with partners measures to improve the operation of the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard regimes. As regards multilateral disarmament, the Government are fully committed to the greatest progress in the whole range of nuclear conventional, chemical and biological arms control negotiations.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that five months before the Gulf war, the Government told me that they had full confidence that Saddam Hussein was not developing nuclear weapons? If they are being fooled now by many other countries, is it not right that we must seek a strong, new, international non-proliferation treaty containing vigorous verification provisions backed by United Nations sanctions? Would not the best way to ensure that such a treaty would be accepted worldwide be for us to allow international inspection and verification of the numbers of our warheads?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are now engaged with the United Nations in the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The world has learnt the lessons from that, of the need for a more effective operation and for more intrusive inspections by the IAEA. I can certainly confirm on behalf of the Government that we shall take any sensible steps that are necessary, consistent with our security, to play our part in that effort.

Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was only by a consistent and credible policy of multilateral disarmament that the collapse of communism was eventually assured?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital at this time, when there is the greatest risk of proliferation that the world has ever known and when the world's greatest nuclear power is in a state of disintegration, that we ensure that while we take every positive and constructive step to try to deal with that very grave situation, we recognise the need to maintain our essential safeguard, our own nuclear deterrent.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

The Secretary of State referred to help being given to Russian scientists. In precisely what form is that help being given?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the statements made by US Secretary Jim Baker and German Foreign Minister Genscher. We are in close touch with our allies on this matter to see the ways by which assistance can perhaps be given, and contracts can be placed, for valuable work to be done which would occupy such scientists, in addition to the part that they might also play more directly in some of the work involved in the dismantling and disabling programme of that massive nuclear arsenal.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what he feels about the accuracy of the continued Russian accounting for nuclear warheads? Has he considered whether the western powers should purchase some of those warheads to prevent them from falling into the hands of non-nuclear powers that have no idea how to maintain or destroy them?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

It would be fair to say that our impression so far is that the previous Soviet systems were, in many ways, impressive and that the Soviet Union had good controls over its nuclear weapons. Our concern now is how good those controls remain, given that the situation is moving from union controlf—the Soviet Union—to control by individual republics. Four republics now have strategic nuclear weapons, although tactical nuclear weapons have been withdrawn within Russia. Our worries about the continuing control, however, are real, which is why we are making as positive a contribution as we can to help tackle that problem urgently.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Will the Secretary of State impress on the Prime Minister the need to raise with Mr. Yeltsin the substance of the conversation that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and I had last Tuesday with Mr. Bikov of the Russian Academy of Science? Mr. Bikov said that on those secret sites, nuclear weapons were still being built. He said that, despite the fact that representatives of the Russian Parliament did not want them to be built and decisions had been taken for them not to be built, they were still being built because of the nature of the command economy that is being phased out. Was not that an important statement for Mr. Bikov to have made to us? Will the Secretary of State assure us that the matter will be raised with representatives of the Russian Government?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

Allegations of many kinds have been made about that matter and certain aspects of the command economy. While stocks in the form of raw materials last —I am not talking about nuclear weapons but general armaments—the production will clearly continue. The successor republics of the Soviet Union regard general armaments such as tanks and artillery as a valuable source of hard currency for their hard-pressed economies. The information that the hon. Gentleman has, has not been confirmed to me, except in certain minor respects, but it is a serious issue with which we continue to deal.