DEFENCE – NUCLEAR DETERRENCE – 21 February 2000
Dr Julian Lewis: If it is the Government's policy that Britain should continue to possess a nuclear deterrent as long as other countries have nuclear weapons?
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Geoffrey Hoon): Britain's minimum nuclear deterrent is a necessary element of the security of this country, particularly while large nuclear arsenals and risks of proliferation remain. That was a key conclusion of the Government's strategic defence review. When we are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made to allow us to include British nuclear weapons in negotiations without endangering our security interests, we shall do so.
[SUPPLEMENTARY:] That goes three-quarters of the way towards answering the question, but not the whole way. Does the Secretary of State not recall that, in July 1991, after two years of intense Conservative pressure, his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) committed his party to keeping some nuclear weapons, as long as other countries had them? Will he now reaffirm that commitment, and confirm that, no matter what sort of multilateral negotiations take place in the future, he will never agree to arrangements whereby we would get rid of all our nuclear weapons while other countries still possessed some with which we could be threatened?
Mr Hoon: I have set out the Government's position. It is the position on which Labour Members were elected at the last general election, and it remains the position that the Government will adopt. In his supplementary question, the hon. Gentleman overlooked the purpose of deterrence. The purpose of deterrence is to deter those who might be tempted to attack this country's security interests, and the retention of nuclear weapons is designed to deter any such aggression. That is the purpose of deterrence; that is why the United Kingdom has an independent nuclear deterrent; and that is why the Government, subject to what I set out earlier, will retain that deterrent.