DEFENCE – NUCLEAR WEAPONS – 17 April 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: What is his policy on giving up all British nuclear weapons while other countries still retain some weapons of mass destruction?

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Geoffrey Hoon): As we made clear in the strategic defence review, our minimum nuclear deterrent will remain a necessary element of our security while large nuclear arsenals and risks of proliferation remain.

[SUPPLEMENTARY:] Does the Secretary of State realise that the reason for my concern is the quiet and subtle shift on that matter in the previous two Labour election manifestos? In 1992, the Labour manifesto categorically stated that until "elimination" of the

"world's stock of nuclear weapons ... is achieved, Labour will retain Britain's nuclear capability."

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that?

However, the 1997 manifesto stated only:

"When satisfied with verified progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations."

Will the right hon. Gentleman categorically rule out, once and for all, any question that a situation will arise in which Britain would give up its entire stock of nuclear weapons while other countries retained some weapons of mass destruction?

Mr Hoon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments on the process of drafting a Labour manifesto. It is the first time in the manifesto's history that it has been described as "quiet and subtle". I assure him that we stand by the commitments set out in the manifesto on which we were elected and that we shall take fully into account the existence of nuclear arsenals elsewhere. That would certainly be the most important factor that we would consider before any change in our own strategic security position.