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Polaris (Replacement Contracts)

Volume 886: debated on Tuesday 11 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will end all contracts for replacement nuclear weapons for British Polaris submarines.

I have nothing to add to the Written Answer I gave to my hon. Friend on 14th January, and those which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence gave in December to Questions by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter).

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that his answer does not represent a breach of Labour Party policy, in that these new warheads are not a new generation of nuclear weapons? Does he accept that the cancellation of these contracts will save up to £200 million, which will benefit our balance of payments deficit, and that it will have no adverse effects on employment since these contracts are with the Lockheed Corporation of America?

I do not know from where my hon. Friend obtains his figures. I assure the House that we are not embarking upon a new generation of nuclear missiles. That is precisely what the 1973 programme asked us not to do.

I have a little doubt about the difference between the term "new generation" and "updating". Does not the Minister think that Britain's contribution and encouragement to nonproliferation is that we should not update Polaris missiles or warheads?

I am interested in the language my hon. Friend uses. Once again I give him the assurance which I have given the House on many occasions. We are not purchasing Poseidon. We are not MIRV-ing the warheads. We are not embarking upon a new generation of strategic missiles. But we are maintaining the effectiveness of the present generation.

By far the most important consideration is that our defence should be adequate and credible. If the Secretary of State has to make his left wing unhappy in the interests of keeping the defence of this country viable and credible, I hope that he will take the necessary action.

We respect points of view, whether expressed by Government or Opposition Members, but however sympathetic we are, we must assess the facts first. I put the facts on record in my initial reply. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are maintaining the credibility of the strategic nuclear deterrent.