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Nuclear Capability

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans Her Majesty's Government have for enhancing the capability of Great Britain's independent nuclear deterrent prior to the scrapping of the V-bomber force.

As I explained earlier this afternoon, we are continuing the programme to maintain the effectiveness of the current Polaris force so that it remains a powerful deterrent to aggression into the 1990s.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be a grave matter if the Government were to go ahead with the Labour Government's plans to scrap half of Britain's strategic nuclear capability in 1982 with the standing down of the V-bomber force? The Soviet Union has more than trebled her capability in the past three years. Will my right hon. Friend consider continuing the life of V-bombers as cruise missile carriers? The United States are doing that with the B-52s, which are of similar vintage.

We have the whole of the strategic system in mind at present, and that includes the continuation of the present system into the 1990s as well as consideration of the successor system. We have in mind all the considerations that my hon. Friend has raised.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Conservative Government have embarked upon an arms race, and that the proposals that are being put toward this afternoon are to satisfy the whipping boys on the Conservative Back Benches? Does he further agree that it is all being done at the expense of schools, hospitals, and so on?

The hon. Gentlemean presents a grotesque picture of the facts. The arms race that caused us to think about new policies was started on the other side of the Iron Curtain with a massive re-organisation programme that has gone on for 10 years. It has forced us to take decisions that we would much rather not have to take.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it would be inadvisable to consider phasing out the V-bomber force at a time when Trident is being imported from America at great cost to replace Polaris? Will he assure the House that the V-bomber force has an interim role in carrying the cruise missile?

Those are all aspects of the matters that are in our minds at present. The V-bombers are undoubtedly old and there is doubt about how long they will last. We are considering the possibility of other air-launched cruise missiles. That is the assurance that I give my hon. Friend.

How independent is the independent nuclear deterrent about which the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) asked?

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is assigned to NATO, but at the end of the day, in certain horrific circumstances, if we are threatened, and subject to the arrangements that have existed for a great many years, it is entirely within the capability of the Prime Minister and this country to take a decision. That has been so for a number of years.