This may seem a strange hour to launch a debate on so major a subject as the replacement of Polaris by Trident. It is a reflection on the strange procedures of this place that this is the only opportunity that we have to debate such a major decision before the House rises for a recess of several months.There would not have been a debate on this issue if my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Liberal Bench had not insisted through this procedure that there should be one. We are glad that the Secretary of State for Defence has made himself available for the debate and that he intends to take part in it. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has many pressing commitments, and we genuinely welcome his presence in the Chamber at this hour. We equally welcome the presence of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who is having to compete with the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) on the Opposition Front Bench. We seem to be the only Opposition on this issue. I am sure that there would have been a debate much earlier if the Labour Party had wanted to discuss Trident. I suspect that we are in for another occasion when the Labour Front Bench is silent. The official Opposition do not want anything said on the matter. It suits both the Government and the Opposition to say as little as possible about Trident for as long as possible. I make no claim to be an expert on the technicalities of the Trident missile. I shall not be entering into much detail on its specific qualities. However, I am entitled—it is an entitlement that spreads throughout the country—to give a view on the strategic assumption that underlies its purchase and the prospects of its use. The major decision to continue a British independent nuclear deterrent by substantial expenditure on the purchase of the Trident missile has been taken without any parliamentary decision or debate and in advance of the report of the Select Committee on defence, which is considering what weapon we should have if we retain an independent deterrent. I gather that it was taken in the absence of any full Cabinet discussion on the issue. It is an extraordinary way to take so major and crucial a decision. I refer to what I think is a misleading statement at the beginning of the otherwise useful document which the Defence Council has produced and the Government have published. That document, the "Future United Kingdom Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Force", begins:
So far, the account is true. The statement continues:"The basic policy case for Britain's continuing to contribute to NATO an independent strategic nuclear force was explained by the Secretary of State for Defence on 24 January 1980 to the House of Commons".
At first, I wondered when a motion had been tabled on the purchase of Trident or on the maintenance of an independent nuclear deterrent. The debate on nuclear policy was the only debate to take place in the last 15 years. However, it took place on a motion that the House should adjourn. The dramatic verdict of 308 votes to 52 was not the result of a motion that had specified particular features of defence policy. The debate had been a wide-ranging one about nuclear weapons. When he wound up the debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army said:"which after debate backed the Government's policy by 308 votes to 52."
The Under-Secretary simply expressed his assumption about the reason for the Division. Some hon. Members may have been voting about whether to go home. He made clear that the vote was on two issues—namely, the modernisation of NATO theatre nuclear forces and the separate issue of whether to continue with an independent deterrent. Other speeches in that debate make clear that some hon. Members were discussing the general point of whether the West should be equipped with nuclear weapons. Some of my hon. Friends felt, as I did, that to go into the other Lobby would be to challenge not only the independent deterrent but cruise missiles, the American deterrent deployed in the service of NATO, and the general deployment of nuclear weapons by the West. Anybody who thought that the debate represented a specific endorsement of the decision to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent or to purchase Trident must have been seriously misled. I hope that the Secretary of State will not seek to rest his case on that. It was wrong to include the statement in the document as if it endorsed the Government's policy. This debate is not about the Western deterrent or about the American deterrent that is deployed in the service of NATO. It is concerned with whether Britain should retain an independent nuclear deterrent by purchasing Trident. It is an extremely expensive undertaking, despite the relatively favourable terms that have been concluded with the United States of America about the purchase of the Trident components. It represents an addition to the number of nuclear arms in the world. We must examine carefully any addition to that stockpile. If arguments about the retention of the deterrent have some validity for us, they will also have some validity for other nations. Those nations may argue that they should be in possession of a similar capability. If we are to indulge in the expense and destabilising extension of nuclear power in the world, there must be an overriding reason. The defence of the Western democracies against the undoubted and demonstrated expansionism of the USSR is based on NATO and the American commitment to it. Without that, our defence strategy would fail. I support that commitment to NATO, and so does the Liberal Party. If we wish to safeguard our freedom, we must co-operate with our allies and indicate clearly that the Soviet Union strikes against the Western democracies at its peril. Why does Britain need to go it alone, with a capacity that is separate from that of the Western Alliance? Why do we need to launch a nuclear retaliation on the USSR? It would not be final for the USSR, because even with this weapon system the scale of retaliation would not destroy it. It certainly would not destroy the USSR's ability to strike at us. We cannot destroy its capacity to destroy us. I agree with what the Secretary of State has often said—that deterrence is about the others side's perceptions and calculations; it is about what the Soviet Union calculates is in its interest. Some of its calculations will be more ruthless and callous than ours. That is why I say, horrifying though it is, that we do not have the capability to destroy the Soviet Union, even if we are in possession of Trident. The Soviet Union is capable of calculating that the damage that we can inflict upon it might be tolerable in certain circumstances. The calculations that the aggressor might make could be more callous than ours. If we are to equip ourselves with the power to go it alone, within limited constraints, on what do we base that desire? The supposition must be that the United States would hold back from responding to a Soviet nuclear threat to Europe. In spite of the suicidal potential for America of involvement in any nuclear conflict, I believe that the American deterrent would have to be deployed against such a threat in America's direct interest. It is crucial to the Western defence system that America accepts that; and there is ample evidence that American leaders, present and potential, accept it. If the Americans respond or show themselves ready to respond, our strategic deterrent is unnecessary. If we contemplate circumstances in which the Americans would not respond to a Soviet strategic nuclear threat to the European democracies, we must assume that our alliance with America has already reached crumbling point. Our alliance with the rest of Europe would already be threatened and our relations with Powers such as West Germany would be threatened with a totally new situation. If America were not prepared to defend West Germany. West Germany would view our behaviour differently. It would have to look for new ways to survive. It might even have to look for accommodations with the Soviet bloc. I do not envisage that situation, but if I imagine it for the purposes of understanding why we should have a nuclear deterrent of our own I can suppose only that the Western Alliance would have reached crumbling point before we could contemplate using such a deterrent. If that were the situation, the United States would have probably already taken steps to prevent our using Trident, not least by drying up supplies of missiles and spares and by indirect means which would influence the locking in of Britain to the American deterrent. The more one thinks about that possibility, the more it seems that one is reduced to Domesday and Dr. Strangelove notions. Lord Carver expressed that more effectively in a debate in another place. One can imagine ludicrous and frightening situations such as differences of interpretation of what the computers reveal about Soviet intentions. Britain might interpret the information as an indication of a Soviet nuclear strike. The Americans might say "We do not believe it. We think that it is a mistake and we are not prepared to deploy our nuclear deterrent." Could one imagine Britain saying "We think that it is genuine and we shall retaliate"? If the British deterrent is not useful or necessary against the Soviet strategic nuclear threat—and I suggest that it is not—is it envisaged that Britain would use it against a conventional attack by the Soviet Union when the United States was not prepared to go all the way with us and when we would be forced to go it alone? It is incredible, not just to hon. Members but to the Russians. I come back to the point that the Secretary of State has often made about the Russian perception of what we would do. I believe that the Russians know what pressures we should be under if we contemplated a strategic nuclear retaliation to a conventional attack mounted by them on us or any of our allies. They know what an impossible commitment it would be for Britain to launch a nuclear war in order to resist a conventional attack. Therefore, I believe that the Russians are much more likely to strike by conventional means, preferably beginning in a NATO country in which there is some internal disorder or instability upon which they can latch and around which they can erect the sort of nonsensical justification that they advanced for their invasion of Afghanistan—saying that they had been invited in to bring about law and order, and promptly shooting the leader who was supposed to have invited them in. The whole Russian propaganda armoury looks ludicrous to us, but we must not forget that it is on internal disorder and instability in a particular country that the Russians are likely to launch not a nuclear but a conventional attack. That could happen in a country such as West Germany in some future circumstances. It could happen in a non-NATO country the stability of which we were concerned about. It could happen in Iran or in a place such as Finland if she began to detach herself from the heavy degree of dependence on maintaining Soviet respect and connivance. In any of those circumstances, the threat would be a conventional one. What use would Trident be then? It is no deterrent to an adventurist Power that is fully aware of the limitation that we would face in trying to deploy strategic nuclear weapons against a conventional attack. Not only that, but by that time our possession of Trident could have reduced our capacity to resist that sort of conventional attack—the capacity of our Army, Navy and Air Force to defend us, through NATO or directly. In equipment, numbers or both, there has to be a price paid for Trident. There is almost no analyst or commentator, even among those who are sympathetic to the idea of retaining a British nuclear deterrent, who does not doubt strongly the Government's contention that there will be no price to be paid in our equipment budget and in our conventional weaponry for the purchase of Trident. Whether it is any of the candidates already suggested, such as the Jaguar aircraft or the Hunter submarines—which may be affected by the building of submarines for Trident—it is widely believed that the Trident project will represent a threat to the equipment of our forces. Something approaching £1 billion a year, at present prices, in the mid-1980s will have to come from somewhere. On the Government's own admission, it represents at least 8 per cent. of the defence equipment budget. Either our conventional forces will be weakened or, after several years of increasing defence spending by 3 per cent. a year according to the NATO agreement—something which Liberals sought to secure from the previous Government—we shall add another 5 per cent. a year in the peak years of Trident, at the expense of health, welfare, education and aid budgets. That money has to come from somewhere. If it comes out of the defence budget, it must be at the expense of conventional forces, and if the equipping of those forces is not affected the money is bound to come out of other desirable and, in some cases, priority expenditure. For that price, we shall be vulnerable to an enemy which knows the restraints on our pressing the button and which will take care to ensure that its incursions are within the limits that make it impossible for us to retaliate in that way. Since it is impossible to construct a scenario for our use of the weapons, one is forced to conclude that they exist for the purposes of political and national prestige. Is it to persuade the Americans to take us seriously that we have to equip ourselves with the weapon? Clearly, it is no more a threat to the Americans than it is to the Russians for us to have in our possession a weapon for which we are dependent on the Americans and on the use of which there are such overriding constraints. A more accurate explanation, I believe, is that the Secretary of State and the Government are following in the steps of the late Aneurin Bevan, who, on behalf of the Labour leadership, spoke of his fear of going naked into the conference chamber. That was his defence of the British independent nuclear deterrent. The classic defence of the independent nuclear deterrent is that it gives us a standing and enables us to be taken more seriously. We are no longer, in economic terms, a great Power. We began to travel the road away from that position even when Nye Bevan made his comment. We are much further away now. We cannot afford to buy seats at summits at the sort of cost that is involved, especially when the price of so doing may be an undermining of the defence that we shall most need—the ability to resist, and to help NATO to resist, the incursions that the Soviet Union knows that it can make underneath the useless umbrella that I believe Trident will prove to be for Britain's defence."The debate has concentrated on NATO's plans to modernise its theatre nuclear force—the NATO agreement of 12 December. It has also concentrated on the steps that must be taken to ensure the continuing effectiveness of Britain's nuclear deterrent … We shall be voting tonight in support of NATO and of Britain's nuclear deterrent."—[Official Report, 24 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 781–82.]
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for initiating the debate. I wish to make only a brief intervention. I do so because, as I have expressed on previous occasions, I am profoundly disturbed by the Government's decision to replace Polaris with Trident. An increasing number of people are frightened at the way the militarists rely more on nuclear weapons as a deterrent. As the hon. Gentleman has remarked, the Trident system is merely a prestige symbol for this Government and this country.The fiction of the independent nuclear deterrent is manifestly absurd. There is no reasonable circumstances in which the United Kingdom would launch a nuclear war on its own, separate and apart from the United States and separate and apart from NATO. If a war comes, it is likely to be brought about because of the appalling stockpile of nuclear weapons that exists in the world. That would have dreadful results for all. The possession of Trident deters no country from beginning, or being involved n, a conventional war. It is an expensive embellishment of the defence of the United Kingdom. The colossal sums spent on Trident could, with everlasting advantage, be used for the great social problems that exist in this country. They could be used with great advantage to stop the de-industrialisation of our nation. They could certainly be used, with the gratitude of future generations, to end the death from starvation of thousands upon thousands of babies and children throughout the world. Future generations will look back and wonder how this country could embark on the replacement of Polaris with Trident. I hope that more hon. Members and more people outside the House will consider the dramatic changes that could be wrought with the millions of pounds that will be spent on the replacement of Polaris. It is a terrible blunder by the Government. An example could be set to all the nuclear Powers if the Government abandoned this dangerous independent nuclear deterrent. Other countries that wish to belong to the nuclear club would be encouraged to say to themselves that if Britain abandoned Trident they should follow that lead, spend money on peaceful purposes and abandon the evil of the nuclear deterrent. Although that is all I say at this early hour, I feel very strongly about this subject. I hope that the nation will be aroused to the need to abandon Trident as a replacement for Polaris.
We boast of parliamentary democracy, but when political parties find the going difficult they do not exactly excel in the art. The previous Administration cannot have been right to embark on a £1 billion modernisation programme for Polaris, code-named Chevaline, without so much as a nod in the direction of the Palace of Westminster. I give the Secretary of State credit for the fact that he told us all about it in the debate earlier this year.
His party started it.
I think that there is an argument that it goes back even further than that, to the previous Labour Administration.Now, the decision has been taken about Trident, at a cost of £5 billion and probably more, with no debate or vote upon the various options. They came afterwards, in an admittedly well-argued document—Cmnd. 1823—but the deal had already been agreed in an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States. The Liberal Party has consistenly opposed the concept of the independent nuclear deterrent, and I support that stance, but in a major decision of this sort should not the comparisons between the various systems and their costs at least have been thrown open to debate in this place? I also believe that opposition to the independent nuclear deterrent is now more widely shared than ever before, and at fairly high military levels. That is another reason why we should have debated it separately and voted upon it. As I have tried to make clear in previous defence debates, I fully support the NATO decision to replace its outdated theatre nuclear weapons—a decision, I accept, largely forced upon the Western European countries, the United States and Canada by the ever-increasing numbers of SS20s deployed by the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries. I also accept the need for the United Kingdom to share to the full in the implementation of that decision, which must mean the stationing of cruise missiles on our soil. Unless the members of NATO continue to work in harmony and are clearly seen to do so, the whole strategy of deterrence upon which the Alliance is based will be lost. We would then be heading for a major confrontation. The Secretary of State is absolutely right on that, and I have stood firm on it, despite a fair amount of correspondence from various parts of the country. On the role of the independent nuclear deterrent, I have read no more convincing debunking of the concept—my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made a good case—than that made by Lord Carver in the debate on 18 December in the House of Lords. That is an argument with which the Secretary of State must be only too familiar but which has never been adequately answered. Although I may not quote from that speech, I draw attention to column 1268 of the debate. It is fair to say that there have been much better, and better argued, debates in the other place than we have had here. A great deal of excellent information has been given and the case has been more deeply argued. The Secretary of State's decision, announced on 15 July, has, to say the very least, received a pretty mixed press. Whilst I and my colleagues can readily understand the Labour Party's wish to put off its debate on this subject until the autumn, we feel that it should be condemned for not having the courage to challenge the decision before the Summer Recess.
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the argument that he has so far put forward was expressed from the Labour Benches on at least three occasions earlier this year, in the three defence debates? At that time the Liberal Party was conspicuous by its absence. The fact that there are now five Liberal Members present, at the unprecedented time for them of 7 am, indicates that they are more concerned with promoting themselves than the objective which supposedly is the motive for this debate.
I do not remember a major defence debate in which I have not taken part. That was a complete misstatement on the hon. Gentleman's part. I think that I have spoken in every major defence debate in this House since I took on the job.Many criticisms have been made and ought to be answered. The answers should not be put off. On 20 July, the leading article in The Sunday Times said:
I accept that the leading article goes on later generally to support the argument, but it also says:"In true military fashion Mr. Pym has first decided that we are to have Trident and new tells us why we are to like it. As an exercise in open government—which is how the White Paper facetiously described itself—this is a mockery."
The article also suggests that there should have been a far wider-ranging debate on it before the announcement was made. At about the same time, there appeared in The Guardian an article by Peter Jenkins. The heading states:"If we had no deterrent we would not now be thinking of laying out huge sums on getting one."
The last part of the article states:"One presumes that few Ministers believe the cant they spout about Polaris being an essential part of the NATO deterrent."
"Britain is not economically fit enough to attempt the strategic over-stretch upon which Conservative governments usually insist. As a national deterrent of last-resort the Polaris would have done for a while yet. The Trident is too elaborate and expensive for that purpose; what other purpose it is intended to serve is not clear. Its relevance to NATO is limited and may impair Britain's contribution to the redress of the military balance in Europe where it really matters.
Perhaps the best leader of all appeared in The Scotsman. It posed some very poignant questions. It said:Meanwhile, the government seems to have no policy for arms control and no serious interest in East-West relations. The replacement of the deterrent is supposed to ensure a continuing place at some top table but Mrs. Thatcher is absent from the top table at which Schmidt and Giscard sup. They are more and more the architects of Europe's future. For these reasons it would have been preferable to delay the procurement of the Trident and think deeper."
That of course was the evidence that was given to the Defence Committee of this House."You do not need to be a unilateral disarmer to have doubts about Trident. Given acceptance of the need for deterrence, the Defence Minister has as yet failed to make clear how Trident is anything more than marginally more effective as a deterrent than a Cruise missile system, which would cost only half as much as Trident-I".
"If Britain was experiencing booming prosperity it would be easy to understand expenditure on Trident as a contribution to the Western Alliance's necessary military programme to counter the frightening growth in size and sophistication of the Soviet arsenal. But these are not the facts in 1980 Britain. A large percentage of the population is worried sick by burgeoning unemployment. When the winter is well set we will begin to read reports of intense hardship suffered by people dependent on social security payments, which have been cut in real terms by this Government. Even people in employment are having difficulties meeting basic commitments to their families because of the high rate of inflation. Meanwhile, they see cuts being made in what hitherto were considered to be essential educational and health services.
In an important article published in The Observer on 27 July, Robert Stephens, the foreign editor, arguing against Trident and against his own newspaper's leading article, concluded:MPs also need to ask on our behalf how independent our Trident system will be. Will there be restrictive clauses in the purchasing agreement for the delivery system from the Americans? If so, will the system be truly independent? If not, what's the point of it? Also, how will expenditure on Trident affect our ability to make vital contributions to NATO's conventional forces? Mr. Pym made a smart move in announcing the launch of the £1·3 billion Challenger tank and MCV-80 armoured personnel carrier programme before he revealed the Trident decision. This suggests there is no weakening of Government resolve in the conventional field—but what about its financial ability as the Trident costs mount? And what flexibility does Trident allow the Government should the Soviets seriously enter nuclear arms limitation talks? Is it not the case that it permits less flexibility than a Cruise missile system? Finally—and not merely provocatively—Mr. David Steel's query as to whether Mrs. Thatcher's Government is suffering from delusions of grandeur needs to be echoed. Mr. William Rodgers, Labour's defence spokesman, who has fought bravely the appallingly—and sometimes sinisterly—naive unilateralists in his party, probably summed up the feeling of many people both inside and outside Labour's ranks when he said in Parliament yesterday: 'We believe the case for buying Trident has not been made out and we simply cannot approve it.' Will Mr. Pym now start arguing his case?"
"Rejecting the British deterrent does not necessarily mean accepting total unilateral nuclear disarmament, that is, the renunciation of all reliance on, or use of, nuclear weapons, whether British or other. It can mean continuing to rely on NATO and the American deterrent, while working to diminish the nuclear war risk through arms control measures, such as the Soviet-American SALT treaties, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the nuclear test ban, the reduction of forces in Europe and the creation of nuclear-free zones.
I share those views. The questions that I have put, from the quotations that I have given, should be answered—and should be answered this morning.The whole-hog unilateralist case is strongest when based on moral grounds—the refusal to take part in a nuclear war that could destroy mankind, if deterrence fails. Its main weakness is its failure to recognise that the only sure way that nuclear war can be prevented is not through simply renouncing the bomb but by preventing war itself. The nuclear genie can now be put back securely into its bottle only if it is corked with an effective international security system to prevent war."
I am glad that the Liberal Party has chosen to raise this matter, but I look forward to debating it at a more sensible time of the day and in greater depth when we return from the holidays. We have already had what might be described as a preliminary debate, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a powerful speech. He made a case for the British deterrent that neither the Liberal Party nor the Labour Party has countered.Whether we have a new Lib-Lab pact today, as the Liberal Leader is sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) on the Opposition Front Bench, I know not—
I think that what the hon. and learned Gentleman describes as a new Lib-Lab pact is due more to the fact that Liberal Party Members are unused to being up at nearly 7.10 am, though members of the Labour Party are quite used to it. Because the Liberals are so unused to it, their leader has to draw attention to himself by sitting next to me.
I shall leave the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) to their squabbles on the Opposition Front Bench. We on the Government Benches can step back from those squabbles and contemplate them with a certain degree of interest and irony at this time of the morning.The point that was missed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who initiated the debate at this unearthly hour, and by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), was the cardinal issue whether there should be a further decision-maker in the Western world on the possible use of nuclear weapons. That is something that the Liberal Party does not seem to be able to face. It is spelt out in the Government's document at paragraph 5, in which it is said:
which is what we are debating, a separate nuclear force controlled by us—"An adversary assessing the consequences of possible aggression in Europe would have to regard a Western defence containing these powerful independent elements"—
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will turn their minds to that. It is a powerful argument and one on which the House deserves to have the views of the Liberal Party. It seems absolutely logical that if there is more than one decision-maker with respect to nuclear weapons, peace is more secure."as a harder one to predict, and a more dangerous one to assail, than one in which nuclear retaliatory power rested in United States' hands alone."
Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that the British independent nuclear deterrent would have a great deal more credibility if the civil population in this country had a far greater degree of protection than currently exists?
I take my hon. Friend's point. I know of his considerable expertise on the issue of civil defence, and that is clearly what is in his mind. We are expecting, within the next few days before the House rises, a statement about civil defence which may cause there to be what might be described as a "strengthening of our posture". Undoubtedly, many lives could be saved—if there were to be a nuclear holocaust—by low-cost precautions. They would also show our determination. If there are to be further steps taken, what must be emphasised is that we are in the deterrence business. That is what we must concentrate on.I fail to see how any case has been made out by the Liberal spokesmen who have dealt with this theme. I do not see how there can be other than increased security for our country if we have an independent nuclear deterrent, updated as it must be, because Polaris has been going for a long time. While it is still credible and viable and so on, the vessels in which the system is transported are getting rather old now and the time has come to make a decision whether we are to retain the mechanism which has maintained peace in the world, and for us in particular—
The hon. and learned Member has posed the question whether an additional decision centre within the Western deterrent is a desirable thing. In my speech, I sought to argue the case that Britain did not effectively have an independent decision centre and that there were too many constraints on our using such weapons. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the more decision centres there are, the better for purposes of world peace. Does he believe that if more Western Powers had the ability to launch a nuclear war the world would become a more stable place as a consequence?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Anything taken to its logical conclusion becomes ridiculous. What we need are the decision-makers such as we have now, the United States and ourselves. This has been the situation which has kept the peace in Europe for the longest period there has ever been peace in Europe. It seems to me that there should not be any alteration in that status quo.As to proliferation, I take the hon. Gentleman's point, We are debating serious matters and I would not agree that we want further proliferation of nuclear arms beyond that which has existed since the creation of them at the end of the war. The case is wholly made out for the course of action that the Government are taking, and I commend them for their courage in having taken this course. Naturally, it is an expensive decision. But the expense will be spread over a considerable number of years. It will, I believe, give an additional, continuing security to our realm and the various component parts of it in a way which no other decision can. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed spoke of NATO commitment. Of course, the NATO Alliance is of paramount importance. That is stressed in every written word produced by the Government on this issue. I have had the privilege of going around several NATO countries and I can say that my investigations and talks with our NATO allies lead me to the strong conclusions that they welcome the fact that there has since the war been a British deterrent as well as the French force de frappe and the American nuclear force. From recent talks that I had in Bonn, it seems that our German allies are keen that we should maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. The French to whom I spoke, less formally and less openly than to the Germans, think that we should have what they describe as a force de frappe. Our NATO allies to whom I have spoken all welcome the decision made by the Government. The Liberals are right to stress the importance of NATO. Those I have spoken to in NATO welcome the fact that there is a British component to the deterrent. If one thing is predictable about defence matters, it is that they are unpredictable. Therefore, in these circumstances is it not right for us to maintain the reality of a massive power to retaliate? We could go on bandying about the views of Field Marshal Lord Carver. He says one thing in a debate in another place, but, as I have already pointed out, one can match his views with those of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton, who takes a contrary view. They are both extraordinarily distinguished military men. One pays one's money and one takes one's choice. As a former naval person, it is perhaps not surprising that I should share the views of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton rather than those of Field Marshal Lord Carver. We do not get very far by playing one distinguished Service man off against another. However, I prefer the views of the sailor in this matter. What it comes to is that it is right that we should be debating this issue, and I think that it would be a good idea if we had a full and sensible debate at a sensible time of day, or early evening, when we come back rested from the summer holiday. I am sure that that will happen. I commend my right hon. Friend for producing full documentation on the decision that has been made, though it can be argued that there should have been a debate before the decision was made. That is a tenable point of view. But it comes ill from Labour Members to nod agreement with my putting that proposition forward when they indulged in the most extraordinary course, almost one of deception, when they were going ahead with the updating of the Polaris system—Chevaline—and spending hundreds of millions of pounds without there being so much as a breath of it in the House. I can, perhaps, understand the matters internal to the Labour Party which prompted that decision, for, undoubtedly, had it been announced that the Labour Government were spending huge sums of money updating our Polaris deterrent there would have been grave trouble from "below the Gangway". I can understand why they did it, but it comes ill from the Opposition Front Bench to criticise my right hon. Friend for not having gone in for an even greater degree of open government.
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that I at least do not deserve personal stricture concerning what took place during the period of office of the last Labour Government. To return to his main point, does he recall that during the debate on the Royal Air Force I said pretty much the same as he is now saying about the necessity for a Green Paper on the issue of nuclear weapons? Does he also remember that he intervened during my speech, disagreed with me and said that at that time his right hon. Friend had encouraged a debate on the future of nuclear weapons? He cannot have it both ways. If he has such a short memory, he should read his own speeches and interventions before he makes a speech, albeit at 7,20 in the morning.
I have not quite understood the hon. Gentleman. I think that it is he who is a little muddled. He cannot speak from that Dispatch Box and say that he does not speak for the Labour Party or accept the inheritance of its past actions. It is nice to see him as a Front Bench spokesman, but when he stands at that Box he cannot cast off everything that has been said on behalf of the Labour Party in the past. I look forward to checking Hansard to see precisely what was said. At 7.20 in the morning, the precise nature of the exchange escapes me.It comes ill from any right hon. or hon. Member standing at that Dispatch Box to accuse my right hon. Friend of not having indulged fully in open government. The Government have laid before us a convincing document indicating that the strongest reasons exist as to why we should retain the independent deterrent that has contributed to the preservation of peace since the end of the last war. It has given the longest period of peace and freedom from major holocaust in the history of the world. I look forward to returning to debate this matter refreshed after the recess, and I commend the fact that the Government have put so clearly before the nation the overwhelming arguments why Britain should retain the capacity it has possessed since the end of the Second World War.
In all the sidestepping of Parliament and the avoidance of public debate over the decision already taken about Trident, no aspect has been left more uncertain, more vague and more sketchy than the economic one—the question of cost—and the further question of whether that cost constitutes a sustainable burden upon the British economy. Since it is agreed on all sides that credibility is the essence of this matter, if world opinion is left in great doubt whether the British economy can in future sustain Trident and the other consequential burdens we lose a great deal of the alleged benefit of having the weapon.Even among supporters of the Government and supporters of this decision, there is scepticism about the scanty figures that have so far been given on the cost. Even accepting, as we must unless and until the Secretary of Staate obliges the House with much more information, the vague starting figure of £5 billion for the deal and the surrounding costs, there are two aspects which should have close consideration by the House, not just this morning but in a full-scale debate as soon as we return after the recess. The first aspect is that even the £5 billion punches a huge hole in the credibility of the Government's overall economic stance. The frequent dictum of the Prime Minister that Britain should at last live within its means is made nonsensical when we add to our existing defence burden the alleged cost of Trident. The Government should be aware that public opinion will not accept this as a reasonable addition to our national costs. It is all right for Britain to make cuts on every side and try to live within its means until a matter crops up about which Ministers are deeply concerned, which involves prestige and national status, when a luxury price will be paid for a benefit of doubtful value. The Government will henceforth be far less able to convince people that cuts in other fields are to enable us to live within our means. As the public become familiar with the extraordinarily high percentage of our gross domestic product that goes to defence, their scepticism will increase to a degree that could undermine the basis of the deal. The second aspect, which concerns what is mistakenly called the real economy as distinct from the so-called financial economy, is the appalling diversion of skill required by the building of nuclear submarines. The Sunday press contains many advertisements for skilled vacancies created by such defence expenditure, and we are only at the beginning of the programme. Effort is being diverted to fields that have relatively little spin-off. There is no great export market for nuclear submarines that could justify the concentration of our rare skills. As a consequence of the Trident deal, we face a substantial diversion of capabilities that are unfortunately limited in this country at present. I hope that this debate, as a curtain-raiser to a major debate, will at least draw attention to a great many facts, including financial and economic facts, of which Parliament has so far been deprived and on which the public have a right to insist.
I wish to pose two questions. Do we need an independent nuclear deterrent, and should we have one? I believe that as members of NATO we do not need an independent nuclear deterrent. Even the Prime Minister in her wildest moments would not be foolish enough to launch an independent nuclear attack. It is, therefore, foolish to indulge in £5 billion of expenditure on such a deterrent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, we should instead be playing our full part in NATO. Trident is not an essential part of the NATO deterrent. It has a strike value of only 2 per cent. It is more a matter of trying to keep up with the Joneses—in this case France. Would France use an independent nuclear deterrent on its own any more than Britain?It is also claimed that we need Trident because of the unreliability of our American allies. If there was doubt about their trustworthiness, surely that would be a reason to strengthen Europe and not go it alone. We have co-operated well with our American allies since the Second World War, and I believe that there is no reason to doubt them. We should place our money in NATO, where we would get greater value for it. Germany could argue that it, too, should have an independent nuclear deterrent on stronger tactical grounds, because of its geographical position. However, no one in this House would seriously contemplate giving Germany an independent nuclear deterrent. The logic of the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) is an argument in favour of proliferation. More and more people will rightly demand the opportunity of taking decisions and having other places where decisions will be taken. The hon. and learned Gentleman excluded everyone bar the British and the Americans. Later he accepted that perhaps the French might have a role to play because they have an independent nuclear deterrent. This could go on and on. We now see countries, such as Iraq, developing their own nuclear technology. I think that we should be worried about this development. We have a far greater future by co-operating with our European partners. The Prime Minister recently set the tone by the Venice declaration and by our response to the Afghanistan situation. By exhibiting a united European front we showed that we could have a different and far more flexible attitude in Europe than our American allies because of their position vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. If it is to fill a vacuum that we need to keep an independent nuclear deterrent until we can come to an arrangement with our NATO partners, I suggest that it would be more cost-effective to prolong the life of our Polaris submarines, which could be done for about 15 years and at about 40 per cent. of the cost of Trident. If we do not need Trident, should we have it? Everyone knows that thresholds fall if there are not adequate nonnuclear conventional forces, and that increases the risk of nuclear weapons. Trident will so sap our conventional forces that we shall be unable to contain an attack by conventional forces and will be quickly forced into a nuclear retaliation. My noble Friend Lord Gladwyn, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said:
The "opportunity" cost of Trident is reckoned by many military observers to be far too great a price to pay. For instance, it will inhibit the development of anti-tank laser technology. The Royal Air Force may have to abandon plans for a replacement aircraft for the Jaguar. As regards the Navy, Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness is the only British yard capable of building nuclear-powered submarines. The decision on Trident may mean that the Navy has to interrupt production of hunter-killer and attack submarines to make way for the four Tridents. Even if people in places such as Cammell Laird's shipyard had hoped to get jobs out of the Trident deal, they are to be disappointed because it will be impossible to build these high technology submarines in that shipyard. It is also doubtful whether these missiles will do the military job of which they are said to be capable. By the 1990s Britain's enemies may be able to track our submarines from the moment they leave port. Their effectiveness would then be considerably reduced. Trident will then be £5 billion worth of junk. I believe that the money could be better spent on conventional defence, on solidifying the European Alliance and on much higher social priorities. Yesterday I visited one of my constituents, Mr. Arrowsmith, of Royston Street, Liverpool. He has no inside sanitation. His son was using a tin bath when I visited him. The wallpaper and plaster are coming off damp walls. No improvements are to be made on that house because money is not avaliable as a result of the Government's public expenditure cuts. Housing is to be cut by 48 per cent. between now and 1984. Mr. Arrowsmith would rather have a bathroom than a Trident. Many other people would rather see improvements made to their schools and to their job prospects. There are 107,000 people out of work on Merseyside. I should prefer to see some of the £5 billion being used to alleviate those problems than on an independent nuclear deterrent. It is dubious whether it could ever be used. Frankly, I think that our money would be better invested in NATO. In the paper issued by the Secretary of State, the opening paragraph on page 63 deals with the cost, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) referred. It contains the amazing statement that"Even if the desirability of some continuing independent seaborne British strategic nuclear deterrent is admitted, it is becoming—apart from the fact that our submarines will probably be very vulnerable in the 1990s—increasingly clear that it can be achieved only at the expense of weakening our 'conventional' defences."
That is like asking for the equivalent of a blank cheque—and that comes from a Government who talk so much about the control of the money supply and prudent housekeeping policies. There is another perceptive observation that"The costs of the proposed Trident force cannot be estimated in close detail at this stage".
I would have thought that that was patently clear to any observer. There is also the way in which this document was drawn up in the first place and the way in which the deal over Trident was arrived at. I refer hon. Members to an article in The Observer on Sunday 20 July which said:"Money spent on this is money not spent on other things".
that is, America—"The British Government was so concerned to keep the details of the deal secret that it felt unable to trust anyone at the British Embassy here"—
"to type its letter of agreement.
Instead, the negotiators took some Embassy notepaper to the Pentagon and the letters of exchange were typed there. Then, after lunch at the House of British Ambassador, Sir Nicholas Henderson, the letters were signed in the street on the boot of a car.
That is a curious way of going about business with our allies. I also refer hon. Members to The Times of 16 July, which said in a leader:The date was Friday, thirteenth June this year".
That strikes me as being a fairly contemptuous attitude towards Parliament, yet the Secretary of State has the nerve facetiously to call his document 80/23 an exercise in "open government". That is the sort of open government that we can all do without. The Government claim to be concerned about how we control the money supply. In fact, they are stampeding the country into vast expenditure. Incidentally, Britain is also a signatory to the comprehensive test ban treaty. How will she go about testing the new warheads for Trident? It is clear that the Government do not care about test controls, the cost or the strategic implication of Trident. This debate need not have taken place at all had the previous Labour Government honoured their promise to let Polaris wither on the vine. Labour Members are just as much to blame as the Tories for this decision. I conclude by quoting someone who was regarded as one of the major defence authorities over the last 50 years. Lord Mountbatten, speaking in Strasbourg, summed up the challenge for civilised nations when he said:"The Defence Select Committee of the House of Commons suffered the humiliation of holding hearings after the decision had in fact been made."
"The real need is for both sides to replace the attempts to maintain a balance through ever-increasing and ever more costly nuclear armaments by a balance based on mutual restraint.
Better still, by reduction of nuclear armaments I believe it should be possible to achieve greater security at a lower level of military confrontation.
Britain's security depends not on her bomb but on moving the world on to other paths of peace with arms limitation and international war prevention measures. The two questions that I posed earlier were "Do we need an independent nuclear deterrent, and should we have one?" Clearly, the answer to both those questions is "No".As a military man who has given half a century of active service I say in all sincerity that the nuclear arms race has no military purpose. Wars cannot be fought with nuclear weapons. Their existence only adds to our perils because of the illusions which they have generated."
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), may I point out that he is listed for a later debate? If he speaks now, he will require the leave of the House before he can raise his own subject, and opposition from one hon. Member would prevent him from raising that subject.
That is quite true, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to you for drawing my attention to the matter.However, as time wears on, and with five debates yet to go before I reach my own subject, I thought that my debate might be rather more marginal than others. I also feel that to stay up all night and not make a contribution on a subject that I believe to be overriding would be more frustrating than to have an hon. Member objecting at 11 or 11.30 in the morning. Although the subject that I wished to discuss later is important, I believe that this one is the most overriding issue facing mankind today. That is one of the reasons why I regret that there has been no debate so far. I do not think that this is a matter that should be put off for the convenience of anyone. The fact that the Labour Party tends to have two views on this subject—one from the Front Bench and one representing official Labour Party policy—is no reason for doing that. The issue is one of importance and the Labour Party, quite rightly, has raised this issue internally, because the Labour Party is a party of ideas and sees this as an important moral and economic question. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck)—who is, I think, secretary of the Tory Back Bench committee—has said that Polaris, which Trident is to replace, has maintained peace in the world. I do not think that the Vietnamese nation would exactly agree with that, because the Vietnam war lasted for many years and saw the use of weapons on a scale greater than in World War II. The notion that the people involved—and who were suffering most of all—were in a distant country and were yellow-skinned, so that it was not really of such great importance, does not hold water. One of the greatest moral shudders that went through the American nation was its concern with Vietnam. That is clear to anyone who has talked to many Americans. The notion that peace has been maintained throughout the world by the existence of nuclear weapons simply is not borne out by the facts. The Secretary of State for Defence has been going round to various meetings and appearing on television justifying the installation of 160 cruise missiles. We are led to believe that the installation of those cruise missiles is part of our defensive alliance, that they will be a deterrent and that they will be part of the mighty opposition to the Soviet Union. If the cruise missiles are such an important strategic step forward and if they are so necessary for Western defence, one wonders why we need Trident. The arguments of the Secretary of State are that it is absoluely vital that we should have cruise missiles, and one hopes that the Russians will not invade in the three years prior to cruise missiles being installed. So it is quite extraordinary that as these nuclear weapons are brought out and considered, they are urgent and all-demanding and they have to be installed before the Russians realise how tremendously weak are our defences. The reality, of course, is that both camps are armed to the teeth. The propaganda which is put out by the Secretary of State for Defence—that NATO is marginally defended and that the Russians and their allies are much more strongly armed—simply is not borne out by the facts. As the Secretary of State for Defence knows, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has produced calculations to show that in nuclear warheads in Europe NATO outnumbers the Russians two to one. Lord Mountbatten pointed out in a speech which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), that he could not distinguish between tactical and theatre nuclear weapons and that if one is used, so will the other be used. That was the view of a somewhat distinguished member of the Establishment. The Secretary of State for Defence might well argue that the position is that the number of deliverable weapons is growing on the Russian side and that, therefore, we must have our own Trident system. I need hardly remind him that the document of the Institute of Strategic Studies points out that there is a nuclear balance at the moment. When the Russians produce figures to show that they are spending only 17 billion roubles per annum, the Secretary of State does not believe them and produces calculations of his own which conveniently justify the decision that he is to make. It is hardly likely that all those busy bees in the Ministry of Defence will produce calculations which show that on balance it is a marginal decision to employ Trident, cruise, Polaris or whatever. Of course, they will produce calculations on their bases which justify their decisions up to the hilt. It is one of those little incestuous arrangements that exist within various Ministries. Civil servants make the calculations to provide Ministers with justification for the decisions that Ministers have made. The notion that the Russians are armed to the teeth and that we are relatively weak and defenceless is not borne out by the facts. If it is, the Secretary of State will have no qualms about giving to opponents of the installation of cruise missiles the facilities of which the Ministry of Defence is availing itself by spending taxpayers' money on explaining why cruise missiles should be installed. Or is it that the Secretary of State would not like to have absolute parity, would not like to have fairness and would not like to have equality in the arguments so that the people might be able to make a judgment for themselves? The second issue is the economic position. We are told that the cost will be £5 billion. We know that it will not be £5 billion when it comes to forking out the money. We know that it is more likely to be double that sum. Everyone present is more likely, on the basis of experience, to assume that the cost will be a sum greater than £5 billion rather than a lesser sum. Defence expenditure is an area where people go weak at the knees when it is mentioned and lose their intellectual capacity for critical scrutiny. It is an area in which if expenditure is £10 billion it is said to maintain the peace of Western Europe and it is passed. The notion that it is £5 billion is, to say the least, tentative. Time after time, Conservative spokesmen have stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that we are in a weak economic position. We are, yet we can seriously consider embarking on this sort of expenditure at a time when we are not putting enough money into research and development for the goods and services that people need. I do not want to repeat the arguments of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). However, he was right to say that we are not putting enough skill, or enough of the ability of our people, into the manufacturing side of the economy and that producing Trident does not help because it is not something that we can export or repeat elsewhere. I conclude on the moral position. I am not one who says that there should be debate and more open government and who justifies the decision to spend £1 billion on Chevaline. I was a member of the previous Labour Government when the decision must have been in the process of being made. Nobody asked me about it. That is one of the things that I deeply and bitterly resent. When Tories say that there would have been an argument in the Labour movement about spending £1 billion, they are right. There would have been an argument. I would not have stayed in a Government who were spending £1 billion on updating Polaris in contravention of Labour Party policy. My record demonstrates that I have never been subservient to the system of patronage that rules in this place. The Labour movement would have rightly raised a stink about it. That is why it was not brought to public attention. Any Government must face public debate and discussion when making decisions. This Government have difficulties with their own Back Benchers and with their own position no less than previous Governments. I much resent the fact that the decision to update Polaris was made behind closed doors. There is a moral position. If mankind is to have a future, we must be able to tell the world that we have not embarked on this stage of nuclear development and that we have not adopted Trident. Polaris is coming to an end. We have an opportunity to end the massive drain on resources. We could tell the Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and other peoples of the Middle East that we have decided not to extend or maintain our independent nuclear stance. The moral question is particularly important in any consideration of world poverty. The Secretary of State will argue that peace is important for the economic development of the world and that countries should not be enslaved by Russian Communism. If we want influence, we would do better to provide educational, medical and social facilities instead of spending money on increasing and improving our massive capacity to exterminate people. One Polaris nuclear submarine contains the same fire-power as that deployed in the whole of the Second World War. That is a staggering aspect, and it should be borne in mind in any discussion of nuclear reality. In some countries, the population does not get enough to eat. The people do not enjoy the simple things of life that the Western world enjoys. When I ponder on such countries, I wonder about mankind's priorities. The Government have evinced their priorities. They are prepared to spend money on an immoral venture despite the fact that there is so much poverty in the world. They are cutting overseas aid by 14 per cent., yet they propose to spend £5 billion on Trident. The Government have taken a sickening, immoral, unjustifiable and untenable decision. On any examination of mankind's priorities, that decision cannot be justified. I utterly reject their decision as repugnant to the aims, ambitions and aspirations of mankind. Anyone who makes claim to any type of Christian philosophy should also reject the decision. A Labour Government cannot come too soon. When that time comes, we shall be committed to ending Trident and to embarking on a switch from warlike expenditure to expenditure for peaceful purposes. We shall set an example to the rest of the world. It is not impossible. There have been many examples. For example, the shop-stewards at Lucas Aerospace have shown that some people genuinely want their abilities to be used for peaceful purposes rather than for warlike gestures. We need make only one error and the world will be plunged into irretrievable chaos. The Tories believe in freedom of choice. What about giving freedom of choice to those who reject the deterrent? When the circumstances at the back of all our minds materialise, will those who press the button give those who say that they are not part of the quarrel freedom of choice? Will they be able to stand aside and say "Get on with your foolish conflict"? Alternatively, will they be plunged into a nuclear holocaust because the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and the chiefs of staff have made up their minds that they will press the button? I know the answer. There is no freedom of choice. The Secretary of State for Defence, the Prime Minister and the others, in a set of circumstances which the Prime Minister will not reveal, will press the button and everybody will be sucked into the radioactive cinder heap. There can be nothing more undemocratic and inhuman than that. If by determined and sustained opposition to Trident we can spray a little sense on the eyeballs of the Secretary of State for Defence and the others who are committed to this mad course, we shall be on our way to saving humanity from the worst aspects exhibited by expenditure on Trident.
We have had a useful debate on the procurement of Trident. On behalf of my colleagues, I thank the Secretary of Defence for coming to reply to the debate. Through the night a succession of junior Ministers usually deal with the topics. We appreciate that the Secretary of State is to reply.The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) said that the debate was taking place at an unearthly and absurd hour. It is better to have a debate on this issue at an unearthly hour than to have no debate at all. Frankly, one of the reasons why we used the opportunity of the Bill—which we did deliberately by putting several names to the topic—is that as a party we object strongly to the conspiracy of silence between the two Front Benches. It is not sufficiently understood outside the House that debates depend upon agreement between the Government and the Opposition. While one or the other can raise an issue from time to time, when there is agreement not to debate an issue the House is deprived of that opportunity. One of the objectives of the Liberal Party, as a minority in the House, is sometimes to upset that cosy conspiracy, as we have done this morning. That is one of the reasons why I am speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. It is not, as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, to draw attention to myself. My reason is that I wish to draw attention to the fact that the official Opposition, who have so much time at their disposal, have chosen not to debate the issue until later in the year. There has been a good deal of public outrage about the issue. I receive many letters, not only from my constituents but from people who protest that the topic has not been discussed in the House. It should have been debated specifically before the Government decision was taken. In speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box, I am sticking to the long-standing tradition of the House under which any Privy Councillor may speak from the Dispatch Box. I am being deeply conservative. There is another reason why the official Opposition have not chosen to debate the matter before. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) for mentioning this. An early-day motion signed by 162 of the 268 Labour Members opposes Trident. That remains undebated. One of the reasons why the official Opposition are embarrassed is that in government they practised a conspiracy of silence. It is no good the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East standing up now as a junior defence spokesman in Opposition and saying that what happened under the Labour Government was nothing to do with him. The hon. Gentleman was a member of that Government. He was a Whip. What happened to collective responsibility? Was he another of those in the Government who did not know what was going on, as the House did not know what was going on? The Labour Government were officially pledged against the maintenance of the so-called independent nuclear deterrent, yet they embarked on a £1,000 million refit of Polaris without parliamentary approval and without so much as a written answer in the House. They stand condemned for that piece of duplicity. When the Liberal Party initiated a debate a few weeks ago on incomes policy, we had a silent witness on the Opposition Front Bench and no participant. I am glad that we have been able to sting the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East into participation. The hon. Member was unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who is our defence spokesman and who has taken part in every major defence debate in the House.
He has not.
He has. He asked me to apologise for his absence during the winding-up speeches. He has a long-standing engagment, as our defence spokesman, to visit an RAF establishment, and he has had to leave.I hope that the Secretary of State will agree that the question whether Britain should maintain an independent nuclear deterrent cannot be determined by objective proof. It boils down to a matter of political judgment and opinion. In government, the Conservatives have consistenly been in favour of a British independent nuclear deterrent and the decision on Trident is consistent with their long-standing view. I hope that the Secretary of State will concede that the Liberal Party has consistently opposed Britain's independent nuclear deterrent from the time of Mr. Sandys and Mr. Macmillan and onwards. I remember from before I came to the House the arguments about Blue Streak and Polaris. It is not a departure for the Liberal Party to be opposed to the Trident decision. We are opposed to the context in which the decision was taken—namely, the belief that it is right for Britain to attempt to have an independent nuclear deterrent. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) was wrong to suggest that we are following the French. I remember a previous Conservative Government condemning a French Government for deciding to have an independent nuclear deterrent when we had already done so. The French decision to go for an independent nuclear power base followed Britain's decision to do just that. I always felt that we were in no position to criticise the French Government for what they had done. They were simply following our logic. One of the most forceful arguments against Britain's independent nuclear deterent is that of proliferation. If it is right for Britain to be an independent nuclear Power, why is it wrong for France, Iran, Pakistan, Israel or anyone else to acquire the bomb? The argument holds good for every nation in the world. We were the first outside the two super-Powers to embark on this dangerous road, and I believe that we were wrong. On the grounds of secrecy and opposition to nuclear proliferation, we wish to register our strong opposition to the Government's decision on Trident. As my hon. Friends have suggested, there are other considerations as well. The first is the effect of the decision on our future defence budget. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester suggested that it was wrong to quote individual members of the military establishment, because one could pay one's money, take one's choice and find other members who held different views. The reason why there are different views within the military establishment is that the establishment is concerned about the effects on the overall defence budget. Despite the recent announcements, which we welcome, on the uprating of conventional equipment, surely not even the Secretary of State will argue that the defence budget, within the Government's overall future expenditure programme, is some kind of bottomless pit and elastic. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. No Department's budget can be elastic, even allowing for the priority that this Government have given to defence in the public expenditure programme. Any large chunk committed to uncertain expenditure on one item—this is bound to be the case with Trident—will have a long-term effect on what is available for the conventional uprating of the equipment of our Armed Forces. It seems odd that a Conservative Party, in any future war, could be sending our men ill equipped into battle because they had diverted so much resources to the maintenance of an outdated piece of national prestige. As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) pointed out, it is not even a genuine piece of national prestige. We are buying it from the Americans. This brings me to a point that the Secretary of State has failed to answer in his previous speeches. I should like him to attempt to do so today. What are the circumstances, if we are talking of actual combat, in which it is envisaged that a British Government might wish to use the independent Polaris or Trident missile capability when the United States is not willing to use its nuclear capability? If it is conceivable that in some hypothetical future situation there was not sufficient political accord between the allies in NATO and, in particular, between the Americans and ouselves—we could make one judgment while they made another—and we wished to let loose these horrific weapons of war when the Americans were not willing to do so, as could happen, this situation would surely affect our purchasing, the repair programme and any refitting that would presumably be needed on the Trident project, because it is not a genuinely independent nuclear deterrent. I see that in logic a case can be made for a genuinely independent nuclear deterrent, but one that is dependent for its hardware on our political allies seems to have no case in logic. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester said that we were in the deterrence business. Is it seriously argued that there is great trembling in the Kremlin at the prospect of Britain acquiring an independent nuclear capability to replace the one that we already posses and that this will make all the difference in the judgments, military and political, that the USSR will make in the future. That argument cannot stand examination. There is also the straight economic argument, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Come Valley (Mr. Wainwright) referred, about the cost and the likely future cost of the project. Again, we have not had straight talk from the Government. We have been given the possible figure of £5,000 million. I should like to quote what was said by Air Vice-Marshal Stewart Menaul, who supports the Government's basic position on defence, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph. He said:
He is probably right. I am sure that the cost will have escalated well beyond the £5,000 million. If there are any doubts about what I say, I invite the House to think back to the forecast that hon. Members were given by successive Ministers on the cost of Concorde. Anything in the sphere of high technology is difficult to estimate, but the eventual cost of Concorde was about 10 times what Ministers had originally told the House it would be. I am not saying that the cost of Trident will be 10 times the announced figure, but I will bet with anybody that it will be double that figure. We must severely criticise the Government's policy on economic grounds as well as on defence and political grounds. With the decisions which the Government have, in my view properly, taken as part of the NATO partnership, to accept their participation in the cruise missile programme, we have a belt-and-braces defence policy. One can argue that in some situations that is wise, but when they are gold-studded belt and diamond-studded braces at a time when the country is in a weak economic state, it is indefensible. I come finally to the argument raised by the hon. Members for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and for Keighley about the overall background against which the Government are taking this decision. Most of my letters on this subject dwell on this point. The Brandt report spelt out the comparative costs of defence expenditure and the kind of spending which it advocated in the underdeveloped world. It is the total, universal expenditure on nuclear weapons and all weapons which should be of deeper concern to us—on both sides, I hasten to say, of the Iron Curtain. One does not have to be a pacifist or accept the unilateralist argument to say that this subject should command the greater priority attention of politicians around the world. Yet this Government have delivered a niggardly response to the Brandt report. They have cut the already puny overseas aid budget, yet in turn they have announced this massive and uncertain future expenditure on a totally unnecessary defence project. That should be a reason for the strongest possible condemnation of the Government. As I said, it is a matter of opinion and judgment. In our opinion and our judgment, the Government were wholly wrong to proceed with this matter. That is why we have raised it, even at this early hour, because we intend to go on pressing the question. I hope that when the official Opposition get round to having their debate on the subject, we shall be back to press it again and again."The United States is taking delivery of the Trident I now; Britain will not get it before the end of the decade when it will be obsolete and the cost will have escalated well beyond the £5,000 million currently claimed as the price to be paid for four submarines each equipped with 16 missiles armed with eight warheads."
I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I thought it a courtesy to the initiator of the debate that the official Opposition be represented, albeit by an extremely junior spokesman. However, having heard the whole debate, having listened to five of the Liberal Party Members and a couple of Tory Members, I am tempted to intervene if only to deplore the total hypocrisy of the Liberal Party in raising this matter at this time.It would surely be right and relevant to raise such a matter in the debate on the Defence Estimates. There was a full, frank and—if one wants to use every cliche—fearless debate on the Estimates on 29 April. The Government's motion read:
The official Opposition, who have been so criticised tonight, particularly by the Liberal Party, tabled an amendment, as is their wont on these occasions. It sought to leave out from "House" to the end of the motion and to add instead thereof:"That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1980, contained in Cmnd. 7826."
Given a fairly wide-embracing amendment such as that, I should have thought that Liberal Members could have found themselves able to support us at 10 o'clock that evening. I shall not criticise Liberal Members who are not present now, because they are frequently not present—and they are frequently not present at 8.15 am. I look merely at the Liberal Members who have spoken in this debate. I look first at the Liberal Whip, the man who is responsible for getting the so-and-sos here for most of the time. Nice chap though he is, he normally fails in his task. I look at where he cast his vote on that previous night. I should have thought that our amendment would tempt him into the Labour Lobby on that occasion. He voted against the official Opposition amendment on the first vote and with the Conservative Party on the second vote. In effect, he voted Conservative twice. He has no need to check Hansard. I have a copy before me. His hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) appears to want to check Hansard. I am coming to him. The hon. Member for Edge Hill waxed eloquently about an hour ago and said how deplorable it was that the Chamber was so scantily occupied for such a major and important matter. But when I look at Hansard for 29 April—"reaffirms its commitment to the proper defence of Britain through membership of NATO, and pays tribute to the men and women who serve in the armed forces and to their civilian counterparts, but declines to approve the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1980 (Cmnd. 7826) in that it fails to set out clear priorities for Britain's defence during the 1980s; commits Her Majesty's Government to increases in defence expenditure far in excess of forecasts for the growth of the economy; and offers no new initiatives towards multilateral mutual disarmament in the nuclear and conventional fields."—[Official Report, 29 April 1980, Vol. 983, c. 1174.]
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
When I have finished with the hon. Member, I shall be delighted to give way.I have carefully studied the Division lists for 29 April during this debate, and I find that the hon. Member did not cast a vote on either of the two Questions before the House that evening. I go further, before turning to the rest of his hon. Friends. On looking through the whole of that debate, I notice that various minority parties in the House were represented and had their say. A representative of the Ulster Unionist Party spoke. We had a speech from a representative of the United Ulster Unionist Party, as I think it is called—although I do not follow Northern Ireland politics with perhaps the diligence that I should. One hon. Member from the Scottish National Party spoke. But I have scrutinised Hansard from column 1174 to the second of the two Divisions, and nowhere can I find a speech from a Liberal Member. I should have thought that a party that is so keen to detain the House at about 8.15 am would, during the course of what was, after all, the major defence debate in the House over a period of 12 months, have wheeled out one of its tame hacks at least to give us the Liberal viewpoint on what is the major item of Government expenditure. However, none of them spoke during the debate. Five Liberal Members have waxed eloquent at the crack of dawn this morning. No doubt the unsuspecting citizens of various towns and cities will, in the next few weeks, have dropped through their letterboxes a publication which I have seen in my constituency—Focus. It does not do the Liberals much good there, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that you will not think that I am being particularly personal about the Liberal Party. It peddles Focus in my constituency and normally saves its deposit. All credit to the Liberals. The unsuspecting citizens who read Focus will be told that of the Opposition parties only the Liberal Party could be bothered to be present to talk about this most major item of expenditure in Britain.
That is right.
I am sure that that is right, because I know the Liberal Party as well as anyone does. It will not affect the fact that the Liberal Party will once again be indulging in its customary hypocrisy in these matters.
I should like to correct what the hon. Gentleman said about my contribution. I never mentioned the number of hon. Members in the Chamber. I would not expect many to be present at such an ungodly hour. The procedures of the House are badly in need of reform so that we do not have to have debates at this time.Secondly, there was a debate on nuclear weapons on 24 January this year. The hon. Member will find my name in the "yes" list for the Division at the end. I have studied both the "yes" and the "Noes" lists, and I cannot find the hon. Gentleman's name in either.
I do not recall that debate. The major defence debate in the course of the year is surely on the Defence Estimates.
Not on Trident.
We have not had a debate on Trident yet. No doubt we shall get round to it. The right hon. Gentleman has not done the House a service by holding a debate on Trident, if that is what it was supposed to be about, at 7 o'clock in the morning.In the major debate on defence, which took place on 29 April, not only did most of the Liberal Members not vote but none of them spoke. I do not begrudge the Liberals their little bit of propaganda. I do not begrudge them dropping Focus through our letterboxes, but they should stick to cracked pavements and the emptying of dustbins, all the petty matters that most of us in the Chamber deal with every day of the week, without making a song and dance about them, rather than pretending that their party is the only one that cares about issues such as the one before us. I return to two Liberal speakers who waxed eloquent in the debate. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) occasionally has a great deal to say on these matters. He made plain this morning that he felt deeply about the whole question of defence expenditure generally and whether the nation should buy Trident and replace our present nuclear weapons system. I do not disagree—
What are the hon. Gentleman's own views?
I shall come to my own points in a minute. The hon. Gentleman can rest easy. I shall not hide behind any bushels or refuse to make the points that I have to make. For now, however, I shall concentrate on the hon. Members for Colne Valley. He made a very good speech this morning. But when I look at Hansard for 29 April this year I see that neither he nor his right hon. and hon. Friends spoke. He did not vote either. If this issue was important enough to talk about at 7 o'clock in the morning, I should have thought that it was also important enough to vote on in the debate on the Defence Estimates; but the hon. Gentleman was not there. The hon. Member for Edge Hill, who got so upset, was not there either.The leader of the Liberal Party took me to task for an intervention that I had made and said "My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is always here when we discuss these matters. He is the Liberal Party spokesman on defence." So he is, and I would not attack the hon. Gentleman's diligence. He was here during the course of the debate on the Royal Air Force; I remember him particularly for two of his interventions. However, when we voted at 10 o'clock on 29 April 1980 the hon. Gentleman, who, like his hon. Friends, felt so strongly about this matter, voted with the Conservatives.
What is wrong with that?
The Opposition's amendment was daft.
The amendment included the words
If that was a daft amendment, I am surprised that the Liberal Party should have wasted our time this morning as it has done. I have been asked during the course of my speech what I had to say about my own position. That is unimportant. Although I am a member of the official Opposition, there are lots more people who have a right to be heard on this subject. Members of the Liberal Party should have been present during the debate on the Royal Air Force earlier this year. They would have heard me give the official Opposition view from this Box. We felt then, and feel now, that to go in for a new generation of nuclear weapons was an essentially dishonest argument. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Defence, who is present for this debate and who has not missed a single debate on defence matters, certainly not this year and, for all I know, last year too. I said in the debate on the RAF that we believed that if Britain were to stay in the nuclear arms business we would destroy our conventional forces. We believe that there is not the money to go round. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), with due respect to him, that there are those of us who stand at the Opposition Dispatch Box and who feel no less strongly than he about the important and relevant matters he has raised. It may be that from this Dispatch Box the only argument that can be put forward is a purely defence argument. The fact that Britain appears under this Government to be staying in the arms race will destroy our conventional forces. That does not lessen my distaste for nuclear weapons, nor for the fact that the Government are spending so much on nuclear weapons that they neglect all the other important areas that my hon. Friend mentioned. No one would claim that the Labour Party has any monopoly of compassion towards the Third world. Many Tory Members feel equally strongly about these matters. I hope that they will recognise that what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley had to say was true. It will be said around the world that the fact that Britain professes to be able to stay in the nuclear arms business will be to the detriment of the Third world. It is no good Tory Members shaking their heads. That is what is being said throughout the world, and rightly so."no new initiatives towards multilateral mutual disarmament in the nuclear and conventional fields."
What about Chevaline?
The leader of the Liberal Party is anxious to shift any responsibility for his own party's hypocrisy this morning. He asks "What about Chevaline?" I am not in a position to talk about Chevaline—
The only reason why the right hon. Gentleman talks about Chevaline is that he read about it in the newspapers—because he was not in a position to know about it in any other way.What comes out of the debate is the fact that the Liberal Party will leave no stone unturned in promoting itself. It will attack the official Opposition, and the right hon. Gentleman had to do so from the Opposition Dispatch Box. Why he thought his speech would be any less relevant if made from his usual place, I do not know. Although I found his speech, as ever, interesting and lively and, I suppose, in some ways informed, I do not think that transporting himself from his usual Bench to the Opposition Front Bench enhanced the quality of what he had to say. If the right hon. Gentleman wants the rest of the House to listen to the Liberal Party, it has to participate all the time, not just at times of its choosing. I remember the period of office of the last Labour Government when the then Liberal Whip said that the great thing about the Liberal Party was that its members were always in bed by midnight. I am bound to say that I wish there was still the same Liberal Whip and that they were all in bed by midnight.
As a preamble, perhaps I might be permitted to say that the sharing of the Dispatch Box by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) was a symbol of disagreement rather than harmony. Perhaps I might go on to make the comment that the whole purpose of our defences is to enable precisely the kind of argument and discussion that we have had this morning to continue.This is an extremely important subject and people feel strongly about it, whether they take the view held by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) or by anyone else. Strong views are held and, because it is such an important matter, I think that a debate is essential not only in the House but outside. I am known to hold the view that I would have liked a debate on the subject before the House rose, and I look forward to such a debate whenever we have it. It was on my initiative that the debate on 24 January took place, and on that occasion I tried to answer and deal with some of the fundamental issues of our strategy, including, particularly, the nuclear element. In that speech, which lasted about 40 minutes, I covered some of the points that were raised by the right hon. Gentleman just now. I agree with him that it is a matter of judgment and that there is no way of proving that one is right, one way or the other. That is all the more true when one is contemplating a weapons system that will not come into use until the 1990s and will go on well into the next century. But the judgment that one has to make is what arrangement of forces, and what weapons systems will, with our allies, preserve our security and enable our parliamentary democracies to continue. That is the question we must ask ourselves, and I shall be the first to say that it is an extremely difficult judgment to make in the nuclear context. Those who question the replacement of Polaris by Trident have argued that at a time of greater instability in the world, at a time of greater risk to this country of military aggression, we should discard a capability which has played its part in maintaining the peace in Europe over the last two decades. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman does not necessarily believe that it has played any role. However, I think that a great majority of hon. Members from both the main parties take that view. Our critics question the modernisation of this part of our armoury but do not seem to question the modernisation of other parts. As was said during the debate a few weeks ago, I announced the Government's decision to introduce the Challenger tank and also the new infantry combat vehicle. But I do not think that anyone—in the Liberal Party or anywhere else—questioned that decision or thought that there was any doubt about the need to keep up our conventional weapons systems. Why is it, I wonder, that one piece of equipment is challenged—that is the case with Trident—but not the others? I would say that our total capability to deter aggression must be complete if it is to be effective. If one bit of the structure is missing, the whole structure is weakened and cannot be effective. It can be argued that nuclear weapons are particularly and uniquely horrifying, which they are. However, I do not necessarily disagree with the judgment that, in terms of the infliction of damage, that puts nuclear weapons in one category and other weapons in a different category. All weapons are horrifying and all are designed to kill or maim. Those who recall the awful effects of the bombing of Hiroshima should also remember the attrition in the trenches in the First World War and the lingering after-effects of the use of mustard gas. The purpose of our deployment of nuclear weapons is to deter. We possess them and deploy them precisely to prevent their use. However, I shall not continue that fundamental argument which I deployed at some length in January.
The Minister seems to be anxious to narrow the gap that some of us have argued exists between nuclear and conventional arms. Does it remain an objective of British policy to have the power to deter the Soviet Union or any other enemy from deploying conventional arms against us and to retain the conflict at that level without having recourse to nuclear arms? Surely, the right hon. Gentleman is not abandoning the view that if conflict arose we should wish to contain it at the non-nuclear level.
Absolutely not. The last thing anyone wants is war, and even less does anyone want a nuclear war. We would wish to contain it at conventional level should that prove possible. The whole context and use of nuclear weapons, whether tactical, theatre nuclear or strategic, has put us in the position where it is not worth the while of any potential aggressor to start a war
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who came into the Chamber only after the debate had been going for two hours. I know that he is interested in the subject, but I hope that he will forgive me for not giving way, because some of us have sat here in this debate for two and a half hours having been up all night.I must tell the hon. Member for Keighley that on 24 January I tried to explain why it was necessary to have both theatre nuclear forces and a strategic capability. Our comprehensive defence capability would not be complete without both. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that the Trident decision represented an addition to nuclear capability and that it would destabilise the nuclear balance. On the assumption that SALT II is ratified, Trident would in the 1990s represent in relation to then current Soviet capabilities slightly more than Polaris represented in relation to Soviet capabilities in the 1960s. If we allowed our capability to be lowered, the nuclear balance would be disturbed. The hon. Member said that Trident could inflict damage that Russia might be prepared to tolerate. I do not think so. I think that even Polaris is terrifying in what it could do if ever the button were pressed. Trident would be even more so. The reason for that is that there will be greater defensive capabilities in the 1990s. I find it impossible to suppose that the Soviets could contemplate taking that amount of damage, even though it represented the effects of a very small proportion of the total missile capability of the West, bearing in mind the United States' nuclear armoury as well. It is the Russian perception that matters. I do not think that the Russians want their country to receive that amount of damage. I am convinced that the knowledge that we have this separate capability ultimately in our independent control if we are driven to use it will cause the Soviet Union to pause for thought. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed rehearsed a number of possibilities which only pointed out the uncertainties of the situation in the 1990s and the next century. His conclusion was that, because it was difficult to envisage precisely the scenario in which we might be driven to use the weapon, we could safely do without it. I totally disagree with that. The crucial factor is our total deterrent capability. The awful logic is that one must have the ultimate strategic deterrent able to inflict this massive damage in order to prevent an aggressor from putting us in that position in the first place. In other words, the entire aim is not to use it. I wish now to reject the argument used by a number of hon. Gentlemen about prestige. Anything more ludicrous than any Government or collection of people deciding to invest in a weapons system of this kind solely for the purposes of prestige cannot be imagined. It is an unmentionable thought. There is no question of our being present at any more council tables than we should have been if we did not have such a weapon system. We are led to our decision on the basis of what is necessary for our defensive armoury. We are not introducing a new system but modernising an existing capability. A great deal has been said about the damage that the decision would or could do to our conventional weapons. I completely reject that argument. Whatever money is spent on any one thing cannot be spent on anything else. The decision to re-equip the Army with the Challenger tank represents a resource that cannot be spent in any other way. Money cannot be spent a second time. The purpose of our defence budget, large as it is, is to enable us to make a contribution to the NATO Alliance that will give us a joint comprehensive capability. Five billion pounds is an enormous sum, although it is not as great as that required for the Tornado programme. We have confidence in the figures that I have given. I cannot say that in no circumstance will they be increased. Because the Polaris programme was carefully worked out beforehand, it cost little more than was anticipated. We had preliminary discussions with our United States partners and friends and agreed that Trident would be on the same basis. We have every confidence that the figures that I have given will be closely adhered to. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles took the extreme example at the other end of the scale—Concorde. However, a good example in the defence field is Polaris. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) said that we were relying more and more on nuclear weapons. That is not true. As the end, we shall not have a greater proportion of our effort in nuclear capability than we have now. It will be broadly similar. The hon. Member said that people were anxious about the nuclear stockpile. I have a great deal of sympathy with such feelings. Stockpiling has been occurring on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In the past 15 years, that has been dramatically so in the case of the Soviet Union. It causes greater fear than before. What is required is mutual and balanced arms control. The hon. Gentleman also said (hat Trident would not deter. I completely disagree. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is not in the Chamber, and I shall not dwell on his remarks. He mentioned open government. The negotiations with our United States friends and partners is advantageous to the United Kingdom. It requires us both to come to an agreement. If one is negotiating about possible arrangements and weapons systems, it is impossible to put all the cards on the table. One does not know whether the other partner will be willing at the end of the day to do a deal on that basis. Until the last minute, one does not know what the deal will be. It is unreasonable to suggest that we conducted the negotiations not in an open manner. In the document that I published and in the earlier debate, I went out of my way to be as forthcoming as possible with all the information on defence. We tried to follow that policy in our White Paper. In everything that I have done, I have tried to be as open as I can. It is impractical to have extremely difficult negotiations with a foreign country open to everyone to review, criticise and question. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) made a somewhat thin and confused speech. He appeared to suggest prolonging Polaris because that would be cheaper. That is not a practical option and would be more expensive. The hon. Gentleman appeared to be accepting the need for the strategic deterrent to continue. He went on to say that it would be better to spend the money on conventional weapons and forces than on nuclear, and at a later stage he indicated that it would be better to spend it not on defence but on other socially desirable purposes. I thought that he made a confused speech. I hope that when we return from the recess we shall have a proper and full debate on this crucially important subject beginning at 3.30 pm. I have been as forthright as possible at all stages, both inside and outside the House, in presenting the argument for the Trident. It needs to be presented, because it is controversial. I have never had the slightest hesitation about that aspect. But, after the most careful consideration, in our view it is an absolutely indispensable element in our defence capability. The purpose is not to use nuclear weapons but to preserve the peace of the world so that our freedom, way of life and parliamentary traditions can continue and we can go on sitting up all night on the Consolidated Fund Bill if that is what we want to do. That is its sole purpose. The Government are sure that spread over 15 years it can be contained within the defence budget. Indeed, it will be contained within the defence budget. No alternative use of those resources would make such a significant and crucial contribution to our defence capability as the decision that we took and which I announced.