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Trident

Volume 14: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1981

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is now able to make a statement on the estimated cost of the Trident missile project.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the cost of Trident.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to be able to make a statement giving his decision whether the Trident programme will involve the purchase of the D5 system.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he will be in a position to give an estimate of the cost of the Trident missile system.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear to the House on 10 November 1981, we are still studying the final configuration of the United Kingdom Trident force. Our decisions and their cost implications will be announced in due course.

Are not the latest reports that, with the running and maintenance costs, the force will cost not £5 billion but nearer £8 billion? On the day when we are to discuss taxing the sick and cutting grants for university students and social benefits for the unemployed, does the hon. Gentleman really believe that that expenditure is justified?

As we have already made clear, we estimate that the cost of introducing Trident will be about 3 per cent. of the defence budget spread over 15 years. The running costs are more likely to be about 1½ per cent. The hon. Gentleman referred to students and hospitals and other important matters. It would be good to be able to spend more money on many things, but that is no argument for reducing our defences to an inadequate level, which would increase the risk of war.

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Is it not scandalous that, while children are dying because of a shortage of funds for bone marrow transplants, the Government are contemplating spending an extra £1·4 billion to buy the D5 missile instead of the C4? Is it not hypocrisy to talk about reducing nuclear weaponry in Europe when the Government propose to spend huge amounts on weapons which will be between 15 and 30 times more powerful than the Polaris system which they are designed to replace? Will not the programme start a new escalation in the arms race?

One regrets the death of children in any circumstances, but we should remember that the number of children killed in a war would be vastly greater than in the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I remind him that not long ago his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that if we have inadequate defences, we put at risk more than schools, houses and hospitals; we may have only a heap of cinders.

What will be the increased costs if the Government decide to go ahead, as appears to be inevitable, with the D5 system? Do we have dockyard facilities to take the submarines needed to carry the system? If not, would their construction not involve enormous additional expense?

I cannot quantify the costs, but we are considering them in order to make our decision. As my right hon. Friend said recently, it does not follow that the throughlife cost of Trident 2 would be greater than those of Trident 1. I have no reason to believe that our existing dockyards provided for the refitting of SSBNs will not be adequate.

Whichever Trident system is purchased, will it not significantly escalate the arms race? How can the Government press for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons when they insist on upping the stakes?

We believe that Trident is the most cost-effective system for us. Trident 2 is more powerful than we would need, but there are many reasons to go for Trident, including the fact that any other effective system that we have considered is more expensive. Whether we go for Trident 1 or 2, the relationship between our strategic nuclear deterrent force and the Russian strategic missile force will be about the same as when we introduced Polaris.

I recognise that the purchase of Trident is desirable and necessary—and the sooner the better—but will the House be able to participate in deciding on the type of Trident? If so, when will the Government be making a recommendation?

I cannot say when a decision will be made, but, when it has been made, it will be announced. It is for my right hon. Friend to decide what debates we shall then have.

At what stage do the Government envisage that Trident will be brought into multilateral disarmament negotiations?

We do not have plans to bring Trident into such negotiations at present, for a number of reasons. One is that if our strategic nuclear deterrent force were diminished in size it would cease to be credible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that even those who believe strongly in nuclear deterrence feel that there should be a clear cost limit on the programme.

As, by the American decision the Government are now forced to buy Trident 2, so will not be able to control the cost and will be forced to build larger submarines, will that not place an intolerable burden on our economy in developing the system over the next 10 years, which can only be at the cost of conventional forces?