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Volume 24: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now make a further statement on the implementation of the Trident programme.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received on the Trident system.

Work is continuing satisfactorily on the design of the new class of submarines and on the remainder of the programme necessary to bring the Trident system into operation with the Royal Navy.

Since the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 11 March on the Government's decision to adopt the Trident II D5 system, we have received about 50 letters from members of the public on the subject.

Does the Minister accept that the so-called nuclear deterrent has not kept the peace? Does he also accept that, as a result of the losses in the South Atlantic, hundreds of millions of pounds will have to be spent on replacing frigates, destroyers, helicopters and aeroplanes? Given the lunatic cost of the Trident project and the fact that it represents a significant and serious escalation of nuclear weaponry, will the Government now make a belated effort to support peace instead of war and announce the cancellation of the Trident project?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about not keeping the peace. The nuclear deterrent has kept the peace in Europe since 1945. There is no cash ceiling on the cost of the operation in the South Atlantic. When the costs are more accurately known and the prospects for defence expenditure as a whole in 1982–83 are clearer, we shall decide to what extent supplementary provision is needed. The main objective of our defence policy must be to meet the main threat, which comes from the Soviet Union. That is why we need a nuclear deterrent.

I thank my hon. Friend for reaffirming the Government's commitment to the Trident D5 missile system. Will he assure the House that recent events in the South Atlantic do not alter the fact that it is essential for us to have a nuclear deterrent? Will my hon. Friend also confirm that the success of a flexible response depends on the coexistence of strategic nuclear, theatre nuclear and conventional forces?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The main threat continues to be the Soviet Union, which has a wide range of nuclear weapons of different kinds, as well as vast and growing conventional forces. I think it is therefore right to pursue the policies of deterrence and of flexible response which have been pursued by successive Governments, including that of which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) was at one time a member.

Does the Minister agree that peace in Europe has been maintained since 1945 by a combination of nuclear and conventional arms acting as a deterrent? Does he further agree that the tragedy is that the Government failed to provide an adequate deterrent in the South Atlantic and that that led to the present disaster?

That is an entirely different question. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the causes of the Argentine aggression. Those causes may have had much to do with internal affairs in Argentina.

Is it not a fact that, during the peak years of the programme, the Trident cost will be 20 per cent. of new equipment? How can that be reconciled with a really credible conventional defence policy?

I do not recognise the figure quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. It is not one that I have seen. The right hon. Gentleman will have read the open Government document, which was published at the time of my right hon. Friend's announcement, which showed that, at its peak, the cost of bringing in Trident will be about 11 per cent. of the defence equipment budget for a couple of years.

Of the equipment, but not of new equipment. Will the hon. Gentleman direct his mind to my question?

I think that the right way to approach the problem is to look at the percentage of the total defence budget that is involved. That, as has often been said, is 3 per cent. of the total defence budget over the period of 15 years during which Trident is being brought in.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we could not possibly have sent the task force to the South Atlantic unless we already had an independent nuclear deterrent of our own? Does he further agree that without it we would have been open to nuclear blackmail from the Soviet Union and our entire strategy and diplomacy would have been dependent on our allies? Is not the first lesson to be drawn from the Falkland Islands crisis that we must have a nuclear deterrent of our own now and in the future, and that Trident is the best instrument for that?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is reassuring to know that, while large parts of our Navy, Army and Air Force are now in the South Atlantic, peace is kept in Europe by our nuclear deterrent.