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Strategic Defence Initiative

Volume 78: debated on Tuesday 30 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the introduction of a strategic defence initiative for Europe will have implications for the Trident project.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the introduction of a strategic defence initiative for Europe will have implications for the Trident project.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the introduction of a strategic defence initiative for Europe will have implications for the Trident project.

There is no separate strategic defence initiative for Europe. The effectiveness of Trident as a deterrent depends not on defensive measures taken by the West but on developments in Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences arising from their long-standing and extensive research programme in this field. However, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has already informed the House, no developments in Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences are currently foreseen which are likely to negate the deterrent effect of the United Kingdom Trident force within the lifetime of the system.

Why, when talks are taking place about the star wars initiative, are this Government continuing with the £10 billion plus Trident project, particularly when a new hospital intended to serve the interests of my constituents has been eliminated from the 25-year programme and the Newcastle general hospital cannot afford £25,000 for a scanner to make possible the early detection of cancer? Does it not show that this Government are more interested in destroying than in saving lives?

No. All it shows is that we are continuing the policy of British independent deterrence in which the last Labour Government believed.

If the Soviet Union were to respond to the American star wars programme with the same type of programme, as the British Government claim they are already doing, would it not entirely negate the value of the Trident programme, and is that not the fallacy which underlies the present defence programme?

It depends entirely upon the judgment that the hon. Gentleman and the House make about the credibility of such a Soviet initiative and the time scale within which it could be brought to fruition. We have no evidence which leads us to believe that that is likely to happen within a time scale that could frustrate the purpose of the Trident programme.

Is it not becoming increasingly obvious that as Britain cannot afford the Trident project without seriously damaging the Royal Navy the time has come for the Secretary of State to inform President Reagan that this country cannot afford the colossal sums that would be involved in the so-called star wars project?

No, that is not becoming increasingly obvious, because all thinking people know that the average cost of Trident is about one-sixth of the total increase that the Government have brought about in the defence budget.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essence of deterrence is the ability to deliver enough of the warheads to deter a would-be aggressor, and that all experience shows, particularly during the period when the Vulcan bomber was the deterrent force, that by the time Trident is phased out and the Soviet Union has the capability of destroying most of the weapons something new will have been developed?

My hon. Friend touches upon the difficulty of predicting the future with accuracy. However, the essence of all the Opposition alarms is that they told us that if we proceeded with our defence policy and modernised our nuclear weapons it would destabilise peace and the Soviets would break off the arms talks. The fact is that the Soviets are back at the conference table and peace has never looked more secure.

If the Secretary of State agrees with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who referred to the widespread and continuing discussion and debate on the strategic concepts involved in the SDI, surely the cost of Trident is so immense that those widespread discussions and debates need to be considered before Trident is proceeded with. Ought it not to be put into cold storage until the effects of the SDI upon our country's policy are fully known?

It may be the policy of the alliance parties to put defence into cold storage, but it is certainly not the policy of this Government.

Are not the Government concerned about embarking on another round of extravagant spending when clearly the chiefs of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy are concerned about lack of spending on conventional defence?

The Trident programme carries the whole support of the Chiefs of Staff and of the policy formation processes of the Ministry of Defence, but if the hon. Lady is so concerned with making known a decision about our determination to maintain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, that explains why, when the Labour Government did it, they did it in secret with the Chevaline process.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what his views are on star wars? Does he agree with President Reagan that nuclear weapons are immoral and should be made obsolete, or does he agree with the Foreign Secretary, who made substantial criticisms of the star wars project? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether President Reagan consulted his NATO allies before he made that speech, which turned upside down 40 years of NATO nuclear strategy?

The right hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that the discussions that have taken place between the Government and the United States Administration have been at the highest level, and that the Camp David communiqué, issued by the President and the Prime Minister, clearly set out the British Government's views.