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Trident

Volume 82: debated on Tuesday 2 July 1985

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the value of work which will accrue to British contractors from the Trident programme; and if he will make a statement.

Approximately 55 per cent., or over £5,100 million by value, of the latest estimated total cost of Trident will be spent in the United Kingdom. In addition, a number of British companies are competing for work on the United States Trident II programme. To date, 104 contracts, at a value of over $37 million, have been placed with 43 United Kingdom firms. Many of these subcontracts are for initial quantities, with the potential for follow-on orders.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it confirms that, whatever one's views on nuclear weapons, the reality is that defence expenditure means lots of jobs for Britain and that those who seek to slash that expenditure would imperil not just national security but deny vital jobs in an industry that is crucial for Britain?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps I may add just one statistic to those that my right hon. Friend gave. In terms of direct and indirect jobs, the Trident programme will provide about 300,000 man years of work.

If work does accrue, what safeguards are there against overcharging by contractors, such as Aish and Company? Has the Minister been following that case, in which a Mr. Jim Smith was sacked when he revealed overcharging on defence contracts amounting to £400,000? Are not the Government indebted to men like him, who have laid themselves on the line on a point of principle?

I am sure that the House would not wish me to comment on the case of the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. As to keeping costs under control, we have made very clear the effectiveness of our competition policy in keeping costs down and saving substantial sums of money. If that can be applied to the Trident programme, it will be.

As the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party are desperately trying to paper over their major divisions on defence policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that their recent proposal of a collaboration with the French on a nuclear deterrent would mean a loss of jobs for workers in this country?

I find it difficult to discover exactly what the SDP and Liberal party actually do believe on this issue. When I listen to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and hear him advance the sort of proposals to which my hon. Friend has referred —indeed, suggesting that instead of Trident we should go for cruise missiles — I know that he is going for something that would be less effective and much more costly.

Will not the agreement with the Americans to buy Trident be financially disastrous for Britain? We spend £4,500 million in the United States, yet the Americans spend a mere pittance in Britain. Why are the Government persevering — when they are so concerned with public expenditure — with this financial extravagance when they are cutting back on the Health Service, local government services and the welfare state?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the NHS has never been in better hands. We are spending very much more in real terms than any previous Government. The same applies to the defence programme. We are spending approximately one fifth more in real terms on defence than was spent under the previous Labour Government, and it is because of that that we are able to afford the systems to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.