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Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress to date on the Trident programme.

The Trident programme is progressing satisfactorily. I have nothing to add to the answer given to the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) on 2 July 1985, at column 116.

In January this year, when the sterling-dollar exchange rate was $1·09 to the pound, Labour and Liberal Members were highly critical of the cost of the Trident programme. Since then, there has been a 34 per cent. increase in the value of sterling, with a commensurate decrease in the credibility of the Opposition. Can we now assume that the Opposition parties have become enthusiastic supporters—

Can we now assume that in relation to the Trident programme the Opposition parties are enthusiastic supporters, and does their care and concern about the cost and the jobs that go with it depend—

My right hon. Friend announced that the cost of Trident was £9·2 billion at 1984 prices, assuming an exchange rate of £1 to $1·38. If, as my hon Friend has said, the pound strengthens against the dollar, that will affect the price of Trident, given that there is a 45 per cent. import content. My right hon. Friend has stated to the House the effects of changes in the exchange rate—any hon. Member can calculate those for himself—and he will be presenting his annual estimate of the cost of the programme in the light of changes in the exchange rate.

Will the Minister confirm that the British-manufactured warhead for the Trident missile will have to be tested, if not at the United States nuclear test site in Nevada, somewhere else?

We shall have to carry out tests that are necessary, but I cannot confirm what the hon. Gentleman has said.

As and when Vickers is privatised, how does my hon. Friend intend to ensure that it does not abuse its monopoly position in the building of Ohio-class and SSN submarines?

It is the Government's intention that there should be a number of submarine builders in this country, just as there are at present. Vickers has a monopoly, not of conventional, but of nuclear submarines. We envisage that there will be plenty of competition for conventional submarines, and I am certain that the privatisation of Vickers, which I am sure will be achieved shortly, will do nothing but good and will be good value for the taxpayer.

Is it not the case that the exchange rate is wholly outside the control of the Government and most other Governments? That means that if the cost of Trident is £10 billion, £5 billion in dollars is wholly outside the Government's control. Is that not a foolish financial arrangement, apart from the fact that it is ridiculous to spend that sum on a weapon which can never be used?

One thing is certain. If we had attempted to build and develop the whole of Trident ourselves, it would have been an extremely expensive programme, and far more expensive than Opposition Members would have been remotely prepared to contemplate. At £9·2 billion, the programme is excellent value for money, given the deterrent power that Trident missiles and submarines have. That sum spent on any other weapon system could not purchase the equivalent deterrent capability.