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Trident

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence to what precise extent the operational efficiency and viability of the Trident missile is dependent on United States maintenance and supplies.

As said during the defence debate on 27 October. arrangements were made in 1982 for United Kingdom-owned missiles to be processed at the United States facility in Kings Bay, Georgia. This processing will take place at the same time as the missile-carrying submarine is undergoing major refit. The arrangement with the United States is, of course, intended to maintain the operational efficiency of the missiles and thus of the United Kingdom deterrent. I am fully satisfied that this aim will be achieved and that the return of the missiles to the United States in no way affects the continuous deployment of the United Kingdom deterrent force, which is at all times under the operational control of Her Majesty's Government.

Has the Secretary of State read the Ministry of Defence papers from the 1940s when the United Kingdom was last involved in a lend-lease arrangement with the United States? Will he admit to the House that we are in a position of complete dependency on the United States for maintenance and that the independent nuclear deterrent is a charade?

I would have thought that there was every evidence that, during the last war, in the 1940s the United States lend-lease arrangement was a lifeline for this country. However, there is no connection between that arrangement and the Trident system where, at all times, Britain owns all the missiles that it needs for its system.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while Trident is on station, and between the major refits on the submarines, the remaining submarines will be serviced in Scotland and that that will be good for Scotland and for jobs in Scotland, because the missiles can be serviced in the tubes?

That is correct. At present the Polaris submarines are refitted at Rosyth in Scotland and the Trident submarine will also be refitted at Rosyth. The only difference is that the missiles will be refurbished in Georgia and not Britain.

Is it not an indictment of the Government that, while billions of pounds can be found to pay for Trident, the National Health Service relies on charities to buy the equipment that it needs to keep people alive? Is that not something that the Government have to face up to and explain?

Fortunately, under this Government not only are we able to find enough money to keep our defences in good shape, our security safe and peace in our time, but we are able to increase substantially the funding for the National Health Service, which is to be seen in falling waiting lists and better service generally throughout the country.

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress of the Trident programme.

The Trident programme continues to make good progress. It is on time and within budget and planned to enter service in the mid-1990s.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the cost of the purchase of Trident has fallen dramatically since the first decisions to go ahead were announced? Will he inform the House of the contractual commitments of the Trident programme, for example up to the year 1992? Does he agree that the Labour party's plans to scrap it and spend more money on conventional defence will look even less sensible in 1992 than in 1987?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I was able to announce earlier this year, when I announced the annual recosting of the Trident programme, that not only had there been a substantial reduction in its cost because of favourable exchange rates, but that there had been a real reduction in its cost because of economies of about £546 million. Therefore, the cost of the Trident programme is going down, not up. Fortunately, the Labour party's plans are unlikely ever to come into effect. Any idea that the Labour party had, however unrealistic, of cancelling Trident and using the money on something else is now completely impossible because by the earliest time the Labour party could form a Government, the Trident programme would be substantially completed.

Is it not a fact that the whole world is how hoping that the scaling down of intermediate nuclear missiles will take place and that following that there will be a scaling down of the strategic missiles owned by the Soviet Union and the United States? Is it not also a fact that in those circumstances the Trident missile would be just a status symbol in the hands of this country, costing at least £10 billion, and that it will not mean anything if the great missiles of the other two nations are not scaled down?

I share entirely the hon. Gentleman's aims and views on the reduction of nuclear missiles in the world, both intermediate and strategic. It is the hon. Gentleman's sadness that he is having to rely on a Conservative Government to achieve the reductions, rather than just talk about them. Of course, it is the case that the reductions in nuclear weapons are designed to lessen tension in the world, but we get no further forward by pretending that in some way we can do without any defence or security for ourselves. That is simply unrealistic.