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Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current and projected number of people employed on the Trident project.

We estimate that, in the financial year 1987–88, 12,000 direct and 10,000 indirect United Kingdom jobs are being sustained by the Trident programme. The number of jobs will rise to a peak of 15,000 direct and 12,000 indirect over the next few years.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those statistics confirm that the Trident programme is a first-class investment for creating jobs and safeguarding the defence of our country? Furthermore, does he agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that it is high time that the Labour party changed its defence policy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the defence policy, such as it is, of the Labour party is looking particularly unconvincing at the moment. My hon. Friend is correct that Trident is a good investment. No amount of investment in conventional weapons would come remotely near to providing the security and defence that the Trident programme will offer us.

Will the Secretary of State reflect on the possible implications for the Trident programme of the INF agreement and further deliberations on strategic arms reductions? Will he comment on an article in The Daily Telegraph today, which says that the agreement between ourselves and the United States is of a commercial nature, not intergovernmental, and that, therefore, the security of that arrangement is not good in view of the United States' intention to reduce strategic arms?

With regard to today's events, the hon. Gentleman may have noticed that last year Mr. Gorbachev said publicly:

"We decided today to withdraw completely the question of French and British missiles and let them remain as an independent force, let them increase and be further improved."
Thus, that is not in question in today's decision.

As to the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, we have been given perfectly full assurances by the United States Administration that they will fulfil in full the requirements that we have asked of them on the Trident system.

I thank my right hon. Friend for speaking to my constituents after he visited Barrow last week. Will he confirm that the Trident project is providing jobs for many subcontractors around the area, and that it is vital to the economy of the north-west?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. There is no doubt that the progress that has been made on HMS Vanguard and HMS Victorious at the shipyard in Barrow is extremely good. It is a good job and I have no doubt that it is providing a lot of jobs in the area.

Is it not a fact that if the Americans and Russians agree, as is quite likely, to a 50 per cent. across-the-board cut in each other's strategic systems, it will mean that the United State's navy will have 12 Trident submarines? If the Government go ahead with their purchase from the United States, the Royal Navy will have four Trident submarines. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that, with the Royal Navy having the equivalent of almost one third of the American submarine strategic force, the Americans, let alone the Russians, will allow that position to continue?

There are a lot of ifs in that question. The fact remains that the American Administration and the contractors in America have given the firmest assurance that their contractual obligation to us under the Trident programme will be fulfilled, whatever the circumstances.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we will welcome whatever agreements are reached between the Soviet Union and the United States? Even if they agree to a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic weapons systems,the fact is that many of the American weapons systems are land-based. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) chose to ignore that. Even if the United Kingdom possessed four nuclear submarines and the United States had 12, the balance would be more than made up by the American land-based systems.

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. The agreement refers to land-based systems, not to submarine-launched systems. There is also the great assurance that I have quoted from Mr. Gorbachev, who said that the British system was in no way involved in the discussions.