HC Deb 20 February 1973 vol 851 cc212-4
16. Mr. Barnes

asked the Minister of State for Defence what estimates he has made of the cost of replacing Great Britain's Polaris missiles with the American built Poseidon system.

20. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of the British nuclear deterrent.

3. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of State for Defence what discussions he has had with the United States of America on British acquisition of the Poseidon missile.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I have nothing to add to the replies which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Members for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes), and Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on 6th February.—[Vol. 850, c. 221, 223.]

Mr. Barnes

In view of the huge cost of equipping our four submarines, which is estimated at over £250 million, will the Minister resist the pressure from the Royal Navy for Poseidon? Is not the best defence for the enlarged Community to have strong conventional forces and for Britain and France to phase out their nuclear deterrents?

Mr. Gilmour

I certainly do not agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. The two things are not mutually exclusive. As to the first part, as my right hon. Friend said the other day, maintaining the effectiveness of the Polaris forces is a continuing process.

Mr. Wall

Without considering the possibility of acquiring the Poseidon systerm, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of jumping a generation of weapons and discussing with the Americans the possible acquisiton of the Trident system?

Mr. Gilmour

No decision has been taken. We do not make announcements on particular equipments that are under consideration. My hon. Friend will not expect me to go into detail on this matter.

Mr. Dalyell

What exactly does the Minister mean by saying that "the two things are not mutually exclusive"?

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) appeared to imply that either we had nuclear forces or we had effective conventional forces in Europe, and I was saying that it was right to have both.

Mr. Marten

As my right hon. Friend referred to a previous answer, which I cannot recall, will he say what is the position about purchasing Poseidon?

Mr. Gilmour

The position is as I have said: that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that we have the nuclear deterrent and we intend to maintain it. We keep the effectiveness of our Polaris submarines under continual review.

Mr. Peart

I quoted earlier from The Guardian, a British newspaper, giving an account of M. Debré's attitude. There is uncertainty and, therefore, the House ought to know whether a decision is to be made. This is a very important decision. It may be a right decision or a wrong decision. At least we want to know the facts. Will the Minister say when a decision will be made and when an announcement will be made to the House?

Mr. Gilmour

All I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that we are not now at the point of decision.