HC Deb 16 January 1979 vol 960 cc1474-5
3. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to maintain the British nuclear deterrent after the present generation of nuclear weaponry ceases to be operational.

Mr. Mulley

The time has not yet arrived for matters to be settled over what should happen after the Polaris force is eventually phased out of service.

Mr. Newens

Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that neither the expenditure incurred on nuclear weapons nor nuclear tests carried out in recent years involve any departure from the pledge in the last Labour Party manifesto to the effect that we shall not embark upon a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons?

Mr. Mulley

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government's position is that we are keeping effective the existing Polaris force but we have no plans for a successor generation.

Mr. Wall

If we are not to have a new nuclear deterrent, and as the right hon. Gentleman said the other day that we shall not go in for cruise missile technology, can he explain how we shall counter the newly deployed Russian SS18, 19 and 20?

Mr. Mulley

As the hon. Member knows, the plans for deterrents rely not entirely on our own forces but partly on NATO. He will not expect me to go into matters of targeting, and so on.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Would not either a new Polaris fleet or the cruise missile system, on which some preliminary contracts and expenditure are now taking place, flout the pledge referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens)? Would it not be wiser to follow the example of Canada, which has recently divested itself of all its nuclear weapons?

Mr. Mulley

So far as I am aware, Canada never had nuclear weapons under her own national control, but, as I have explained a number of times to my hon. Friend, the studies are being undertaken so that we can participate in an informed way in the discussions about strategic arms limitation and theatre nuclear weapon deployments within the alliance. They certainly do not involve any decision or plan to introduce cruise missiles into our own defence.

Mr. Allaun

Not yet.

Mr. Alan Clark

Is it not an extraordinary admission of negligence by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that they continually say in this House that they have no plans for the succcession? Does not the Secretary of State agree that the research and development time for a new system is now already longer than the expected life of the existing system? Is he trying to let the whole thing go by default?

Mr. Mulley

I do not accept that there is any negligence or any need. If—I underline the word "if "—it were decided at a later date to go for further nuclear weapons, there would be time to go ahead with the programme. But the present position is that we have no such plans.

Mr. MacFarquhar

In view of my right hon. Friend's reaffirmation of that position, exactly how long does he expect the present generation to last?

Mr. Mulley

We are confident that the present generation will last until the early 1990s.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Does the Secretary of State realise that we regard his failure to have any plans not as negligence but merely as a prudent recognition of the fact that he will not be in office to carry them out?

Mr. Mulley

The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his little bit of fun. I prefer to await events.