HC Deb 28 October 1980 vol 991 cc179-81
1. Mr. Bob Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the representations he has received regarding the proposed purchase of Trident missile systems.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Francis Pym)

I have received some 70 letters and two petitions since 15 July when I announced the Government's decision to acquire the Trident missile system.

Mr. Cryer

Do not the mole leaks from the Treasury indicate that there must be cuts in defence expenditure? Was not that view massively endorsed at the excellent demonstration last Sunday in Trafalgar Square? Is it not disgraceful that the Government are still contemplating spending a massive sum of money on Trident while at the same time announcing cuts in council house building programmes? Is it not time that the Government put people's homes before nuclear weapons

Mr. Pym

The leak demonstrated nothing of the sort. As I indicated immediately that it occurred, no decisions have been taken. Routine discussions within the Government are taking place, and in due course announcements will be made. We shall increase our defence expenditure. We shall maintain our deterrent capability, both nuclear and conventional.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not regrettable that, following the shambles at the recent Labour Party conference in Blackpool, Labour Members should breach the traditional long-standing bipartisan approach to the British nuclear deterrent? Will my right hon. Friend explain to the unilateralists that if the country were to follow their course of action we should place ourselves at the mercy not only of the Russians but of the Iraqis, the Gaddafis and others likely to acquire nuclear weapons in the 1980s?

Mr. Pym

I take a serious view of the line taken at the Labour Party conference. It meant that the Labour Party was prepared to envisage a policy that would remove our deterrent and our protection. I do not believe that the people of Britain would ever support that.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does the Trident missile project have the full-hearted enthusiastic support of all Treasury Ministers?

Mr. Pym

Yes, Sir. It was a Government decision. The Government stand by their decision, which applies to all members.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the Conservative side of the House at least, we consider it to be his prime duty to protect council and all other houses, and that the best way to do so is to ensure that the nation is properly defended? Is he further aware that he will have our fullest support when ensuring that defence expenditure is not only maintained, but increased?

Mr. Pym

I agree with my hon. Friend. If our defences are not adequate, there will not be anything worth defending.

Mr. Rodgers

Is it not bland of the Secretary of State to dismiss the information released to the press last week as evidence of a routine discussion? I remind him of our debate in this Chamber exactly six months ago, when some of us said that he was living in a dreamland if he believed that his plans for spending could be sustained in the light of the economic position. I remind him also of what he said to the Conservative Party conference less than three weeks ago and the firm commitment that he then gave to his existing programme. Is not the truth of the matter that the whole of our defence planning is now in a mess?

Is not the credibility not only of the Government as a whole but, regrettably, of the right hon. Gentleman himself, at stake?

Mr. Pym

No Sir. It is reasonable for a Chancellor of the Exchequer—indeed, it would be surprising if he did not—to seek to carry out Government policy at a lesser cost. There is an annual round of talks about public expenditure within the Government, and that is taking place at present. Announcements will be made in due course. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that, as he knows, we spent substantially more on defence last year than during the previous year, following a series of declines; that this year we are spending more than last year; and that next year we shall spend more than this year. That is the position. If the Opposition had responsibility for defence—if we understand their position, which is somewhat confused—the defences of Britain would deteriorate at an alarming rate and security could not be guaranteed.

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