HC Deb 20 January 1981 vol 997 cc142-3
13. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the progress being made in relation to the Trident nuclear weapons system and the updating of contracting arrangements with the United States of America.

Mr. Nott

It has been agreed with the United States that the purchase of the Trident weapon system will be handled within the framework of the Polaris sales agreement. Under these arrangements the United Kingdom obtains the advantage of common contract prices with the United States Navy.

Mr. Douglas

I thank the Minister for that answer. Has he digested the speech his predecessor made on 16 December to the Royal United Services Institute relating to the nuclear weapons system of this country? Because of the time scale, can he indicate when an order for the first submarine is expected to be placed with British Shipbuilders, because if that planning procedure is not carried out soon, the loading of these important United Kingdom yards will be prejudiced?

Mr. Nott

I have not yet digested that particular speech of my right hon. Friend, although I have read a great number of his speeches during the last few days. As to the programme for the building of nuclear submarines, I am conscious of the need to ensure a sensible loading in our shipyards. That is a matter which bears very much with me, not just for the Trident programme but for our general programme as a whole.

Mr. Onslow

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Rapier sale to the United States Air Force, which has been allowed to count as offset for the Trident purchase, has yet been finalised, or is it still being held up by some dispute over accommodation for the personnel concerned?

Mr. Nott

I understand from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the agreement is close to finalisation but has not yet been completed.

Mr. Cryer

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how nuclear weapons defend freedom and liberty when their use will be undertaken by a small elite and will lead to the mass extermination of the people of this nation and elsewhere, whether they like it or not? What about the freedom to survive of those who choose not to support nuclear weapons?

Mr. Nott

I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings on the subject, but I cannot understand how unilateral nuclear disarmament by us can advance the cause of peace. All the evidence of the past 35 years makes clear that the Soviet Union acknowledges only strength. There is no occasion on which there has been evidence that unilateral weakness on our part would do anything other than encourage the Soviet Union in its aggressive intentions.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the pilots who flew Spitfires and Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain were a small elite and that we should thank goodness for them?

Mr. Nott

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John

Is the likely price of £4½ billion to £5 billion the latest good estimate of the cost of the Trident, or has that already escalated? Do not many fear that the effect of acquiring Trident will be to narrow our defence contribution? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is why we oppose the acquisition of Trident? It makes no defence sense, quite apart from the other arguments.

Mr. Nott

As I said earlier, we must regard the Trident system as an integral part of our defences and not an addition to them. The estimate of the cost is exactly as my right hon. Friend gave it—about £4½ billion to £5 billion for four submarines spread over the period to the mid-1990s.