HC Deb 14 December 1982 vol 34 cc111-2
6. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest available estimate of the final cost of Trident.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)

The estimate is £7,500 million, less several hundred million pounds as a result of the decision to process the missiles in the United States.

Mr. Alton

With what moral authority can Britain argue that developing countries should not have their own independent nuclear weapons when we persist with Trident? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be in the interest of limiting proliferation to abandon Trident? Given the escalating cost of that ruinously expensive project, will he now agree that we may have another debate on this issue?

Mr. Blaker

The subject has been debated in the House frequently, and probably more than almost any other military subject. No one has yet told me of a developing country with aspirations to acquire its own nuclear weapons that would follow our example if we were unilaterally to give up our nuclear weapons. The cost of Trident must be seen in perspective. Its through-life cost will be the equivalent of 12p per week per person in this country.

Mr. Leighton

Would the Minister personally be willing to accept the moral responsibility of pressing the button that would unleash these nuclear weapons and inevitably incinerate untold millions of innocent people?

Mr. Blaker

I do not expect to have to be in the position to take that decision, but it is essential for the Russians to believe that we might be prepared to press the button in the event of Soviet aggression. That is the best way of preventing war, which is our objective.

Mr. Warren

What percentage of the cost of Trident will be spent in this country? Will my hon. Friend ensure that his Department makes every effort possible to ensure that the maximum amount of expenditure takes place in this country and not the United States of America?

Mr. Blaker

I can give my hon. Friend that last assurance. Our latest estimate is that 55 per cent. of the cost of Trident will be spent in this country. In addition, British firms will be entitled to compete for the subcontracting work on the Trident missile. Four hundred British firms have been briefed and sent the necessary information by the Americans.

Dr. McDonald

Will the Minister stop trying to play down the cost of Trident, to the extent that he has in the past, by costing it in terms of chocolate bars? Will he admit that the cost of this immensely destructive weapon will amount to at least 20 per cent. of the defence equipment budget in its peak years? In so doing, it will prevent the replacement of ageing ships and aircraft which this Government will bequeath to the next.

Mr. Blaker

It is an immensely destructive weapon. That is the whole point of it. If the Soviet Union knows that if it commits acts of aggression it will be hit by a Trident missile, it is unlikely to commit acts of aggression. I hope that the hon. Lady will one day manage to grasp that point. Her figure for the percentage of the defence equipment budget is not correct.