HC Deb 23 February 1982 vol 18 cc740-2
13. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is yet in a position to announce his decision on Trident; and whether he contemplates switching from Trident I to Trident II.

17. Mr. Russell Kerr

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is yet in a position to make a further statement on Trident.

Mr. Nott

The Government have not yet reached their final decisions on the United Kingdom Trident programme and I am, therefore, not yet in a position to make any statement.

Mr. Renton

I appreciate the need for this important decision to be taken after much deliberation. If the Government decide to go for the advanced D5 version of Trident, what trade-offs might be offered by the United States to offset the increased cost? Is he convinced that if we go for the D5 we shall be able to maintain our conventional forces at the necessary levels?

Mr. Nott

On the latter point, yes I am. On the former point, we are in the process of deciding between C4 and D5, which naturally requires discussions with the United States. I cannot comment at present on the first part of my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. John Silkin

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that when the decision is made there will be an immediate debate? As his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is sitting beside him, perhaps we may have a view on that.

Secondly, to follow the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), given that the Government's whole nuclear policy is destroying the conventional capability of this country, how can the right hon. Gentleman continue to enlarge and increase the Trident programme?

Mr. Nott

When we came to power the Labour Government were spending £2.9 billion on defence equipment. This year we are spending £5.5 billion. Everyone knows that the right hon. Gentleman's policy is to reduce defence expenditure. If we decide in favour of Trident and go for the larger missile, there will still be a substantial real increase in our expenditure on conventional forces, in accordance with the announcement that we have already made of a 3 per cent. increase in defence expenditure up to 1985–86. There will continue to be a real increase in defence spending on our conventional forces, which is not the policy of the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

In deciding whether to go for the C4 or the D5 will my right hon. Friend take into account the American decision not to proceed on their own behalf with the C4, and the consequent dangers of being landed with an obsolete weapon for which we could get no spares supplies?

Nr. Nott

Yes, we shall be taking that into account, but it would not be true to say that the C 4 is obsolete. It is still in service and will remain in service into the 1990s.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the overriding strategic requirements are in taking a decision on Trident now?

Nr. Nott

Eight successive Governments of all political parties have believed in the need for a strategic independent deterrent. There is nothing new about this Government deciding to modernise that deterrent. The Labour Government decided to modernise the independent deterrent and did so secretly. We are doing so openly.

Sir Frederick Burden

With regard to any negotiations for the sale of HMS "Invincible", will my right hon. Friend tell us whether the views of the Board of Admiralty have been taken into consideration and whether it agrees that HMS "Invincible" should be sold, in view of the need to keep up our conventional forces?

Nr. Nott

I always listen with enormous care to the views of the Board of Admiralty.