§ 9. Mr. Eastham
asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of the fall in the value of the £ sterling, what is the current estimate of the foreign exchange cost of Trident.
§ Mr. Eastham
I find the figure rather breathtaking. When one considers the Serpell report, one realises that with that sum of money the railway lines from Manchester to London could be coated in gold plate. Is it now safe enough to presume that, by the time Trident is delivered, it will probably cost about £10 billion? As we have thousands of homeless, could we not build 500,000 houses instead of having this terrible, wicked waste on an unnecessary weapon?
§ Mr. Blaker
I understood the hon. Gentleman to forecast a serious escalation in the estimated cost of the system. It is noteworthy that the first change to be announced in the cost of £7,500 million was a significant decrease resulting from the plans for servicing in the United State of America. I see no reason to expect the estimates to be seriously exceeded. The original Polaris programme did not exceed its budget. The Trident D5 missile is a fourth generation missile, and the others have kept to their budgets.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the present cost of Trident, during its lifetime it will be the most inexpensive piece of equipment that the military will have, because it can inflict damage that no other equipment could at that price and, therefore, will be a deterrent?
§ Mr. Blaker
I agree with my hon. Friend that Trident will be very good value for money. When the Polaris system ceases to be effective at some time in the 1990s, if we are to continue to have a nuclear deterrent, Trident is without doubt the best value. Its full-life cost will be about 12p per head of the population per week, which is slightly less than the cost of a second-class postage stamp.
§ Dr. McDonald
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the recent fall in sterling has added £750 million to the cost of Trident, which is a 7 per cent. increase in real terms? Does that not show that the cost of Trident is completely outside the Government's control, and does it not put a further squeeze on the budget for conventional weapons? Does not such a squeeze weaken the nation's defences?
§ Mr. Blaker
I said in my original answer that I estimated the foreign exchange costs of Trident to be still about 45 per cent. of the total. The increase resulting from the fall in sterling is offset by other changes in the detailed make-up of the Trident costing.