HC Deb 03 May 1983 vol 42 cc6-7
5. Sir David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what would be the extra annual cost of substituting conventional weapons for all nuclear weapons up to the level of the United Kingdom's current defence capability and commitments.

Mr. Blaker

Nuclear weapons are an essential element of our deterrent capability for which no amount of investment in conventional forces could provide an adequate substitute.

Sir David Price

Does not my hon. Friend's reply demonstrate clearly that if we abandoned our nuclear deterrent, modest though it is compared with that of the Americans or the Russians, we should not only weaken our defence capability but accelerate our defence expenditure?

Mr. Blaker

If we tried to rely on a build-up of conventional forces in place of our nuclear deterrent, this would be very expensive indeed. General Rogers of SACEUR has proposed that NATO should raise its sights and aim at a 4 per cent. increase in spending in real terms per annum simply to raise the nuclear threshold. If we tried to achieve parity with the Russians in conventional weapons the cost would be enormous. If at the same time we gave up our nuclear deterrent, it would also be utterly useless.

Dr. McDonald

Is the Minister aware that conventional forces can provide a credible defence without the bomb, that they are less expensive than the Government claim and that the Labour Government will be able to provide such forces from a growing economy instead of the shrinking economy bequeathed by the Conservatives, in which GDP is only 93 per cent. of what it was when Labour left office?

Mr. Blaker

If the hon. Lady regards nuclear forces as dispensable, why did the Labour Secretary of State in 1979 sign the communiqué to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred?

As for her emphasis on conventional forces, Labour policy would involve a cut of £4.5 billion in defence spending. That would mean, for example, disbanding one of the three services altogether, or cutting our forces in Germany by half, disposing of all our aircraft carriers and amphibious forces, cutting the destroyer-frigate force by half, cutting the RAF's defensive capability by half and abandoning all research and development.

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