HC Deb 01 November 1983 vol 47 cc729-31
6. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many independent targetable Trident warheads will be operational at any one time after the deployment of Trident.

Mr. Stanley

It has been the practice of successive Governments not to comment on the number of missiles and warheads carried at any given time by our nuclear deterrent force submarines. The Government's policy for the replacement of the Polaris force is set out in Open Government Documents 80/23 and 82/1.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister confirm that the number of missiles is in excess of the present Polaris capability? If Polaris is considered a sufficient deterrent, why will Trident make the British people any safer, given that "deterrent" is a qualitative word, not a quantitative one, and there cannot be more deterrent than is sufficient to deter?

Mr. Stanley

No final decision has been taken on the number of Trident warheads. With regard to the decision on the updating of the present Polaris system, it is well understood that by the early 1990s it will be essential to move to a new system if we are to maintain the credibility and effectiveness of the British deterrent.

Mr. Crouch

Will my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State give thought to the significance of independence in nuclear weapons when we are seeking to repair and renew the strength of NATO and the Western Alliance?

Mr. Stanley

I assure my hon. Friend, as he is well aware, that our independent deterrent is assigned to NATO. I should make it equally clear that, ultimately, it is under United Kingdom operational control.

Mr. Cartwright

Will the Minister confirm that if the current modernisation plans for the British and French independent nuclear deterrents are carried through to their full potential the number of warheads deployed will rise from under 300 to over 1,200? Would he regard that deployment as still not warranting inclusion in the strategic arms limitation process?

Mr. Stanley

I confirm that if the Trident system that we are procuring were used to its full extent there would be an increase in the total number of nuclear warheads deployed.

With regard to the relationship of our deterrents to the SALT process, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made our position clear at the United Nations when he said: We have made it clear that if Soviet and US strategic arsenals were to be very substantially reduced, and if no significant changes had occurred in Soviet defensive capabilities, Britain would want to review her position and to consider how best she could contribute to arms control in the light of the reduced threat. That remains the Government's position.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that deterrence is the number of warheads that the enemy perceives will penetrate its defences? Therefore, when we talk about the 1990s and beyond, the weapon systems that will be capable of penetrating those defences are important, not the number of warheads.

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It flows from that that the parties in the House that do not support the replacement of the present Polaris system by Trident are in effect taking Britain away from having an independent nuclear deterrent of her own.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the first question? Why, granted the Government's argument that Polaris is clapped out, or will be in a few years' time, and granted that they want a nuclear deterrent, is it necessary to have a deterrent that is at least 400 per cent. more powerful than the present one? Even on the Government's argument that makes no sense.

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman is resting his question on a false premise. We have not yet taken any final decision on the number of warheads to be deployed under the Trident system.

Air Defences

8. Mr. Warren

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the air defence of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Heseltine

A substantial programme of both qualitative and quantitive improvements to the air defence of the United Kingdom is well advanced and the Royal Air Force will shortly begin to derive the benefits. Details are set out in chapter three of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1983".

Mr. Warren

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and applaud the alacrity with which Royal Air Force pilots can intercept the occasional incursions of Soviet aircraft over the United Kingdom. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that there are big holes in our ground-based radar defences and give an assurance that speedy remedies will be applied to close those holes?

Mr. Heseltine

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that there are incursions that threaten our air space, against which we have to be ever vigilant. The RAF does a remarkable job. I take note of my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Snape

What improvements have been initiated in Britain's air defences by the Government since May 1979?

Mr. Heseltine

Many improvements have been made. They are set out in chapter three of the defence estimates statement, to which I refer the hon. Member.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. Friend agree that "air defence" also means ground defence of our operational stations? Will he pay tribute to the work of the Royal Air Force Regiment in Scotland and the Royal Auxilliary Air Force Regiment in Scotland for their outstanding work in maintaining the security of our bases?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I take this opportunity gratefully to pay just the tribute that he requests.

Mr. McNamara

The Secretary of State will recall that chapter three of the defence estimates shows the strain of the fortress Falklands policy on British air defences. Can he say when the new refurbished squadrons are likely to come into service?

Mr. Heseltine

We hope that the Phantoms which the Government have purchased to replace those deployed to the south Atlantic will be delivered by the Americans next year.

Mr. Stuart Holland

Granted that the Government seek to justify the deployment of cruise missiles, inter alia, to deter a conventional tank assault by the Warsaw pact powers in western Europe, will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question that I put yesterday, which he did not answer, on the number of guided anti-tank missiles already deployed by NATO—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Member is relating his question to the issue being considered.

Mr. Needham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of assisting our defences is to keep open bases such as RAF Kemble, which has not only saved 550 jobs but has saved the United States of America a considerable sum of money, and that that is a classic example of proper Anglo-American co-operation?

Mr. Heseltine

I understand my hon. Friend's natural interest in the matter. The Government do all that they can to maintain a proper system of air bases. The way in which we do that must be compatible with the resources available for that purpose.