HC Deb 11 December 1984 vol 69 cc900-1
9. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current cost in pounds sterling of Trident.

Mr. Heseltine

As I indicated in the answer that I gave to my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) on 13 November, the Trident estimate is currently being reviewed as part of the annual recosting of the defence programme. I hope to be able to announce a revised estimate to the House early in the new year.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Have not the Government been patently negligent in failing to negotiate with America an offset agreement guaranteeing work to British defence contractors? Is it true that, apart from the submarine and the warheads, British contractors have won only £12 million-worth of contracts out of a multi-million pound contract and that Britain is retaining less than half of the total capital cost? What will the Government now do to defend the interests of British defence contractors?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman touches on an important issue which is of concern to me. When we decided to purchase the Trident D5 system, it was an existing system with existing contractors in the United States. That makes it especially hard for British industrialists to break into the bidding process. However, substantial opportunities are available and I hope that British industry will take advantage of them. I shall be looking to ensure that, wherever reasonable, without raising undue hopes, we are pursuing such opportunities as exist.

Mr. Leigh

Does my right hon. Friend see any significance in the announcement by Sir Charles Pringle, director of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, that the Ministry should look at the possibility of a home-grown Polaris system to replace the existing system?

Mr. Heseltine

It would be quite wrong to leave any doubt. There is no question of the Government's reviewing the Trident programme.

Mr. Strang

Does not the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) contrast sharply with the assurances that he and his predecessor gave to British contractors? Is it not now clear that about half the colossal expenditure on Trident will go on American technology and jobs? How many hundreds of thousands of jobs might be created in this country if that £5,000 million or thereabouts were spent in Britain?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this decision was taken for defence reasons. The technology that we are purchasing is available in the United States, and it was considered that that technology gave Britain the best possible independent nuclear capability. That was the object of the decision. I shall do what I can to secure proper job opportunities in this country, but there is a limitation, for the reasons that I have given. The House will realise that virtually half of the Trident programme will be spent in Britain, and consequently very large numbers of jobs will be associated with it.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that deterrence vitally depends on our ability to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on a would-be aggressor, and that the important aspect of Trident D5 is that, for the next 30 years, it will possess just that capability, while many of the alternatives on offer do not?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The alternatives were set out and discussed in the open government document. As my hon. Friend rightly said, the Government took the view that this is the system most likely to create the deterrence upon which our ultimate peace depends. We believe that we took the right decision, and there is no prospect of changing it.

Mr. Ron Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman expect the total cost of Trident to be in excess of £10 billion? Will he confirm that that is double the original estimate? Will not the most likely consequence be that this will put increased pressure on the level of our conventional defence expenditure? Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the result of that will be to heighten the nuclear threshold, thereby making nuclear war more, rather than less, likely?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will remember the open government document, which I have with me, which refers to the cost as £7.5 billion. Therefore, his arithmetic does not stand up even if his figures are correct. The House will appreciate that most of the change about which we are talking is based on changes in the exchange rates at today's money values carried forward over the next 10 to 15 years, when the House is not capable of reaching an informed judgment about exactly what the exchange rates will be.

Mr. Franks

In considering the Trident programme, will my hon. Friend take account of the necessity of ensuring that when the Vickers shipyards are privatised, control of those shipyards remains firmly in British hands?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that my hon. Friend's question will be drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has responsibility for that matter.

Mr. Denzil Davies

If, as the Secretary of State rightly said, no one knows what the exchange rate will be in the next 10 years, how on earth can he trot out these spurious estimates of the cost of Trident? Given the present state of the British economy, the likelihood is that exchange rates will go down rather than up. Even more important, will he confirm what he said earlier— that he has no intention of looking at the suggestion of a Polaris Mk II to try to get him off the hook of paying for Trident?

Mr. Heseltine

I can confirm that we are not reviewing any other alternatives. We did so at the time of the review of the options and arrived at our decision. The right hon. Gentleman asks how I can trot out spurious calculations to give costings to the defence Estimates. The answer is simple. I inherited much precedent from the previous Government, to which I have slavishly stuck.