HC Deb 26 February 1985 vol 74 cc165-7
18. Mr. Soames

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received since his most recent announcement of the revised cost of the Trident system.

Mr. Heseltine

Since I announced the revised Trident estimate on 29 January 1985, at column 135, I have received some 60 letters.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. Friend agree that until such time as there is a substantial agreement on verifiable multilateral disarmament, the United Kingdom must retain an independent and indestructible nuclear deterrent? Will he confirm to the House that that is his intention?

Mr. Heseltine

I can confirm that it is our intention to maintain the irreducible minimum nuclear deterrent in partnership with our conventional forces. It is self-evident that those policies have worked in maintaining the peace, and we intend to continue them.

Mr. Strang

Has the Secretary of State noticed the growing opposition to Trident within the British establishment — within senior military circles and the Tory party? Will he at least admit to the House this afternoon that on the basis of yesterday's dollar-sterling rate Trident will cost more than £10,000 million and that more than half of that will be spent on American jobs and technology?

Mr. Heseltine

The House is familiar with the proportion of expenditure across the Atlantic, but the House will also know that the bills for Trident will not begin to mount significantly until later in the decade and it is the exchange rate that prevails at that time, not the current exchange rate, that will determine the final cost. The overall policy will not be changed because of that. It is our belief that we must modernise our independent nuclear deterrent and we intend to do that with the Trident D5 programme. It will be my responsibility, and that of my successors, to fit that into the defence budget.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Has my right hon. Friend received any representations that would make him change his mind about his statements to the House that Trident will not have a deleterious effect upon the conventional procurement budget?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will realise that all budgets are a matter of the allocation of priorities. He will be aware that the Government have increased the defence budget in real terms by £3,000 million a year and that at its peak Trident will be only a fraction of that enhanced capability.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Does the Secretary of State recall that when the Prime Minister first heard from President Reagan about his nuclear defence in space initiative, her initial response was that it would render Trident useless by 1995? How does the right hon. Gentleman view the position? If space defence against nuclear weapons is possible, what will that do to Trident?

Mr. Heseltine

I think that the hon. Gentleman is slightly confused in his analysis. There is no question of SDI rendering Trident out of date. The issue would be seriously considered only if SDI were to be deployed and if that was coincidental with the ownership of SDI by hostile parties — two extremely questionable assumptions.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The Secretary of State clearly hopes that he will not be around when the bills for Trident begin to come in. Is he aware—I am sure that he is—that since the last defence Estimates the cost of Trident has risen by £1,000 million merely because of the fall in the exchange rate? Is he further aware that studies in the United States show that almost every major American defence budget has cost a great deal more than the original estimates because the estimates are deliberately played down to get funding and approval from Congress? Are not Trident's costs totally out of control? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not admit that if he goes ahead with Trident it will mean massive cuts in conventional defence and massive damage to our contribution to NATO?

Mr. Heseltine

Bearing in mind the damage to our contribution to NATO — the policy upon which the Opposition forced the last election — I find it extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman has the nerve to raise the issue in the House. This Government believe, as the previous Labour Government believed, that an independent British nuclear deterrent is an essential part of our policy to maintain peace. Unlike the Opposition, we are determined to see our policy through.