HC Deb 09 December 1986 vol 107 cc171-2
12. Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest estimated total cost of Trident; and what progress is being made in Scotland in the provision of facilities for this weapons system.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on 11 March 1986, the latest estimate for Trident is £9,869 million at average 1985–86 prices. Satisfactory progress is being maintained by all elements of the Trident programme for its introduction into service in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that there is an enormous amount of opposition to the programme, particularly in Scotland? How can the Minister or his right hon. Friend claim that Trident is an independent British nuclear deterrent when the Prime Minister has to go crawling to America to ask a doddering President whether he will promise to deliver—and that lame duck President can deliver nothing?

Mr. Hamilton

I am surprised to hear from the hon. Gentleman that there is so much opposition to the Trident programme in Scotland, because it is providing a large number of jobs. Our independent deterrent is providing, at present, about 4,500 jobs in maintenance, and construction work on the Clyde involves 2,000 to 2,500 jobs, half of which are filled by residents from the Dumbarton district. If we consider the whole of north England and Scotland, the effect of the programme on employment is very dramatic. I have the feeling that the Opposition are rather cavalier in their attitude to employment in those areas, yet we are always being told about the high unemployment levels there.

Mr. Franks

When does my hon. Friend expect to be able to sign the contract for Trident 2? Can he also give us some idea of the number of jobs that that will secure?

Mr. Hamilton

The manufacture of HMS Vanguard is securing 4,000 jobs at Barrow and 5,000 jobs elsewhere. We envisage that that employment level will rise considerably. In response to my hon. Friend's question about placing the contract for the next Trident, I can say that we will do that some time early next year.

Mr. Strang

Will the Minister spare us the hypocrisy about Trident jobs and recognise that every £1 million spent on Trident facilities on Clydeside would create many more jobs if it was invested in socially useful jobs in the construction industry, the Health Service or education? Will he also recognise that thousands of millions of pounds are being spent on American technology and American jobs, instead of being spent in this country?

Mr. Hamilton

There is no doubt that the prime purpose of the Trident programme is not to create jobs. On the other hand, I wonder whether the people who are in jobs affected by the Trident programme have been consulted by Opposition Members, who are so keen to abolish their jobs.

Mr. Spencer

Will my hon. Friend confirm the simple truth that, without Trident, there is no effective defence of the nation?

Mr. Hamilton

There is no doubt whatever in my mind that our independent nuclear deterrent must form the backbone of our defence, and it is critical that we have it.

Mr. Denzil Davies

A Government who have trebled unemployment since 1979 have no business to talk about other people being cavalier about jobs—[interruption]

Mr. Speaker

Order. These are defence questions.

Mr. Davies

I thank the House for that reception. It is deeply gratifying. As for the estimate of the cost of Trident, can the Under-Secretary of State confirm again that about £4.5 billion out of the £9.8 billion will be spent in the United States and, no doubt, create jobs in the American armaments industry? Can he also confirm that for every 1 cent that the pound falls against the dollar, another £25 million goes on the cost of Trident?

Mr. Dickens

And the other way around.

Mr. Davies

It will not be the other way around.

Mr. Dicks

The right hon. Gentleman is just as daft as his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This takes a lot of time out of questions.

Mr. Davies

Does the arrangement with the United States Government contain an exchange rate protection clause, or is it an open-ended commitment in respect of the value of the pound and the dollar?

Mr. Hamilton

I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that the exchange rate that is applicable to calculating the cost of Trident is taken at the end of June of the previous year, so we are operating on an exchange rate of ?1.28 to the pound. When it is revalued, as we expect in the new year, it will be ?1.50, which was the rate at the end of June this year.

Mr. Neale

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is carrying naiveté to the point of gross irresponsibility for the Leader of the Opposition to try to square his commitment to the cancellation of Trident and removal of American bases from Britain with his assertion that that need not affect the Americans' commitment to NATO?

Mr. Hamilton

Like my hon. Friend, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is threatening the cornerstone of the NATO Alliance by getting rid of our independent deterrent. That stance holds great dangers for the future of the country's defence.

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