HC Deb 04 November 1986 vol 103 cc790-2
6. Mr. Leigh

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the maintenance of the independent nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Younger

The independent strategic nuclear deterrent will remain vital to our security and to the security of our NATO partners for a long time to come. That is why we took the decision in 1980 to purchase the Trident system, which will provide an effective and credible deterrent well into the 21st century.

Mr. Leigh

Whatever may or may not have been the options in the past, is it not a fact that if, like the leader of the Social Democratic party, one professes a belief in the maintenance of the independent nuclear deterrent, one can see no viable alternative to Trident capable of providing a successor to Polaris in time? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the electorate will take a dim view of any electoral alliance which not only cannot agree whether there should be a successor or what that successor should be but, furthermore, rejects the only viable alternative? That sort of policy is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that any political party asking for support from the electorate must have a credible defence policy. It is clear that there is no way of replacing the Polaris system, which will be credible to any potential aggressor from the mid-1990s onwards, other than with the Trident system. I hope that all concerned will now come to terms with that fact and support it.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

In what conceivable circumstances can our so-called independent nuclear deterrent be used?

Mr. Younger

We have made it clear that the possession of our independent nuclear deterrent should be available as a last-resort response in any future circumstance in which such a response by this country is needed. If that protection were abandoned, this country would be at the mercy of a vastly superior conventional attack. The hon. Gentleman and his party are backing a very dangerous defence policy in abandoning that protection.

Mr. Sayeed

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties of the zero-zero option is that it does not include those Third World powers that have already developed or are developing atomic and nuclear weapons? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to defend ourselves from that potential danger, we need to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent?

Mr. Younger

We have made it perfectly clear that none of our weapons—whether nuclear or non-nuclear—will ever be used as a first-strike weapon and that, therefore, this country's adoption of the independent nuclear deterrent is a safeguard available to a British Government to use against any threat in the future. The necessity to have that response has been agreed policy between all Governments since the war, Labour as well as Conservative. I hope that that will be the case in future.

Mr. Wallace

If, in the next five to six years, the Soviet Union and the United States were able to agree a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic nuclear missiles, will it be the policy of the Conservative party, if re-elected to office, to deploy a missile system which represents an eightfold increase in the present Polaris system, or are there circumstances in which the Government would be prepared to negotiate away Trident, and if so, what are they?

Mr. Younger

If the United States and the Soviet Union were to agree on such a thing, it would be more than the Liberal party has been able to do with its defence policy. If there were large reductions in strategic weapons of the size suggested by the hon. Gentleman—50 per cent. or so—the Government would be perfectly prepared to go along with the search for such reductions, but if it were anything further, we would require conventional and other weapons systems which are a threat to us to be taken into account.

Mr. Hickmet

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to abandon Britain's nuclear deterrent and to expel American nuclear bases from this country would not only lead to the break-up of NATO and undermine our relationships with the United States but, in effect, would pose the greatest threat to peace in Europe since the war?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. There is no doubt that the destabilising effect of the possibilities described by my hon. Friend would be a grave danger to world peace and put us in greater danger than we are at the moment. It is only the certainty felt by any aggressor who thought of attacking this country that that would be the response, which it could not contemplate, that has kept us safe for more than 40 years. If the policy is allowed to continue, it will keep the peace for very many years into the future.

Mr. McNamara

On the basis of the answers just given by the Secretary of State, are we now to assume that it is the Government's policy that in no circumstances will they be prepared to see the United Kingdom give up its deterrent and that, therefore, we will maintain a deterrent, no matter what the United States does, while there are strong conventional forces in the USSR? In fact, it is now a deterrent not against nuclear blackmail but against conventional forces.

Mr. Younger

We have always made it perfectly clear that in present circumstances we consider that the possession of an independent deterrent by this country is essential to our security. As I have said, that has been the view of Labour as well as Conservative Governments. That point should be pondered by the hon. Gentleman. We have always made it clear that if there were large reductions in strategic systems and no development of any new weapons as a threat to us we would be prepared to consider whether we would contribute to further reductions thereafter.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the basic reasons behind the decision at which he has arrived and which he has made openly are the same as those behind the decision made by the Labour party—without telling the House of Commons — to go for Chevaline and update the deterrent? Are not the arguments precisely the same, except that we are deciding openly and making the announcement frankly to the whole country?

Mr. Younger

My hon. and learned Friend may well be right, although, of course, I am not privy to the inner secrets of previous Labour Governments. I certainly agree with my hon. and learned Friend and the implication of his comments, which is that if the Labour party thinks that it is safe to embark upon a policy of abandoning the nuclear deterrent and throwing out our American allies with their NATO nuclear bases in this country, it is taking an extremely dangerous step which will make war more likely, not less so.