HC Deb 29 November 1988 vol 142 cc559-60
1. Mr. Colin Shepherd

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects the first Trident missile submarine to enter service with the Royal Navy.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said in this House on 20 October, we do not expect that there will be any slippage in the planned in-service date of Trident, which continues to be the mid-1990s.

Mr. Shepherd

Will my right hon. Friend accept from a former submariner that it is essential that the time scale is met, because old submarines not only become obsolete but wear out? Does my right hon. Friend agree that despite the encouraging changes on the other side of the Iron Curtain, any reduction in the perceived effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent will only hinder, not help those changes?

Mr. Younger

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. It is essential that as long as we must have the deterrent force it should be kept up to date. In view of the enormous developments taking place and the counter measures available to the Soviet Union, it is essential that the programme continues on time.

Mr. John Evans

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the escalating cost of the Trident programme is seriously distorting his defence budget and making it increasingly difficult for him to fulfil our commitment to NATO conventional forces, especially the Royal Navy's surface fleet?

Mr. Younger

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. First, the cost of Trident is not escalating, but de-escalating. In the last year's repricing there were real reductions of £376 million and a foreign exchange rate reduction of £258 million. That has meant a real reduction of nearly £2 billion since the programme was first announced. The hon. Gentleman's question does not have any teeth.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he has said shows that Trident is a good bargain for this country? Does he also agree that it is good that the fact that it is coming into operation is being discussed on the Floor of the House and that we are updating our nuclear deterrent openly? The Labour Government updated our nuclear deterrent by introducing Chevaline and not telling the House about it.

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The cost of the Trident programme works out over its life at about 3 per cent. of the total defence budget. In no other way could such a sum of money, spent on some other means, produce security the like of which the Trident programme will give us.

On the question of neglect of the conventional forces, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) knows, the Government's spending on conventional defences is £21 billion greater than it would have been if the previous Government's programme had continued.

Mr. Boyes

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications for the United Kingdom Trident fleet of the verification arrangements of the United States and Soviet Union START agreement, considering that when Trident missiles are deployed with the British fleet the Soviet Union may wish to inspect British submarine facilities at Rosyth and Faslane? Will the Secretary of State allow that to happen, or is he prepared to sabotage the START agreement?

Mr. Younger

First, everyone on both sides—including Mr. Gorbachev—has made it clear that the British Trident system is not part of the START negotiations. Secondly, we have had clear assurances that any negotiations on START will affect neither the Trident programme itself nor any future testing thereof.

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