§ 9. Mr. Bernie Grant
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the implications for his Department's forward planning of the forthcoming completion of the START process.
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton
We welcome the prospect of a START treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, reductions in United States and Soviet strategic arsenals would have to go much further before we could consider how best to contribute to the strategic arms control process. Ministers have made clear in the context of the "Options for Change" review that we shall require a four-boat Trident force.
§ Mr. Grant
Does the Minister agree that in view of the economic recession, which was confirmed today by the Confederation of British Industry's report, we cannot afford to spend the £600 million plus that we are spending in the Gulf or the billions that we shall be spending on nuclear weapons, particularly at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union are reducing theirs? Why have the Government not offered to include Trident and Polaris in START? Why are we the only country that is not prepared to make any concessions in that way?
§ Mr. Hamilton
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we regard the Trident missile system as the minimum deterrent that we can have if we wish to remain in the nuclear deterrent business. We have made it clear as a Government that we feel that nuclear deterrence is an essential part of the defence of the islands of this country. Muddle and confusion exist among the Opposition. Labour is currently committed to negotiating away our independent nuclear deterrent at a time when, regrettably, in other parts of the world such as Iraq nuclear capability is being produced. Labour will therefore have to face the accusation in this country that Labour is negotiating away our nuclear deterrent while Saddam Hussein is developing his.
§ Mr. Latham
With regard to START, will my hon. Friend confirm that it will be possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to destroy literally thousands of their missiles without making any difference to the nuclear balance?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is right. That is basically the understanding of the START agreement as far as it has got. There will be a radical reduction in arsenals on both sides. If the Labour party insists on negotiating away our deterrent in return for some balancing reductions by the Soviet Union, it will still leave the Soviet Union with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I ask hon. Members to desist from holding private conversations. It is difficult to hear.