HC Deb 19 March 1991 vol 188 cc147-8
4. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what exchanges of information have taken place with the United States of America Government about systems for, and experience in, decommissioning of nuclear-powered submarines.

Mr. Alan Clark

There is a regular exchange of information between the United States and United Kingdom Governments under the 1958 mutual defence agreement and we are generally aware of each other's views.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister agree that an important principle of parliamentary government is that Ministers do not mislead the House? Can he therefore explain how Ministers continue to tell us confidently the cost of the Trident programme when it appears that neither Britain nor the United States knows what the cost of decommissioning a nuclear submarine would be? As they do not know how to do it, how can Ministers tell us how much it costs?

Mr. Clark

Decommissioning is not included in the costs of acquisition. The hon. Gentleman may be confusing decommissioning with disposal. Decommissioning is a recognised procedure which involves removing the fuel and various ancillary items to make the vessel relatively safe so that it can be stored afloat until its fate is decided.

Mr. Wilkinson

Can my hon. Friend tell the House what exchanges took place between the United Kingdom and United States Governments about the British "Options for Change" exercise whereby the number of Royal Navy nuclear attack submarines is to be substantially reduced, what the United States advised about the reduction of our capability in that area and whether advice was sought from the United States on the disposal of hulls?

Mr. Clark

Advice from the United States was not sought on the disposal of hulls. We are perfectly capable of making decisions independently. Reductions in future deployment under the "Options for Change" scheme are a matter for consultation with all our NATO allies, including the United States.

Mr. Boyes

Is not it incredible that, after all this time, the Government still cannot come up with a solution acceptable to the British people for the decommissioning of nuclear submarines? Such a solution clearly excludes dumping at sea, which is the worst possible option. It is clear that there has been no new thinking from the Government, although a range of options have been researched by the Opposition. All that we get is a faltering Minister in a vacillating Government led by a tired and dithering Prime Minister.

Mr. Clark

Who is the hon. Gentleman to claim to speak for the British people? I am wholly unaware of any concern being expressed to me by any member of the British public about the disposal of nuclear submarines. Neither I nor my Department has had a single letter about that in the past year.

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