HC Deb 19 November 1991 vol 199 cc126-7
2. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give the total estimated annual operating costs of Trident for the first five years of operation.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)

We do not expect the running costs of the Trident force to be significantly different from those of Polaris.

Mr. Mullin

That is about £2 billion for the first five years. Is not it madness to be spending billions of pounds on a missile system which does not deter and may not work —and when we have no one at whom to point it? Cannot the Secretary of State think of better uses for the perhaps upwards of £20 billion which will be spent on the Trident missile system in capital and investments?

Mr. Hamilton

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should come out with those remarks about the deterrent in which we are investing just when his party is purporting to change its policy. Presumably he is about to resign the Whip, or something of that sort, from the Labour party in this place.

The nuclear deterrent has been very effective in ensuring the security of the west over the past 40 years. We are now left with major nuclear arsenals in Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan and there is great uncertainty hanging over those areas. It is a wise precaution to ensure that we continue to have the nuclear deterrent which has served us so well in the past.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Trident really is the queen of the defence chessboard and that many of us believe that the price that we have to pay for it is well worth paying? Will he confirm that there is a good argument for at least one European country having nuclear weapons?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, indeed. Spending on defence is a way of reducing the chances of war. To that extent, the nuclear deterrent is very good value for money. I hope that the day when European defence does not rely solely on British and French deterrents will not come to pass, but there is clearly a risk that it could happen some time.

Mr. Douglas

Having made a comparison with Polaris, how does the Minister reconcile having a strategic deterrent which is primarily devoted to NATO purposes when NATO is abandoning nuclear weapons to a considerable degree and when NATO per se would have no Soviet target for Trident?

Mr. Hamilton

As the hon. Gentleman will know, NATO is not abandoning nuclear deterrents. Some ranges of nuclear weapons are being eliminated and we totally support that. All the pronouncements from NATO of late have been to the effect that we regard nuclear deterrents as an important part of the armoury of NATO forces generally.

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