HC Deb 22 November 1991 vol 199 cc537-602

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]

9.34 am
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

I welcome this opportunity to discuss nuclear defence at a time of tremendous change in the world, when the end of the cold war has come and with it the end of the nuclear stalemate and confrontation that have marked the past 45 years. The background to today's debate is the progressive assessment that the Government have been making of defence policy, in which we have taken decisions on our new strategy and structure across a wide range of defence issues.

On 25 July last year I set out our "Options for Change", the broad proposals for a new structure of our armed forces and defences. As soon as the Gulf war had ended, we proceeded actively with our NATO allies to determine the future NATO strategy and structure, out of which emerged the important role for the United Kingdom of the leadership of and significant contribution to the rapid reaction corps. That was announced on 25 May this year.

On 4 June I was able to confirm the future size of the British Army. On 10 July we published the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and the 1991 White Paper, "Britain's Defence for the 90s". On 23 July we published "Britain's Army for the 90s".

In these ways we set out clearly for the country the future strategy and structure of our defences. That is in line with our duty to our country and to our allies and service men, so that they know where they stand. We particularly dealt with the conventional forces, but this morning is an opportunity to deal with the nuclear aspects of our defences. It is entirely appropriate that we should set out the Government's view on what future strategy should be.

This morning is also a chance, which I am sure will be welcomed, for hon. Members of other parties to set out their policies on these important matters. They should be clearly set out for the country and for the services, who are keenly interested, with an election not many months away, to know what they are. Every party has a duty clearly to set out where it stands on these issues. The House looks forward with interest to hearing hon. Members from other parties.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The Secretary of State will be well aware that at the end of questions on the Prime Minister's statement reporting on the NATO summit he talked about the modernisation of Polaris. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a little information about that, because it certainly surprised most hon. Members that day? Most of us were puzzled about what he might have been referring to.

Mr. King

I shall be talking about our modernisation programme in some detail and I shall certainly refer to what emerged from the NATO summit.

We have reached agreements on conventional forces. The START agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union has moved further with an agreement to a reduction of one third in the strategic missile arsenals of the two super-powers.

It is worth reminding the House that those negotiations involved 10 years of hard, laborious work. At times, it seemed that no progress would be made, but they have resulted in a one third reduction in the strategic nuclear arsenals.

Given the recent changes in the world, we have seen even more dramatic developments. Significant decisions have been made to reduce the nuclear arsenal and further proposals are imminent. I know that the House will welcome that. On 27 September, President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the latest western initiative that proposes the total elimination of nuclear artillery shells and short-range ballistic warheads. They also proposed major changes in the strategic nuclear arsenal that go way beyond what was achieved by the 10 years of laborious work in the START negotiations. I am sure that the House welcomes the positive response from President Gorbachev, who also proposed significant changes. All that is encouraging.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that the announcements made by President Bush in September and October were equivalent to a unilateral declaration of a reduction in strategic arms? That met with an immediate response from the Soviet Union, which has made an equal reduction in its strategic arms.

Mr. King

I did not hear the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question; will he repeat it please?

Mr. Corbyn

At the end of September, President Bush announced what was, in effect, a unilateral reduction in strategic arms, which received an equal response from the Soviet Union some days later.

Mr. King

The announcement from President Bush meant that there would be a standing down from the alert state and certain changes in the carrying of maritime tactical nuclear weapons. The other measures he proposed were bilateral and President Gorbachev also proposed bilateral measures, dependent upon a response from the other side.

Encouraging progress has been made, but we are now faced with a different, serious problem—the virtual end of the Soviet Union and its centralised power as we have understood it. The Soviet Union, whatever the structure and the position in the individual republics, still has armed forces of 3 million and a nuclear arsenal of 27,000 weapons. The control exercised over that great arsenal is of immediate concern. It is a matter of great concern to President Bush and to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who, as chairman of the G7, visited Moscow and put pressure on President Gorbachev and President Yeltsin. That concern was also reflected in the NATO summit communiqué of 8 November, which stated: We therefore welcome the intention of the Soviet leadership to ensure the safe, responsible and reliable control of these weapons under a single authority. That communiqué addressed a particular problem—the difficulty of maintaining that central control by a single authority when power is moving increasingly to the republics.

It is interesting to note the location of the strategic ballistic missile warheads. The territories that now have the largest number of strategic ballistic missile warheads are as follows: the United States has the largest amount, Russia comes second, the Ukraine comes third, Kazakhstan comes fourth, France comes fifth, the United Kingdom comes sixth, Byelorussia comes seventh and China, eighth. I set out the information in that manner because it is not equivalent to casual geographic facts any more; that information is of potential political significance in the future.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

The Secretary of State has rightly drawn attention to the decentralised location of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. What does he know about the continued centralised control of the permissible action link for those particular weapons? That is of vital importance to any discussions that take place.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that important question and I shall refer to it later.

The present situation is extremely confused. In a recent interview reported in Der Spiegel, President Yeltsin emphasised the direction in which the republics have moved. He said: We have nothing against Russia and the Union exercising control jointly … a new control mechanism should be created which will not permit anybody to press the button alone. The situation is equally confused in the Ukraine. For some time that republic has sought to establish itself as a nuclear-free zone. When the nuclear weapons were the property of the Soviet Union, the republic wanted to get rid of them. However, the Ukraine is not nearly so enthusiastic now about any early transfer of weapons to Russia, its neighbouring republic. It is much more concerned that there should be bilateral or multilateral inter-republic destruction of the nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union.

Against that confused background, we have been extremely anxious to seek to establish that the control systems have adequate and proper safeguards. That is of particular importance at a time of great political instability. The Soviet authorities have made available to us a great deal of information and advice on the technical nature of their systems and the way in which they are controlled. We are considerably reassured by the good technical control systems that exist and the protections built into them. I cannot go into detail on the point raised by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), but I can assure him that we have considered that matter closely. We have sought information about control of the codes and an assurance that they cannot be operated through unilateral action, but that it would require an interlock capability which is in a number of different hands.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

How reassured or worried is the Secretary of State by the attitude of the president of Kazakhstan, Mr. Nazarbayev, who has made it clear that he will not give up the 100 SS18 weapons on his soil and that he will use them as a bargaining chip with Moscow to achieve full independence? Surely none of us can find that reassuring. Most of us find it deeply alarming.

Mr. King

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is correct in his assessment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has had recent discussions with President Nazarbayev, who said that he did not want those weapons retained on his soil. However, this is a fast-moving and confused situation, for the very reasons that I have given. That confusion is typified by the situation in the Ukraine. When it sought independence it also sought to see itself as a nuclear-free zone. However, in the temporary confused situation, that republic now understands that things are not quite the same. It wants the elimination of nuclear weapons, but it does not want that to serve to its disadvantage against a neighbouring republic. One must keep a close eye on developments.

It is important to determine the quality of the physical safeguards of the nuclear stores. There is no question but that they are impressive in terms of anti-intruder devices, the fencing, their location and physical guarding. In the final analysis, the quality of that protection is dependent upon the loyalty, responsibility and commitment of those guarding those stores. Elite forces have that job in the Soviet Union, but what will happen if they are not fed or paid and are seemingly abandoned by their authority? That has not happened, but it is a risk. The breakdown of central authority will pose some major problems and we are right to be properly concerned about that issue. We will have to remain concerned—the House will understand that—for some considerable time.

The quantities involved are vast, and the problems of making safe or destroying such a huge arsenal will take time to overcome. That is part of the background against which we assess the current situation and review our own nuclear strategy.

The second important aspect was recently highlighted by the conflict with Iraq. I refer to the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation elsewhere in the world. We know of 15 countries that now have a ballistic missile capability, and believe that the figure will soon rise to 20, including Pakistan, India, Libya, Iraq and Iran. Developments in Iraq gave a clear warning that a number of countries have nuclear programmes that could have military potential.

We know from investigations being undertaken at this very minute in Iraq under United Nations authority—in which British personnel are involved in identifying and discovering every aspect of that country's nuclear, chemical and biological programme—that Saddam Hussein was on the way to developing a nuclear explosive device, albeit it crude, by 1993.

Mr. Flynn

Did the Secretary of State say that the Government know of 20 countries that have ballistic missiles? Yesterday, in replying to my question asking for details of all the countries possessing ballistic missiles, the right hon. Gentleman listed 30.

Mr. King

I am always conservative in the figures that I give the House. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for emphasising my point that nuclear capability is spreading widely, and behind it is the sinister development of increasing covert nuclear programmes with military potential.

That is the background against which defence planners must work. We must consider capability and intentions. It is clear that whatever may be the Soviet Union's intentions, it will retain a massive nuclear capability that will require stringent security, and which could remain a threat for many years. I emphasise again the risk that confronts us in terms of the scale of that capability and the time needed to deal with it.

In our assessments for the future, another serious threat that we take into account are the atomic cities within the Soviet Union—about which some right hon. and hon. Members may have read newspaper reports—where there have been concentrations of scientists working on different programmes. There are also armament cities. They were a feature of the Soviet Union's structure of centralised authority, having been established in somewhat isolated locations, enclosed and protected from the surrounding community.

Because those cities come under the direct authority and responsibility of Soviet ministries that have been or are being abolished, they may soon lack the resources that they need—so there is concern about the future destination of personnel whose particular skills and capabilities might be very much in demand in other parts of the world.

I am putting before the House an honest assessment of the risks that we face and against which we must plan our strategy. The House will understand why I drew attention to that latter point.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

We all share the Secretary of State's concerns, because they relate to matters of fact, not opinion. However, in his reference to ballistics capability, the right hon. Gentleman was in danger of confusing the ability to deliver with the ability to manufacture a warhead that could be attached to a missile. The two are not necessarily the same.

Can the Secretary of State say how many of the countries concerned are capable of producing on their own account a complete ballistic missile system? If countries have to import components or adapt existing civilian technologies for that purpose, surely we must also seek to control technical co-operation and sales—an aspect about which, in the recent past, the Government were incredibly careless. In fact, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, in seeking in a previous incarnation to export or die, may have caused that option to be reversed.

Mr. King

That is quite wrong. The hon. Gentleman seeks to make a political and unfair point. He knows perfectly well that certain countries are prepared to sell missile technology, including the People's Republic of China and North Korea, which contributed significantly to Iraq's nuclear capabilities. We tend to find an interaction between imported technology and local development. Our investigators in Iraq were impressed by the calibre and quality of the domestic research and development capabilities developed under Saddam Hussein.

I set out as clearly as I could the background against which we must assess our new approach. We draw first on the agreements reached with our allies in NATO, which unveiled its new strategic concept at the Rome summit on 7 and 8 November. Its most important conclusion was: the Alliance will maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe and kept up to date where necessary, although at a significantly reduced level. The allies clarified the make-up of the nuclear forces required: The supreme guarantee of the security of the Alliance is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Alliance. The concept document added that the allies will provide an essential link with strategic nuclear forces, reinforcing the trans-Atlantic link. Those three statements will remain the essential guiding principles of NATO and of our defence policies for the foreseeable future.

It is not that NATO, in making those statements, is standing still—far from it. At the meeting of the nuclear planning group in Taormina, which I attended last month, it was agreed that all ground-launched, sub-strategic systems will be eliminated. That means no more Lance-type systems or nuclear artillery. Air-delivered weapons will be greatly reduced and there will be an 80 per cent. total reduction in NATO's sub-strategic stockpile in Europe. If one takes into account the reductions of the past decade, at the end of that process—which we will complete as quickly as we can—we shall have one tenth of the nuclear weapons in our sub-strategic stockpile that we had 10 years ago, which is a significant development. I made it clear on behalf of the United Kingdom that, in normal circumstances, no weapons will be deployed on surface vessels. The United Kingdom will play its full part in effecting those changes.

What does all that mean for our deterrent forces? I make absolutely clear the Government's commitment to Trident as Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent force for the 1990s and beyond. I emphasise the words "and beyond." We are drawing towards the end of the Polaris programme, which began in the early 1960s, and which brought the first patrols in 1968. By the time that Polaris is phased out, it will have given some 30 years' service to our country.

The Trident programme is on course, and there have been significant reductions in costs since the original budgets were made. Nearly £2 billion has now been saved. The first Trident boat will be launched early next year and will be in service in the mid-1990s. A third Vanguard class boat was ordered last November; a tender for the fourth boat is currently being scrutinised and, subject to a successful analysis, we shall proceed with the project, thus ensuring that we can maintain and guarantee the effectiveness of our Trident nuclear deterrent.

Mr. O'Neill

May I return to the subject of the Prime Minister's statement about the modernisation of Polaris? Are we to take it that the Prime Minister was actually referring to the Trident programme, and that "Polaris" was merely a slip of the tongue?

Mr. King

I did not notice that. I expect that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be pleased to clarify the matter.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the long-lead orders for the fourth submarine are already in place and that the initial work is already in progress?

Mr. King

I can confirm that, yes.

There have been questions about the number of submarines and the missile load that Trident should carry, and it has been suggested that we should reduce the programme. To reduce either the number of submarines or the missile load would be the silliest possible economy, for Trident would then no longer be an effective and credible deterrent.

The constant availability of the Trident nuclear deterrent must be guaranteed absolutely. There must always be one submarine on patrol: that must be the minimum requirement of our minimum nuclear deterrent. Trident must also be able to carry a missile load that is capable of matching modern defences and of threatening an aggressor with unacceptable damage. That is the key requirement; without such a capability, Trident cannot be a credible deterrent. Nothing would be more foolish and deceitful than to pretend, for the sake of political convenience, to possess a deterrent that had been so undermined and reduced that it did not actually work.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Before the Secretary of State works himself up to make an attack on the Labour party, will he clarify the question of the credible deterrent? If, to be "credible" in the next couple of years, Trident must have two and a half times the power of Polaris, the clear implication is that Polaris cannot itself be credible.

Mr. King

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who takes a close interest in the subject, is not well aware of the answer to his question. The reason is the progressive enhancement and the growing sophistication of defence systems. The assessments of which I speak are not changed two weeks later, and then revised again in a month's time. We must make our plans against an uncertain background; such plans cannot be implemented overnight, but must be introduced progressively and must then last for a long time. They must cover all eventualities for the next 30 years. That is what Polaris has done and we must ensure that it retains the capability to match possible future developments.

We shall be making a substantial reduction in the coming years, as part of the cut in NATO's air-delivered stockpile that I have already announced. However, we expect a small number of air-delivered weapons to continue to play an important deterrent role. I must emphasise the importance of the sub-strategic element. Trident, of course, is the ultimate guarantee of our security, but a sub-strategic option is also important.

I have already mentioned the risk of proliferation. An aggressor with a limited nuclear capability might think that he could get away with, possibly, the local use of nuclear weapons, without having to face the apparently unrealistic prospect of a total strategic nuclear reply. The sub-strategic option closes that loophole, depriving such aggressors of the opportunity to act on the belief that the United Kingdom will not respond and that, faced with nuclear escalation on such a scale, it no longer possesses a credible deterrent.

The French already have a stand-off missile. The Soviets have at least three and the Americans have a range of sub-strategic options, in particular air-launched and sea-based cruise missiles. As we reduce the number of weapons, we must consider their eventual replacement: as NATO has agreed, we must keep our sub-strategic capability up to date. The capability of delivery must also be part of any credible sub-strategic response.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been signed by 138 countries, including Canada. If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it is vital for the United Kingdom to have nuclear weapons, why is it not vital for those other countries to have them?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman knows, two of the objectives of that treaty are to ensure the peaceful development of nuclear power and to enable countries to take advantage of that while undertaking not to divert such knowledge and assistance as they have towards military ends. Of course, another objective is a reduction in nuclear capability. I have already mentioned the agreement reached by the nuclear planning group, which will reduce to a tenth of the previous level the number of sub-strategic nuclear warheads in Europe.

Even after the strategic arms reduction talks and the further reductions envisaged by President Gorbachev, the Soviet Union will have about 20 times more strategic ballistic missiles than the United Kingdom can deploy. There is also the worrying risk of proliferation to other countries. We must therefore ensure that we maintain our nuclear capability. Moreover, our determination in that regard is of vital interest to the 30,000 people who work in the nuclear programme. Constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) make a significant contribution.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Within what time scale will it be necessary for the United Kingdom to acquire a stand-off air-launched sub-strategic capability? Given the enhancement of defences, that must be increasingly important. Will my right hon. Friend also outline the basis on which systems are being evaluated and choices are being made?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend knows that we are looking closely at this issue. I can go no further than to say that we recognise that a replacement will be needed. The Government, in particular my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, are looking at alternative options.

The background against which we have set out our programme is clear. The starkness of the uncertainties that we face in the world and the real difficulties that the ending of the cold war is bringing make it very important that this country and our allies should make it absolutely clear to any potential aggressors where we stand on nuclear matters.

It is also important that it should be understood that this country adopts a consistent and relevant approach to nuclear matters. It is what our allies are looking for and are entitled to expect. A NATO summit communiqué has just been published. I understand that all the parties support NATO. I hope that they support NATO policies as well. These welcome changes have resulted from clear policies and resolution and have led to huge improvements.

We were faced with a very muddled position in the 1980s. There were so many siren voices opposing the firm and clear policies that we adopted at that time. I refer to the members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the ladies of Greenham Common and so many Labour Members. Where are they now? Are they, like Erich Honecker and Egon Krenz, figures that have passed from the scenes of history? Where do they now stand? Some of them are still here. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is with us today. He is not a tall man, but he has a stature on the Opposition Benches—in terms of the real voices within the Labour party that he represents—that is considerably greater than that of some of those seated in front of him.

It is significant to note that three quarters of the Labour Members who arc standing again at the next election have a clear anti-nuclear background. When one looks at the reinforcements seeking to come to the House—for example, in the shape of Bruce Kent, chosen as an official Labour party candidate—one sees that the idea that the Labour party is a pro-nuclear and strong NATO-supporting party is unrealistic. I suspect that it is not just on this side of the House that there are many hon. Members who hope deeply that Bruce Kent will riot get there. I just wonder how many of those who sit on the Opposition Benches will be able to look him in the eye, if he comes here, and explain how it was that their membership of an organisation that they claimed to support for so long came to lapse.

One should also look at what has been said by those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench. The Leader of the Opposition once spoke of his most deeply held belief. It is not just what he said in 1983. In 1988, he sent to the CND magazine "Sanity" his congratulations to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament upon 30 years of effort to secure a nuclear-free United Kingdom, stressing the need to make and win the arguments for non-nuclear defence. In March 1989 the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) signed Tribune's appeal in support of British unilateral nuclear disarmament. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) signed the same petition.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King


In 1988, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. C'ook), in that charming turn of phrase that he has, said that it was "nonsense on stilts" for Britain to pretend to be a nuclear power. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)—another leading member of the shadow Cabinet—told The Daily Telegraph in May 1989: The purpose of retaining a deterrent is not to use it, or even to threaten to use it. I do not think one ever heard of a bigger waste of money than a policy such as that. I appreciate the fact that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is not here today, seeking to elbow his way into yet another debate. I do not know how many hon. Members realise that in 1987 he sacked his research assistant for daring to write an article in support of British nuclear weapons. Does not the House think that if the right hon. Gentleman had any sense of decency he ought to offer his research assistant his job back, since the right hon. Gentleman is now making speeches explaining why it is necessary to have a nuclear deterrent?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

I am sorry. I know that it is an embarrassment to the hon. Gentleman, but I thought that he might support me.

Mr. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman please give way?

Mr. King

No. I give credit to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that he is one of those who sticks to the Labour party's original policy. I hope that he has not changed his principles. He must allow me to express some irritation with the Labour party's present approach.

Mr. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

No. I am afraid that I have got more bad news for the hon. Gentleman. I must refer to a few more hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson)—a member of the shadow Cabinet—is still, I believe a vice-president of CND. Sixteen of the 22 members of the shadow Cabinet have an anti-nuclear background. Fourteen of them are either members of CND or of the parliamentary Labour party's section of CND. They have pretended to change, but they do not understand or support the deterrent. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said: The so-called British independent deterrent does not enhance the defence of this country. He is entitled to hold that view and I should respect him if he stood up and said, "I hold that view." Has the hon. Gentleman changed his view? If he still holds it, it is the biggest waste of money that one can imagine to pretend, as he does from the Opposition Front Bench, that he would still keep the nuclear deterrent. Or would the hon. Gentleman not keep it? Is the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) right that if the Labour party can change its policies to win the election, certain right hon. and hon. Members know privately that they can change them again when they have won? If so, how many policies is that?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

No. The hon. Gentleman does not speak for the Opposition. The Opposition are about to face the British people in a general election. The British people are entitled to make a choice, but that choice should be based on clear knowledge of what the Labour party's policy is. There should be no equivocation. At Question Time only this week it was made very clear when my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness——

Mr. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

No. This is difficult and painful for the hon. Gentleman, but in this House one sometimes has to endure a little pain, grief and sadness on account of departed friends who may have supported the hon. Gentleman in the past but who have now left him.

How many policies does the Labour party have? The first is that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen try to pretend that they are deeply committed to the nuclear deterrent. Another policy is meant to appease CND activists on the Benches behind them. Most cynical of all is another Labour party policy that is meant to pacify the work force in Barrow. When we debated that, up jumped the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes)—-another official Front-Bench spokesman on defence matters—and produced a fourth policy—not just the supine policy of pretending to go along with the nuclear deterrent but querying why the fourth boat could not be built more quickly.

I realised later why that was. After leaving the House I returned to my office and found in my mail VSEL's "Link" magazine for its employees. I found a picture in the magazine of shop stewards—employees of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd.—who had been to the House. The hon. Member for Clackmannan had taken them to see the Leader of the Opposition. I shudder to think what promises they were given. The Labour party is probably going to have a fifth and a sixth Trident programme, because someone has told the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) that there might be some votes for him in Barrow. We see the shabby sight of the Labour party, who are seeking to form the next Government, being absolutely paralysed.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan did not need the poll on the British people's patriotism in The Daily Telegraph today to know that they are not prepared to abandon the deterrent while nuclear weapons are pointed at them. He must pretend that Labour will keep those weapons, but he knows that the majority of Labour Members oppose that.

Most cynical of all, the hon. Member for Clackmannan must pretend to the shop stewards and work force of VSEL that Labour would guarantee their jobs, when he knows perfectly well that if a Labour Government had been in power in recent years its 4,000 workers would have been thrown on the dole.

I ask the hon. Member for Clackmannan three straight questions that the House, the country, our allies and our service men should like to be answered. He must remember that, as we talk, our nuclear deterrent is being maintained by our service men to ensure that it offers the ultimate security. Does he now believe in the importance of keeping the strategic nuclear deterrent while other countries have nuclear weapons targeted on us? Will he ensure that the fourth Trident boat is built to guarantee the effective operation of that strategic deterrent? Does he support the NATO policy that is subscribed to by every other country in the NATO alliance—be it socialist, Conservative, Christian Democrat or Liberal—of sub-strategic nuclear forces being based in Europe and kept up to date? After years of our being castigated by Labour policy documents, without a single one on defence, the hon. Gentleman has a duty to tell the House where Labour stands.

10.21 am
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

If the Secretary of State will allow me, I shall answer his questions in the course of my speech. If he does not agree, no doubt he will intervene.

I recognise the Government's embarrassment in attacking parties for changing their policies. At the last election, and in 1979, we were told that in no circumstances would VAT be increased, yet in the past 10 years it has been increased twice. Perhaps more importantly, in the past few days the Government have had to use a guillotine, in unique circumstances, to dismantle one of their major election pledges—the poll tax. The need of political parties to review their policies and make changes as they see fit need not necessarily be the subject of criticism.

We welcome the debate because it offers an opportunity to consider nuclear policy. The focus of attention in the two-day estimates debate and in the individual service debates is often on other matters. We are happy to have the opportunity to assess, as the Secretary of State has, developments in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, especially since the coup of 28 August. We should carefully consider the command and control system and the changing character of the nuclear threat.

Labour's changes to its defence and nuclear policy have been the subject of much interest and have engaged the interest of the British people. Since the changes were made, the British people appear broadly to have supported us. The results of successive by-elections and Euro-elections show that a political party should listen to its supporters and make changes. In a democratic society, a political party must listen to its supporters and potential electors. We make no apology for doing so.

In the early days of this Parliament, before the collapse of the Berlin wall and the signing of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, a rather different note was struck by Conservative Members. The then Prime Minister regularly came to the Dispatch Box to abuse everyone who did not agree with her. I realise that that is her normal approach to political argument and debate, but I remember in particular that on 4 March 1988 she returned from a NATO summit and abused Labour Members for having no memory, no stomach, no spine and no guts—the usual moderate way in which she dealt with not only her political opponents but her so-called friends and colleagues. She said that we wanted a war-free Europe and that we need nuclear weapons to achieve it.

That was not the message of the Secretary of State this morning. In many respects, we agree with much of the information that he offered and, to a certain extent, his analysis. But the Conservative party's almost McCarthyite approach to people who have advocated nuclear disarmament in a variety of ways, particularly through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, is, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of that organisation?" I make it clear that I have been, but I am no longer. I shall explain why I and many others have left the cause. I have no reason to be ashamed of it or of giving my reasons for leaving.

The issue in recent months has been the changes not only in the policies of the Opposition but in the emphasis and attitude of the Government. At Reykjavik in 1986, there was some embarrassment in American circles about the continuing hard-line stance adopted by the United Kingdom. Between 1987 and 1988, the Germans became increasingly hostile to the notion of short-range nuclear forces being located in central Europe and targeted on their eastern relations. The famous statement, "The shorter the range, the deader the German", left the Government particularly cold. They were indifferent, it would appear, to the plight not only of German citizens on the other side of the wall but of British troops located in Germany.

When the lack of credibility of the short-range nuclear forces became apparent, it was increasingly clear that the bottom rung of the so-called ladder of escalation had become rotten and decayed. The INF treaty eliminated the middle rungs of the ladder and the United States budgetary concerns did away with the follow-on to Lance. We began to witness growing European disillusionment with the theory of flexible response as the scope for flexibility gradually diminished. General Galvin, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Europe, clearly said in the international defence review this March that the old-style flexible response is dead.

We must therefore consider its replacement and the nuclear arangements that will then be required. In the early days, it was recognised that if there was no third zero a dramatic reduction in land-based nuclear forces was possible. The changes in European attitudes were reflected in an improvement in east-west relations. Some may say that the first sign of this was the understandings reached at Reykjavik in 1986. The failure to hit the jackpot at the Hofte house was reviewed by some people with refief. We remember the cool reception given by the then Prime Minister to many of the reports from Reykjavik and the desperate calls and visits to the White House. The idea that the leaders of the two super-powers could set aside the thinking of the cold war and agree to a programme to eliminate nuclear weapons was too much for some Conservatives to handle. Although the eventual outcome was more modest, it was becoming increasingly clear in 1987 and 1988 that massive changes were taking place.

It is probably true to say that in about 1985–86 Mikhail Gorbachev concluded that the Soviet Union would no longer commit vast resources to a defence machine and to a war which it could not afford and which it would not win. Indeed, it could be argued that if there were any justification for star wars it was the fact that it so frightened the Soviet Union—because of the scale of the technology and because the amount of resources needed to back it were so great that they would have beggared that country—that it had to think again. That is the only argument that I have found in support of star wars. Nevertheless, that point has to be made and it was indicative of the sea change in Gorbachev's attitudes at that time.

Some would argue that that was a victory for the hard-line stance taken in the early 1980s, when Washington's near-apocalyptic concern about the evil empire caused a massive build-up in United States armaments. That build-up is still being paid for by the American people and is still a major cause of their deficit and their economic problems. However, others would argue that the critical factor was Gorbachev's willingness to take on the military industrial complex in his country and to recognise the social, political and economic consequences of withdrawing the military and strategic guarantees which Soviet support had given to the Warsaw pact Governments. It will probably emerge that the answer is somewhere between the two.

It is clear that the willingness of the United States and Soviet Union to think afresh about nuclear matters and to come to agreements and understandings in the late 1980s would have been regarded as unthinkable only a short time before. Unfortunately for Britain, the response of the then Prime Minister to those changes was to resist them up to the very last moment and to try to secure a form of words in whatever communiqué to which she was a party which tried to convey that very little had changed.

Throughout the 1980s the Labour party was committed to a defence policy which, with regard to nuclear weapons, required the Labour Government to renounce ownership of Polaris and to abandon the Trident programme. That policy marked a change in attitude from that of previous Labour Governments. It was not unanimously accepted by the membership or by the electorate. Indeed, I recall that on 15 February 1982 the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who was then a member of the Labour party, said during a debate on defence: I make it quite clear that I am not a unilateralist. I recognise that the people of this country, having acquired a strategic nuclear deterrent, are unlikely to be so stupid as to give it up without getting something in exchange. That is just not on, in ordinary trade union bargaining terms, let alone in international negotiations. That is … a gut level posture, but it does not mean that there should be no discussions or divisions as we try to find our way through this problem."—[Official Report, 15 February 1982; Vol. 18, c. 52–53.] That was a statement from someone who is no longer in the Labour party and who, I believe, now has a different view, but it was a clear summation of the different attitude of a minority within the Labour ranks.

Mr. Douglas

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede that, whatever posture I adopted in the Labour party, I made the nature of that posture perfectly clear to the electorate. In other words, I sought a personal mandate. Can he tell us whether at the next general election members of the Labour party—especially in Scotland—who are not in favour of the current exposition of Labour party policy will make that clear in their election addresses? I refer especially to the candidate to succeed the hon. Member who represents one of the Falkirk seats, a Mr. Ewing. The candidate has made it plain that he is still a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and does not support the Trident programme. Can the hon. Gentleman say that every member of the Labour party—especially in Scotland—will include such information in his election address?

Mr. O'Neill

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I must say that he does not appear to wish the charity and independence granted to him when he was a member of the Labour party to be extended to other people. That might be a feature of his change in attitude. As I have said before, I believe that the statement that the hon. Gentleman made at the time was wrong and when we changed our policy I thought that he was wrong again.

The issue was not only a source of controversy in the House and the country. In the 1983 general election different interpretations were put on our policy. The then leader and deputy leader said different things while the previous Labour Prime Minister expressed total opposition to any interpretation other than his own, which was similar to that of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West.

There was a feeling in the Labour party in the early 1980s that the membership wanted to do something about disarmament and about breaking the log-jam that appeared to have emerged in the nuclear arms race. Some members of the Labour party—some of them are here today and, given the opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that they will voice their opinions—have had a long-standing aversion to nuclear weapons. Some question the deterrence theory; others abhor the idea of nuclear annihilation and find it morally unacceptable to countenance the threat of its use; and others felt that a world without pacts and alliances would be better able to deal with the problems of international relations. Various strains were and have always been present in the Labour party. Some members have adapted their thinking to nuclear weapons because they have a specific pacifist standpoint. Others have taken that stance because of a commitment to neutralism, and so on.

Until the early 1980s not even a combination of those views held the majority for very long in the Labour party, but concern about the deployment of the cruise missile system and the frustration about the seemingly endless escalation of the early Thatcher-Reagan years convinced people in the Labour party that independent renunciation by Britain of nuclear weapons might give a sign to other nuclear powers that it was possible to call a halt. That argument had at its roots the nuclear debates of the 1950s which had given birth to the Aldermaston marches and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

In retrospect, that argument was probably based—almost paradoxically—on the inflated sense of our own importance which had driven the father of the British bomb—Ernest Bevin—to encourage the Attlee Government to develop the first programme. To be important internationally we had to have the bomb and the corollary was that to get rid of it would make us even more important and influential.

The experience of those of us who sought to argue Labour's position on nuclear weapons in the 1980s—not only in the House and throughout the country, but abroad—was somewhat different. In meetings with colleagues in the Socialist and Social Democratic parties in Europe—I have regular contact with those parties which are members of NATO—we found that even those who were outside NATO and who would be regarded as being of a neutralist disposition did not appear greatly concerned about whether Britain should give up nuclear weapons. The impact of an independent renunciation of nuclear weapons by Britain did not seem to them to have much resonance throughout the world. Certainly on visits that I made to Moscow and Washington specifically to discuss these matters there was, at best, studied indifference to Labour offers in this area.

By January 1989 the mood in the Kremlin was clear. It was not interested in separate deals with Britain or excited to any extent by bilateralism, as it was called. The Kremlin wanted to sustain what it considered to be the START process and to continue the talks that had been given impetus by the Reykjavik meeting. This morning the Secretary of State spoke about the lengthy period over which the START talks took place, but it is fair to say that for a long time little happened. It was only after Reykjavik that momentum was achieved. Certainly, the talks were given impetus by Reykjavik, but, equally importantly, they were given credibility by the intermediate nuclear forces agreement.

That treaty was the first to eliminate a whole class of nuclear weapons. Equally importantly, it provided inspection and verification procedures of such an intrusive character that mutual trust and co-operation had to lie at the heart of the realisation of the treaty's aims. Therefore, while the prospects for a negotiated disarmament were good, in 1988–89 there were always the nagging doubts that the START treaty would be only a one-off and that to resume discussions one of the western nuclear powers would have to take the initiative.

That was why the Labour party in its 1989 document said that it would be prepared to start talking. We did not say that we were prepared to end the process or jump off when we reached what we considered to be a useful stopping place for us. We believed then, as we believe now, that we had to continue a dialogue with the Soviet Union on this issue. That was one reason why we were anxious to show that we did not believe that the whole of the Trident programme needed to be completed as planned.

Mr. Douglas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. If I understand him correctly, he is proceeding to make an argument for putting Polaris and its equipment into a bargaining regime with the Soviet Union. How was it possible in the late 1980s to put Trident into a bargaining regime, when we will not possess it until late 1994? Will he explain that?

Mr. O'Neill

The hon. Gentleman and I may have some disagreements, but I have respect for his command of basic arithmetic. We were endeavouring to develop the policy that would become the programme of a Labour Government who would take power in about 1990–91 and remain in office until about 1995–96, by which time we would have the beginnings of the Trident programme. Both the Trident and Polaris systems, whether clapped out or in embryo, were legitimate areas of concern for negotiation at that time. We saw a case for considering what our nuclear arsenal would be and whether it was completely necessary. I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question about Trident in a couple of minutes.

Mr. Wilkinson

I am trying hard to follow the hon. Gentleman's logic. In what sense would it be a wise policy for the United Kingdom to consider putting forward Polaris or, ultimately, Trident for negotiation with the Soviets on nuclear capabilities? Even if we were to obtain substantial concessions and eliminate all our strategic nuclear weapons, we could not eliminate all theirs, so we would merely leave them with a residual capability which would be overwhelming and a continual menace to ourselves. How is that good for the security of the British people?

Mr. O'Neill

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has not grasped what I implied. I said that the Soviet Union was not interested in doing a bilateral deal. The Soviet Union was indifferent to that. What was important was that in the event of a START treaty marking the end of the START process—the discussion on nuclear disarmament between the main nuclear powers—the secondary nuclear powers, such as ourselves, France and China, should try to retain, maintain or, indeed, establish a dialogue with the Soviet Union. That was the context of our policy in 1989. I freely admit that things have changed since, but that was part of the argument. We wanted to retain what the Soviets had called a process. We wanted that process to continue. We were fearful that a halt or a delay would result in other unfortunate occurrences in the Soviet Union.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I visited some European capitals and Washington, it was clear to us that the whole character of the theory of nuclear strategy was under review. Germans of all parties were resistant to further deployments of short and medium-range forces. The Soviets were willing to reduce those forces. There was the prospect of eliminating the disparity between the Warsaw pact and NATO conventional forces and of short-range nuclear forces filling that gap. The traditional justification for short-range nuclear forces was that, as we did not have the number of forces to match those of the Soviet Union, we would use our short-range nuclear forces as a potential deterrent.

There were increasing public expressions of scepticism about arguments such as the "use them or lose them" theory for tactical nuclear weapons. The argument goes that if we had short-range nuclear weapons at the front, in the event of a rapid advance there would always be the danger that a commander would have no choice but to use those weapons, either because he could not get rid of them back to headquarters, or perhaps to start a nuclear conflagration. At that time, it was becoming increasingly clear in discussions of nuclear strategy that strong voices were in favour of NATO moving towards a commitment of no first use of nuclear weapons.

Labour unveiled its policy on defence and disarmament in May 1989—after all the public expressions of the shadow Cabinet that the Secretary of State quoted today. If he looks at the dates of all those expressions, he will see that we published our statement in May, even after my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) had made his remarks.

Mr. Tom King

What about the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson)?

Mr. O'Neill

My hon. Friend was not quoted.

Mr. King

I thought that the hon. Lady was there, too.

Mr. O'Neill

My hon. Friend was a member of the committee.

Our policy was clear. We were committed to the continuance of Britain's nuclear programme. The British Polaris submarines would stay on patrol and the Trident programme would proceed. We felt, however, that the accuracy of the new system, the flexibility of use that the extended range afforded and the improved refit and maintenance arrangements all meant that it would be easier to have at least one boat available at all times, although we were to have only three. Since then the increase in warning time has merely served to reinforce the view.

That view is not the preserve of the Labour party. A number of naval and maritime strategists have questioned the need for a fourth boat. James Eberle, for example, the former head of Chatham House and former chief of naval operations in the Atlantic, has supported it.

As the Secretary of State said, the tendering process for the fourth boat has started. Should it be completed before the next election, the Labour Government will be in a position to examine the full costs of cancellation. It has been suggested that the contracts for the earlier boats in the programme have entailed penal cancellation charges. I say, "It has been suggested", because, for sound commercial reasons, the Government never make such information available. The possibility of penal cancellation charges in the public domain is a rumour; I put it no more strongly than that. If that were carried forward, the termination of the contract for the fourth boat could be more costly than its completion and subsequent deployment. The Secretary of State shakes his head. Perhaps he would care to tell the House the status of cancellation clauses, what the penalties would be and what that would mean for a future Government—Conservative or Labour—who decided to cancel. That would be a major breakthrough and would certainly assist us in formulating our policy as we move towards government.

Mr. Tom King

The hon. Gentleman certainly needs assistance. I have never heard a more hesitant and pathetic approach to the problem. The hon. Gentleman must first decide where his responsibility lies. Does he believe that a fourth boat is needed? That is the point: is a fourth boat needed to maintain our deterrent? If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is not, why does not he have the courage to stand up and say so? Whatever stage we have reached and whatever the problems with cancellation charges, given the running costs of the fourth Trident submarine, we are bound to save money in the long run. One cannot duck the issue by pretending that the decision will depend on the date of the election and on which bills have or have not arrived from VSEL or other contractors.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to answer the question, but can he improve on that answer and tell the House clearly whether a Labour Government would or would not have the fourth boat?

Mr. O'Neill

The position is as I have stated and I will repeat it for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not personally consider that there is a need for a fourth boat. In 1964, it was argued that we could not provide an adequate deterrent without five boats, but we took the decision to proceed with only four and we carried it through.

On the question of cancellation charges and other matters, the Minister has made it clear that he is not prepared to talk in terms of sums. I do not think that even the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to say that every programme remains the same, irrespective of costs.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Perhaps I may assist my hon. Friend. The Secretary of State was being totally disingenuous because, if the cancellation cost of the fourth boat is the same as the cost of cancelling the first boat would have been, it would be cheaper to build the thing—so saving on the unemployment benefit that would otherwise be payable to the constituents of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks)—and not deploy it.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The Minister cannnot intervene in an intervention.

Mr. O'Neill

I am grateful for the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), but I realise that the Minister responsible now wishes to intervene.

Mr. Alan Clark

The hon. Gentleman said that he personally does not want a fourth boat. Can he say whether it is the Labour party's policy to have a fourth boat or not? That was the question that he was asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. O'Neill

The Labour policy is clear. I am sorry if the Minister finds it difficult to understand that, when I say "personally" in this respect, I mean that I am expressing my view and the view of my party.

Mr. Alan Clark


Mr. O'Neill

I am glad that we have cleared the matter up.

Mr. Douglas

Have we?

Mr. O'Neill

May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask the clype behind me to be quiet? If we are to have a serious debate, we can do without the barracking that passes as comment from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. O'Neill

In the Labour party's view, the Government have not advanced an adequately forceful strategic case for a fourth boat. We have made that clear ever since 1989 when we issued our policy statement. We believe that the country can be adequately defended by three Trident boats. If we find, on reaching office, that the programme is sufficiently far advanced to render it foolhardy to go back on it, we shall review the matter carefully. We have said that consistently.

Mr. Franks

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that what he is saying is crucial to the livelihood of thousands of people in my constituency. I want to be absolutely clear precisely what he is saying. I shall repeat it and, if I have it wrong, I trust that he will correct me. As I understand it, he is saying that it is the official policy of the Labour party not to build the fourth boat and that his only reservation arises from the fact that certain clauses in the contract might make cancellation commercially prohibitive. The hon. Gentleman is speaking from the Front Bench on behalf of his party. I assume, therefore, that what he has said represents the majority view within his party.

Mr. O'Neill

It is the policy of the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman can make whatever he wants of it, but it will still not save his seat.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

Before the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) gets on his high horse, perhaps he would care to consider the devastating consequences for his constituents—and any constituents involved in the manufacturing of submarines—as a result of the collapse of submarine orders. Those who may at some stage look at VSEL's order books may care to consider that, even if the fourth submarine is constructed, the consequences for employment in such constituencies will remain severe because of what the Government have done in relation to naval and submarine construction.

Mr. O'Neill

The sea-launched ballistic missile system that we have been discussing does not account for all our nuclear arsenal and we must look at what is left. Over the past 40 years, there have been shifts in nuclear strategy and changes in technology and in the appreciation of the perceived threat. When all that was available was the free-fall bomb, air-delivered systems were essential to the deterrent, but, once the first land and sea-launched ballistic missiles were to hand, it was possible to have weapons systems that operated from comparatively safe sanctuaries and, in the case of Polaris, from the virtually impenetrable depths of the sea. The introduction of MIRVing further improved the lethality and accuracy of the weapons. Miniaturisation enabled small nuclear artillery shells to be produced and that, in its turn, made way for the development of the theory that we now call flexible response.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was one of the main authors of that doctrine in the 1960s and today it enjoys some credibility due to the efforts of the present Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, who has argued clearly for the theory of flexible response in a series of public lectures and articles. Despite the quality of the logic, such theories are, in my view, based upon the flawed assumption that it would always be possible to deter the enemy by the controlled use of nuclear weapons of increasing size and on the assumption that nuclear war fighting could be discrete and managed. But in battle as in life, as Robert Burns said: The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley". Certainly, many serious military men have always been fearful of the use or implied threat of short-range nuclear forces. Many will be relieved at the announcement by the Secretary of State this morning that many of these weapons will no longer be available.

Nevertheless, we continue to be faced with a large empire whose structure is creaking and whose nationalities, after decades of Soviet subjugation and, in some cases, centuries of Russian imperialism, are seeking independence. That third-world economy with a superpower arsenal could be in terminal decline. The command and control systems for its nuclear arsenal may still be intact, but it is not clear whether the terms and conditions of the draft treaty will be adhered to. It is not certain who wants to own which system. We know that Russia would like to assume responsibility for the arsenal within its borders. The positions of Byelorussia and Kazakhstan are less clear, while the Ukraine, with the nightmare of Chernobyl etched on its consciousness, wants to rid itself of those weapons. We must help to clear up the confusion, dismantle—where appropriate—the weapons and assist in the disposal of the fissile material. Until that capability is brought under systematic control, although the threat may have changed, it will still exist in some shape or form.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received a request from the Department of Trade and Industry to make a statement on the sale of the Export Credits Guarantee Department? We have heard that, far from realising the £100 million which was originally talked of, the sale may now fetch as little as £6 million. That would be an appalling way to dispose of a valuable public asset. Has there been a request for a statement on that subject?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, there has been no request to make a statement. Doubtless, the hon. Lady's request will have been heard.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether the Treasury Minister has applied to make such a statement, because this concerns the Treasury as well as the Department of Trade and Industry? Yet again, a piece of the family silver is being sold off at rock-bottom price, at great——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot add to what I have already said.

Mr. O'Neill

As I said, the Soviet nuclear capability needs to be brought under systematic control. There is no division in the House on that matter. It is fair to say that the problems created by those developments can be handled. However, the uncertainty of the minor and near-nuclear powers remains—India and Pakistan are two obvious contenders. The changes in American foreign policy may present grounds for optimism on that subject. America's new attitude towards India may result in its having a great influence over that country in its relations with the United States' old ally, Pakistan.

I am not sure whether it is possible to have the same optimism about Israel in the middle east. Indeed, it is most unlikely that Israel will give up its nuclear capability in the foreseeable future, so long as it foresees a threat to its land from its neighbour.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. O'Neill

No, I should like to develop my argument. I have allowed several interruptions and, although I do not wish to be discourteous, I should get on.

The problems of Iraq are well known. We have seen that the inspection facilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency are completely inadequate. Worthy though that organisation's aims may be, it has neither the resources nor the authority to undertake the vital work which the United Nations has given it. Therefore, it must be incumbent on the Government of this country, as one of the Permanent Five and one of the main sponsors of the United Nations, to give a clear lead in seeking greater authority, support and resources for the IAEA.

In some countries, the prospect of inspection, verification and access is not as great. I refer in particular to North Korea. If there is one country that we would have difficulty in isolating, it is North Korea. How can we isolate a pariah and a country which, by its own admission, does not wish to deal with most of the world? The parts of the world with which it deals would probably not be too critical about its nuclear development anyway. That is the most difficult and persistent area of non-proliferation. There are grounds for qualified optimism because in the past 18 months South Africa has renounced its nuclear ambition, no longer considering that there is a regional threat to the authority of its state. Argentina and Brazil have also decided that they will no longer pursue military nuclear development. That have concluded that the differences between two democracies in South America are not great enough to warrant arming themselves to the teeth.

We must build on the experience of regional disputes which shows that there can be a role for international law, the United Nations and, above all, the permanent five of the Security Council. That is where Britain, China, France, the United States and the components of what was the Soviet Union have a clear responsibility. They must show potential proliferators that they are prepared to secure further reductions in their nuclear arsenals.

It has already been accepted that it is possible to de-MIRV ballistic missiles. We must consider whether it would be desirable or possible to do so to sea-launched ballistic missiles. It is often said that the quantitative increase in Trident firepower is to accommodate, or seek to pierce, the anti-ballistic missile defences that have been established in the Soviet Union. The Secretary of State advanced that argument this morning when he was asked about the increase in the size of the Trident arsenal.

However, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald): Under the 1972 United States-Soviet ABM treaty and subsequent protocols, the Soviet Union is limited to a maximum of 100 ABM launchers located within a radius of 150 km around either the national capital or one area containing silo fields. Future Soviet ABM deployments are similarly expected to conform to the 1972 treaty and its protocols or any future renegotiations of the agreement."—[Official Report, 13 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 613–14.] It may be helpful if, before the end of today's debate, the Secretary of State and his colleagues could get together to explain what they mean by the enhancement in the anti-ballistic missile capability of the Soviet Union which requires us to make a quantum leap in the warhead capability of the Trident programme. If we could have an agreement on reductions in the number of warheads, it would show clearly that although we possess nuclear weapons, their scale does not have to be as great as we considered in the recent past.

There is still work to be done on maritime arms control. Those hon. Members who take an interest in such matters will know that it is a hobby horse of mine. However, as long as there is a Soviet nuclear presence in the Kola peninsula and Soviet forces in the numbers presently there, we shall continue to have a threat to our continent and to Norway, a state which we, more than any other country in NATO, are obliged to support. Therefore, it is in our interests to address the problem of maritime arms control, to secure reductions in the size of the Soviet fleet and to reach agreement on the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap area.

Finally, we must work hard to convince our NATO colleagues that we do not desire the continued presence of short-range and tactical nuclear forces on the continent of Europe. In short, we should be arguing for a third zero within NATO. That is not to say that the Labour party would not have signed last week's communiqué—we would have. We are democrats and accept that until we have convinced people by the force of our argument, we should go along with the view of the majority of the organisations of which we are a member. We are not talking about jumping off or about creating unnecessary trouble, but we consider that that is a legitimate concern for a British Government——

Mr. Tom King


Mr. O'Neill

I shall give way to the Secretary of State in a minute. He is entitled to have an opinion. More than any others in the alliance, we have stated our willingness to host and to accept our nuclear responsibilities during the years that such forces have been present in Europe.

Mr. Tom King

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. He has made his position clear. He is saying that he is not in favour of NATO's present policy of maintaining adequate sub-strategic forces based in Europe and of ensuring that they are maintained and kept up to date. Although he has said that he is not in favour of that, he would nevertheless still keep them if that was NATO's decision. The Labour party would make its contribution and support the sub-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe. I take it that that is his view.

Mr. O'Neill

That is correct. To make it perfectly clear, I repeat that we are not saying that Britain should acquire a subsequent follow-on generation of weapons to replace the free-fall bombs that are nearing the end of their useful life.

Mr. Wilkinson

That is an incredible contribution.

Mr. O'Neill

No. On that issue, there is little enthusiasm in other parts of Europe for air-launched systems. There is little requirement from other European members for Britain either to have or not to have such weapons. At the moment, the moratorium that the United States has announced on the development of its tactical air-to-surface missile programme means that we would have great difficulty getting a credible system from the United States if we wanted one. If we had to go to France, that would create other questions which may or may not be quite as acceptable to some of the hon. Friends of the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), whose suspicion of things European have been evidenced—[Interruption.] Not necessarily the Conservative Members who are present, but other Tory Members probably would not be quite so keen on—as they would see it—mortgaging their nuclear future to the French.

Our view is that the maintenance, deployment and continued support for the sea-launched ballistic missile programmes of both Polaris and Trident would be sufficient for us to make a contribution to the defence of the west and of these islands.

Mr. Tom King

It is helpful of the hon. Gentleman to give way on this important point because this is one of the questions that I asked him specifically and which he is now seeking to address. He has made it clear that he would not necessarily support the idea of independent nuclear forces in Europe being contributed to by the United Kingdom, although the NATO communiqué draws attention to their overall deterrence value and security to the alliance to which they contribute. However, he is also saying that if NATO decided to maintain that policy, which is the unanimous policy of all the NATO countries, any future Labour Government would maintain a sub-strategic nuclear capability that would be based in Europe and kept up to date. That is an important statement because it is not in keeping with the Labour party's previous policy statement. It would be helpful to have that on the record.

Mr. O'Neill

If I have to qualify it once again, I shall do so, because it seems that the Secretary of State is adamant in his attempts wilfully to misrepresent our position. We will not proceed with our own TASM programme——

Mr. Wilkinson

Or keep it up do date.

Mr. O'Neill

One cannot keep up to date something that does not exist. That is the first point. We are talking about the replacement of the WE177 when its useful life has ended with a system that has a far greater range, is more flexible and is potentially more destabilising. It may also be more useful in some belligerent or bellicose sense, but if we are talking about weapons that will be used by NATO in the NATO area, I have great difficulty envisaging how such weapons would be deployed or used. I should like to go on—

Mr. Tom King


Mr. O'Neill

No, I am sorry——

Mr. King


Mr. O'Neill


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman that this is not a private dialogue. Other hon. Members want to participate in the debate——

Mr. Corbyn

When do the wind-up speeches start?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the Secretary of State could leave some of these matters for the Minister to deal with when he seeks to catch my eye at the end of the debate.

Mr. O'Neill

I am grateful for that stricture, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that I have a duty to enlighten the House this morning and I am endeavouring to do that, but I am mindful of the fact that other hon. Members wish to participate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and I shall not accept any further interventions.

Not only do we wish to see reductions in our existing or potential arsenal, maritime arms control and a third zero being acquired or established in Europe, but I should like to think that we could take advantage of the Soviet offer of a moratorium on testing to establish how clear its wishes are in respect of a comprehensive TASM treaty. In the past, suspicion has always arisen over requests for a moratorium on testing because such calls have always come immediately after the completion of a testing programme. We should be prepared to use the moratorium to take advantage of what we consider to be the Soviet Union's improved attitude to see whether this is a confidence-building measure that could lead to a comprehensive test ban treaty. We are conscious that the advances in modelling and monitoring techniques and the like are such that most of the work—probably all of it—on the maintenance of existing systems and on systems that are already in the pipeline could be carried out by laboratory testing techniques. Old-style testing gave a clear signal to all those who were potential proliferators that if the major nuclear powers were carrying out such testing, why should not they?

Turning to my final point, I echo the view expressed by the Secretary of State. We have to give due credence to the significance of crisis management techniques. We must consider how we handle that in the short term, especially in relation to what was the Soviet Union and the nuclear powers there. We must also seek to establish means whereby nuclear or near-nuclear powers give clear undertakings on such matters. In terms of arms control, we must also consider the ability to transfer the technology of one system to a nuclear system.

The point about ballistic missiles has been well made. We must have control over ballistic missile production and sales. If we are committed to doing that for ballistic weapons, as we are committed to it terms of chemical weapons, we must recognise that the management of the market in ballistic equipment must be far more tightly structured and organised than has been the case in the recent past.

Security is not only about defence. Nuclear weapons can be a source of assurance in certain circumstances. They can pose a threat to the countries that do not have them—and to those that do. In the past six months, we have seen greater changes in all our thinking on nuclear weapons than ever before. The Labour party is committed to sustaining that momentum. It is committed to sustaining that momentum while it retains the British nuclear deterrent. It will continue to have that nuclear deterrent until such time as all the other owners or potential owners of nuclear weapons still have ideas in their heads about their ownership and development.

We welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. We have said that we believe that the objective of a nuclear-free world is something which we can still pursue, but until that is achieved, Britain will have a Labour Government who are are committed to sustaining the nuclear defence of this country for as long as it is necessary or for as long as required to do so.

11.19 am
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the devastating strategic assault which he delivered, with the precision of a Trident missile, on the CND background of so many Opposition Front-Bench Members. It does not require even a sub-strategic nuclear weapon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) only needed to fire a conventional torpedo to sink the speech by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), and to reveal the astonishing view that the Opposition hold about the fourth Trident boat.

When the debate started there were just 10 members of the parliamentary Labour party present and only half of them support the present line taken by the Opposition, which I assume would have been carried on the casting vote of the Labour Whip, who was present. I assume that he is in favour of the present Opposition party view.

Mr. Flynn

How does the hon. Gentleman know what our views are? For instance, what is my view?

Sir Philip Goodhart

I assumed that the hon. Gentleman was more or less in favour of his party's policy.—[HON. MEMBERS: "He may be against it."] In that case I fear that even the casting vote of the Labour Whip would not have carried the Back Benches in support of the official policy.

Dr. Reid

I shall not tempt fate by asking what the hon. Gentleman has on me, although I was rather disturbed that I was omitted from the litany of abuse this morning. Since the hon. Gentleman was putting numbers on record and was good enough to give way, I want to put it on record that the party that defends Britain—and regards that as the highest priority—could find only four Back Benchers for this debate, out of more than 300 Members of Parliament.

Sir Philip Goodhart

We are broadly satisfied with my right hon. Friend's policy, with some reservations, which I shall explain in a moment. Although nuclear debates no longer attract large numbers of hon. Members on either side of the House, we are entering an age of nuclear proliferation, which increases the risk of nuclear conflict, rather than decreases it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave his imprimatur to a report of the International Security Information Service, which noted that countries already deploying nuclear-capable ballistic missiles include Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria and Vietnam.

Earlier this week the American Secretary of State Mr. James Baker completed his discussions in Peking, where he tried—sadly it seems unsuccessfully—to stop the Chinese communist authorities from selling systems with nuclear capability to other countries.

I am glad to see the chairman of the political committee of the North Atlantic Assembly is with us—or he was with us. I see that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) is returning to the Chamber. The assembly discussed a report last month which suggested that Kazakhstan would be a more important nuclear power than France or the United Kingdom by the end of the century. That view was reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Last week the American Defense Secretary, discussing the problems of proliferation, said on a television programme: The thing I'm really concerned about would be … the fact that the Soviets have 27 to 30 thousand nuclear warheads and that the Soviet Union is coming apart literally, … that will result in dissemination of knowledge, about weapons of mass destruction … in the form of individuals who've got technical expertise going to work for other countries, and possibly even the flow of some of those weapons themselves to third parties. At that point the interviewer said, "Sales?"

Mr. Dick Cheney replied: Possibly sales. You have to be concerned about the size of that stockpile and what happens to it over time. Even if we discard the idea of a further military coup in Moscow, it is plain that we live in a dangerous world with dangerous states standing on the brink of owning nuclear missiles. In those circumstances it would clearly be lunacy——

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman's argument about the problems of proliferation is extremely important. It was disappointing that the Secretary of State had only one approach to proliferation—that we have to keep a deterrent. Rather than merely talking about a deterrent, he should have been telling the House to try now to replace the non-proliferation treaty, which runs out in three years' time, and which has proved so ineffective. The Secretary of State ought to have made a positive statement about how we will achieve a replacement for the non-proliferation treaty which would provide an alternative to a simple deterrent.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I somehow doubt whether a non-proliferation treaty, however improved, would have much impact on Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea, without mentioning the other countries on that list. I believe, and I am sure that the majority of people in this country believe, that in a proliferating world, it is essential for us to keep our nuclear defences. It would clearly be lunacy for this country to abandon the Trident system and quite wrong not to build the fourth boat, whatever the terms of the contract may be.

There is rather less unanimity about the proposal that we should develop a new tactical air-to-surface missile. On 14 October the Secretary of State argued: The key point, however, is that the credibility of strategic nuclear forces depends on the existence of a credible sub-strategic deterrent to provide the link with conventional forces. The fact that ground-launched weapons are now being scrapped puts increased emphasis on the need to ensure that the air-launch element is kept up to date."—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 58.] He repeated that argument this morning.

Frankly, I doubt whether we need the sort of tactical air-to-surface missile that the Secretary of State is talking about. It will be very expensive. The Americans reckon that they are saving $2.3 billion by cancelling their short range attack missile SRAM T and SRAM 2 development programmes. If we go ahead with the joint development of the ASLP French alternative or the other American, Martin Marietta, proposal the cost could be very high indeed. It could well be about £2 billion.

There will also be problems with basing dual-capable aircraft equipped with stand-off nuclear missiles on the continent of Europe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, a number of our European NATO allies have become increasingly reluctant to have any nuclear weapons on their soil. I am sure that German doubts about accepting aircraft with short-range tactical nuclear missiles were a factor in the Americans' decision to stop developing their short-range attack missile systems.

We must also face the uncomfortable fact that the new nuclear threat comes from countries thousands of miles from our airbases. Libya, for example, is 2,300 km from this country. The range of the Tornado GRI is about 2,000 km——

Mr. Wilkinson

That is an invalid point. My hon. Friend will remember the effective raid from this country conducted by the United States air force with conventional weapons against Libya. It had a salutary effect.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I supported that raid, but I must point out that it involved a great deal of complex in-flight refuelling to get the aircraft from Upper Heyford base, near where I live, to Libya. That is not to mention the political complexities that were involved.

The new stand-off weapon carrying a nuclear warhead with a yield of between 10 and 300 kilotonnes should add about 20 per cent. to the range of the Tornados. Even so, reaching Libya would be difficult.

So the Secretary of State is planning to spend a great deal of money on a weapon of questionable effectiveness. Is there a cheaper, simpler and more effective means of producing a small sub-strategic nuclear force? I accept the argument that there is a need for such a force. Some hon. Members have argued that the new Trident system, with or even without the fourth boat, gives us more nuclear strategic capacity than we need. Against that, it has been argued that anti-ballistic missile systems are being developed and may appear within the next 30 years.

Given the state of Soviet collapse, it is extremely difficult to imagine that that country will be capable of mounting an effective anti-ballistic missile defence within the foreseeable future, and I do not believe that Iran, Iraq, Syria or Vietnam are working on anti-ballistic missile systems.

I note that, because of the extra strategic capacity that we will have, some nuclear theorists have argued that we should build the fourth boat and seal up some of the missile tubes. That seems an odd suggestion. I think that some of our Trident missiles should be single low-yield nuclear missiles with small warheads, in the 10 to 300 kilotonne tactical range. Trident missiles are expensive. We read today that they will cost about £15 million each; but if 20 of the Trident missiles that we are to purchase were converted to a sub-strategic role that would be much cheaper than developing a brand new stand-off weapon.

A new tactical sub-strategic system would be wholly secure, for Trident is the most secure delivery system there is. There will be no range problems, as their effective range will be between 2,500 and 12,500km—and their accuracy is already proved.

We would need a new low-yield warhead, but that would be needed for our new tactical air-to-surface missile in any event. It can be developed within the time available.

Will this relatively cheap and simple sub-strategic option be seriously considered? I doubt it, because it would sharply diminish the nuclear role of the Royal Air Force; and in the battles over "Options for Change", senior Air Force officers and what one might call Air Force civil servants ran rings around their opponents in the Department and even around some of my ministerial friends.

I urge the Secretary of State to abandon this extremely expensive project and to deploy a Trident sub-strategic option, using some of the savings that could be obtained to keep some of the infantry battalions that he is proposing scrap. Unlike the TASM, those battalions constitute a force that we are going to need.

11.35 am
Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has frightened me to death. Imagine the reaction of Soviet missile controllers when they see a boost phase Trident missile: they do not know what is on it or what fired it or where it is going, but they do know that they must get ready for Armageddon. Faced with a choice between that and the tactical air-to-surface missile, I would prefer TASM—although I would not want either.

I thank the Secretary of State for the way in which he conducted the debate, although I did not appreciate his McCarthyite question, "Were you or were you not ever a member of CND?" Yes, like some of my hon. Friends, I was—but times have changed. The speed of change in defence matters has become increasingly rapid, more so between 1987 and now than between the start of the cold war and 1987, with the possible exception of the building of the Berlin wall.

Policies change to take account of what is happening, the speed of what is happening and the direction in which events are headed. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) admirably outlined the reasons for the policy change that my party has adopted.

It is not good enough for the Government to tell us, "You would say this." Of course, many members of the Labour party are still members of CND. There are a lot of members of CND in the Liberal Democrat party.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)


Mr. McWilliam

There are still a few. Many CND members do not belong to any party. When I first joined CND it was not even unilateralist, although it subsequently became so. I think that the conclusion is that times have changed.

The Secretary of State was slightly disingenuous when he tried to suggest that the cut in sub-strategic munitions that has been agreed was not a unilateral decision by President Bush, with the British Government hanging on his coat-tails. The Soviet Union responded positively a few days later. To suggest that that decision was anything other than unilateral is wrong. Therefore, presumably, the old argument used by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) when he was Secretary of State for Defence about one-sided disarmament is no longer valid. The Government accept that, because they have already gone along with the Bush initiative that produced the kind of response that many of us argued was necessary to break the log-jam.

The second-zero goal has been sought and we have already had successful START negotiations with the Soviet Union. START 2 has already begun, but who knows what reductions will be agreed in those negotiations? No doubt there will be even greater reductions in the strategic weapons of the United States and the Soviet Union than were agreed under START 1. Therefore, the proportion of NATO nuclear weapons held by the United Kingdom—and by France, which is outside the military command structure—will be of even greater significance in the future. It is, therefore, important that we adopt the approach advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and that we join the negotiations on the basis of our current capability. Those negotiations will present considerable difficulties.

I had an interesting visit to NATO on Tuesday and I entirely accept the Secretary of State's point about the present control and security of the existing Soviet arsenals in the Ukraine, Byelorussia and in Kazakhstan. However, those republics have already said that they want to be independent. None of those countries has ever had any democratic tradition and it will be extremely difficult for them to achieve our level of democracy so that we can debate such things openly. It will be extremely difficult for them not to use the nuclear weapons on their territory as bargaining counters in an eventual exchange.

The Secretary of State reminded us that President Yeltsin has argued for a dual-key approach to the control of nuclear weapons, which means that the republics and the central Government would each have a key. I remember the arguments that we had in the House about such a dual-key approach for cruise missiles. It seems that it is a good idea for President Yeltsin to have the second key, but it was never considered a good idea for the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)—then Secretary of State for Defence—to have such a key from the Americans. What double standards.

The Government have tried to suggest that they are the custodians of our defence and future nuclear capability, and that we are not. I must remind the House that it was not the Labour party which decided to privatise our atomic weapons production establishments on the same basis as the American model—that model resulted in Rocky Flats. Now the United States does not have the ability to make new warheads for its Trident missile and it will have to use recovered ones from other missiles. The Conservative party took that decision, but it did not appear in its manifesto. At the last election, the Conservatives did not go to the country and say, "We believe in nuclear defence, so we will privatise atomic weapon manufacturing in this country." They knew what the reaction would be, but they went ahead. The Minister may state all the arguments about a compliance officer, but I am not confident that safety standards will be maintained. I do not believe that safety will be paramount over production schedules and costs. I am not satisfied that the Government have paid sufficient attention to the Drell report on nuclear safety in America and how that applies to the manufacture of nuclear weapons here.

People speak about the WE177 as though it is about to fall apart tomorrow. It may be an old dog, but there are many years left in it. It remains an effective and extremely flexible weapon. There is no need to jump for the TASM option. A recent report from the Select Committee on Defence stated that we should acquire the technology to build such a missile, but that we should not build it or deploy it because there is no identifiable threat against which it could be used.

The Government have been extremely reticent about discussing the problems that we are encountering with the Polaris submarine and the hunter-killer submarines because of the reactor and the power system. If I were the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) I would be arguing for the replacement of the hunter-killers on safety grounds. That would give Barrow more work. That is a far more sensible suggestion than the hon. Gentleman's argument that the future of the Barrow work force hangs on the fourth Trident submarine. It used to hang on the Upholder class, production of which was brutally slashed by the Government, equally, it now hangs on the next class of the hunter-killer submarines. As a maritime nation, we will need such submarines.

Mr. Franks

Although I accept that to those who are unfamiliar with the time involved in constructing a submarine, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion may sound plausible, what would happen to employment opportunities in my constituency as a result? Let us assume that there was a general election on the Thursday, a Labour Government on the Friday and the Labour Cabinet met on the Saturday and cancelled the fourth Trident submarine. What would the people in the shipyards do on the Monday morning?

Mr. McWilliam

They would go to work.

Mr. Franks


Mr. McWilliam

Presumably they still have buses in Barrow, but, given the Government's transport policy, who knows?

Those workers would go to work and say to the VSEL—Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited—management, "What are we tendering for? What is the long lese? What are we going to use that hull for? What are the components for?" The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness has outlined an extremely unlikely scenario because he is not privy to the contents of the first three Trident contracts. As a member of the Defence Committee, I am privy to that knowledge, but I will not tell the hon. Gentleman about it because I am bound by commercial confidentiality restraints. If the fourth contract is the same as the other three, the decision to be taken by the Labour Cabinet will not be about whether the workers should start work on the submarine on the Monday morning, but whether they should complete that work and, if so, whether they should install the weapons system.

In the meantime, if NATO insists that we have to have a nuclear deterrent, we must decide what we should do about Polaris, because it is a busted flush. The Secretary of State may argue that we may have to have one submarine on patrol at a given time to give us a credible deterrent, but the Secretary of State has already given it away—we do not have a credible deterrent.

Mr. Franks


Mr. McWilliam

I will not give way as the hon. Gentleman will get his own kick. I am not afraid to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but, as other hon. Members want to speak, I shall resume my seat and listen with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has to say when he is called.

11.48 am
Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

It is a rare occasion when I, as an hon. Member representing a northern constituency, am able to participate in a debate on a Friday. The last time I had that privilege was about eight years ago when I introduced a private Member's Bill on cycle tracks. That Bill was concerned with safety and today's debate concerns a matter of vastly greater importance, the safety of future generations.

I am sure that my constituents appreciate that I have cancelled various engagements and appointments so that I could be present to put their case. There can be no debate in the House on any subject that affects a constituency more than today's debate affects Barrow, for the immediate economic future of the area that I represent depends on the future of the fourth Trident.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) could not answer my earlier question, but, as a member of the Defence Committee, he ought to appreciate more than most that one cannot build Land-Rovers and the next day decide to switch to building Rolls-Royces—any more than one can decide on Friday to build a Trident submarine, and on Monday to switch to hunter-killers. There are considerations such as tendering for an order from the Ministry of Defence, negotiating it, winning the contract, ordering materials and producing the design work. It takes a minimum of 18 months to two years before construction can start.

I pose to the hon. Members for Blaydon and for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) this question: what would the workers in Barrow's shipyards do on Monday morning if a Labour Government cancelled the fourth Trident on the previous Saturday? The answer is painfully obvious. They would have no alternative but to go to the local unemployment and benefits office to seek unemployment benefits.

Mr. McWilliam

The hon. Gentleman omitted to mention long-lead items that have already been ordered and paid for, and partially made as well. If the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully, I will say this slowly. If the contract penalty clause for the fourth submarine is the same as it was for the others, and if the cost of the long-lead items is taken into account, no Labour Cabinet would take the decision that the hon. Gentleman suggests has already been taken. He is misleading the House. No such decision has been taken and, from my knowledge of the contracts for the other three submarines, the likelihood of its ever being taken is very slim.

Mr. Franks

It is not I who is misleading the House, but the hon. Member for Blaydon. He has just heard with his own ears, as did every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber, Labour's official policy on the fourth submarine. Long-lead items also apply in respect of the hunter-killers, on whose construction he hopes the people of Barrow could be employed in the event of a Labour Government's being elected.

As most right hon. and hon. Members appreciate, my constituency is one of the most difficult to travel to in logistic terms. It is a six or seven-hour journey from my office in Westminster to my office in Barrow. I therefore apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, and the hon. Member for Clackmannan if I am not able to stay until the end of the debate. In those circumstances, I shall be more than happy to allow any right hon. or hon. Member—particularly from the Opposition Benches—to intervene. Within reason, I will gladly give way, so that right hon. and hon. Members may raise any points that occur to them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) should bear it in mind that a number of hon. Members have been waiting since the start of these proceedings to take part in the debate.

Mr. Franks

I am one of them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I waited patiently for two and a quarter hours for this opportunity to speak.

This debate gives the House the first-ever opportunity to debate Labour's nuclear defence policy, in so far as it has one. There is nothing dishonourable about an individual or a political party, if they are genuine, choosing to change their minds and policies. However—and this is not meant to be a personal remark, because I sympathise in many ways with the hon. Member for Clackmannan—this morning we heard the hon. Gentleman espousing at the Dispatch Box a policy that he does not have his heart in, and he knew also, in advance, that he would have the greatest difficulty carrying his party with him.

That policy is based on a hope and a prayer that the general election will be delayed long enough to allow the Government to order the fourth submarine, which would get Labour off the hook.

I give the hon. Member for Clackmannan full marks, because, after innumerable debates on the Royal Navy and defence estimates, we have at last heard a crystal clear statement of Labour's policy. If I am wrong, the hon. Member for Clackmannan will correct me, but my understanding is that a Labour Government would not build the fourth Trident submarine unless the order was placed by a Conservative Government and there were clauses in the contract that compelled Labour to decide that for commercial—not military, social or economic—reasons it would have to allow the construction of that fourth submarine.

One can only construe from that policy and the speeches made by Labour Members this morning—they will be well noted in my constituency, if nowhere else—that the only party that can guarantee employment in my constituency in the foreseeable future is a Conservative Government, in placing an order for the fourth boat and, after the next general election, seeing it through. There is no other interpretation possible of the remarks of the hon. Member for Clackmannan.

Mr. McWilliam

Why does the hon. Gentleman encourage VSEL and its shop stewards to press the Government to export unemployment from Barrow to Tyneside and Clydeside, in attempting to win the type 23 follow-on orders?

Mr. Franks

As a member of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member knows that four shipyards build for the Ministry of Defence, but that there will be sufficient work for only two of them. Of those four shipyards, VSEL is by far the strongest, in terms of its finances, order book, and skills.

In the mid-1970s, VSEL was obliged, rightly, by British Shipbuilders to come out of warship building and to concentrate on submarine construction. If the future requirements for the submarine fleet are such that VSEL must widen its product base, it is only sensible for the company to do so and tender for type 23 orders.

I sympathise with the problems of the three other yards, but my responsibility as the Member of Parliament for Barrow and Furness is to look after my constituents. It is the responsibility of the Members of Parliament who represent the other shipyards to argue their own case.

Although we heard an unequivocal statement of Labour's official policy on nuclear defence and the Trident programme, the reality is that the party is peddling at least three policies, depending on the audience and which Labour Member is speaking.

First, there is Labour's official policy. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan for making that policy crystal clear this morning, because he has saved me the necessity to quote what he said on 27 June, in a debate on the Navy. The hon. Gentleman has said, "We do not see the need for a fourth Trident submarine", and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) said the same on 15 October, during a debate on the defence estimates.

Labour fought both the 1983 and the 1987 general elections on the unilateral programme that they had probably adopted long before that. They proposed not merely to negotiate away our nuclear deterrent—Trident—but to abandon it altogether. On both occasions, the party paid a heavy electoral price. It is understandable that, having received the message that the public do not like its policy, any political party should tend to experience a change of heart. What the public must then ask, however, is whether that change is genuine.

I have dealt with Labour's official policy; let us now leave the Front Bench, and concentrate on those in the rows behind. The majority of Labour Members belong to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. There is an almost endless list of quotations that I could use, but let me quote the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). In defence questions on Tuesday, he said that he regarded the cost of Trident as prohibitive.

Mr. Cryer

Why is this taking such a long time?

Mr. Franks

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman finds what I am saying so embarrassing, but I intend to continue to embarrass him, and all the members of CND, for as long as they choose to put their points of view. While conferring on themselves the right to put those points of view, they deny the same right to Members of Parliament who disagree with them.

Mr. O'Neill

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has told us that he will have to be discourteous and leave early, because he has a train to catch. If he is so anxious to catch it, should he not make some progress with his speech?

Mr. Franks

I take it as a great compliment that Labour Members want me to complete my speech as quickly as possible, and thus get them off the hook. For the past five years, I have heard one after another say that Trident is only being built to save the seat of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness; and I have let it go. They should appreciate, however, that—if they are speaking the truth—Conservative Members apparently set some store by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness, and that, moreover, his constituents recognise that their Member of Parliament can deliver the goods.

What the hon. Member for Islington, North said on Tuesday was echoed by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and again today by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). If he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will no doubt express his views far more eloquently than I can. He will argue the case against the Trident programme in its entirety. The Front-Bench policy is, "We will not build the fourth boat"; lurking on the Back Benches, however, is the majority that would cancel the whole programme, lock, stock and barrel.

Dr. Reid

I am sorry to interrupt, but this must go on the record—although I realise that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) does not want it to. The hon. Gentleman has just said that Labour's policy is, "We will not build the fourth boat." Let me repeat that that is not our policy. Labour sees no strategic need for the fourth boat; no one would make a final decision irrespective of costs, and the costs are not yet known. If Conservative Members release that information today, we shall make a decision within a week; while they continue to refuse to do so, we shall do what any responsible incoming Government would do.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions are made at the expense of the rights of other hon. Members.

Mr. Franks

The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) is now suggesting that programmes depend not on strategic needs but on costs. Is that now Labour's official policy? The hon. Gentleman is saying one thing, while the hon. Member for Clackmannan sitting next to him on the Front Bench, says another. Will the two of them make up their minds, and present the House with a single policy?

Labour's third defence policy has apparently been enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition. I intervened on the hon. Member for Clackmannan earlier to confirm beyond doubt that what he was saying was official Labour party policy. Let me draw the House's attention to early-day motion 49, which is not in my name or that of any other Conservative Member, but in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) and other members of the Scottish National party. Dated 31 October and entitled: Mr. Peter Mandelson, Labour and the Fourth Trident Submarine", the motion states That this House, noting that the Labour leadership has, since its somersault on nuclear weapons, insisted that a Labour Government will have only a three boat Trident fleet; calls upon the Shadow Cabinet to explain why Mr. Peter Mandelson, on a visit to Barrow, told the North West Evening Mail on 15th August that 'all parts of the leadership are aware of the case for a fourth boat'. That is very interesting. Mr. Peter Mandelson is currently a Labour party candidate in Hartlepool; he is also a former campaign director for the Labour party machine. He is not just any individual; he is a person of some influence and consequence in the Labour party. It was following that comment, and those of the hon. Members for Clackmannan and for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) on 14 October about the SSNs—the nuclear-powered submarines with conventional weapons—that we were astonished to hear the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington say that the Labour party would abandon the fourth Trident submarine and also the SSNs. Instead, it would go for the SSKs—conventional submarines with conventional weapons. That has tremendously damaging prospects for employment in my constituency. [Interruption.] I know that the Opposition have not denied it; they cannot do so, as it is on the record. What is said in the House is, presumably, meant to be believed. What is said in Barrow by visiting Labour Members of Parliament and visiting Labour party dignitaries is equally meant to be believed.

Not surprisingly, at my advice bureau on Saturday 19 October representatives of the workers in the Barrow shipyards came to see me. They said, "We know what your party's policy is. You're going to build the fourth submarine. But what is the Labour party's policy?" I told them that I would go right to the top—that I would write on their behalf to the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). I did so on 23 October. So that I do not misquote, and am not misquoted, I shall read to the House my letter to the right hon. Member. On Saturday 29 October I received a visit at my surgery from workers who are employed at VSEL in Barrow. Their concern, as you will appreciate, is caused by the present uncertainty in the defence industry as a whole and in particular how their jobs would be affected by Labour party policy on the question of the fourth Trident submarine and the SSN programme. I was able to give them an assurance that under a Conservative Government the United Kingdom would continue to have an independent nuclear capacity, with all that that implies for future work in Barrow. However, in view of recent statements made both inside and outside Parliament by spokesmen of the Labour party, it is clear that there is now considerable doubt about your policy, and it is for that reason that I would ask you to clarify the position. As you know, the Labour shadow defence spokesman, Allan Rogers, said in the Defence Estimates on 15 October 1991 that 'Labour does not believe a fourth Trident boat is necessary. If, however, an order for one were placed before a general election, an incoming Labour Government would have to examine the contract and cancellation charges associated with it before making a decision'. And in respect of the SSNs, the nuclear-powered submarines with conventional weapons, your spokessman, Roland Boyes, said in the same debate: 'We cannot afford it and it is increasingly ill suited to our real security needs.' Outside Parliament, however, a different picture is being presented. Workers at VSEL are being led to believe that the Labour party is committed to the fourth Trident submarine and to the SSN programme—a clear contradiction of what your spokesmen are saying in Parliament. For the sake of all those in Barrow who want and need to know precisely where they stand, can I ask you to state your unequivocal position on this matter and"— this is the crux— are you intent on building the fourth Trident submarine and are you intent on continuing the SSN programme? I look forward to hearing from you. That is a straightforward letter. It asks two short, succinct questions. There can be no confusion. It ought to have elicited a lucid, clear statement from the leader of the Labour party—a would-be Prime Minister of this country.

You may be interested, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the reply that I eventually received. It was from someone called Neil Stewart, political and campaigns secretary. The letter is dated 12 November, three weeks after I wrote to the right hon. Member for Islwyn. It is a short letter, which again I shall quote for the sake of accuracy. Dear Mr. Franks, Mr. Kinnock has asked me to thank you for your letter and to reply on his behalf. I am sure that my constituents will note that when their Member of Parliament writes direct to the Leader of the Opposition he cannot be bothered to reply himself but gets some lackey to do it for him. We have a first-class candidate in Barrow who is addressing the issues of the future of engineering and shipbuilding at Barrow far more realistically than the Conservative party, which appears to be inviting people to look at the past rather than face the future.

Hon. Members

Is there any more?

Mr. Franks

No, there is no more. The letter concludes Yours sincerely, Neil Stewart, Political and Campaigns Secretary. You will not be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have replied to that letter. I am sure that the House will be interested to know what I wrote in reply. Again, for the sake of accuracy, I shall read my reply. When I write to a parliamentary colleague I expect to receive a reply from him. Dear Neil, I acknowledge receipt of the letter dated 12th November from your political and campaigns secretary in reply to my letter addressed to you dated 23 October. As I doubt whether you have actually read my letter, and equally whether you have seen the reply, I am enclosing photocopies of both. My letter was very straightforward and asked two specific questions: 'Are you intent on building the fourth Trident submarine? Are you intent on continuing the SSN programme?' I should be grateful if you would now address your mind to these two specific questions and let me have a reply. I trust that this time you will have the courtesy to deal with this matter personally, since I am writing to you and not to your political and campaigns secretary. I await a reply. In view of the clear statements that we have heard this morning from the hon. Member for Clackmannan, the shadow defence spokesman, I am sure that the leader of the Labour party will not wish to say anything other than what the hon. Member for Clackmannan told us. However, I have a little doubt. A few weeks after the defence estimates debate, four or five weeks ago, not surprisingly representatives of the Confederation of Shipbuilding Unions in Barrow, who are vitally concerned about employment prospects in Barrow following the enunciation of the Labour party's defence policy, came to London and met the leader of the Labour party who spent one hour with them. I understand that there was an agreed statement. However, the best efforts of my office, the BBC and X, Y and Z to get hold of a copy of that statement, have so far proved negative.

Following that meeting, the secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding Unions in Barrow returned to Barrow and said, via the local radio and the press, "We are fully convinced and satisfied that the fourth Trident submarine will be built." How does that square with what we have heard this morning? How is it possible that the Labour party's official policy is not to build the fourth Trident submarine, after union representatives from Barrow came to London to see the Leader of the Opposition, spent one hour with him and then felt able to say, "We are fully confident that the fourth boat will be built"? What did the leader of the Labour party tell the unions that his representatives are not prepared to say in the House today? That is the third strand of Labour policy.

In Greek mythology, there is an animal called Cerberus—a three-headed dog that stood at the entrance to the underworld. We have a modern Cerberus under a different name—her Majesty's loyal Opposition, who have three heads and three different policies. For all we know, if a policy is necessary in the north-east, they will have a fourth policy, and if a policy is necessary in the south-west they will have a fifth. The Labour party will find a policy to suit the occasion.

Mr. McWilliam

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it in the rules of order that an hon. Member must rise in his place? The hon. Gentleman was speaking from the Gangway, which is out of order.

Mr. Franks

That point of order graphically shows how seriously the Labour party takes the subject.

I remind the House of the chilling but simple comments that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made a few weeks ago: If we changed our minds to win, we could change when we've won. What is wrong with that? We could not talk about nuclear disarmament because we might not win. But we have won so we can change back again. I mean, you can change one way, you can change the other. Those words have a chilling honesty. There speaks the real voice of the Labour party: "Whatever is necessary to try to win the next election, we shall cut our cloth accordingly, but once we have won we shall show the real face of the Labour party."

Since 1983, I have asked one question many times in the House and in my constituency; nine years later, the question is still valid: if a Labour Government cancelled the Trident submarine over a weekend, what would the thousands of people who work in Barrow's shipyards do on the Monday? The blunt truth is that they would be thrown to the wolves, not only because Labour Members do not believe in the strategic value of the independent deterrent but because of the economic necessity to make cuts to pay for the innumerable promises that the Labour party has given one group after another. We all remember the TSR aircraft and the workers in Preston who were thrown out of work on a Monday morning. The same would happen in Barrow.

Mr. Corbyn

What has the hon. Gentleman been doing to promote the cause of arms conversion? What will he tell Barrow's workers after the contract for the fourth Trident submarine has been completed? Will he argue for a fifth, sixth or seventh submarine? Should not he be arguing for the enormous skill of the work force to be put to making peaceful products, such as ships and bulk carriers? Why is he so obsessed with the construction of nuclear weapons? They can result only in mass destruction.

Mr. Franks

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me an opportunity to remind the House of the Cumbria support scheme, which was mentioned on 13 June. Instead of my taking up the time of the House, he should look at the record. About £50 million of Government and private money is going to the local economy.

Mr. Corbyn

But £20 billion is being spent on Trident.

Mr. Franks

You have asked a direct question; I am giving a direct answer. If you do not want to listen——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Do not bring me into this.

Mr. Franks

I am sorry. If the hon. Member does not wish to listen, he should read the record.

To the Labour party, Barrow would be totally dispensable. It is not interested in Barrow, the Trident programme or nuclear-powered submarines. It is not even interested in defence.

No single issue can affect my constituency more than the fourth Trident submarine. The words of the hon. Member for Clackmannan will have been noted in my constituency. I fear for the future of my constituents if the Labour party gets its hands on the levers of power.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Unless speeches are briefer, some hon. Members will be disappointed. Long speeches are made at the expense of other hon. Members' rights.

12.25 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I shall do my best to observe what I understand to be an exhortation.

Since the foundation of NATO, nuclear weapons have been central to its strategy, but the doctrines under which those weapons have been deployed have changed in response to military and political change. The original doctrine of extended deterrence was replaced by flexible response. The recognition that nuclear weapons should be weapons of last resort has most recently been replaced by the doctrine of minimum deterrence. Minimum deterrence means deployment at a level which, if activated, would inflict unacceptable damage on an adversary. These are somewhat prosaic words to describe the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, but I believe that the House will know what they are meant to convey.

Minimum deterrence should be no less and no more than is necessary. It must be constant, in the sense that a potential adversary is forced always to take into account the existence of the deterrent. On one view, a part-time deterrent or an ineffective deterrent could be regarded as worse than no deterrent because it may persuade an adversary that he can take an unjustified risk. It may even tempt a potential adversary to take such a risk. It will create a climate of uncertainty about the effectiveness of the deterrent.

Those who say that the United Kingdom can and should have a minimum nuclear deterrent that is constant in the perception of an adversary, with only three submarines, must show, contrary to what appears to be the large mass of informed opinion, that three submarines can be so deployed that one is likely to be on station at all times. I do not regard such arguments as sufficiently convincing. It is not sufficient to say that a submarine could be put to sea in a period of tension, because nothing could be more calculated to raise tension than that very act.

I believe that four nuclear submarines are necessary to keep a constant deterrent, but there is a distinction to be drawn between a deterrent which is constant and the level of that deterrence. The word "minimum" can be used to describe the level of deterrence, but should not be used to justify anything other than a deterrent which is constant.

The essence of deterrence is uncertainty. Therefore, no one with any responsiblity for such matters should ever seek to answer the question, "In what circumstances would you be prepared to use nuclear weapons?" First, deterrence is created by uncertainty. Secondly, to say in what circumstances one might be prepared to use nuclear weapons is to invite a potential adversary to take advantage up to that point. As the essence of deterrence is uncertainty, statements or apparent commitments to no first use are, in effect, meaningless. It is theoretically an unenforceable contract, it is practically not binding and it could never be relied upon.

If one is concerned to reduce the possibility of nuclear exchange it would be far more effective to negotiate substantial reductions so that deterrence on all sides is truly at a minimum. In considering such matters one should not disregard the possibility of unilateral reductions. President Bush's initiative in the summer was precisely such a step. NATO's commitment to 80 per cent. reductions in sub-strategic weapons in Europe might be described similarly, but there is an important distinction between unilateral reduction in nuclear weapons and unilateral renunciation. It is clear—as much as anything is clear following the break-up of what we used to know as the Soviet Union—that there is so far little enthusiasm for unilateral renunciation on the part of Russia, Kazakhstan or the Ukraine.

What should the United Kingdom's attitude be to those issued against the background of the astonishing changes of recent times? First, as long as other nations hold nuclear weapons the United Kingdom will require the protection of a nuclear deterrent. That deterrent should be at a minimum level for the reasons that I have outlined. I also believe that if that deterrent is to be carried by submarines, we shall require sufficient boats to make it constant and, on the evidence available to me, I believe that four boats are necessary.

I am not persuaded by the case made by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) about employment. If the argument against four boats was compelling, one might have to accept the employment consequences which he fears so much. However, I have no doubt that the military and strategic justification is beyond question. There may be what he would regard as a favourable consequence as a result of a decision that the fourth boat should be built, but he cannot realistically expect that the employment reasons alone would be sufficient justification for proceeding with the fourth boat.

If the level of warheads on the existing Polaris system is currently providing a minimum deterrent, the D5 Trident system when deployed needs no more warheads than those on Polaris, which it is to replace. We could make that, at the point of deployment, our unilateral reduction. It would not prejudice our safety and would make a contribution to the belief—generally accepted by all parties—that there is a move among the major nuclear powers to an overall reduction in nuclear weapons.

At this point I part company in a substantial way with the Secretary of State. I see no justification—I choose my words with care—for the United Kingdom to deploy the tactical air-to-surface missile with a nuclear warhead. There might be a NATO case for it, but it is difficult to understand what is said to be the British case. The NATO case requires constant review. If flexible response has truly been abandoned, it is increasingly difficult to justify the tactical air-to-surface missile.

Questions must be asked following the dissolution of the Warsaw pact. For example, does there remain a need for such a system? Is not such a weapon, by being deployed on aircraft, vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike? With the conventional superiority of the Warsaw pact gone, is it necessary to deploy a tactical nuclear system to break up Soviet tank divisions that no longer constitute a threat? Following the experience in the Gulf, we should ask ourselves this: is not the destructive power of conventional weapons so incredible that the need to use tactical nuclear weapons has been obviated? Those are questions in relation to a NATO deployment.

Three or four weeks ago I listened, as a member of the North Atlantic Assembly, together with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), to a senior Russian civilian official addressing the defence committee in Madrid. He said that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that disaffected members of the Soviet military might be persuaded to sell nuclear weapons to terrorists. That is a staggering possibility and a consequence of the extraordinary collapse in the morale of Soviet forces and the extraordinary and difficult circumstances which have arisen because of the reduction—almost removal—of central control in the Soviet Union.

That risk, above all, argues for the need at the earliest possible stage to seek to eliminate nuclear weapon systems, such as strategic systems, by negotiation. The longer they exist, the more likely is the chilling possibility that someone disaffected in the Soviet military may seek to sell such weapons to some terrorist or terrorist group.

We in the United Kingdom know that the deployment of this system would have a large impact on the defence budget. Estimates vary between £1 billion and £3 billion. If we remain part of NATO, which is the policy of all parties in the House——

Mr. Douglas


Mr. Campbell

With the possible exception of the Scottish National party. It will undoubtedly want to tell us why, in its new internationalism, it wishes to withdraw from NATO.

On the assumption that most parties in the House wish to remain in NATO, why is it necessary for the United Kingdom to have a capability of this kind, in addition to the United States capability? If there is to be more defence co-operation in Europe, why is it necessary for Britain to have its own capability, in addition to that of France?

It is notable that in recent weeks distinguished former senior military commanders in the United Kingdom have questioned the need for the deployment of TASM. I am thinking of General Sir John MacMillan and my distinguished constituent, General Sir David Young, with whom the Secretary of State has had many contacts in his present and previous responsibilities. It may be argued that they had a particular point to make about regiments and an anxiety to see funds spent not in one direction, but another. Nevertheless, the fact that senior commanders of Such stature feel it possible to question something which, until now, has been an unchallenged assumption, should give the Government cause for concern.

I shall now say a word or two about what we should do, not just nationally, but internationally. We should do our best to extend nuclear arms reduction beyond the United States and the Soviet Union. We need a more comprehensive strategic arms reduction programme. We need a programme that involves all five permanent members of the Security Council and those Russian republics to which the Secretary of State rightly referred in his opening remarks.

It is absolutely essential to ensure that, so long as the possibility of control or influence over the Russian republics remains, steps are taken to bring about a strategic arms reduction. One has only to envisage circumstances in which all those upon whose territory strategic arms are stationed are required to come to the negotiating table to consider such a proposition to realise how much more difficult it would be if all, rather than a limited number, were participating.

We must also pursue a comprehensive test ban treaty. We should respond favourably to Mr. Gorbachev's proposals for a moratorium on testing. There seems to be a notable division of opinion in the United States. The State Department appears to be in favour of that proposition, whereas the Defence Department is against it. Meanwhile, in Congress, a number of Democrats have introduced a nuclear testing moratorium Bill. I believe that it is in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the whole world that we should seek to pursue much more vigorously the possibility of a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing.

We must also pursue nuclear non-proliferation as vigorously as we can. Reference has already been made to the alarming evidence obtained by United Nations investigators in Iraq. The Secretary of State put before us a whole catalogue of countries that have ballistic missile capability, and a substantial number of them appear to have embarked on a nuclear weapons programme. All that argues for the vigorous pursuit of nuclear nonproliferation. It would be a strange irony indeed if, as Europe left behind it the threat of nuclear war, that threat were found to be arising elsewhere in the world.

In Europe, we want to create circumstances in which nuclear deterrence becomes less and less significant as the principles of common security are accepted and applied. Equally, however, it is in our interests to persuade the rest of the world that it does not need to acquire nuclear weapons to achieve peace. We shall best persuade it by the example that we set ourselves.

12.41 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

The debate is timely for two reasons. First, it enables us to take stock of the further dramatic proposals to reduce the nuclear threat between east and west since the START agreement in July. Secondly, it enables us to take account of the knowledge that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, had Saddam Hussein not allowed his greed to overcome his stealth by invading Kuwait last year, he would almost certainly have developed a nuclear weapon by the end of 1993. Our priority must now be to consider anew not only the proliferation of nuclear weapons but how we can reverse that trend, which is so at odds with the end of the cold war.

Since 1987, the litany of successful treaties and agreements between east and west has been impressive. In addition, precipitated by the failure of the Kremlin coup, the Bush Administration, fully supported by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have made significant additional unilateral reductions, all of which have been met by similar unilateral cuts by President Gorbachev and accompanied by the promise of further bilateral reductions to come. In Rome last month, the NATO summit agreed that the possibility of a nuclear war was now so remote that further substantial reductions in nuclear stockpiles can now be embarked upon.

The logical conclusion of all this is that there can no longer be a justification for the massive nuclear arsenals held by both sides, that only the absolute minimum of nuclear defence is required and that, because President Yeltsin, too, now has his finger on the nuclear button, we should now be doing business with him on this issue as on so many others.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, European security will not be complete, for any country, nuclear or otherwise, without the most foolproof means of defence against their delivery. That is why it is essential that we should continue to develop the space-based defence, which was once called the strategic defence initiative or SDI and is now referred to as "brilliant pebbles". President Reagan's 1983 offer to share SDI technology with the Soviet Union contained great foresight. It should now be renewed, perhaps within NATO's proposed North Atlantic Co-operation Council, with central and eastern Europe and what is now the Union of Sovereign States—formerly the Soviet Union. It would develop a Europewide shield to protect against attack from within and without as an essential piece of confidence building on our continent.

Although a nuclear threat seems inconceivable in this post-Communist, new world order of today, Saddam Hussein reminds us that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said in the United States last week, human nature does not change. Thus, it remains essential to maintain adequate defences against such dictators and to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear arms.

That is why I support the call of several hon. Members who have taken part in this debate for new consideration of how to make the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty more effective. For nearly half a century, the world has learnt to live with the bomb. While the secret lay within the grasp of a few, there was never a great danger of a nuclear exchange—except for an accidental one. Both superpowers shared the instinct for self-preservation and negotiated continuously in search of credible systems of nuclear deterrents. Therefore, multilateral negotiations commenced to prevent the proliferation of non-civilian nuclear technology, and the culmination of those negotiations was the NPT.

The reality is that the NPT is not working. In addition to the five nations that admitted, under the treaty, to the possession of nuclear weapons, no fewer than 10 others have developed or are developing the bomb, and five of those are signatories to the NPT.

Since the exposure of Iraq as having consistently, to quote United Nations' reports, "obstructed and cheated on" divulging information on its nuclear programme, North Korea is now giving rise to the greatest concern, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said. As an NPT signatory, North Korea continues to violate flagrantly the IAEA safeguards by repeatedly denying inspectors access to its nuclear facilities. Recently, a high-ranking defector from North Korea informed western intelligence that his country is a mere 12 months away from producing a functional nuclear weapon.

Despite the imminent withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from South Korea, which fulfils the principal North Korean demand for the unobstructed inspection of its facilities, North Korea appears to remain committed to developing a weapon of its own. In so doing, it threatens to ignite a nuclear arms race in Asia that could prompt South Korea, Taiwan and Japan to develop nuclear arsenals.

It was reported in yesterday's press, however, that North Korea has now agreed to the principle of the nuclear-free Korean peninsula, although it has yet to confirm that it will open up its nuclear installations at Yongbyon and any underground sites to inspection.

The deputy Foreign Minister of Iran recently went to Paris to negotiate the transfer of enriched uranium from France. The Iranian Government—a signatory to the treaty—also seeks to acquire illegally nuclear technology from China. This month it was reported that Chinese officials and technicians are equipping an Iranian nuclear facility near the southern Iran-Iraq border in Khuzestan, with uranium-enriching technology.

While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that Syria has been attempting to develop nuclear devices, it continues to purchase large quantities of heavy weapons and missiles from China and has illegally proscribed certain areas in Syria from IAEA inspection.

Other nations, which are not signatories to the treaty, are understood to be developing nuclear weapons. Therefore, they remain outside the treaty's remit and safeguards, weak though they may be.

India and Pakistan continue to develop their non-civilian nuclear capabilities, ignoring calls for their signatures to the NPT. India, which tested a weapon in 1974, continues to receive substantial foreign aid and has recently negotiated a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps western Governments should take a lead from the United States of America, which terminated its aid programme to Pakistan on the ground that it refuses to desist from non-civilian nuclear development.

Israel's nuclear policy poses a major dilemma for the process of non-proliferation. Because Israel did not detonate a weapon prior to 1967, but currently possesses nuclear weapons, it would be in violation of the treaty if it were a signatory to it and would be legally obliged to destroy its stockpile and to end its nuclear programme. Without selective disincentives such as the termination of foreign aid and trade concessions, Israel will not sign the NPT. Such disincentives should be applied if Israel's position does not change. To allow it to maintain the 300 nuclear weapons that it is currently estimated to hold—including 100 tactical weapons—can only provoke and encourage the Arab states' determination to obtain nuclear arsenals.

For many years the People's Republic of China has been one of the world's leading conventional arms and nuclear technology exporters. It has proliferated nuclear weapon technologies and heavy weaponry to Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and now to Iran. However, China has recently pledged to accede to the NPT and that must represent a welcome breakthrough, if it is serious.

Another welcome breakthrough is France's decision to sign the NPT last June. The Mitterrand Government also announced their plans for worldwide disarmament initiatives covering nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. However, France continues to conduct above-ground nuclear testing in the Pacific and remains the only nation to do so. That behaviour can no longer be acceptable.

The failure of IAEA safeguards, including twice-yearly inspections in Iraq for the pasts 15 years, must lead to the conclusion that the NPT has acted like a cloak of respectability to certain nations which have signed it. Instead of preventing proliferation, it has promoted it by allowing nations to protest innocence while violating the treaty's inadequate provisions. There can be no alternative now but to press for guaranteed and unrestricted verifications, backed up by tougher international penalties against violators and greater pressure on all nations to accede to the treaty.

There is probably a case for a fundamental review of the IAEA, with a change of venue from its Vienna headquarters. Perhaps the most appropriate nation that we could ask to accept the new headquarters of a strengthened and reformed IAEA is Japan, the one nation to have experienced a wartime nuclear attack.

Such an initiative would complement the United Nations arms register called for by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and such an international responsibility is one that I believe Japan would willingly accept, which is why I commend it to my right hon. and hon. Friends.

12.54 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall be brief, because many hon. Members want to join in the debate.

It was interesting yesterday, listening to the debate on the EEC, to hear many Conservative Members talking about eastern European countries joining the EEC, even though those Members belong to a party that is pointing missiles at those selfsame countries. It seems strange to extend the hand of friendship and economic co-operation to the same countries that we are threatening with mass extermination.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) in the course of an extremely lengthy spech did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) about fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Trident nuclear submarines, which only points up the fact that this nation needs a programme of conversion from arms manufacture to material for peaceful purposes.

The Secretary of State helpfully reminded us of the enormous changes and potential changes in the Soviet Union. I only wish that the House had listened to the present Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) 10 years ago when, in March 1981, in a highly prophetic speech against the views of his Tory colleagues, he said that far from being strong and a threat to the world, the Soviet Union was in the process of retreat and disintegration. It is a pity that I cannot read out that speech because time is so short.

If the hon. Gentleman's attitude had been noted and acted on, we should not have got on the treadmill of nuclear arms escalation for the following 10 years. We could have reduced nuclear weaponry then, had we seen the Soviet Union in those terms. The Secretary of State's worries about the control of Soviet nuclear weapons, given the potential breakdown of the Soviet Union, would not then have been based on such mind-boggling perceived dangers.

During 1991 and after 10 years of negotiations, the START treaty was signed, and in itself it is indeed only a start as it still leaves enormous stockpiles of delivery systems and nuclear warheads, enough to reduce most of our planet to a radioactive cinder heap. So we cannot become complacent or leave START to do the job alone, because it is not enough by itself.

The Secretary of State mentioned that the number of sub-strategic nuclear weapons—START is concerned only with strategic nuclear weapons—are being reduced by NATO. That is a good step as we emerge from the cold war, but it is not enough. We must move on towards eradication.

The Secretary of State said that Trident was the ultimate guarantee of our security. It is worth remembering that only one boat in the tottering Polaris fleet is working; serious cracks in the cooling systems of the other boats are necessitating a great deal of expenditure and causing much anxiety to the Ministry of Defence. None the less, each Polaris boat carries more fire power than was used by both sides in the 1939–45 war. That shows how much damage could be wrought on parts of the planet.

The Secretary of State repeated several times that we need such a scale of weaponry to provide what he calls a credible deterrent. Whether Polaris is credible is a moot point, but we are now going ahead with the expenditure of £10,000 million on Trident.

I am one of those in the Labour party—I do not know whether I am in the majority in the parliamentary Labour party—who believe in unilateral disarmament. When the Secretary of State was enjoying himself for about 10 minutes claiming that a large number of us supported CND, he offered some rays of hope and sunshine that I had not seen for some months. I enjoyed that bit of his speech best of all, although I am not sure that that was what the right hon. Gentleman intended.

My views have not changed and I shall continue to attempt to persuade the majority of the Labour party to reassert its policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I know that some of my hon. Friends here are pleased at the policy change and, if it were changed back, they would use the democratic channels of the Labour party to argue their case.

The Labour party is a democratic one and I shall exert my influence, such as it is, to maintain the case that. we do not need Trident. However, against the demagoguery of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness, it is important for us to make it clear that we do not intend creating unemployment through a change of policy, which means a more peaceful role for our Government. We are not the Government who have put 2 million people on the dole from our manufacturing industries in the past 10 years. We shall develop a phased and planned programme for the conversion of the means of war manufacture to peaceful production. It will mean changing swords into ploughshares. We will use the enormous reservoir of equipment and talent to provide the goods and services that the people of the world need and want. One thing is absolutely certain—no one needs the Trident system to be put into use.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) referred to the United Nations nonproliferation treaty. The Labour party strongly endorses that treaty. The Government are a signatory and supporter of that treaty, as will be the next Labour Government. That means that if they continue with Trident they, too, would be in breach of clauses 1 and 6 of that treaty.

Some signatories have breached that contract, one notorious example is Iraq. Everyone is extremely pleased at the scrupulous way in which inspection is being carried out in Iraq to reveal the scale of the investment in nuclear weapons. No one dissents from the purpose of that inspection.

At several review conferences the 138 non-nuclear signatories to the UN non-proliferation treaty have always made the point that the nuclear signatories, particularly the United Kingdom, are in breach of that treaty. They tell us that we should not manufacture and deploy nuclear weapons. We have signed a treaty to agree to that, but we have not just retained Polaris, with its enormous fire-power; we have now decided to go on to Trident that has even greater firepower than Polaris.

It is hardly surprising that a tiny minority of the signatories are now beginning to say, "We will not do what the treaty calls upon us to do; we will do what the United Kingdom does." We pay lip service to that treaty and breach it by spending £10,000 million on Trident nuclear submarines that carry nuclear weapons. It is difficult for the Government to criticise those signatories.

I hope that the verification procedures under the UN non-proliferation treaty will be improved so that inspectors will come here and point out how the United Kingdom Government are breaching that treaty. We should be told that we must stop the Trident programme, because that is the proper way of doing things.

Only yesterday a delegation from the Manufacturing Science Finance Union, MSF, came to the House to express its concern about big organisations, such as GEC, which have significant defence contracts. My hon Friend for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) was there. The shop stewards said that, as a result of the rundown in defence expenditure, they were concerned that there would be redundancies under the Government's existing programme. That re-emphasises the fact that we cannot simply talk about cancelling Trident. We are not talking only about Trident, but about a whole range of defence activities that are being curtailed and on which expenditure is being cut. We must have a planned programme of conversion.

The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton, is present on the Treasury Bench. I am reminded that when I suggested that the £7 billion of expenditure on the European fighter aircraft might be better spent—it seems dodgy anyhow—or used for civilian aircraft, his contribution to planned change was to suggest that nobody wants single-seater civilian aircraft flying at 750 mph. A few Tory Members laughed heartily at the right hon. Gentleman's contribution to our understanding, but the reality is that if the European fighter aircraft programme falls through, there will be redundancies among the most skilled sector of our manufacturing work force. The Government must face that reality. A planned conversion programme is vital.

Finally, behind all the arguments about tactics and the programme for the deployment of Trident lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons. Mercifully, the vast majority of the world's nations have said no to nuclear weapons. In so doing, they have decided not to spend massive resources on the production of those weapons of fearsome levels of extermination. The Brandt commission "Programme for Survival—North versus South" produced figures in 1980 showing that just half a day's military expenditure would suffice to finance the World Health Organisation's malaria eradication programme. Even less money would be needed to counter river blindness, which is still the scourge of millions. The cost of one jet fighter, which was then $20 million would set up about 40,000 village pharmacists. One half of 1 per cent. of one year's world military expenditure would pay for all the farm equipment needed to increase food production and to approach self-sufficiency in the food-deficit, low-income countries by 1990. That opportunity has passed. The figures are out of date, but the example is telling. We should be using the £10,000 million that is spent on Trident to create jobs in the United Kingdom and to improve our national health service. However, we could also improve the lives of the people of the poorest countries where life expectancy is only 25 to 40 years.

Morally, that is a vastly superior case to the one produced by the Government—and, alas, supported to some degree by the Opposition Front Bench—who say that we should fritter our resources so massively on something that we could never use. Indeed, if we were to use it, we would destroy our planet. We should note the example of the vast majority of nations, including Canada, which has a Conservative regime, but which has said no to nuclear weapons. Why can we not go down the same road?

1.8 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I am delighted to participate in today's debate on nuclear weapons policy, but am saddened to see that the so-called "party of defence", the party of government, can muster only one noble Member to speak. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Atkinson) must have stumbled into the debate without having been nobbled by his Whips, because he gave a reasonable, rational and consensus-seeking speech, unlike the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), who gave the House his next election address for 37 minutes, but then proceeded to disappear, as though he is the only hon. Member with a constituency outside central London. Many hon. Members who are now in the Chamber have longer distances to travel.

As I said, it is a pleasure to speak in the debate, despite the rhetoric and the attempt to whip up the masses outside the House by saying that the Labour party comprises anti-patriotic pacifists. No doubt one could find some of that ilk in the Labour party, but I am sorry to tell Ministers, who greatly outnumber their indians seated behind them, that defence will not figure prominently in the next general election. Labour is not presenting itself for slaughter, as it did in 1983 and to a lesser extent in 1987.

Those drawers in Conservative party headquarters marked "Labour and defence" will be opened and their contents taken out to try to undermine Labour at the next general election, but such aspirations will remain unrealised. Labour has learnt the lessons of the past. They are that the public expect Britain to be defended and want Labour to be what it has been for most of its history—a party prepared to provide resources commensurate with defending this country.

When Clement Attlee became Prime Minister in 1945, he was no enthusiast of atomic weapons, but that programme proceeded. When Harold Wilson came to office, one Polaris submarine was cancelled, but the programme continued and Labour sought a consensus with other political parties and played an enormous role in NATO.

Between 1980 and 1987–88, there was a rapid flight from consensus to the outer shores of realism, but it has still prevailed—not just for electoral purposes, but because the world has changed. Most of the people responsible for Labour's policies acknowledge that those which may have been relevant in the 1980s were disastrous and should be consigned to the rubbish heap.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said that he is in the minority. I was once in that position, together with my former colleague the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who is now a member of the Scottish National party. In those days he earnestly supported nuclear weapons. The people who were once a minority in the Labour party now represent the views of the majority.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness did not answer my question about what would be left to build in Barrow if the fourth Trident submarine were taken away. Perhaps he will tell his constituents and Government that the submarine-building programme is near to collapse.

An innocent bystander listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness and others might imagine that the Conservatives are the exponents of the Royal Navy. I have with me the defence White Paper produced by the Labour Government in 1979. The section on frigates and destroyers put their number at 65. The present Government promised about 50, which we all took to mean 46 or 47. A year ago, we were told that the number would be 40, which we all know meant 36 or 37 frigates and destroyers, or even fewer. How can the Conservatives make such eloquent speeches about the Royal Navy when, in their 13 years in office, they have, according to their own planning, halved that part of its fleet?

Government Members argue that today's Royal Navy is more modern than in 1978 or 1979. A recent parliamentary answer that drew on the Government's own resources revealed that the Royal Navy was more modern in 1979 than it is in 1991. We should dispel the myth that the Conservative party is the party of defence and that Labour is the party of surrender—as shown on a brilliant poster in the 1987 general election campaign which depicted Labour's defence policy as a soldier with his hands in the air in surrender.

There is no need for Labour to be ashamed of its defence record, although the Conservative document "Britain's Defence: Unsafe in Labour's hands" gives the impression that a Labour Government would destroy the Navy, devastate the Army and demolish the Royal Air Force. As reports from the Select Committee on Defence have made clear over the past few years, defence cuts are proceeding at such a pace that, if a future Labour Government continued in the same way, we would be left with Securicor and Group 4 to defend our shores and a steamship company to provide us with a substitute for the Royal Navy.

This scurrilous Tory document—approved by the Secretary of State—talks of Labour's contempt for defence, and its inherent aversion to strong defence". What have the ghosts of the Labour party of 1914 to say about that—the men who joined the wartime coalition? Men who, weeks before the invasion of Belgium, might have joined a peace rally signed up immediately after it. With the exception of Ramsay MacDonald, Keir Hardie and one or two others who opposed it honourably, the Labour party overwhelmingly endorsed the war effort.

In July 1914. Keir Hardie told the House, "They may not listen to me here, but they will listen to me in my constituency." He was mortified by the singing of English patriotic songs, led by a Labour Member of Parliament. When he went back to his constituency he was shouted down at a meeting, because the majority of Labour voters found his pacifism unacceptable. The chairman of the meeting told a journalist, "I am a Britisher first and a socialist second."

That epitomises Labour's attitude. So Labour is inherently opposed to defence: tell that to the ghosts of Ernie Bevin, Clement Attlee and the Labour Members who joined the coalition in 1940 and sustained our defence after the second world war. It is both impertinent and immoral to portray the party in such a light. The speech delivered a year ago to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition constituted the strongest defence of NATO that I have heard for many years—much stronger than that presented by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who seems to think that NATO has passed its sell-date and should be supplanted by some other arrangement.

We have heard today that a Labour Government would have signed up to all the NATO documentation. That removes yet another plank of the Tories' failing policy—their castigation of Labour for being unpatriotic. Profound changes have, of course, been made, but this is the party which, a year ago, succeeded not only in dumping its leader but in expunging her from its collective memory; the party that abandoned the poll tax, the flagship of its 1987 election campaign; the party that is flip-flopping on Europe. It is a bit rich for a party that has performed such cartwheels to accuse Labour of ambiguity.

Let me now raise a matter that I had not intended to raise until the Secretary of State introduced a knockabout element to the debate. It is best not to compare the present Government with the Labour Opposition of 1980–87: the result of that would be game, set and match. One can compare the Government's proposals with the Labour party's proposals and, better still, the Government's record with that of the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979. In 1979–80, 4.5 per cent. of gross domestic product was devoted to defence. In 1991–92, 3.8 per cent. of GDP is devoted to defence. In 1993–94 that will go down to 3.4 per cent.

People may say, "Circumstances have changed", but one could return to the time before the cold war ended and see that the Treasury had got hold of the throats of Defence Ministers even before Gorbachev came along and rescued the Government and the Treasury from their policies. The Government abandoned their commitment to increase defence expenditure by 3 per cent. a long time before the cold war ended. The Government's defence expenditure record is not very good. According to NATO statistics, defence expenditure, as a percentage of gross domestic product, was 4.9 per cent. between 1975 and 1979. It is now 4.6 per cent. The party of defence is spending much less on defence.

This scurrilous document talks about the Labour party scuppering the Army, but can we really be defended by 38 infantry battalions, half of which will be committed to Northern Ireland? If the IRA played it clever and exploited that fact, where should we find the troops for the much-vaunted rapid reaction corps? Half of them will be double hatted; they will be committed to Northern Ireland.

Conservatives will find little comfort from the Labour party's defence policies at the next election, which is not the sole criterion by which to judge them. We have signed up for the NATO summit. The Labour party is committed to maintaining nuclear weapons until other countries dispose of theirs. As a realist, I do not believe that that will happen fairly soon, or ever. I am anxious not about the defence policies of the Labour party but about the defence policies of the Conservative party. Shall we be able to sustain a viable defence posture if only just over 3 per cent. per annum is devoted to defence? Will the defence cuts be even deeper? The heat at the next election will be directed not at my party but at the Conservative party. Government supporters will be fighting for their lives.

Defence contractors, those who work in the defence sector, Territorial Army members whose numbers are going down and the men and women in the armed forces, with families and dependants, should be worried about the Conservative party's policies. The Secretary of State tries to point at us the finger of doubt, but I suspect that in the final analysis it will not be the Labour party's defence policy that will be seen to be wanting; it will be the "party of defence's" policy. I cannot wait for the British public to reach a decision about that.

1.23 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

I do not intend to echo what was said by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is something of a military historian. I shall deal with matters historical, but not from the same viewpoint.

Reference has been made to speeches that I have made, both in the House and elsewhere. I was one of the 69 Members of Parliament who voted on 28 October 1971 for the White Paper presented by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on behalf of the then Government. I was cast as a pro-European and suffered for my sins at the 1974 election by losing the constituency that is now represented by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). My pro-European stance pales into insignificance compared with that of the Labour party today. It will swallow almost anything that Europe has to offer.

I challenge any hon. Member who has known me for more than five or 10 years to examine my political career and state when I did not make it clear exactly where I stood on major issues. I made it plain at the 1983 and 1987 elections exactly where I stood on defence. I remember attending a meeting before the 1987 election where the current leader of the Labour party suggested that Polaris might be decommissioned in a fortnight. I said that a good engineer would not suggest that.

The significant change relates to the obsolescence of Polaris. It offered the Government a unique opportunity to say, "We can no longer argue that we have an independent strategic nuclear deterrent." That was the time to stop our vain posturing on the international stage.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan said that we should listen to our constituents. He and I represent Scottish constituencies. Some Labour Members say that they have a mandate from the Scottish people but the Tories do not—that the Labour party has a mandate to decommission Polaris and not to proceed with Trident. That is the hon. Gentleman's remit; it is also mine.

I should like to consider the history not of the 1980s but of the 1940s. As a good Scottish Presbyterian should, I shall quote Bernard Brodie's work, "The Absolute Weapon": Everything about the atomic bomb is overshadowed by the twin facts that it exists and its destructive power is fantastically great. Nuclear weapons are no longer in the possession of one nation. There are three options. One can recognise their destructive power and say that total war is absolute folly and that no one will embark on it. One can say, "We do not have adequate defences against it; let us adopt a first strike capability." Thirdly, one can deny the efficacy of a first-strike capability and opt for intermediate battlefield weapons.

It is four and a half decades since the first atomic bomb was dropped. Nations have wanted to become strategic nuclear powers. The United Kingdom's ability to do so relies on the United States. There is no such thing as an independent United Kingdom strategic deterrent. I make that point forcefully, particularly to the Labour party, in relation to when Trident comes into service. It will not be in service until mid-1994. That would mean that a Labour Government coming into office in 1992 would have to take a decision in mid to late-1993 to sail the first Vanguard to King's Bay and say, "Please can we have our 16 D5s?" Is that credible? How will they manage that? I challenge Labour Members of Parliament who are honourable gentlemen—and I especially challenge Scottish Members of Parliament—if they are still members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and are still opposed to Trident to include that information in their election addresses and make it clear for what they are seeking a mandate. Otherwise, they should make it clear how they support contemporary Labour party policy. The Labour party's approach, if it won the next election, must be considered.

It has been suggested—and not refuted—that Polaris is obsolescent, if not obsolete. There has been no refutation of the view that Polaris means having one boat in service at sea all the time. The problems of the reactors are well known.

I refer to what the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said. We could argue about the number of warheads that Trident would have, but one D5 missile has the TNT power of all the weapons that were used by all the belligerents of the second world war. In addition, it has much greater accuracy and hard target capability to penetrate, particularly the Soviet defence. However, we know what is happening in the Soviet Union. Is it realistic to suggest that the United Kingdom will wish to possess a so-called viable strategic nuclear deterrent with the objective of penetrating targets in eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union? Is that what the Government are suggesting? If not, what other conceivable purpose do they have in mind?

The Secretary of State rightly gave a trailer about what has been happening in NATO and its decision to reduce its dependence on short-range weapons. The decision to reduce them by 80 per cent. is welcome. Although the Government have suggested that they want some tactical nuclear weapons for development in the not-too-distant future, the major Opposition rejects the need for that.

We are moving into a world in which everyone wants to see a reduction in tension. I belong to a party which does not want Trident or a strategic nuclear force on our soil in any shape or form. I admit that that exposes us to certain difficulties with regard to employment. In the 1980s I argued that we should examine the conversion procedures. One cannot possibly have an adequate conversion process and adequate conventional forces and also have Trident within realistic defence expenditure constraints.

I hope that I am not misinterpreting what the hon. Member for Walsall, South said, but he gave the impression that were he the Secretary of State for Defence, we should have both—an enhanced conventional capability of about 40 or 50 surplus frigates and destroyers and Trident, too. That is not possible within the constraints of defence expenditure.

There are particular points that I want to make about the Scottish scene. Having argued that the desire to continue with the strategic deterrent distorts defence expenditure generally, let me come to the specific problem of the Navy and its back-up facilities.

On 2 November 1991 Jane's Defence Weekly published a country survey of the United Kingdom. The naval part was written by Mr. Paul Beaver, the periodical's publisher, who is an acknowledged authority on submarines and submarine warfare. He asserted: The reduction in the number of UK warships indicates an obvious need to close another naval base. In assessing the probable course of events it is suggested that Portsmouth is "invulnerable", leaving both Rosyth and Devonport on the vulnerable list. We in the SNP argue that for offshore and fishery protection purposes Scotland needs to retain Rosyth, albeit in the face of substantial cuts.

The article went on to deal with the submarine base at Faslane in strong terms: There is pressure to close the Faslane base, despite the investment at nearby Coulport for Trident and the adverse effect on local industry. In naval terms, there is a case for closing Faslane and deploying the SSN/SSBN squadrons to Devonport. I know that a director of public relations in the Navy has refuted that, but I am convinced that pressure is building up in the Ministry of Defence to close Faslane.

I am giving the Minister, not the director of public relations, the opportunity today to give us an exact statement of the Government's future plans. It is important to make that clear. We do not want Trident in any shape or form, yet the probability is that in the west of Scotland the submarine base will go, but the facility to arm the missiles with warheads will remain available at Coulport. To put it crudely, we would have the worst of all possible worlds.

We have had a wide and varied debate, but no one has mentioned space. It is clear from the Gulf war that the ability to knock out one's opponent's equipment depends on the command of space. What is the Government's programme on space and the satellite communications systems that are necessary there?

We in Scotland want a clear indication from the Government of their plans in relation to the bases, but we want nothing to do with Trident. An independent Scotland would say, "No" clearly to Trident. That is the policy that we in the SNP will put to the Scottish people at the general election.

1.38 pm
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

It is a great pleasure to start a speech by congratulating other hon. Members. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was one of the most forceful and erudite that I have heard for a long time. I agreed with every word. I hope that it will not embarrass the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) if I say that his was one of the most thoughtful speeches on defence that I have heard from the Conservative Benches while I have I have been in this place. I shall enjoy reading it at length later.

I have a couple of questions to put to the Minister who will reply. If I could have his attention, it would be helpful. The Secretary of State talked about the safety of nuclear warheads on the territory of what used to be the Soviet Union and said that he was satisfied with the control mechanisms now in place, but was concerned about the disintegration of the morale of the custodian forces of those warheads.

Can the Minister give the House an estimate of the number of people whose collusion would be necessary for the effective illegitimate transfer of warheads to a recipient country in, say the middle east? If he cannot give me the answer now, I shall be perfectly happy to receive a letter from him. Clearly, it is not sufficient merely to put a warhead on the back of a truck and drive it to Syria or Iraq. How many people would be needed to make an effective transfer, which would naturally entail the possession of the codes and other physical factors?

The Secretary of State referred to the alarming number of countries that are now developing a missile technology. I was disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman had nothing whatever to say about the missile technology control regime. His Department should be examining that extremely important matter closely, and the Government ought to be doing everything in their power to strengthen that regime. Can the Minister tell the House how many of those countries—whose number appears from the debate to be indeterminate—possess now, or are likely to possess in the near future, missiles with a range that would enable them to reach United Kingdom territory?

My question for my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who is to wind up for the Opposition, relates to the number of Trident submarines that will be ordered. I confess that I was somewhat mystified by what my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said in his opening remarks. I fully understand his personal view that it is unnecessary to have more than three boats, but it is not a view which I share and I want to make it quite clear that, at the next general election, I shall be telling my constituents that the argument for four boats is unanswerable, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said. I am not clear that a statement exists anywhere in Labour party policy to the effect that a Labour Government would procure only three boats. If I am wrong, I shall be grateful to have the fact pointed out to me.

I support a TASM programme. One of the lessons of the Iraq war was that the future of air power must lie in stand-off capability. Conventional weapons certainly do great damage where there is no opposing air force. It is not in any way to diminish the bravery or skill of members of the allied air forces in the Gulf war to say that, after the first few days, the Iraqis were able to put only about four planes in the air. That is not a situation which we can confidently expect to encounter in other conflicts in that part of the world.

The debate has centred on nuclear weapons. I think that there is a far greater danger coming down the path towards the whole of mankind, and that is the danger of toxins and biological weapons. That is a far more serious matter. I am worried at the attitude that I understand Ministers are currently adopting, which is that we should concentrate first on chemical weapons—that we should try to get a treaty signed and only then worry about toxins and biological weapons. When I was at the Ministry of Defence—far too many years ago, I am afraid—the groups of weapons were discrete. There were chemical weapons in the middle, and there were toxins and then—way out—there were biological weapons. If I am correctly informed, the groups of weapons now represent a continuum and it is difficult to distinguish between the types of weapon at the lower end of the destructive scale and those with a destructive capability infinitely greater than that of nuclear weapons in terms of the amount that one has to deliver on a target. It is worrying that, apparently, Iraq has already been hard at work trying to develop a biological weapons capability.

It is significant that, although producing a chemical warfare capability takes only six weeks plus an average fertiliser factory, all one needs to produce biological weapons—if I am correctly informed by scientists of the utmost distinction—is a shed at the end of the garden. It is easy, the volumes are small and the ingredients are not difficult to obtain. It is a matter of the greatest concern to the whole of mankind, but we have not heard a word about it from the Secretary of State today. I hope that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will assure us that the Government and particularly the Ministry of Defence are looking closely at how to ensure that the spread of those weapons is controlled in future.

1.45 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

This debate has been amazing. The Government chose to initiate a debate on nuclear weapons but have failed to sustain the debate. It must be the first time that the Conservative party has failed to have enough speakers in such an important debate.

The speech of the Secretary of State was remarkable because, instead of seeking to inform us about some of the problems that the Government have created in our existing nuclear weapons system or answering many of the fears of those outside, he chose to remind us about the proliferating problems around the world, of which we are all aware. He offered no proposals to produce an effective non-proliferation treaty, but left that to Conservative Back-Benchers.

The right hon. Gentleman also attacked the Opposition for the fact that there has been considerable debate on this subject. I remind him that an essential element of defence policy is the protection of democracy, and that an essential element of democracy is debate. Of course there has been much debate among Opposition Members about nuclear weapons, but there has been a fair amount among Conservative Members. A Conservative Member pointed out that there is no universal enthusiasm for TASM among Conservative Members and argued that a few more regiments would be better than developing TASM. Although many other Conservative Members may not say that in Parliament, outside this place they do not question the fact that we could have saved more regiments, had we not had Trident.

I believe that the Government have acted in that way because they do not want to give detailed answers to the House about the existing problems with Polaris and the problems that will exist with Trident. It is time the Government came to the Dispatch Box and answered questions on those concerns.

There is an increasing number of television programmes and press articles about the problems with the Polaris boats. The Minister cannot come to the Dispatch Box and convince the House that the Polaris system will last until Trident takes over. He has increasing difficulty in telling us that the Trident programme is on time. Problems still exist at Aldermaston and with the rocket. The American Government have just agreed to provide extra money to try to solve the problem that the propulsion units contain highly flammable material and are very close to the warhead, creating a major safety worry. Difficulties are developing in the programme for fuelling the boats and in the cost of that programme. The Government should answer questions on those problems.

If the Government are so keen to go ahead with TASM, do they have the agreement of the German Government to the idea that a new nuclear system would be based on German soil? The Government have still not answered that question.

The Government should have discussed nonproliferation. It seems that they signed the existing non-proliferation treaty, then, like everyone else, broke it. To go ahead with Trident is a breach of that treaty. It is clear that the NPT was a face-saving device which everyone could sign and then ignore. I understand that it runs out in three years' time. It is now essential to develop a programme for an effective non-proliferation treaty which would take away the possibility of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists. The deterrent theory breaks down if one is dealing with people who are irrational.

If we want to ensure the world's safety for the next few years, it is essential that we have a non-proliferation treaty. As a first step towards that, we should commit ourselves unilaterally to giving up the testing of nuclear weapons. Clearly, if we continue to test them, others will want to do the same.

I make no secret of the fact that I have always supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The current problem is not the defence policy of the Labour party, but the fact that the Government have consistently tried to draw a smokescreen over their failure in the past 12 years to deliver the system that they have claimed or to look forward to achieving effective non-proliferation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) that if we want a stable world in the future we are talking about more than just nuclear weapons.

1.50 pm
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

I agreed with almost everything that was said by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). I am happy that he made large sections of my speech redundant by rightly focusing on the greatest and most immediate perils to the world at the moment, which are North Korea, Algeria and Syria. He also referred to the problem of China, which is feeding those other countries with nuclear technology, although that point had hitherto hardly been mentioned. The hon. Gentleman also focused on the important solutions—to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Authority safeguards, and to achieve effective nonproliferation treaties.

As there is now some mystery about the amazing shrinking list of countries with ballistic missiles, I should like to give the House the position yesterday, according to the Ministry of Defence. We know that 10 nations have now dumped their ballistic missiles in the sea in the past 24 hours, but the list that I was given yesterday is chilling. It includes Afghanistan, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, the USSR, the USA, the United Kingdom and the Yemen.

Instead of shrinking, that list has, in fact, grown, because the USSR now contains at least three independent nuclear republics. I do not accept the Government's view that that position will remain stable. I know those three republics well—I have had conversations with the presidents of the three Baltic republics—and although they are the most sophisticated republics, I can see a future in which those republics might become three Ulsters or Beiruts. However, other areas are far more volatile, such as Caucasus, Kazakhstan, the Ukraine and Byelorussia.

Over the years, there have been worrying events. The International Herald Tribune recently reported that it was revealed by India's ambassador to the United States, Mr. Abid Hussein, that Colonel Gaddafi had visited India in the 1970s to try to buy nuclear technology from its then Prime Minister, Mr. Moraji Desai. It was reported that he was prepared to pay £17 billion, which was the size of India's national debt at that time. We now know that India exploded a nuclear device in 1974.

I wonder whether Mr. Gaddafi is now thinking of going on a similar shopping expedition to the fragments of the Soviet Union where he will find many disaffected Soviet generals and groups, who are disconnected from the central power and control. What will we see when those republics, which have nuclear weapons, which are riven by ethnic and religious divisions and which have been suppressed for generations, break out in a wholly unpredictable way? That is a terrifying proposition.

How accurate has the view of the House been? The Government display an air of infallibility and omnipotence this morning, but it has been depressing to hear so little attention being focused on the real problem that is facing us and which will continue to face us in the future, while so much is focused on yesterday's problems. The Conservative party continues to throw up all the old, tired political rhetoric, half-digested. It should have been excreted long ago and forgotten about. We must now face the immediate problem.

I have dug from Hansard some answers to hon. Members' questions about Iraq when, like Cassandra, we have voiced warnings about that country in the past four years. I could quote a whole host of them, but I shall read only one. On 19 April I asked the Government to initiate action at the International Atomic Energy Agency to strengthen its investigations into Iraq's nuclear weapons programme. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office replied: Iraq is a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and as such has undertaken not to develop nuclear weapons. We expect Iraq to abide by her international obligations … We do not … envisage taking the specific action outlined by the hon. Member."—[Official Report, 19 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 1009.] The Government have told me that they will take that action now. As an international priority we should take up the practical suggestions made by the American Senator Mr. John Glenn to strengthen IAEA inspections.

Two years ago I asked how many nuclear installations Iraq had declared. I was told that it had declared one at Tuweitha. We know now that Iraq had dozens.

We are continuing tests in Nevada, thus giving the world the signal that we are strengthening our nuclear weapons and making them more deadly, while asking for non-proliferation throughout the world. The position is depressing. As time is extremely short, I shall end my speech by saying that the message that should go from the House today is that the world is in deadly peril because of nuclear proliferation, not from the developed to the third world but among third-world countries. A set of nations feel threatened, terrified and out of control. They have lost their old friends and allies and they possess nuclear weapons. Nations under the control of psychopathic butchers have nuclear weapons. As a threatened planet, we are stumbling blindfolded towards a nuclear abyss.

1.56 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will be holding its annual conference tomorrow, under the title "Seize the Moment." The campaign is here to stay and will continue until nuclear weapons and the threat they pose have been eradicated.

Some members of the Labour party have consistently campaigned for disarmament and peace in the world. Many fought great and historic struggles for peace; they included Norman Angel, Konni Zilliacus and, more recently, Lord Fenner Brockway and Philip Noel Baker as well as many other historic figures who have stood for peace in the world.

Our debate today about the value of nuclear deterrents suggests that it is merely a question of exchanging a few figures and statistics, that we are talking of an unreal world somewhere else and we need not bother our heads about it. I remind hon. Members that nuclear weapons have been used in war once, in Japan in 1945 against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Each of those towns lost well over 60,000 people immediately in the fire storm that followed and thousands have since died as a result of cancers and leukaemias and are still dying today as a result.

Anyone who believes that nuclear weapons are a credible deterrent or have done anything to produce peace in the world is living in a fool's paradise. Anyone who uses nuclear weapons will probably not only kill the people at whom they are aimed but themselves as well. The idea that the nuclear arms race since 1945 has produced peace or stability is laughable. It produced economic chaos in the Soviet Union, which, as much as anything, is what probably led to its break-up, and it produced poverty in the rest of the world as the United States sucked the wealth out of the third world to pay for its arms race.

Now we are expected to believe that the development of the Trident submarine system is some sort of step towards peace. The Polaris fleet, when it is working, which is apparently a rarity, has four submarines. With a total of 128 warheads, Polaris can hit 48 targets. If four submarines are constructed, Trident will be able to hit 512 targets.

Mr. Alan Clark

Hear, hear.

Mr. Corbyn

The Minister should be ashamed of himself. Where are the 512 targets? How many millions of people are threatened with death by these weapons? There are those who talk glibly about the number of bucks to get a bang—the language fondly used by United States generals—but they should think for a moment of the destructive power of these missiles. The total destructive power of the Trident system is the equivalent of 3,584 Hiroshima explosions.

Is it credible that in a world of poverty and environmental destruction we should consider spending more than £20 billion on a Trident submarine system? Some say that the British people want such a system so we must have it. The British people are not often told the truth about the costs, or about the consequences of the use or holding of nuclear weapons. They are not told that there may have to be a choice. Will a future Government continue or extend the Trident programme, or will they build new hospitals? Will they close schools to pay for Trident? Will they leave people sleeping on the streets of London to pay for it? Are we to refuse to help the poor of the world by writing off their debt and helping them to achieve a decent standard of living? Are we to do these things for the sake of nuclear madness?

We have had 40 years of mutually assured destruction. Now is not the time to continue the arms race or expand the quantity or firepower of nuclear weapons. Now is the time to look towards peace and disarmament and, above all, towards cancelling the Trident programme and ridding this country of nuclear weapons—and with them the implicit threat of nuclear weapons.

2.1 pm

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

We rarely expect a full House on a Friday. It is not often an all-ticket game, but this afternoon I had to draw attention to the fact that only four Conservative Back Benchers were present. I did not interrupt later to point out that, by then, the number had fallen to one. So the party that called the debate, the self-proclaimed party of defence and patriotism, was reduced during a debate on what it regards as one of the most important electoral issues to one Back Bencher who had to plough a lonely furrow while deterring Opposition Members—a minimum deterrent if ever I saw one.

Despite the lack of numbers of Conservative Members, this has been an interesting and honest debate. Usually the Government eschew intellectual coherence in favour of rhetorical abuse. But the Secretary of State managed to avoid that for at least 70 per cent. of his speech, whereafter he launched into the usual McCarthyism. He spoke at length about the dangers of nuclear proliferation in the Soviet Union, the middle east and throughout the world because of the disintegration of states and the leakage of technology.

The right hon. Gentleman identified what he called the need for deterrence, an issue dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). What the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, symptomatic of the imbalanced mind which inhabits the Government, was the other side of the coin. If proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons is so dangerous, why did he have nothing to say about Government measures to stop global proliferation? He must have been somewhat surprised by the speeches of some Tory Back Benchers. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) doubted whether we need the sort of air-to-surface missile that the Secretary of State is considering. That alone made his speech worth while, although it contained a great deal more. He suggested that Trident might be used as a sub-strategic system. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) pointed out what I would have said about that: the difficulty of knowing whether what is coming out of the chute of a Trident is a strategic or sub-strategic weapon.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), who had to rush off to catch his train, managed to demean his own argument. I understand the problems that would be caused by the loss of 4,000 jobs, which is what the hon. Gentleman fears if the Trident programme is cancelled or concluded. I know what that feels like, because, in the past nine months, my constituency has lost 4,000 jobs as a direct result of the privatisation of the steel industry, which was done by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supports. I do not take the issue lightly, but the hon. Gentleman would be better served if he argued the strategic case for Trident rather than try to suggest that Trident is a job-creation scheme.

I do not necesarily agree with the strategic argument for the fourth Trident submarine, but that argument was advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), the spokesman for the Liberal Democratic party, in an interesting and illuminating speech. What he had to say about minimum deterrents was particularly interesting. In common with other hon. Members and myself, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether Polaris is meant to be a minimum deterrent now. If so, how can the Secretary of State claim that the Trident system, which will have two and a half times the fire-power of Polaris, is the minimum deterrent? Either Trident is more than a minimum deterrent or Polaris is less than a minimum deterrent.

In common with other hon. Members, I found the speech of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) good and extremely balanced. He spoke with tremendous pride, and with no irony, about the unilateral abandonment of certain classes of weapons that had been carried out by the Conservative party—not about those intended by the Labour party. However, for the past 10 years the Government have told us that unilateral action could not be considered under any circumstances.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East dealt effectively with the UN non-proliferation treaty, which was also raised by several other hon. Members, including, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). My hon. Friend, with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), made his position clear. They would not expect me to agree with them, but they are entitled to argue their case. However, I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South said about the non-proliferation treaty.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) said that he used to hold the minority view inside the Labour party before we changed our policy. The hon. Gentleman seems to like to swim against the tide, because, when we changed our policy to one that we thought was more rational, he immediately changed and became a unilateralist. I question not the hon. Gentleman's honesty, but the sense of his argument. The hon. Gentleman also demanded that Labour candidates should make their personal views public in their election manifesto, as though it was some sort of macho honesty system. I do not remember the hon. Gentleman making it plain in his manifesto that, if elected, he would not just change his policy but his party and still maintain his seat.

Mr. Douglas

I have never considered that the badge of a constituent Member of Parliament is necessarily a party badge. If the hon. Gentleman can prove in any way that I have departed from what I stood for in 1987, I will accept that. Can he show me how he still stands for what he stood for in 1987?

Dr. Reid

The people of Dunfermline, West may have voted exclusively for the candidate at the time called Dick Douglas rather than for the Labour party. I am not sufficiently lacking in modesty to think that my 23,500 majority is for John Reid. I think that that majority is at least in some way due to the fact that I am associated with the Labour party. However, we will let that matter stick to the wall.

I cannot cover all the issues raised, because of the shortage of time, and I apologise to those hon. Members whose arguments I have not addressed. The debate, despite the non-attendance of Conservative Back Benchers for much of it, is important because it rarely happens that any Government of any political hue are given the opportunity to play the leading role in a series of events of such consequence as the present process of nuclear arms de-escalation, which was set in train by President Gorbachev and President Reagan in 1987.

The Conservative Government do not believe that that process represents an opportunity to be grasped; rather it is a challenge to be avoided. Apparently, the Government, paralysed by fear at the speed and scale of events, have been enticed out of their mental bunker of the cold war only to bury their head in the sand to avoid the opportunities now available to stem nuclear proliferation. There was criticism of Labour's past policy, the development of which was explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan, and of our commitment at one stage to independent action. I make no apologies for supporting that policy six or seven years ago. It was a tactic, not a principle—a means, not an end in itself. That distinction is one which some Conservatives seem genetically incapable of making. It was a perfectly legitimate, tactical means of contributing to breaking the nuclear log-jam in the circumstances of the early 1980s after four decades of failure, multilateral negotiations and nuclear escalation which led—despite all the rhetoric of politicians—to an increase in warheads from two in 1945 to 20,000 in 1985.

That log-jam has, thank God, been broken—which is largely why Labour's policy has changed. No credit for breaking the log-jam is due to the British Government. It must be a source of considerable embarrassment and irritation to them that one of the vital elements in that process was a series of independent—dare I say, unilateral—actions by President Bush and President Gorbachev, taken without any signing of treaties or formal advance agreement.

The Government's hollowness and hypocrisy are further exposed by their complete lack of leadership and any multilateral nuclear arms initiative. They seem intent on swimming against the tide of world events. The same Conservative Government who proudly proclaimed their adherence to multilateral reductions at a time when none was in prospect have left the field at precisely the moment when such agreements are being concluded.

Nothing should surprise us in that respect—even the absence of action. I was amazed when I read last week that as Yugoslavia was being split by civil war, the Russian federation was disintegrating, regimental restructuring was splitting the Cabinet, and a rethink of NATO strategy was under way, the Secretary of State personally took control of cutting the grass of the MOD's lawn. I suggest that stopping the escalation of nuclear technology and weapons is at least as important as protecting those green shoots at the front of the MOD.

There have been dramatic changes and a call for new thinking. I much regret that the Government are apparently incapable of new thinking. This morning, we heard about the WE177, the free-fall bomb, which will be cut by an unspecified number, the decision on Lance, and the statements that the Secretary of State made some weeks ago. They all boil down to the scrapping of two systems which we do not own, the storing of weapons that we cannot use and a reduction in the numbers of a type of bomb that we will no longer have the capacity to deploy. If the Secretary of State will excuse the colloquialism, big deal.

If one examines carefully the Secretary of State's announcements, one finds the indelible imprint, "Made in Washington." The rest was mere window dressing. Far from reducing the amount of arms, it is now escalating, because that is required by Trident.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) again raised the question of the fourth Trident. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan was straightforward and honest. If Conservative Members cannot understand the position, I cannot make it any plainer. Any decision on procurement is a question of balancing the strategic and security need for the weapon or system with the cost. Any sensible Government will inevitably balance. My hon. Friend said—re-emphasising a Labour party statement of 1989—that we do not, on balance, see the strategic need for the fourth Trident.

We do not know—because the Government will not, for very good reasons, tell us—whether the penalty clause costs of cancelling Trident might be greater than allowing its construction to go ahead.

Mr. Tom King

indicated dissent

Dr. Reid

The Secretary of State shakes his head.

Mr. Tom King

I am happy to give the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, because it is important. I assure him that he will save money if he does not proceed with the fourth boat.

Dr. Reid

Such a step has never been taken in the House before. That is new information, and I am glad to have been given it.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

It is inevitable.

Dr. Reid

I am not privy to the secrets of the Select Committee on Defence, still less to those of the Ministry of Defence; but I understand that, in some of the penalty clauses, the cost of cancellation was greater than the capital cost of the contract. If that is true, the hon. Gentleman will find that developments which, in theory, appear to be inevitable are not inevitable in the real world.

We do not see a strategic or security need for a fourth boat, but that does not mean that we shall not build one. We still do not possess the full facts in regard to the costs. Any Conservative Member who would make a decision irrespective of its financial implications is a fool.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

The hon. Gentleman is trying to wriggle out of it.

Dr. Reid

If the hon. Gentleman has not the mental capacity to understand, he must not assume that my wriggling is to blame; perhaps his own inadequacies are at fault.

I hope that we have now cleared up the question of the fourth Trident boat. I have to keep repeating things, because Conservative Members do not seem to grasp them. It seems that not all Conservative Back Benchers support TASM. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether they all support the fourth boat—especially if money spent on it could be spent on, for instance, regiments or frigates.

TASM has become a major macho symbol. In an earlier debate, Labour accused the Secretary of State of adopting a "Corporal Jones" attitude: he was the only man in Europe, we said, who volunteered for every engagement that was going on behalf of the British forces, sometimes before being asked. He is now suffering from "Bridge on the River Kwai" syndrome. Like the Alec Guinness character, he has become intoxicated with his own importance and has developed a nuclear weapons fetish.

All other considerations are undermined by the skewed set of values that sees nuclear weapons as an end rather than a means. The Secretary of State has not said a word today about the question of safety, for instance. Such values erode the willpower to pursue limitations on nuclear proliferation and promote the cavalier attitude towards nuclear test veterans, whose suffering continues. Not a word has been said about either matter.

Such values divert the Government from the task of diversifying arms production. Not a word has been said about that either, except by a Conservative Back Bencher when prompted by one of my hon. Friends. Above all, they constrain the Government's will to achieve real advances in nuclear arms reduction, in an international context.

Let me repeat what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). We have already outlined our position on nuclear deterrence as honestly as possible, despite the Conservatives' inability to grasp it; we have explained our position on the fourth Trident boat and on TASM. What we do not know is what the Government intend to do after the next election. They have clouded and cloaked most of their plans in the last refuge of scoundrels—the constant claim that they are the only patriots in the country.

I believe that that demeans not only the Conservatives, but the whole House. When the election comes, they will have a big surprise. The defence policy precedents set in the previous two elections will not be followed in the next. In my view, today's debate on nuclear weapons, although arranged by the Government, will assist us rather than them.

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

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we continue to face real risks. We have to accept that things are changing in the Soviet Union—certainly the intentions are changing—but the fact remains that the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal remains very large. As the whole future of the area becomes uncertain, it is only right that we should continue to have our own nuclear deterrents. We do not know what the future holds.

Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House referred to the fact that there is a new form of proliferation: that it is not just one state which now holds nuclear weapons, but that Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Byelorussia all hold very large numbers of nuclear weapons. Many hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), referred to the fact that disaffected military personnel may be selling nuclear weapons to terrorists. That is an alarming development which one hopes will not take place, but it is a possibility. Once again, it reinforces the need to keep our own forms of nuclear weapons.

I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member say that he supports the concept that we should complete the building of Trident, and the fourth boat as well. However, his sound views on defence conflict totally with the farcical policies of his party, which has decided that defence should be cut by 50 per cent. It is difficult to see how one can reconcile cuts of 50 per cent. by the end of the decade with being able to complete any programme whatsoever. In the circumstances, he should be thinking about where he is going to find the savings rather than about what programmes he is going to complete.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the objective of the 50 per cent. cut by the year 2000 is subordinate to the need to provide a proper defence policy for the United Kingdom? That is my position. It is also the position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) who leads my party.

Mr. Hamilton

I find that an incomprehensible policy. I should have thought that it would be better to work out a defence policy and how much one can spend upon it rather than to start by saying that defence will be cut by 50 per cent. and then be subjected to a defence review.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), are concerned about the non-proliferation treaty and about other countries developing nuclear warheads and delivery systems. The non-proliferation treaty covers civil, military and nuclear technology, not ballistic missile systems. Its extension will be reviewed in 1995. We shall work for an indefinite extension of the treaty at that stage. The control of missile proliferation is through the missile technology control regime, to which the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) referred. We are using that, too.

Iraq signed the non-proliferation treaty. It was happy that there should be what was euphemistically described as a non-intrusive inspection regime. Iraq laid on a limited amount of nuclear materials that people could inspect when they visited Baghdad. We are now discovering that behind it lay a massive development programme that Iraq was not prepared to show to the inspectors. We are making some headway in Iraq. There is a veiled threat behind what the inspectors are doing in Iraq. In practice, the inspectors have occasionally been surrounded by armed men and prevented from going into buildings that they wanted to inspect. At that stage the Americans took a very tough line and referred the matter back to the United Nations. It is under a certain amount of definite international pressure that we are able to make progress in Iraq. I am not sure that I can see other nations agreeing to the intrusive inspection regimes that will be necessary to find all nuclear systems. Even with the intrusive system in Iraq, will we ever be satisfied that we have found all the problems?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. Hamilton

I know that the hon. Member wants to intervene, but I am afraid the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) went on for a long time, so I must move on.

Our nuclear programme supports more than 30,000 industrial jobs, 4,000 of which are on the submarine building programme at VSEL. The fourth Trident boat is important to them. If the Labour party does not think that there is any strategic need for the fourth boat, it will save money if it cancels. If the decision is made today not to proceed with the fourth boat, the savings will be £400 million. Cancellation costs after the contract was let would be based on the contractor's properly incurred costs at the time of termination. Any construction of the fourth boat would have to be paid for; any subsequent construction would be a saving. Obviously, long-order items must be taken into account. Substantial savings could be made on the construction of the fourth boat, but it must be remembered that we expect the boats to run for 25 to 30 years and that their running costs will be substantial. I am told that there would be at least two refits in that period, which cost about £100 million each.

I hope that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) has cleared his mind on that issue. There is no financial reason whatsoever for not cancelling the fourth boat. There are extremely good other reasons for not cancelling it, but he has ruled those out and said that he sees no rationale for it. The only thing that would stop him cancelling it is if he had to pay more money. That is not the position. He will make substantial savings in capital, running and refit costs. On that basis, we can assume that under a Labour Government there would be no fourth boat and that the workers at VSEL in Barrow would pay the price.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan tells us that Labour's policy has changed, that the Labour party is a broad church of pacifists and chapel-goers and that there has always been a minority who have not been terribly keen on nuclear weapons. Nobody accepts that nonsense. Whether it is the soft left, the hard left, Campaign, Militant or anybody else, most members of the Labour party have been anti-nuclear and still are today. In trying to win an election, it may make some sense to pretend that things have changed, but nobody in the country believes that.

I respect CND members. I do not agree with their views, but they strongly believe that we should not own nuclear weapons. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) has some strong convictions. In October 1983, he said: There are no circumstances in which I would order or permit the firing of a nuclear weapon. I believe that he meant that. He said he would never order the launch of any nuclear weapon, even in retaliation against nuclear attack", that he would get rid of British nuclear weapons as soon as they could be dismantled and that The policy of the Labour party is that we do not have anybody else's nuclear bases in our waters or our soil. I support that policy. Those are his devout beliefs.

At the last election the right hon. Gentleman came out with the outstanding remark that Afghanistan surely proves the point that an enemy occupation of a non-nuclear Britain would be untenable. I remember that because it was a moment of rather delightful humour. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) said, "What does he suggest? That we should all take to the hills?" It is significant that the right hon. Member for Islwyn was a paid-up member of CND on 12 May 1989—not long ago.

There was then an adjustment to the policy because it was realised that there would be great difficulties with the electorate. The right hon. Gentleman made the following extraordinary statement: Labour have at no stage made a commitment to get rid of all nuclear weapons for as long as others have them. I think that Sir Winston Churchill would have described that as a terminological inexactitude as it completely contradicted what had been said in the Labour document, "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change", which said: Labour would immediately seek to place all of Britain's nuclear capability including Polaris and as much of Trident as had been completed into international disarmament negotiations. A Labour Government will reserve the option of initiating direct negotiations with the Soviet Union and/or with others in order to bring about the elimination of that capacity by negotiated and verifiable agreements.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.

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