HC Deb 02 June 1992 vol 208 cc699-701
12. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will be placing an order for the fourth Trident.

15. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he intends to place an order for the fourth Trident.

Mr. Aitken

We intend to place the order for the fourth Vanguard class submarine as soon as contract negotiations with Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited have been satisfactorily concluded.

Mr. Raynsford

What is the Minister's latest estimate of the total cost of the Trident programme, including inevitable future costs such as decommissioning? How do those costs compare with original estimates for the programme and what value-for-money criteria are applied to that element of Government expenditure?

Mr. Aitken

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that Trident remains on time and within budget. The total procurement cost is £10.5 billion, which is £2.9 billion less than the original cost estimate, a point which was well praised by the Select Committee on Defence which said that it was pleased by the gratifying and unusual spectacle of a major defence procurement programme coming in far below estimate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is pleased with that good news. I can tell him, in answer to his questions about other costs, that the general operating costs of Trident are expected to be similar in percentage terms to those of the Polaris programme—that is, something below 2 per cent. of the overall defence budget.

Mrs. Helen Jackson

Is the Minister aware that that cost is more than double even the amount of public money that the Conservatives have put into the failed docklands development? Will he consider including the whole Trident programme in the arms reduction talks with the Americans and Russians when the new round of talks start, enabling the programme to be decommissioned and the money put into social and economic programmes that better serve inner-city residents? Or is he considering putting 6,000 civil servants on the first Trident submarine to be commissioned?

Mr. Aitken

That would make the Trident submarine rather overcrowded. I do not think that we could accept the hon. Lady's suggestion under any possible terms. Trident is a minimum deterrent system. That view was endorsed by President Yeltsin during his recent visit to Britain. We do not believe that we can make compromises with Britain's essential security requirements.

Mr. Thurnham

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the importance to the north-west region of the Trident project and of the European fighter project and make sure that both go ahead?

Mr. Aitken

I agree with my hon. Friend that the employment dimension of those programmes is of considerable significance. The United Kingdom Trident programme will provide, at its peak, 14,500 direct and 11,500 indirect jobs in this country. I am glad that my hon. Friend's constituency is benefiting from those arrangements.

Mrs. Gorman

Is my hon. Friend aware that some Opposition Members, including, I believe, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), think that we should order these splendid vessels but not put missiles on them? Would that not be equivalent to ordering a Rolls-Royce and neglecting to put in a chauffeur?

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend is right to point out that during the election campaign statements were made by members of the various wings and splinter groups of the Labour party which would have made a complete Alice in Wonderland situation of any defence policy.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister explain why the country can be defended with a minimum deterrent of three Polaris boats now but will require four Trident boats in the year 2000?

Mr. Aitken

I can answer that question easily. The country is defended over only a short period by three Polaris boats. All informed naval opinion is agreed that if we are to have a safe and secure nuclear deterrent, with submarines on patrol at all times, it is necessary for us to have a four-boat operation.

Mr. Brazier

I offer a belated welcome to my hon. Friend on his new position. It is overdue promotion. If poachers make the best gamekeepers, I am certain that our secrets and Trident submarines will be very safe indeed. Will he confirm that intelligence reports show that more and more third-world countries are acquiring nuclear weapons, and that while a Conservative Government are in office, there will be no question of our forgoing our minimal nuclear deterrent, the Trident programme?

Mr. Aitken

It appears to be a matter of published record that some unfriendly countries are acquiring the old hardware of the former Soviet Union. That does indeed make for a dangerous and unstable situation. So this is not the moment for Britain to be in any way relaxing its guard, with its independent nuclear deterrent the ultimate safeguard of our national security.