HC Deb 03 March 1992 vol 205 cc154-5
9. Mr. Sayeed

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the ordering of the fourth Trident submarine.

Mr. Tom King

Contract negotiations with Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. for the fourth Trident submarine are under way. We intend to place the order as soon as those negotiations have been satisfactorily concluded. Meanwhile, construction of steelwork and major engineering items is making good progress under long lead funding arrangements.

Mr. Sayeed

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and the answer that he has just given have comprehensively shot a number of foxes, but one is still up and running. Will he confirm that during its lifetime in service Trident will take about 3 per cent. of the defence budget and that no other known system could be so cost effective but still provide the same degree of security?

Mr. King

I think that the figure is nearer 2.5 per cent., but that is correct. Whatever the Labour party's views in the past, it is incredible that any responsible party could be prepared to take risks with our defence budget and could be prepared to take risks with our nuclear deterrent when the world faces the biggest risk of nuclear proliferation that it has ever faced. Our position is that we shall ensure that we have a nuclear deterrent that is available at all times for the protection of our country.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State take a little time to reflect on a previous answer on non-proliferation? How can he, in logic or in practice, sustain a position whereby he is asking the Soviet Union, as was, to dismantle its nuclear deterrents while he is embarking on a system in which each missile provides the equivalent of 80 Hiroshima bombs? The Secretary of State talked about cost. How can he justify a cost per job in the strategic deterrent of £352,000 in a world in which the major powers are building down and renouncing weapons but he is building up?

Mr. King

If the hon. Gentleman seriously does not understand that point, he had better talk to President Yeltsin, who does. President Yeltsin, as he made clear outside No. 10 Downing street, understands that the position of a super-power which has 30,000 nuclear weapons is different from the position of the United Kingdom which will have as an absolute maximum only 128 warheads per submarine. There is no comparison, as President Yeltsin recognises. Indeed, his ambition is to move down now to a minimum deterrent. His idea of a minimum deterrent is to maintain 2,500 warheads.

Mr. Allason

Will my right hon. Friend once and for all nail the myth of the credible three-boat Trident deterrent? Will he confirm that all the professional advice that he has received from the Royal Navy is that only four boats absolutely guarantees an effective nuclear deterrent for this country?

Mr. King

That is absolutely right. The Opposition do not understand that we have to provide for the full life of the Trident system—for 30 years. Over such a period, as has already been apparent with Polaris, if we had only had three, we should not have been able to maintain that programme. I should have thought that that lesson was clear. The true description of Labour's position on that was given by Mr. Hutton, the Labour candidate for Barrow and Furness. When he heard the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) suggest that Labour could replace a Trident submarine with, for example, a Trafalgar class submarine on the order book, Mr. Hutton described his right hon. Friend as "ignorant and ill informed".