HC Deb 23 November 1993 vol 233 cc310-1
2. Mr. Menzies Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the future of the independent nuclear deterrent.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The Government remain committed to maintaining the minimum independent nuclear capability required for our security needs.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's announcement last week—taken together with the decision to cancel the tactical air-to-surface missile, which he announced in the defence estimates debate—marks a welcome change in the Government's policy. Will he go further, without prejudicing the security of the United Kingdom—if the policy is truly one of minimum nuclear deterrence—and say why it is necessary to deploy Trident with more warheads than are deployed with Polaris, which it is to replace? Trident has nearly twice the range of Polaris and is accurate to within 250m and, unlike Polaris, its warheads are capable of being independently targeted.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. and learned Gentleman has forgotten two important factors. First, the total explosive yield that will be carried by Trident will be approximately the same as that carried by Polaris; secondly, I have said that Trident will have a sub-strategic as well as a strategic role. The comparison that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made is therefore even less valid than it would be otherwise.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fact that non-proliferation is, sadly, breaking down in the world—and the fact that there are likely to be another six nuclear powers by the end of the century—make it even more vital for us to maintain our independent nuclear capability? Is not it about time that Opposition Members woke up to those facts?

Mr. Rifkind

It is indeed important for nonproliferation to be encouraged by every available means. We shall soon be entering detailed negotiations on the continuation of the non-proliferation treaty. My hon. Friend is right to point out that, sadly, we remain in a nuclear world which contains major nuclear powers. There will be thousands of strategic nuclear warheads for the foreseeable future. In those circumstances, the arguments that were used to explain the existence of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent in past years remain equally valid now.

Mr. Frank Cook

The Secretary of State said that non-proliferation is a move to be supported and encouraged throughout the world. If that is so, can he explain why we continue to manufacture new warheads when we already have stockpiles?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the warheads required for the Trident system are not the same as those that were required for Polaris. That factor should convince him, as it has convinced everyone else.

Mr. Donald Anderson

In what way is the decision to base the sub-strategic nuclear capability on Trident related to the decision, announced last week, to increase the number of warheads? What would be the additional cost of the decision relating to the sub-strategic nuclear capability?

Mr. Rifkind

First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities.

One of the attractions of using the Trident system for sub-strategic nuclear purposes is the fact that it will involve very little extra cost. Trident clearly has a capacity that we can use in both sub-strategic and strategic roles. Our decision was based on a careful and cool assessment of our overall needs.