HC Deb 08 March 1994 vol 239 cc135-7
4. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the progress of the Trident programme.

Mr. Aitken

The Trident programme continues to make good progress, with HMS Vanguard due to enter service on time around the turn of the year.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, which will be welcomed by all who are anxious for the freedom of this country and the defence of freedom worldwide. Does he agree that that progress would not have been made if we had listened to the Labour party in 1987, and would not be made if we were to listen to the unofficial leader of the Opposition today?

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the important role that the Trident force will play in safeguarding our freedoms. He is also right—although not quite up to date—in his criticisms of the Labour party. He may be unaware that at its last conference Labour passed, by an overwhelming majority, composite motion No. 48, which demanded the immediate scrapping of the Trident programme—a policy which would leave British workers unemployed and Britain undefended.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Will the Minister try to explain how a system that has been developed to produce massive and unthinkable damage—especially in the Soviet Union, to prevent it from making a first strike—will deter any small state from developing its own nuclear weapons or threatening to use those weapons?

Mr. Aitken

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman begins to understand the whole principle of deterrence. In regard to Russia, he may not have noted the important announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Yeltsin that no countries would target their missiles on each other any longer; his references to Russia are out of date. As for any conceivable involvement of a bandit state or an evil dictator, I think that both would probably be deterred by the threat of Trident missiles, which are likely to be sub-strategic as well as strategic.

Mr. Streeter

Is my hon. Friend aware that many thousands of people in the west country will be employed in the early years of the 21st century in maintaining the Trident submarine? Can he confirm that the Government remain committed to the fourth submarine, unlike the Labour party?

Mr. Aitken

Yes, I can indeed confirm that we remain committed to a fourth Trident submarine, for a very good reason: experience has shown us that the only way in which to be absolutely certain that we can maintain continuous patrolling of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent in our submarines is by having four boats available.

Mr. Donald Anderson

When will the Government take the danger of nuclear proliferation seriously? Last November, when the Government had a chance to reduce the number of nuclear warheads, they failed to do so; they reduced only the firepower on our nuclear submarines. Did not that send a negative signal to the countries in unstable parts of the world that have started, or are tempted to start, along the road to a nuclear capacity?

Mr. Aitken

The Government are firmly committed to non-proliferation and to encouraging that in all possible ways. As for signals, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that no Trident submarine will deploy with more than a maximum of 96 warheads and that, if our present plans continue, the total explosive firepower on a Trident submarine will be much the same as that deployed on Polaris submarines. Moreover, by the time that Trident is fully deployed, we expect that our whole operational nuclear arsenal will be some 25 per cent. less than our entire operational nuclear arsenal in 1990, so there is a reduction.

Mr. Brazier

Does my hon. Friend accept that some of us are deeply concerned that we might be confined to a sea-launched nuclear capability because nuclear proliferation means that in the long run we may face nuclear enemies in the third world for which we shall need an air-launched capability to provide effective deterrence?

Mr. Aitken

It is important to recognise that the announcement that we have made about the sub-strategic role of Trident means that our nuclear strike capability could reach almost anywhere from a Trident submarine with a targeted sub-strategic missile. We shall have the capability, although it is not an air-launched capability. We shall of course retain an air-launched capability until approximately 2007 as a result of retaining the WE177 bomb.

Back to
Forward to