HC Deb 02 May 1995 vol 259 cc160-1
7. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his estimate of Britain's nuclear weaponry requirements for the next decade. [20082]

Mr. Rifkind

In current and foreseeable international circumstances we believe that the United Kingdom will continue to require a minimum nuclear deterrent throughout the next decade. I am confident that the Trident system, within its ceiling of 96 warheads per boat, will provide the necessary force level after the WE177 free-fall bomb is withdrawn from service.

Mr. Corbyn

Can the Secretary of State tell us for what possible purpose this country is developing and maintaining nuclear weapons, and against whom they are directed? Does he agree that the holding of nuclear weapons is expensive, immoral and unjustifiable, and that, in the year in which the non-proliferation treaty is up for renegotiation, Britain could look the rest of the world in the eye only if we had a programme of removing all nuclear weapons and bases from this country and taking all nuclear weapons out of service, as our contribution to a peaceful nuclear-free world?

Mr. Rifkind

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's views, which I know carefully reflect those that the Leader of the Opposition held 15 years ago. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to have a conversation with the Leader of the Opposition to find out to what extent he and his right hon. Friend share those views, and to ask why the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench now seek to dissociate themselves from them.

Mr. Wilkinson

Can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House by telling us that the sub-strategic version of Trident will come into service as soon as the free-fall WE177 is phased out in the Royal Air Force'? The French maintain a proper graduated deterrence, with air-launched systems. If we cannot do that, can we at least make sure that there is no hiatus, or deterrent gap, in the British armed forces?

Mr. Rifkind

We have concluded that it is desirable to maintain a sub-strategic capability, which can be achieved through Trident at virtually no additional cost. That makes it an infinitely less expensive way of meeting the need than developing a new air-launched capability. I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be no gap in the existence of the capability.