HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc13-5
13. Mr. McAllion

How many representations his Department has received on the Trident nuclear weapons system since 1 May; and how many (a) supported and (b) opposed retention of Trident. [16808]

Mr. George Robertson

We have received more than 150 letters and submissions about our nuclear deterrent since inviting public contributions to the strategic defence review. The majority have called for Trident to be included in the review. We have already made it clear that the review will examine all aspects of our deterrent postures to ensure that it meets changing strategic circumstances.

Mr. McAllion

My right hon. Friend will recall that retaining Trident was a manifesto commitment of both Labour and the Tory party at the general election. Will he acknowledge that it is, at the very least, open to interpretation whether the British people embraced Trident by voting Labour in or rejected Trident by voting the Tories out? Given that uncertainty, will he take on board the latest polling evidence, which shows that 63 per cent. of British people believe that money spent on Trident is wasted public expenditure and that 59 per cent. of British people believe that this country would be much safer without nuclear weapons altogether? If we really are the people's Government, why do we not listen to the people and rid ourselves once and for all of these obscene weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Robertson

I should point out that the competition to my hon. Friend in Dundee, East came not from the Tory party but from the Scottish National party, which was in favour of abolishing Trident—and that my hon. Friend won and the SNP lost. Does not that suggest that people are in favour of Trident? Whatever is the preponderance of letters in the postbag or the outcome of occasional opinion polls, people believed what we said in our manifesto and they have every right to believe that we will conduct ourselves differently from the previous Government.

The retention of Trident was one of the policy principles on which we will base our work in the strategic defence review, but within that framework the review will look at all aspects of our current deterrence requirements, including nuclear warhead numbers. We are committed to the global elimination of nuclear weapons. There might be some differences on how we get to that point, but the British people were in no doubt when they voted for my hon. Friend and me in the general election.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I welcome that robust response from the Secretary of State. Is he aware that, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, when anxiety about nuclear deterrence was at its height, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament consistently produced strangely worded poll questions to get results such as that which has just been cited, but that whenever the British public were asked: "Do you think that Britain should continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them?" poll after poll showed two thirds of British people in favour of retention and never more than a quarter against it?

Mr. Robertson

I am not concerned with the ups and downs of individual opinion polls. After many years of deep consideration, the Labour party came to the electorate with an absolutely clear commitment to the retention of the Trident submarine fleet and with a much more urgent and determined attitude to arms control—especially nuclear arms control—than any previous Government. That is one reason why we were so emphatically returned at the general election.