HL Deb 14 July 1980 vol 411 cc1533-5

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have decided on the measures to be taken when the Polaris submarines become obsolescent.

The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of DEFENCE (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal)

My Lords, as we have already made clear, a decision will be announced just as soon as it is possible to do so.


My Lords, will the Government very carefully consider the replacement of Polaris by Trident, which, optimistically, would cost £5,000 million, for two reasons? First, is it not likely that in the next few years an agreement will be reached as the result of the visit of the West German Chancellor to Moscow and the discussions at Geneva regarding missiles? Secondly, will not a general election take place before the replacement could occur, with the probability that we shall have a Labour Government which, I emphasise, are united in favour of not replacing Polaris? This is not only the decision of the recent Labour conference, by a majority of 5,000, but is stated in the pamphlet published today by Mr. William Rodgers, which declares against a replacement of Polaris.


My Lords, I think that perhaps the House is capable of judging better than I am how united the Opposition is on this issue. As to the care with which this decision is being taken, I can assure the noble Lord that it is being studied with the greatest possible care, because I would not demur from the facts that he adduces regarding the magnitude of the decision that we face.

As regards the question of its becoming redundant by virtue of an agreement, which was implicit in the second part of his question, we believe that the best chance of getting an agreement is to be in a posture where we can argue from a position of relative strength. To be forced to argue from a position of unilateral disarmament we believe greatly diminishes the chance of achieving an agreement.


My Lords, why cannot the Government consider consulting Parliament on the basis of a Green Paper, clearly setting out the various options, before reaching a conclusion on this extremely important matter?


My Lords, my right honourable friend in another place has said many times that he intends to publish a comprehensive document as soon as the Government's decision is announced.


My Lords, will the Minister further confirm that both Houses have been assured that when the decision is made there will be an opportunity for discussing that decision, possibly in a full-scale debate? Adverting to his former Answer, will the Minister confirm that, even though the decision may be imminent, nevertheless that does not affect the possibility of continuing discussions with whoever is interested, with a view to negotiating a better disarmament or arms control situation in this field than at present seems to be possible? That is to say, will he confirm that the announcement of the decision will not preclude the possibility of further negotiation?


My Lords, the matter of a debate would be a subject to be discussed with the usual channels. So far as I am concerned I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter once the decision has been announced. I agree with the noble Lord that the announcement of a decision does not in any way preclude the possibilities of continuing to discuss. Of course one of the difficulties about this type of decision is that the whole thing takes such a long time between the moment of decision and the moment of arrival of the hardware.