Trident

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th June 1991.

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Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North 12:00 am, 4th June 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the safety of the Trident nuclear missile system.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The Government are satisfied with the safety of the Trident nuclear missile system. The missile and its nuclear warhead will undergo a comprehensive series of trials, independent assessments and safety checks before it enters service with the Royal Navy.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Does the Secretary of State agree that on both the construction and weaponry sides of the project, Trident is turning into an extremely dangerous and expensive white elephant? Will he confirm a report in the Glasgow Herald that the Trident project has been subject to an external audit commissioned by his Department because of the extreme anxiety that the project is in chaos on many fronts?

Will the Secretary of State give us his views on the Drell panel report from the United States which singled out the Trident warhead as a particular source of anxiety? The committee was set up by the United States House of Representatives, which found that there was no fireproof screen between the nuclear warheads and the weapon fuel. On the latter point, will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that before there is any question of Trident being brought into use in Britain, there will be an independent assessment of all the safety elements? Why do we have to receive such information from the United States, rather than from our own Government?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman covered two entirely separate points in his question. In response to the second one, I have made clear our confidence in the safety aspects of the system. I can confirm again that we attach the highest importance, for the most obvious reasons, as successive Governments have done, to ensuring at all times scrupulous attention to safety in the operation and handling of our nuclear deterrent.

The first matter that the hon. Gentleman raised was about the construction projects that are in operation, especially at Faslane. Considerable progress has been made. They are major projects. Again, scrupulous attention to ensuring the highest standards of safety has meant reconsideration of certain issues. Those issues have been carefully examined. However, we would not describe the projects in the extravagant language that the hon. Gentleman used when he said that they were a shambles. The construction that is taking place at Faslane is a remarkable achievement.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sniping at Trident by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) shows the true face of the Labour party at work and that the Labour party still stands for one-sided disarmament which would put the defence of Britain very much at risk?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The whole House realised by the very length of the question asked by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that he was searching for every possible way of attacking the nuclear deterrent. That is obviously contrary to the policy which we have officially been told is now espoused by the Opposition Front Bench team and the Leader of the Opposition. I agree with my hon. Friend that the question by the hon. Member for Cunninghame., North is much more indicative of the true voice of the Labour party.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

May I make it absolutely clear to the Secretary of State for Defence that the Trident programme is an integral and important part of Labour party defence policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Further to the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), according to the Drell report, the United States navy has been granted permission to use insensitive high explosives and the most volatile propellant, and to position warheads around the third rocket motors. That will enable maximum range warhead yield and increase the number of warheads, thereby dramatically reducing safety. Why will not the Secretary of State agree with my hon. Friend and Opposition Front-Bench Members that it is necessary to set up an independent inquiry, as the United States did, and report in public? Why will he not have that independent inquiry?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

If the hon. Gentleman had been studying matters carefully, he would have noticed that the Drell report commented favourably on the safety review arrangements that operate in Britain and recommended the introduction of similar arrangements in the United States. I make it clear that we attach the highest importance to safety. We shall take any steps that we think appropriate to ensure that safety is assessed and, if necessary, reviewed independently to an extent sufficient to create public confidence.

The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said in his introductory comment that Trident was an integral and important part of the Labour defence programme. I did not hear echoes round the Floor of the House of agreement with that amazing new policy statement. It is all very well to try to cover up Labour embarrassment on nuclear policy, but to go over the op to the extent that the hon. Gentleman did can lead only to the deep unhappiness that I see reflected in one or two faces on the Opposition Benches.