The current estimated cost of acquiring the United Kingdom Trident system is £9,863 million. We expect the level of running costs of the Trident force to be well below 2 per cent. of the defence budget, not significantly different from those of Polaris.
Are not we entitled to be told the whole truth, as revealed by Greenpeace, which is that the total lifetime cost of Trident will be more than £23 billion? About half that could be saved if Trident were cancelled now. Instead of extravagant spending on such an unnecessary weapons system, will the Secretary of State now make the peace dividend a reality by cancelling Trident and investing the money in areas such as education and the national health service?
The hon. Gentleman must be unaware that his party is now pledged to keep the nuclear deterrent, according to the speeches made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). I have made it clear that the cost of running a Trident deterrent will be well below 2 per cent. of the defence budget. I regard that as an economical insurance and the ultimate safeguard against nuclear blackmail. I regard it at present as an important insurance.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reasons why we are updating Trident are basically the same reasons as caused the Labour Government to update our nuclear deterrent by bringing in Chevaline, the difference being that we are doing it openly and they did it under wraps?
I agree absolutely. We are told continually that the Labour party is united on this issue. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has shown how divided it remains on the nuclear deterrent.
While accepting the need for the United Kingdom to have the protection of a strategic nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future, may I ask the Secretary of State whether, as a result of his recent conversations with his French counterpart and the agreement reached at Maastricht, consideration has been given to greater co-operation in strategic nuclear matters with France?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that most sensible people in Britain recognise that expenditure on our nuclear deterrent is about the best and safest investment that we can make, especially in view of the alarming situation in Russia and the break-up of the former Soviet Union? Will my right hon. Friend not stint in providing Britain with the best independent deterrent?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. [Interruption.] At a time when the largest nuclear power in the world is in the process of disintegration into separate republics, when that massive nuclear arsenal is under some central control of the remaining central authorities, and when our keen concern is to ensure that that security is real, it seems absolutely unthinkable that we should not have our own protection and the ultimate assurance of an independent deterrent. [Interruption.]