Trident

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1998.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 12:00 am, 20th July 1998

What is his current estimate of the cost of the Trident nuclear fleet. [49582]

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The total acquisition cost for Trident is currently estimated to be £12.52 billion, 90 per cent. of which was already committed before this Government took office.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the Secretary of State regret that the strategic defence review did not include a discussion about the future relevance of a nuclear force? Does he recognise that the massive cost of running and decommissioning Trident could be better spent on other things, and that we would stand in better stead in opposing the development of nuclear weapons around the world if we got rid of our own nuclear weapons?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

I cannot regret not doing something in the strategic defence review when my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I were elected on a platform of keeping the Trident system. My hon. Friend and I were both returned to the House on exactly those grounds. I direct my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to the section of the strategic defence review on the deterrent and to the supporting papers in which we have published unprecedentedly open and new information about the nature of our deterrent. I also direct his attention to the substantial reductions that will now take place in our nuclear capability as a result of the defence review. We shall have half as many available weapons, with 30 per cent. of the explosive power that we had at the end of the cold war. That maintains the deterrent at a credible minimum level, but makes a sizeable contribution towards disarmament, of which we are all in favour.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the reduction in the number of nuclear warheads on the Trident submarine fleet. As a mere woman, I still cannot see what earthly use we have for 200 nuclear warheads, let alone 300, but the reduction is welcomed anyway.

What exactly is the current position of the talks on nuclear disarmament? Is there any hope of the Government pushing them on and getting them restarted?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady speaks on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party, but we welcome diverse views on all these issues. We want to move towards the reductions for which there is general welcome throughout the House. I hope that people will make more of that than of the opposite point of view. I remind the hon. Lady that when the Government came to power, they immediately ratified the comprehensive test ban treaty, and that this country was among the first of the nuclear powers to do so. As part of the strategic defence review, we are making a contribution to the fissile material cut-off treaty, which is a substantial move forward. The changes that we have made in the configuration of our nuclear deterrent in the new strategic circumstances will, I hope, act as an example to other countries in the world—especially to the Russian Parliament, which has so far failed to ratify the START 2 treaty. If we had ratification of that treaty, we could make sizeable steps in the overall reduction of strategic warheads that we all want.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

We intrude at our peril in the private internal disagreements among Labour and Liberal Democrat Members over our nuclear deterrent. The Conservative party has always believed in a robust nuclear deterrent, and has been prepared, over many years, to put money into that. The costs of Trident are bound up in the comprehensive spending review. I should like the Secretary of State to return to the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). The cut in the overall defence budget of £685 million will, according to the Government's paper on the comprehensive spending review, in fact be £1.3 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament. Can the Secretary of State explain that, or is there once again a Scottish connection?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

It is difficult to comprehend why the Opposition cannot understand that there will be a real-terms reduction in our defence budget of 3 per cent. in the next three years, which is an average of 1 per cent. a year. The Conservative party was responsible for cuts in the defence budget of 23 per cent. in real terms over the past seven years. In cash terms, the defence budget will go up by £1.4 billion in the period covered by the comprehensive spending review. I understand why the Opposition are sensitive about this issue, especially as the Conservative party spokesman seems to be suggesting that we should spend more money on defence, whereas the shadow Chancellor regularly pops up at the Dispatch Box and argues that public expenditure should be reduced. Is the Conservative party in favour of massive increases in the defence budget?