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Column 246licensing, regulation and enforcement of proper waste management standards. We hope also to bring forward proposals to strengthen air pollution controls and to give statutory backing to the integrated system of pollution control.
In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East said that no man, woman or child is an island. That is very much the Government's view, whether combating threats to the environment on a global, national or local level. It may be that the many citizens of Derbyshire will think that they would get better value for money and better services for the rates--soon, the community charge--that they pay if Derbyshire decided, instead of being a nuclear-free zone, to turn itself into a litter-free zone.
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on setting out so clearly the environmental problems confronting his constituents. North-east Derbyshire is not an island, and many areas in the north face precisely the same problems. Whatever the Minister may say, when my hon. Friend returns to his constituency tomorrow morning the fire will still be raging underground. As the Minister said, there is no clear way of finding Government money to deal with such an environmental disaster.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Without a Government commitment to provide the necessary finance and resources, the problems caused by opencast coal mining, derelict land and British Coal will continue. As to the ozone layer, I should have liked to hear the Minister say that the Government will be as involved in developments in The Hague as they were in their own conference last weekend. There is a strong case for a ban on CFC production, and the Government must develop a clear programme for dealing with that aspect.
As for Leigh Environmental, I have made it clear that there is grave concern about the way in which that company operates in the west midlands, and it seems that concern is shared in north-east Derbyshire. How many sites and operations does the company own? I understand that it has been buying up haulage businesses and landfill sites at an alarming rate. If the state of the company's operations is as bad as we have heard, we need to know whether it is in a position to carry out the waste management functions for which it has responsibility without risk to the environment.
On the inspectorate of pollution, the Government's attitude to integrated pollution control would be easier to understand if it included proposals for water. Instead, water is to be dealt with separately. We welcome the National Rivers Authority, but why cannot water be part of an integrated pollution control programme? With regard to local authorities, it is regrettable that the Minister attacked Derbyshire county council for being a nuclear-free zone. It is clear from my hon. Friend's comments that Derbyshire is dealing with environmental issues as well as it can, given the Government's financial restrictions. Will there be a rolling programme in respect of derelict land, and so on? Will Derbyshire county council and other local authorities trying to deal with the legacy of
Column 247derelict land be able to progress confidently in the knowledge that there will be a rolling programme, or will there only be one-off grants?
I was concerned when the Minister said that there was no Government target for opencast coal mining. I do not believe that this can be left to the industry. All over the country great wounds are opening up where opencast mining is being established, simply because it is cheaper to get coal out of the ground in that way than to do it through more traditional deep-pit mining methods. Considerable environmental hazards may result, which should be a matter of concern to a Government who profess to care so much about the environment. I should like to see a greatly reduced target. Left to market forces, British Coal is creating huge environmental problems all over the country.
Mrs. Bottomley : Will the hon. Lady confirm that she appreciated the point that it is for the planning system to balance mineral considerations against environmental and other factors? Environmental considerations are certainly regarded, but at the planning stage.
Ms. Walley : I only wish that that were so, and that a series of planning decisions made by local authorities had not been overruled by the Secretary of State. If we could leave it to local authorities to act through the planning procedure without the iron fist of the Secretary of State interfering, fewer planning decisions on opencast coal mining would be overturned.
We are worried about compartmentalism. We were told earlier that transport was a matter for the Department of Transport, which suggests that unless a joint initiative can be taken embracing all Government Departments from Transport to Energy--if we continue to compartmentalise every problem of environmental protection without looking at the whole in an integrated way- -we shall continue to experience all the problems that have been so clearly described. I wish that our discussion on north-east Derbyshire could be taken up by every hon. Member to allow close scrutiny of environmental issues, and that instead of a lot of talk about integrated pollution control we could have a Government committed to acting in a genuinely integrated way and to ensuring that resources are available to local authorities, which know best how to deal with the problems.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I admit that when I found that I was 12th on the list of speakers and that there were 18 hours of debate in front of me I did not expect to speak at all. I am delighted to be able to raise the issue and to try to press the Government for some answers.
I do not wish to talk about the morality of Trident, or even about its current costs. I want to return to the issue that I raised in the Royal Navy debate--it has, I believe, been raised on other occasions as well-- namely, the question of its credibility and efficiency. I understand that, while reviewing Labour party policy on nuclear weapons my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench have been reluctant to become involved in the general debate. I feel, however, that if they paid more attention to the question of the system's credibility and its command and control that would be very useful. If evidence were drawn up of how many questions about that have not been answered, it would help the country to develop a logical policy to get rid of nuclear weapons.
Let me deal first with the insult that the Minister uttered in the Navy debate. It was not the sort of thing that he would have said on reflection, although I realise that he was stung into it as a result of an intervention. On 28 February, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said :
"Yes, I have deliberately dodged the question of command and control of Trident. In repeated answers to the hon. Gentleman I have told him that this is classified information. We do not intend to reveal to him how we communicate with our submarines or how we intend to do so in the future. That information would be of enormous use to the Soviet Union."--[ Official Report, 28 February 1989 ; Vol. 148 c. 249.]
That is absolute rubbish. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union can find out how we communicate with our submarines. It is perfectly easy to put together a great deal of information from published material in Britain, without having to examine material published in the United States and elsewhere.
If the Government are out to deceive anyone, it is not the Soviet Union, it is the British public. They do not want a proper debate about the credibility of Trident because they believe that if the information were made available, the British public would see through the Trident farce. I am not seeking to get the information for which I asked because I have no desire to damage our national security, although I see no way in which our national security would be damaged if any of the questions I have tabled or points I raised in the Navy debate were answered. But I repeat to the House that I am not in the business of damaging national security. I am interested in the House of Commons having effective control over the Executive.
The system has no credibility, so the Government are covering it up. It is a case of the Emperor's new clothes. For our deterrent to be credible we have to establish clearly to any agressor that it is independent, that we have proper command and control over it and that we are in a position to use it. The United States clearly understands that that has to be established and that there has to be a proper debate about command and control. Most of the questions that I have asked the Government have been asked in the United States and answered. In the United States there is a clear public debate about the form of its
Column 249weapon control systems. Even in France, which is traditionally a secretive country the TACAMO-type system that controls their submarines is discussed.
The United Kingdom Government has a history of avoiding political debate in the guise of secrecy. The number of statements that have been released when Cabinet papers have become available which have nothing to do with the technical details of defence systems but have much more to do with political systems is amazing. We have Macmillan's views on nuclear weapons and we have the way in which the Chevaline programme was pushed through with no report or accountability to Parliament. We have the quote from Robert MacNamara that I mentioned in the Navy debate, when he attended NATO meetings in 1962 and questioned the credibility of the British nuclear deterrent. That information was not released in the United States until 1979--17 years after the statement was made--and as far as I am aware, it has not been revealed in Britain.
The Government have a tremendous desire to avoid a proper debate about nuclear weapons systems. Even when the Prime Minister is challenged about Trident, she brushes aside the question of its credibility and effectiveness with the bland statement that for 40 years nuclear weapons have kept the peace in Europe. There is never any mention of the British independent deterrent contributing to that.
I want to return to the key questions that should be answered. Have the Government really worked out what can be done about the effects of electromagnetic pulses? What happens if a nuclear bomb is exploded at high altitude? Will such an explosion effect almost all our radio communications systems? As far as I know there is not one shred of evidence in Britain that low frequency, medium frequency, high frequency or ultra-high frequency radio transmitters in the United Kingdom are not vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse. All the evidence is that communications will be virtually impossible by any of the traditional radio methods with submarines or elsewhere. When we turn to the RAF and its reports, it openly admits that there would be a major problem with communications if such a nuclear weapon was ever exploded.
When we come to the Navy and the command and control of submarines, the Government are not prepared to discuss the problem. Perhaps it is because of the second key question--whether there is an inherent problem with submarines as a base for deterrent weapons. If there are to be easy communications with submarines, they are extremely vulnerable. If the submarines are to be made as safe as possible from enemy attack, they can be hidden away on the ocean floor, but if that happens, communication with them will be very difficult. Submarines might be reasonable as a first strike force, but if they are to be a deterrent, and if the Prime Minister, the Government and the nation are committed to not using them as a first strike but only in retaliation, the Government have to deal with the question how they can get political command for the weapons to be fired in retaliation when it is likely that the communications system will have been destroyed by the first strike.
I question the Minister on the logic behind the decision to develop experimental low frequency transmitters at Glengarry forest near Invergarry in Scotland. Is that recognition that the existing system of command and control would not work? If that is not the reason for it, why are these transmitters to be built? As I understand it,
Column 250work on the experimental transmitters is planned to start in 1991-92, if planning permission is given, and would be completed by about 1994. The Minister ought to be able to tell us how much the experimental transmitters will cost, whether they will be operationally effective systems, or whether there will be merely an experimental transmitter which will have to be replaced later by an operational system.
What information will be given to the planning inquiry? If there is to be an effective planning inquiry the people will want to know about cost, use and efficiency, and whether there are likely to be adverse effects from the extremely low radio transmitter. If it is only an experiment, and if it is decided later that the experiment has been successful and that a larger station will be built, the people will want to know whether it will be built on the same site and whether the initial planning permission will pre -empt the decision about a larger system being built in future.
We should also be told by the Government whether there are alternatives to extremely low frequency transmitters, whether the Government are investigating a form of laser system and what the cost of that might be.
The Government have also to answer the question I posed in the Navy debate about what we have as an early warning system. We understood in the past that Fylingdales early warning system, installed basically by the United States, was supposed to share information with Britain. As I understand it, the United States is spending most on updating that radar system. The Government should tell the House whether there is a clear understanding that the early warning system will be shared with the United Kingdom Government, particularly if we wanted to use our deterrent independently of the United States. The Government should also tell us why they have committed themselves so firmly not to go for a TACAMO system of communication, where there is a trailing wire from an aeroplane which acts as a transmitter to communicate with submarines. The French seem to believe that if they are to have command and control it is absolutely essential that they have this system, but all the information I can find suggests that the British Government do not seem to be prepared to use it.
The other question that we have to ask is whether the British Government are not really avoiding all the costs of a command and control system by simply relying on the United States for its communications system. If that is what is going on, we have no credibility as a nation with an independent deterrent. I can understand how the Minister, for political reasons, would want to avoid letting the House know that we have to rely on the Americans for our communications system, but it is a matter that should be in the public domain.
There has been considerable speculation in the newspapers, particularly an article in the New Statesman, that our whole programme for the development of warheads for the Trident is a very long way behind and that, possibly, there is not sufficient material for their manufacture. The Government ought to make the position clear. If they want their deterrent to have any credibility, it is in their interests to tell people that they have an efficient system. The only reason for hiding behind secrecy would be knowledge of a major problem in the production of the warheads. If there is such a problem, it puts in doubt the £10 million that is being spent.
Column 251I want to deal briefly with the question whether the system will be independent. What contingency plans do the Government have? When I last put that question, it was dodged. If, as we all hope, the negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States succeed, if the levels of nuclear weapons are reduced, and especially if any deal results in the elimination of the United States Trident system, what will happen to Britain, which is so dependent on the United States for the supply and servicing of its system? Is there an absolute guarantee that if the United States abandons its own production and servicing lines, our costs will not change dramatically?
Since the Government believe very firmly in multilateral disarmament, they should tell us how they intend to get Trident into any negotiations that are going on. The system is supposed to have a life that will take it up to the year 2015 at least. It seems to me that the Government ought to have a clear strategy if they want people to believe that they are really committed to multilateral disarmament. I understand their wanting to keep the fiction that by 1994 or 1995 there will be a fully operational Trident deterrent system in place and that it will not cost any extra, but they will have to answer the questions that have been posed in this debate if they are to continue to make that claim.
It is absolutely clear that Trident is a total waste of time unless it can be used as a deterrent. I am very relieved that the Prime Minister has made it clear that even she would not consider using it as a first strike weapon, that it is intended purely as a retaliatory system. But it can have credibility as a retaliatory system only if there is effective political command and control--if the Government can decide to fire, rather than leave that decision to an individual commander who is unable to communicate with anyone.
If one looks closely at published American, French and NATO information, and even at available Soviet information, one gets the impression that there are major problems with command and control of a submarine-based system. The only excuse for the Minister not answering these questions is that he knows that we do not have an efficient independent command and control system and he wants to keep a vestige of credibility by hiding behind a veil of secrecy. I am deliberately not taking much time today because these points have been put to the Minister previously, and this time I should like to hear some answers.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : The timing of this debate is about right--certainly for myself, because I had the pleasure of being a member of a delegation on the scientific, technological and aerospace committee of the Western European Union, which was with General Dynamics in San Diego last Friday. During the question and answer session that always takes place, and realising that we were not a highly classified committee-- in other words, some members of the committee were of the far Left, especially among the European members--it was impossible to get across the type of detail that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) would wish because when he discusses the credibility of the whole system, the command-control and the information that a
Column 252commander-in-chief would need during a crisis or emergency, he moves into a highly classified area. He has probably not realised that fibre optics are almost old hat now and that we now use a system of photonics with a laser controlling vast data banks, which could be used by the commander-in-chief.
One question that arose was whether the Trident programme had slipped. One always imagines that there is slippage in these vast programmes. However, we were told firmly by several vice-presidents of the company that the Trident programme was not only on time but, if anything, a little ahead of time. Such facts need to be raised. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to the sum of £10 billion, but if he looks at page 10 of the Defence Estimates for 1987-88, he will see that in the submarine section, annual expenditure is more in the region of £431 million per annum. That puts the sum more in context than to keep on saying, parrot-like, over many years, "£10 billion ; £10 billion ; £10 billion." Mr. Bennett rose --
I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement was being deliberately rude, and no insult was intended, when he said that he could not give classified information to the House of Commons. It is only sensible to say that as Hansard is printed, and what is spoken about here is available for everybody to read the next day. I am fully behind my hon. Friend in restricting a certain amount of information because of its classification. I do not think that my Government would, at any time, set out to deceive the British public. On the point of whether the Trident system will be fully independent, I am fully assured that it will be so.
Mr. Bennett : While the hon. Gentleman is on the question of the cost of £10 billion, how much in that costing figure is for a communication system or is an existing communication system to be used, thus involving no cost?
Mr. Hill : A communication programme would be an additional cost, and an anti-satellite programme would have to be costed. We receive many of our communications from satellites, and the cost of ensuring that they could operate and be properly protected would have to be taken into account. I do not know whether, when the Trident contract was signed, communications such as photonics were foreseen. I am unaware of the cost of it, information which again I am sure is classified, as my hon. Friend the Minister will make clear when he replies to the debate.
If anything, we are too mealy-mouthed about our underwater defence fleet. Reading through official documents, one becomes aware of how well defence contractors in the north and in Scotland do from the defence industry. Vickers, which is involved in the Trident programme, Yarrow, Swan Hunter and Vosper Thornycroft, which builds minesweepers, regard Navy contracts almost as their whole livelihoods.
We could be more adventurous in our spending on the underwater fleet. Currently, we anticipate that the cost of the type 2400 Upholder will be £550 million. We are almost getting our defence programme on the cheap. We
Column 253are all concerned that the Navy should be able to defend us in times of emergency. Although the Prime Minister has said that Trident will not be a first-strike weapon, we must be assured that its use will not be so neutral that it will lose its effectiveness. The number of personnel for the submarine fleet is minute. In 1982-83 it was 2,900, but in 1988-89 it is 3,000, which is not a tremendous increase. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is fully aware of the need to make savings, but to make them in the submarine fleet would be short- sighted.
We had an interesting debate at General Dynamics about cruise and Tomahawk missiles, part of the INF treaty, being returned to the Lindberg field, where they are being dismantled. Russian verification observers have paid two visits, which went smoothly. The scrapping of those nuclear weapons shows the faith that the United States and its allies have in the INF treaty. There is a further need for a chemical warfare treaty and a conventional arms treaty. Gorbachev has made magnificent offers to reduce the numbers of tanks, but Russia's present tank capability would be extremely frightening in a European war.
Those are the problems that we shall meet in the future. We should not let down our guard at any time. I am sure that Mr. Gorbachev will be in power for many years and will succeed in his almost revolutionary changes in policy. But it would be as well for the United Kingdom Government to realise that politics in the USSR are unpredictable--almost as unpredictable as politics in South Africa. If we allow ourselves to be lulled into a state in which we think, "This is going our way", we may be caught out without the defence programme that we need.
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : I want first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) on obtaining an opportunity to raise an important topic, which he has raised several times in the House. He has argued his case forcefully and as he produces increasing evidence about the command control and communications system, he seems to receive increasingly less from Ministers. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity while it is quiet, with few hon. Members present, to answer in detail some of the questions raised by my hon. Friend not only this morning, but a couple of weeks ago, when we had a debate on the Navy. I want to emphasise some of the points made by my hon. Friend this morning in the hope that receiving a double dose may encourage the Minister more.
There are two important questions ahout the Trident command control and communications system. The first is whether it is independent and the second is whether it could survive survive a nuclear attack. The arguments over whether Trident has a fully independent command control and communications system are complex. Needless to say, it is impossible to prove the case that we are dependent on the United States for communicating with our missile-carrying submarines with the information that is currently in the public domain. I rely on Hansard of 23 May 1988, columns 37 and 38 , in which my hon. Friend tabled a series of questions on a series of topics. To say that the answers were thin, negative and dismissive understates the responses he received.
There are various methods of communicating with submarines. It is not certain that they all depend on the use
Column 254of United States equipment or United States communications channels. Another, even more complicated problem, is whether the Trident command control and communications system can survive a nuclear attack. It is certainly hard to imagine how our Trident communications system could escape heavy damage in a nuclear attack. It is also hard to imagine that anyone would be left to issue orders to our Trident submarines after a full-scale attack. Given the amount of information in the public domain, it is impossible to be certain that communications would not break down completely. We have little information about what back-up systems could be used in a war. The procurement of Trident is an area of extreme sensitivity for this Government. They devote an increasingly large amount of the defence budget to this programme and put considerable time and effort into monitoring its progress. Taking inflation into account, the Government have managed so far to keep costs within the estimates given in 1982 and that is mainly for two reasons, which appear in table II of the third report of the Select Committee on Defence--HC 422, 1987-88. The first is the decision to use missiles from the American stock in King's bay, Georgia. That saved about £770 million in maintenance costs for the missiles. The other cause is the considerable reduction in the amount of expenditure by the United States--partly as a result of exchange rate variations and partly because of savings in the United States missile programme. Therefore, the only significant way in which the Government have reduced the cost of the Trident programme is by sacrificing our supposed independence by hiring the missiles from the United States. Instead of claiming credit for savings that have nothing to do with them, the Government should be examining their record much more closely.
The Government have had significant problems in the capital works programmes at Aldermaston and Burghfield. In 1980, when the plan was to purchase the C4 missile the Ministry of Defence had hoped to have the A90 production complex in use by 1986, but it is now planned to get it into use by 1992--a delay of six years. That was fully considered by the Select Committee, which pontificated on the reasons for the number of delays.
The Government claim that there will be no delay in the in-service date of 1994 as a result of the problem because they will continue to use the old facility to produce missile components. It is self-evident, therefore, that the old facilities will have to continue in use for much longer than was originaly planned and presumably that will increase the risk of breakdown.
There has been a significant lack of effective parliamentary scrutiny of the Trident programme. A Ministry of Defence report on the Trident programme dated 11 March 1986--page 163, HC 399, Session 1985-86--said that the construction programme continued to make "satisfactory progress". That is a somewhat odd use of English given that in November 1985 the Ministry of Defence hired a seven-man audit team from British Nuclear Fuels plc because of the concern about slippage in the programme. We ascertained that from a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) in which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement said :
"The BNFL programme audit reviewed four major projects and was carried out by a seven-man team, representing 218 man days' effort. It is not the practice to
Column 255reveal the details of individual contract costs for reasons of commercial confidentiality."--[ Official Report, 7 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 158. ]
Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
Eight meetings were held between the team and the Ministry of Defence between 20 November and 18 December 1985. We ascertained that in a written answer of 18 January 1989 at column 199 of Hansard, also in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan. If the programme was making satisfactory progress, why did the Government devote so much time and money to the audit? How many more procurement programmes in the Ministry of Defence budget that we are told are making satisfactory progress have had to have outside teams of experts brought in because of concern about slippage? If the Ministry of Defence is concerned about slippage in procurement programmes, it should tell Parliament before it brings experts in to sort the matter out.
Finally, I come to the question of threat. I referred in the Royal Navy debate to the lack of arms control at sea. Nothing that was said by any Minister or any Conservative Member suggested that there should be naval arms control. Opposition Members think that such talks are essential and urgent.
We have seen a reduction in Soviet naval activity. I am not saying that, at this moment, Soviet procurement has been affected. There is no doubt that the Soviets are continuing to build large numbers of submarines--maybe eight or more a year. Nevertheless, they have made positive moves, mainly in pulling back their ships and submarines. In The Observer of 5 March 1989 there was an article by Ian Mather about the withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missile submarines from waters close to Europe and the United States. Obviously, if they are in an aggressive or threatening position, they pull them back. Mather said :
"The decision stems from Gorbachev's defence doctrine of reasonable sufficiency', which has produced other important Soviet arms control initiatives, according to Western intelligence sources."
I only hope that the phrase "reasonable sufficiency" is taken on board by the Government.
Another important article was by John Keegan, the defence editor of the Daily Telegraph. I presume that the Minister has read it or even leaked some of the information contained in it. Keegan states : "There has been a distinct reduction' of deployments of submarines and surface ships outside the Soviet navy's home areas in the Baltic and Barents seas during the Gorbachev era."
He went on.
"The Royal Navy is puzzled to explain the reason."
No doubt, the Minister will have good reason to explain that statement. I shall take another couple of minutes, so that he has ample time to consider the matters, particularly those which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish. Admiral Crowe, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to the Soviet navy, is quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying :
"There is no question that we have seen fewer forward naval deployments."
The hawkish interpretation of the changes is that the main cause for the fall is that the increased range of Soviet
Column 256submarine-launched ballistic missiles means that Soviet submarines no longer need to be deployed as far forward as they were. It concerns me that, although the Soviets are making important soundings in an effort to reduce tension--this debate is about sea matters- -the Government seem to regard all of Gorbachev's statements in a cynical way. Obviously, one must question and probe what is going on. In a series of speeches since he came to power, Gorbachev has made it absolutely clear that he wants talks, reductions and unilateral and asymmetrical activity. In many instances, he has done what he said he would do. I hope that that the Government will take seriously some of the things that have been said in the Soviet Union and that we can make appropriate reductions in the NATO Alliance, along the lines of what the Warsaw pact countries are doing. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that the Government are out of step with everybody else. Throughout the world there is no doubt that the present mood is to make the world a safer place by force reductions and less aggressive postures. Only this Government are wanting to be more and more out of step. Even in Europe the Prime Minister is out of step with other Governments in wanting more modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons.
It appears to the Opposition that the Government are hell-bent on continuously increasing the amount, the quantity and the quality of nuclear weapons. The Opposition want to see a worldwide reduction of those horrific weapons.
I shall end with a quotation that shows just how far the Prime Minister is out of step. It is from the International Herald Tribune. It says:
" Things have begun to move in Europe.' Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany told an economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, two weeks ago. Europe's future is openness. Europe must find its peaceful order. Anyone who adheres to out-dated hostile preconceptions,' he said, is opposing the tide of history.' "
That is exactly what the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence procurement are trying to do.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : We can all agree that Trident is a subject thais frequently debated in the House and is also the subject of numerous questions. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) certainly plays his part in ensuring that the subject appears often on the Order Paper. It is rather odd in those circumstances for the Opposition to suggest that the whole programme is subject to some veil of secrecy and that nobody knows anything about it. Compared to Warsaw pact nuclear programmes, I am sure that Trident is most exhaustively discussed. Indeed, when one reflects on the need, in the national interest, to have secrecy, I certainly feel that the Labour Governments have not been perhaps as forthcoming as this Government about nuclear matters.
I am sure that most of those hon. Members who reflect seriously on the matter must appreciate that there are a number of matters in the defence world--not just nuclear--that must remain classified. If they were discussed at length in the House, they would be recorded in Hansard , and Hansard is widely available. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) clearly
Column 257appreciates that point. It inevitably must mean that Defence Ministers and others must be limited sometimes in their answers to questions. I should have thought that that was something that could be appreciated and supported by anybody who really had defence interests at heart.
Every British Government of both political persuasions have thought it right to maintain an independent strategic nuclear deterrent and also to keep under security classification a large number of aspects of that programme. That policy has consistently received the support of the British people and obviously continues to do so today. Before turning to the specific questions raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish and others, I shall put Trident in the broader perspective. In comparison with the strategic arsenals of the super-powers, the British deterrent is small, but the damage that it can inflict in absolute terms is immense. Indeed, to be effective as a deterrent--the hon. Gentleman was asking if it was effective--it must be capable of inflicting damage on the Soviet Union that would be clearly unacceptable to its leadership.
Deterrence is a matter of perception--perception by the other side and not by us. The United States' commitment to the defence of Europe is clear, but for the United States to use its nuclear weapons in the defence of Europe would be a momentous decision. It is not impossible that at some time circumstances might prevail that would lead the Soviet Union to imagine that it could attack Britain or Europe without risking a nuclear exchange with the United States. The independent control we retain over our deterrent and the fact that we are prepared to use it in defence of national as well as NATO security, goes to the very heart of why the commitment of our nuclear forces to NATO is so valuable. It creates a second centre of nuclear decision-making within the Alliance. That complicates the Soviet ability to judge the likely response to any attack on NATO in Europe and thereby reduces the chances of such attack.
Mr. Bennett : Does the Minister therefore realise that it is absolutely essential that he demonstrates to the Soviet Union that we have got independent command and control? If we rely on the United States for that command and control, as an awful lot of people suspect, we do not have an independent deterrent. If the United States is not prepared to use its own sytem neither would it be likely to allow us to use ours.
Mr. Sainsbury : If I demonstrated that independence by explaining exactly how everything worked and thus gave the Soviet Union the maximum opportunity to ensure that it did not work, that would seriously damage the credibility of the deterrent. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is unable to appreciate that point. It is an independent deterrent.
We chose Trident to replace Polaris because we judged it against our requirement to have a credible independent deterrent in the mid-1990s and beyond. We wanted to find the minimum force which fulfilled our defence criteria and which was, at the same time, affordable. Trident represents that minimum and affordable force. It meets the criteria for effective deterrent.
In the Government's judgment those criteria are, first, that the force must have the power to inflict a level of
Column 258damage which is unacceptable to the Soviet Union ; second, it must possess sufficient capability to convince Soviet leaders that, notwithstanding defensive or other measures, its weapons will reach their target. Trident will meet those criteria, no more, no less. Trident, like Polaris, will be a four-boat force ; a force this size is the minimum which will be required to guarantee that one boat is on patrol at all times--as we have maintained with our Polaris force--and that is essential to credibility.
Trident will be a minimum force in terms of boats and in terms of the number of warheads. Contrary to some of the wild claims that have been made, it will carry far less than the maximum theoretical capability of the system, but nonetheless sufficient for deterrence purposes. We have made no secret of the fact that there will be more warheads than currently carried by Polaris. But to appreciate why this extra capability will be needed and will represent only the minimum required for effective deterrence it is necessary to remember the environment in which Trident will be operating. The force will have to cope with Soviet defence systems that did not exist when Polaris entered service.
The range of the Trident D5 missile will enable the launch submarines to operate over a significantly greater area of the sea than their Polaris counterparts. That will be vital if the boats are to maintain patrol undetected in the face of continuing advances by the Soviet Union in anti- submarine warfare techniques.
Time is running short and I should concentrate on those issues of particular concern to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. Affordability has been discussed, but there is already enough on the record about that. Successive announcements of the Trident costs show that they have come down in real terms after allowing for inflation. The hon. Gentleman has a considerable interest in communications and in the command and control of Trident. He has asked many questions on this subject in the House and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has repeatedly told him that that is classified information. We do not intend to reveal to him how we currently communicate with our submarines nor how we intend to communicate with them in the future. This is an area of immense interest to the Soviet Union. It would obviously like to know how we will control our SSBNS in the future and it would not be in the nation's interest to allow such information into the public domain.
I should have thought that that was obvious to anyone who considered the issue and considered how the Soviet Union communicates with its submarines. If the hon. Gentleman were able to ask questions in the Supreme Soviet he would get exactly the same answer.
Mr. Bennett : Why does the United States seem to feel happy to discuss the systems that it uses openly? It obviously wants to convince the Russians that the United States can work them. Surely the British Government have an interest in telling the Soviet Union about the broad outlines of the system, so as to convince the Russians of the same thing? I am not pressing for a detailed technical explanation, but the broad outline of the systems that are available should be made available to convince the other side. Surely that is common sense?
I hope I can clarify one of two points that the hon. Gentleman raised. On the use of United States communication systems, we have always said, quite clearly, that the British strategic nuclear deterrent force is independent. When we say independent, that is precisely what we mean. We do not use the United States TACAMO very low frequency system for communicating with our submarines, neither are there any agreements between our two countries to do so. This also applies to the use of the extremely low frequency transmitters in Wisconsin and Michigan in the United States. However, that is all I am prepared to say on the subject.
Work on the extremely low frequency transmitter at Glengarry is at an early stage of development. It is too early to predict the outcome, or a possible date for development. The hon. Gentleman has been given a number of answers on that subject.
The hon. Gentleman commented on electromagnetic pulses. We are fully aware of their possible effects--I daresay the Soviets are, too--on communications, but I am not prepared to go into the implications for communications with our nuclear deterrent force. I will only say that any nation with an independent nuclear deterrent must be aware of the phenomenon.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes)--