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Trident

Volume 454: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

The Government have published a White Paper setting out our decisions and the arguments behind them. In the coming months, we are committed to supporting an informed debate on those decisions in public and in Parliament, including by the Select Committee on Defence. All of us will have the opportunity to evaluate the various contributions to that debate before Parliament considers and votes on the matter in spring.

Will the Secretary of State tell us by what means he intends the public to be informed about the legality, cost and operating costs of the Trident replacement? If there is huge public opposition to the expenditure and the proposal, how will he take that into account in any proposals that the Government introduce, and when does he expect his Department to bring the subject back before the House?

My hon. Friend is aware that the Government communicated their position on all the matters that he raises in the White Paper published last Monday; all those issues were dealt with in it. If he or other hon. Members, or any other person who wants to take part in the debate, needs additional information on any part of that White Paper, I will be happy for that information to be provided. My view, which is borne out in any measurement of public opinion, is that the public support the decision that the Government have indicated that they are prepared to take. As for the determination of the debate, my hon. Friend is aware that there will be a debate and a vote in the House in the spring.

What alternative systems of deterrence, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, did the Secretary of State and his Department consider before advising the Government to commit themselves to the next generation of Trident?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we considered all alternatives. However, given the strategic threat that the deterrent is designed to deal with, the Government decided that a credible deterrent, able to face down that threat, would need to be of the nuclear variety, and would need invulnerability, so that it could continue as a sea deterrence. Such a threat could not be faced down by conventional forces.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the issues that people will be interested in is how the plans comply with our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Will he tell the House what the Government’s position is on meeting those obligations?

The Government’s position is that the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent is fully consistent with our commitments under the non-proliferation treaty. The arguments to that effect are spelled out in the White Paper, and they were repeated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box last week. The article of the NPT that causes the most concern to people is article 6, but the Government have shown more of a commitment to the maintenance of their position and the fulfilment of their requirements under that treaty than any other Government in the United Kingdom, or indeed the world, have done. That is why, over the years, we have progressively been able to announce disarmament steps to minimise our deterrent until it reached its current position, and that is why we were able to announce a proposed further cut in warheads last week.

If the Scottish Parliament, clearly expressing the majority view of the Scottish people, votes against the stationing of Trident or any other nuclear weapons on Scottish soil, will the Secretary of State and the Government respect that decision?

I am tempted to ask the hon. Gentleman what his party’s position on the deterrent would be if the Scottish Parliament and Scottish people voted in the opposite way. Would his party continue to present the Scottish people with the alternative of a Government who would take them out of NATO, which has provided security for them for in excess of five decades? He is aware that the Scottish Parliament has determined that the matter should be reserved to this Parliament—although aspects of the subject, particularly those relating to the 11,000 jobs that the deterrent provides in the west of Scotland, are rightly matters for the Scottish Parliament. I look forward to the Scottish Parliament reflecting the view of the Scottish people, which is one of support for the maintenance of the deterrent.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that whatever the issue, the people who are against shout the loudest, so how will we evaluate the public response? Public opinion polls will recently have fallen out of favour with him, as they have done with me, so is it not a good idea to encourage Members to survey people in their local newspaper, as I intend to do in the Tamworth Herald, to gauge public response and feed it into the debate?

My hon. Friend is free to gauge his constituents’ views using any method that he thinks is indicative. I have a particular point of view, so it is not for me to determine how other people should contribute to the debate. However, I encourage all methods of contributing to the debate, which should be as wide and as detailed as possible. I am struck by the fact that most people who oppose the decision that the Government have put forward for debate are more interested in discussing the process than the details of the debate.