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Deterrent White Paper

Volume 458: debated on Monday 12 March 2007

I have reproduced below the text of my letter to the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. I have also placed a copy of the letter and annexe in the Library of the House and copies are also available in the Vote Office. The letter and annexe form the Government's initial response to the Committee report on the Deterrent White Paper.

“I was very grateful that your Committee was able to publish its report on the recent White Paper on the Future of the UK's Nuclear Deterrent in good time before the debate and vote on 14 March. This will be of great benefit to MPs as they consider the issues in the coming week. With your agreement, I am also making this letter public prior to the debate by means of a written ministerial statement. We will of course respond fully to the report in the usual way in due course but I aim to address here the majority of issues raised in the Committee's report and to clarify some minor points.

First, the table of future decision-making at paragraph 184 broadly accords with our assessment, although we would not be so definitive on the year in which the contract to build the first new SSBN would be placed. Also, and as set out in the exchange of letters between the US President and the Prime Minister, we would not at this stage wish to rule out that the Trident D5 missile might be further extended, beyond the early 2040s. Finally, Table 4 states that France maintains three deterrent systems, whereas in fact they only retain two—submarine launched ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles.

I would also wish to register three detailed points:

i. It would be helpful to clarify Table 8 on costs and funding. The entries under “Decommissioning costs” are included elsewhere within the estimates: they are not in addition to the other figures.

ii. There is an inaccuracy in Table 1 which is repeated in the second bullet of paragraph 9. We have said that the one submarine normally on deterrent patrol carries up to 48 warheads. We have also said that the number of missiles on that submarine is up to 16. But the 1998 Strategic Defence Review did not limit the number of warheads to be carried per missile to three and neither is that constraint imposed now.

iii. Paragraphs 89 and 90 imply that NATO has a policy of first use of nuclear weapons. This is not true.

As for the UK, NATO's policy is to maintain ambiguity by not ruling in or ruling out the first use of nuclear weapons.

More detailed responses to your conclusions and recommendations are set out in the attached annexe.”