The White Paper concerns decisions on the replacement of the submarine delivery platform not the Trident missiles or warheads.
The White Paper set out fully why we believe it is necessary for the UK to retain a minimum independent nuclear deterrent, and why decisions are needed now if we are to maintain deterrent capability at the end of the lives of the Vanguard class submarines. I also covered these issues in detail in my evidence to the Defence Committee on 6 February.
In setting out the Government’s position on 4 December 2006, Official Report, columns 21-24, the Prime Minister also set out a timetable for a process of public and parliamentary debate. As part of this process, my ministerial colleagues and I have been discussing the future deterrent in a wide range of forums. For example, there has been a full debate in the House of Lords, and I have given a speech at King’s College, London; provided the Defence Committee with wide-ranging evidence; taken part in a televised debate with CND; and discussed the future deterrent with a panel of experts at RUSI. On 14 March, at the conclusion of this process, there will be a full debate and vote in the House of Commons. This has given plenty of opportunity for all to consider and debate the issues.
The Government are strongly committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The White Paper on the Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent published on 4 December 2006 (Cm 6994) makes clear that renewing our minimum nuclear deterrent capability is fully consistent with all our international obligations, including those under the NPT.
As set out in paragraph 5 to 14 of the White Paper on the ‘Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent’ (Cm 6994), we estimate that the in-service costs of the UK's nuclear deterrent will be around 5 to 6 per cent. of the defence budget once the proposed fleet of replacement SSBNs comes into service. This calcution is based on initial whole life estimates of in-service and disposal costs for the deterrent capability and the estimated costs of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, averaged over the currently expected life of the new submarines and compared to the current defence budget. Taking similar costs for the current system, from 1998 to 2005, and comparing them to the actual defence budgets for those years, the average annual in-service cost was around 4 per cent. of the defence budget. The cost of the deterrent in 2006-07, including the cost of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, is expected to be around £1,500 million, or just over five per cent of the current defence budget.
I refer the hon. Member to my written ministerial statement of today publishing the Ministry of Defence’s initial response to the Defence Select Committee’s report on the White Paper. “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent” (Cm 6994, published December 2006).
As stated in paragraph 3-4 of the White Paper “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent” (Cm 6994, published December 2006),
“Our focus is on preventing nuclear attack. The UK’s nuclear weapons are not designed for use during military conflict but instead to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.”
It is a key part of our deterrence posture that we retain ambiguity about precisely when, how and at what scale we could contemplate use of our nuclear deterrent. We would only consider using nuclear weapons in self-defence—including the defence of our NATO allies—and even then only in extreme circumstances. That has been and will remain our policy.