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Volume 490: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

10. What his most recent estimate is of the cost of the replacement of the Trident nuclear warhead system. (267184)

We published our initial estimate of the costs for the possible refurbishment or replacement of the warhead for our future nuclear deterrent capability in the December 2006 nuclear White Paper. This is in the range of £2 billion to £3 billion at 2006-07 prices. We have not yet made a decision to develop a new UK nuclear warhead. However, work is being undertaken to inform decisions, likely to be taken in the next Parliament, on whether and how we might need to refurbish or replace our current warhead.

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be no expenditure on developing a new warhead without the specific approval of the House of Commons, and that he is satisfied that the development of a whole new warhead system is legal within the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which comes up for review in 2010?

Yes, I believe that it certainly would be within the framework of the non-proliferation treaty. The NPT did not require unilateral disarmament on the part of the United Kingdom, and we are able to maintain very properly within the terms of the NPT our minimum nuclear deterrent; and, yes, I believe that there should be a vote in this House before such a decision was taken.

The opposition of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) to this policy is well known. The Secretary of State has made it very clear that renewing our current system is within the terms of the NPT, and that we are able to do that. He, like us, supports a multilateral disarmament approach. Can he give the House any idea about the time scales, not only for the development of the submarines, but about how well they are meshed in with the development of the warhead system?

We have made it clear that we believe that the replacements for the Vanguard class submarines would be needed for 2024. An extensive time is needed to design, construct, build, test and operate the new submarines, which potentially will be very capable, and I think that that will take us up to 2024. As I said in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), a decision to renew the warhead will have to be taken by the House of Commons during the next Parliament. I believe that the programme that we set out in the 2006 White Paper is coherent and joined up.