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Nuclear Weapons

Volume 498: debated on Monday 2 November 2009

13. What recent progress has been made towards procurement of the next generation of the nuclear deterrent; and if he will make a statement. (296693)

The concept phase for the future deterrent programme is making good progress. The defence board will consider that work later this year.

I am pleased to hear that it is making good progress, but the Secretary of State will know that both the Government and the Conservative party are committed to a nuclear deterrent, and yet this one is beginning to wear out. When will we have an announcement on when there will be a replacement?

All our plans were laid out in the 2006 White Paper. The position has not changed on my side of the House; the only person who has brought the position into question is the shadow Chancellor, who appears to have waged—

Since Britain launched its first nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought, in 1960, 15 vessels have been taken out of service and defuelled, and 12 more are due for that before 2040. Will the Secretary of State say what the plans are for the dumping of dangerous radioactive waste? In this weekend’s newspapers we saw details of 12 alleged sites from a Ministry of Defence “secret list”.

Plans will be drawn up for the disposal of nuclear submarines, and a proper consultation will take place as soon as is appropriate on any plans that we have, so my hon. Friend should not listen to scare stories that he reads in the newspapers.

14. What recent progress his Department has made in its assessment of the UK’s nuclear defence needs; and if he will make a statement. (296694)

The UK’s nuclear deterrence policy remains as that set out in the 2006 White Paper and, as is clear in that paper, is kept under continuous review. The Prime Minister recently announced in New York that, subject to continued progress in multilateral negotiations and a report on technical feasibility, he would wish with the next class of deterrent submarines to deliver a posture of one on patrol at all times and a fleet of three, rather than four, submarines. He has directed the National Security Committee to report by the end of the year on those two issues, and the MOD is closely involved in this work.

The Secretary of State talks entirely about a traditional submarine-based deterrent. Given that the future nuclear threat may well come not from established states but from irregular groups and organisations, will he consider other, more flexible deterrents that use new technologies, rather than big submarines that have big missiles on them?

It is the Government’s policy to maintain a minimum strategic nuclear deterrent; it is not our policy to develop a range of tactical nuclear weapons that can be used in the kind of circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. I do not believe that that is the policy of his party, which appears to be a bit flaky on the maintenance of the strategic deterrent.