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Trident Replacement

Volume 518: debated on Monday 8 November 2010

3. What his most recent estimate is of his Department’s likely expenditure on Trident replacement in this Parliament. (22163)

The 2006 White Paper “The Future of the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent” set out the initial estimated total procurement cost of the replacement nuclear deterrent as £15 billion to £20 billion in 2006-07 prices. The likely expenditure is dependent on the decision on initial gate, which is yet to be taken. I propose, however, to update Parliament on progress, including costs, after the initial gate decision through the publication of a report.

Will the Secretary of State assure me that no binding contracts will be entered into, as we have seen with aircraft carriers and the disgraceful contract in that case, so that if—as I hope—the next Parliament realises that we do not want or need to replace Trident, it will be able to do so at no huge expense?

The Government’s position is quite clear: we will replace the nuclear deterrent and we will replace it with an update of the Trident programme. It is unavoidable that, when we get to initial gate, contracts on the design at least will be placed.

Can the Secretary of State describe any plausible situation in which Britain would use a nuclear weapon independently, because our present policy encourages other nations, however unstable, to acquire their own nuclear weapons for defence?

The whole point of the nuclear deterrent is to deter, therefore we shall not use it. The success of our whole policy of nuclear deterrence since world war two is that we have never had to use it.

I realise that nothing would please my right hon. Friend more than to go into the next election fighting in defence of the rationale for the nuclear deterrent. Does he not recognise, however, that the appalling decision to postpone signing the main gate contracts leads us to a situation in which if—heaven forbid—there is another hung Parliament, the Liberal Democrats, who are really unilateralist, would be able to blackmail both parties to cancel the deterrent entirely?

There are two things of which I am sure. The first is that my own belief in the need for an independent, minimal, credible nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom is and will remain undimmed. The second is that I shall be fighting the general election to see a majority Conservative Government returned.

The Secretary of State has said on many occasions that delays in defence contracts end up costing the taxpayer more. Will he say how much extra cost will be incurred by the delay to the Trident programme and the stretching out of the Astute drumbeat that that has necessitated?

The hon. Gentleman is at least partly correct. There will be additional costs to maintaining the Vanguard class through to 2028. We expect those to be around £1.2 billion to £1.4 billion extra to maintain those submarines for longer. However, his analysis would be far more correct if the ultimate decision to delay the in-service date increased the cost of the successor programme. As no cost will be set out until after main gate, it is impossible to make that assumption.