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Trident Replacement Submarines

Volume 522: debated on Monday 31 January 2011

13. Whether any components for the construction of Trident replacement submarines are to be purchased prior to main gate decision in 2016. (36748)

We are currently considering the initial gate business case for the successor submarine and, as part of the next phase of work, we would expect to purchase some long-lead items so that the first boat can be delivered in 2028. This is normal good practice for major build programmes.

How much is the Minister planning to spend on Trident replacement before he gets parliamentary approval in the main gate? Will he seek parliamentary approval of such spending?

By definition, until the initial gate business case has been approved, I am not able or prepared to give a figure. We will make that information available in due course, when decisions have been made.

May I say how pleased I was to accompany the Minister with responsibility for procurement, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), around Barrow shipyard a couple of weeks ago? The Defence Secretary knows that of the £3 billion of so-called savings in the Trident value-for-money review, more than half are deferments. Will he tell the House the increased cost of deferment, and why he thinks that approach is acceptable, given how often he spoke out against it when he was in opposition?

There are two imperatives. The first is to ensure that we have the successor programme. The second is to ensure that we do it within the financial constraints that the Government are forced to take on board, given the economic position that we inherited. Through the value-for-money study, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, we looked to see how we could extend the life of the current programme, if possible, to minimise the expenditure in early years. That is helpful not only in reducing the deficit in the period set out by the Government, but in ensuring the success of the programme itself.

It would appear from the answers to freedom of information requests that the steel, the computer systems and the combat systems, among other things, for the first submarine have been ordered and will have been paid for. It also appears that the three reactors for the first three submarines will have been ordered and paid for before MPs can scrutinise the main gate business case. What will remain unspent for the first submarines? Will we be so financially committed that the whole main gate decision is made irrelevant?

Whatever amount of money is spent on the lead items, technically it is up to any Parliament at any time to determine whether any programme can or cannot go ahead. It is clear from the coalition agreement that we are committed to maintaining a continuous at-sea minimum credible nuclear deterrent that will protect this country from nuclear blackmail and ensure that we make our role apparent in reductions in total nuclear armaments.

How can the Government, who plan to save money by closing libraries and selling off our forests, justify wasting tens of millions of pounds on a useless virility symbol when they cannot give any plausible future situation in which Britain might use a nuclear weapon independently?

I have explained the same point to the hon. Gentleman before. I can only explain it to him; I cannot understand it for him. What is important about the concept of deterrence is deterrence; that we do not need to use it. The whole point of deterrence is to make it clear to any potential aggressor that we will not even consider the impact of nuclear weapon strikes against the United Kingdom and so will maintain a nuclear deterrent to ensure that we never get to that position.