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Trident Replacement Programme

Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

The programme to replace the Vanguard submarine completed the initial concept studies, and we expect an announcement on initial gate approval in the coming weeks. There remain ongoing discussions, which have simply taken longer than it was anticipated a few months ago. It is important, given the size of the project, that we get the decision right.

At a press conference organised by the anti-nuclear deterrent front organisation, the British American Security Information Council, a Liberal Democrat Defence Minister stated that a very thin paper trail had led to the last Government’s decision to renew Trident. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White Paper produced by his Department and the last Government was actually a first-class piece of work, was recognised as such by my right hon. Friend who is now Prime Minister and gave every good argument for why we went into the Division Lobby with the Labour Government to support that renewal?

The White Paper was a thorough piece of work. It was the basis on which the House made a considered decision on the issue, and I still believe that for the long-term well-being and security of the United Kingdom, a continuous at-sea, submarine-based, minimum-credible nuclear deterrent in the form of the replacement for the Trident programme is the best way forward.

There seems to be a non-sequitur on the funding of the construction of this new weapon of mass destruction. In answers to me, the Secretary of State has pointed out that £300 million has been spent on advance orders for new steel and other things. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) a few moments ago, however, the Government talked of a figure of £25 million. Where exactly has the authority come from, other than the honeyed words “custom and practice”, for the expenditure of apparently up to £1 billion on preparation for the development of this new weapons system?

On the broad picture, if we choose to go ahead on the dates set out since the White Paper—we have changed them slightly since coming into government —long-lead items need to be ordered. The Government have set out clearly that we believe that that is the best course for the UK. The main gate decision will be taken some time after 2015.

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether UK nuclear submarines rely on back-up power supplies to run their coolant pumps, just like Japanese nuclear power stations? Is that why Commodore MacFarlane, the defence nuclear safety regulator, recently said that UK submarine reactor safety falls

“significantly short of benchmarked…good practice”?

One decision in the Trident replacement will be whether we move to pressurised water reactor 3 for improved nuclear safety. The Government’s view is that that is the preferred option, because those reactors give us a better safety outlook. That is a debate on both sides of the Atlantic, but we believe that in terms of safety, the case is very clear-cut.