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Nuclear-powered Submarines

Volume 546: debated on Monday 18 June 2012

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the new £1.1 billion Ministry of Defence nuclear submarine contract.

Before I answer, I am sure the whole House would wish to join me in paying tribute to Lance Corporal James Ashworth of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, and Corporal Alex Guy of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Friday. Our thoughts are with their families and friends at this difficult time.

The UK currently operates two fleets of nuclear-powered submarines: the Trafalgar class of attack submarines, which will be replaced over the next 10 years by the Astute class, and the Vanguard class strategic missile submarines. The Government’s policy is that the Vanguard class will be replaced at the end of its life in the late 2020s by a successor strategic missile submarine carrying the Trident missile, subject to a main gate investment approval for the project in 2016. In the meantime, long-lead items and design work for the successor submarine have been commissioned.

I have today announced by written ministerial statement that we are investing £1.1 billion over the next 11 years in a programme of work which includes redeveloping the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby where all our submarines’ nuclear power plants are designed and built, and in maintaining the skills necessary to do so. This investment will secure the jobs of 300 highly skilled workers and will ensure that we retain the capability to build submarine nuclear power plants in the UK. I am sure the House will join me in welcoming this announcement as good news for the people of Derby, good news for the Royal Navy and good news for the country as a whole.

I join in the condolences extended by the Secretary of State, as I am sure does everybody in the House.

I am grateful for the statement, which the Government wanted to give only in written form and not directly to the Chamber. It is striking that they were prepared to announce spending £1.1 billion in just 22 lines of text, and doing it in such a way that MPs could not ask follow-up questions. It is shameful.

This announcement paves the way for Trident renewal and it does so in the face of opposition in Scotland. The majority of MPs from Scotland and the majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament have voted against Trident renewal. The Scottish Government are opposed to Trident, the Scottish Trades Union Congress is opposed to Trident, the Church of Scotland is opposed, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is opposed, the Episcopal Church of Scotland is opposed, the Muslim Council of Scotland is opposed, and, most important, the public of Scotland are overwhelmingly opposed to the renewal of Trident. A YouGov poll in 2010 showed 67% opposed, as against only 13%. There was majority opposition among the voters of all four mainstream parties in Scotland, including Conservative voters and Liberal Democrat voters. The Westminster Government are aware of the objections but are ploughing on regardless. Then, at the end, they plan to dump this next generation of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde. It is an affront to democracy and an obscene waste of money.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is prepared to spend £1 billion on weapons of mass destruction, which can never be used, while at the same time he is planning to cut regiments, battalions and thousands of jobs of brave service personnel whose irreplaceable services are regularly used? Does he acknowledge that, with Treasury assumptions and standard economic modelling, a capital expenditure of £1.1 billion on infrastructure projects would support 10,000 jobs directly and an additional 4,900 jobs through indirect purchases: 14,900 jobs, compared with only the 300 he lauded today? This morning on the radio the Minister for the Armed Forces said

“if we decide in 2016 not to go ahead with some of these engines the government of the day would have to negotiate its way out of that.”

What costs would the taxpayer incur if approval was not granted in 2016, and what will the total cost of all long-lead items amount to by 2016?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman resorts, not for the first time, to hyperbole. He talks about weapons of mass destruction, but the announcement has nothing to do with weapons; it is about reactor power plants for powering submarines, both the strategic successor submarine and the Astute class attack submarine, which will form the core of the Navy’s attack submarine force in future. He talks about the position of the Scottish National party and the Scottish TUC. Perhaps he has taken the trouble to consult the 6,000 people whose jobs depend on Her Majesty’s naval base Clyde and Coulport.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the review in 2016. We decided to proceed with long-lead items to enable the currently planned programme for the replacement of the Vanguard class submarine to proceed. A decision will be taken in 2016. It will take into account the review of alternatives to the successor, which is currently under way and being chaired by the Minister for the Armed Forces. We understand from speculation in the media that the SNP is about to reverse its policy on membership of NATO, which is a nuclear alliance, so perhaps he could enlighten us on whether his party will endorse the nuclear NATO alliance, because he did not tell the House in his earlier comments.

Order. I appreciate that the Secretary of State was making a kind of rhetorical point, but I should say for the benefit of the House that there will be no further dollop of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), at any rate in respect of this matter, this afternoon. We await further particulars at a later stage.

Given that as long ago as 9 February 2011 the Prime Minister told this House:

“The replacement of Trident is going ahead… I am in favour of a full replacement for Trident, a continuous at-sea deterrent… it will remain Conservative policy as long as I am the leader of this party”—[Official Report, 9 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 296.],

is there any reason for surprise that this step should have been taken, and is there any reason for the undue delay in the study of alternatives, which can only come to the conclusion that replacing Trident is the only sensible option?

Indeed. My hon. Friend is right. The written statement I made today was made in written form precisely because it does not convey any terribly new information. We have always made it clear that we would progress with the replacement for the Vanguard class submarines, subject to the main gate decision in 2016. He speculates on the conclusion of the review currently being conducted under the leadership of the Minister for the Armed Forces, and he may choose to do so. I can tell him that it is expected that the review will be completed by the end of this year and then presented to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

May I offer the condolences of the Opposition to the families and friends of the two brave servicemen who lost their lives last week? For the record, the shadow Secretary of State is out of the country on official defence-related business.

In a security landscape of few guarantees, our independent nuclear deterrent provides us with the ultimate insurance policy, strengthens our national security and increases our ability to achieve long-term global security aims. As the Secretary of State made clear, the initial gate decision announced in May last year set in train £3 billion of expenditure on the design, development, assessment and ordering of long-lead items to make the 2016 main gate decision feasible.

If the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) had re-read the May statement, he would have known that half the money is for renewing the infrastructure of the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, which is essential for the next generation of nuclear submarines. That is not new but necessary investment.

This is a vital programme that a separate Scotland would not be able to afford or benefit from—[Hon. Members: “We don’t want it!”]—in terms of security or jobs if it did not go ahead. Indeed, the development of the new reactor needs to go ahead whether or not there is a final decision on Trident, because it relates to the UK’s defence capability and to our submarine programme —with huge implications for places such as Barrow, a point completely missed by the hon. Member for Moray.

It is very easy to become blinkered by the concerns held in some quarters about the successor programme and to lose sight of the wider need for the research and development and investment required to keep our nation safe. If the Lib-Dem alternative review, which is ongoing, is to be evidence-based, it must stand up to scrutiny when published, and the Opposition will certainly look at any new evidence brought forward.

Some issues rise above party politics, and the nation’s security is one of them. The country would therefore be deeply disappointed if defence of the Government ever took precedence over defence of the national interest. The previous Government were strong advocates of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and although multilateral disarmament is not the only route to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, it is one that we must accelerate if we are to achieve that collective goal.

Will the Secretary of State say how the Government are strengthening each of the three pillars of the NPT? What dialogue is he having with some of the key Governments about their position in that regard?

When the Government do the right thing on defence, we will support them. We look forward to the evidence that they will provide and to a clear commitment to multilateral disarmament.

Order. May I very gently say to the Secretary of State that any remarks about the non-proliferation treaty should be pretty brief? I know that he will want other colleagues to be accommodated.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is absolutely right. We have long shared a consensus that the crucial strategic defence of the United Kingdom is a matter that should be above party politics, and in an increasingly uncertain world it looks increasingly certain to me that maintaining our nuclear deterrent is the right posture for ensuring the future security of this country and of our allies. She is absolutely right also to point out that a significant part of this investment is about maintaining a UK sovereign capability, not just through the strategic submarine deterrent but through our attack submarines and future generations of them. That is a skill set, which, if we lose it, we will never, ever be able to regain.

As for the non-proliferation treaty, the Government of course remain committed to non-proliferation and have already taken steps in relation to our strategic submarine programme to reduce the missile and weapons payload to the minimum required for strategic deterrence, hoping to set an example to others.

I just wonder, Mr Speaker, whether I could air this thought. While the hon. Lady was speaking, nationalist Members were saying, “We don’t want it!” May we have an assurance that, if they do not want it, they will not reverse their policy on NATO and seek to shelter under NATO’s nuclear umbrella while refusing to share the burden?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is support for the nuclear-powered Astute class of submarines from all parties in the House, including apparently the Scottish Nationalist party, which, it is understood, might be quite happy for the nuclear-powered Astute submarines to operate from the Faslane base. What kind of exercise of responsibility would it be to allow the core reactor, necessary, for example, for the seventh Astute submarine, to be built on 50-year-old premises that no longer meet current safety standards?

My right hon. and learned Friend is right, and it is worse than that, I am afraid. It is not about building the core reactor in substandard premises—it would not be built at all if the investment in the Raynesway plant were not made. It would not be safe for it to be built there.

I should also say that the policy that we have announced of consolidating submarine operations on Clydeside after 2017, which should be a good news story for people in Scotland as it will bring jobs and prosperity, is not capable of subdivision. One cannot pick and choose; they cannot have the Astute class and not the successor class.

Why in straitened economic circumstances is it cost-effective for the coalition Government to duplicate a strategic weapons system that NATO already has in its arsenal? In what circumstances would the coalition deploy a strategic deterrent outwith our membership of NATO?

Our strategic missile submarines serve two functions. They provide a national strategic deterrence and they are committed to NATO as part of the NATO strategic deterrence. Part of NATO’s strategic posture involves having more than one nuclear-capable platform.

Will my right hon. Friend explain, particularly to the Scottish nationalists, how many jobs would be lost in Scotland if the investment were to be cancelled or if Scotland were to vote for separation from the rest of the United Kingdom? In that case, all the UK defence jobs in Scotland would be withdrawn.

Ultimately at stake are the 6,000 jobs —civilians, military and contractors directly employed in Her Majesty’s naval dockyard of the Clyde and at Coulport. Those jobs would be lost if the submarines were not built and deployed at Faslane.

I am trying to find out how much of this expenditure is in the £3 billion mentioned last year by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), the Minister with responsibility for procurement, and how much is new expenditure. How much will be spent on Trident development and how much on the Astute submarine fleet?

The answer is about a quarter. Of the £1.1 billion, £500 million is investment in the capital infrastructure at the Rolls-Royce plant. The remaining £600 million represents the purchase of long-lead items for the production of the core for the reactor for the seventh Astute-class boat and the first successor-class boat.[Official Report, 26 June 2012, Vol. 547, c. 5MC.]

As a former Army officer, I point out to the House that no matter how many battalions we have, we may not be able to deter a determined enemy with a nuclear capability. Therefore we should have decent battalions in numbers and the nuclear capability to deter any potential enemy.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ensuring this nation’s security involves two things—having a strategic deterrent capability and having highly capable, flexible, deployable and well equipped forces at the conventional level. The coalition Government will ensure that we have both.

A week ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), told the House that the total cost of long-lead items was £3 billion, but that has risen by a third in the Secretary of State’s statement today. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that all he is doing is building up huge expenditure in advance of a main gate decision in 2016, which will lead this country towards wasting £100 billion on a weapon of mass destruction of dubious legality and total immorality? Do we not need to think again?

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with any of that; I do not think he listened to the answer to the previous question but one. This is not an increase in the £3 billion previously announced; the part of it that relates to the successor programme was included within that £3 billion.[Official Report, 26 June 2012, Vol. 547, c. 6MC.]

May I thank the Secretary of State for also announcing this afternoon that he is saving RAF Scampton? We are very grateful. Does that not show the commitment of our party to defence? The issue is all about commitment. Once we commit the money, is it going to be realistically possible for anybody to cancel our Trident nuclear deterrent in the future? The answer is surely no.

As my hon. Friend knows, a review is being conducted, and we will look at its conclusions. The main gate decision, which will also have the benefit of the ongoing engineering and design work, on how many boats are needed—for example, to provide a credible nuclear deterrent—will be taken in 2016. As for RAF Scampton, I am sure you would encourage me not to go into that, Mr Speaker.

Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the contracts negotiated can be renegotiated in 2016 without unreasonable cost by a future Government who may be more enlightened and take the view that Trident is little more than an impractical vanity and virility symbol?

Of course I completely reject the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The investment at the Rolls-Royce plant is an 11-year programme, so the money will be spent over 11 years. In being prepared to undertake this major programme, Rolls-Royce will require a commitment from the Government—its customer—and we will make that commitment at the level at which we have to do so to protect the UK’s sovereign capability.

Now that we know how much money is going to be spent at Rolls-Royce Derby, and given the paucity of maritime air power and, similarly, the surface fleet, is the Secretary of State convinced that the Royal Navy is properly balanced?

We treat the maintenance and replacement of the nuclear deterrent as a separate item. I am confident that the Royal Navy’s programme, with the building of the Astute class submarines, the highly capable Type 45s that are already being deployed, and the Type 26 frigate programme, will leave us with a Navy that is smaller than we have had, certainly, but highly capable with the very latest technology and the very latest capabilities.

This welcome announcement underlines just how many skilled jobs are sustained across the UK by the submarine programme, not only in Barrow. May I press the Secretary of State on what he said about the review of alternatives informing the main gate vote in 2016? Is he really saying that Ministers will form no conclusion about the review until then?

No, I am not saying that. I am saying that the conclusion of the review will come before the main gate decision in 2016 and will clearly therefore inform it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that today’s decision is great for the United Kingdom in not only protecting jobs but creating them?

I happily agree with my hon. Friend in those terms. This is not just about the 300 jobs at Rolls-Royce but about many highly skilled jobs throughout the supply chain across the United Kingdom, including among suppliers in Scotland.

Will the Secretary of State give us a figure for how much it will cost to negotiate our way out of these contracts if the Commons votes against replacing Trident? Will he explain why the taxpayer is paying for the upgrading of the Rolls-Royce plant given that it is a private company that saw its profits soar by 21% last year? Surely that shows that this is not a commercial project.

Let me answer the second part of the hon. Lady’s question. The reason is that where we are sustaining single-sourced sovereign capabilities—in this case, the ability to build submarine reactor cores, a product that Rolls-Royce cannot sell to anyone else but can supply only to the UK Government—we have to enter into agreements with it to meet the cost of the capital facilities needed to maintain that capability, and that is what we are doing.

These are commercial negotiations and commercial contracts. I understand the hon. Lady’s point, which the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) also made. In negotiating contracts, we will always seek to give the Government, as the contracting party, the maximum flexibility, but flexibility in a contract comes at a cost, and we have to ensure that we get the best value for money for the taxpayer.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the highly skilled work force at the Vulcan training establishment in my constituency and the welcome news that those 300 jobs will, in principle, be maintained by Rolls-Royce after Vulcan is decommissioned? Will this announcement be a boost for those employees?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has looked into these things, tells me that he believes the answer is yes. I will check the detail when I have completed this urgent question and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Will the Secretary of State explain to my constituents in Tottenham what will make them safer: cutting Trident to fund extra police officers or cutting police officers to fund Trident?

The investment in Trident and the successor class submarine is a long-term programme to provide for Britain’s strategic security over the next 40 to 50 years. I believe that it is one of the most important functions of government to protect the population against the strategic threats in the world, which, if anything, are growing, not diminishing.

Many of us remember the pivotal role of strong nuclear deterrents in our victory in the cold war and retain a passionate commitment to the United Kingdom’s having an independent nuclear deterrent. The Secretary of State has been pressed a couple of times about the review. The review notwithstanding, will he confirm that the decisions that he has announced today will make it easier logistically for the Government in 2016 if they decide to commission a replacement for Trident?

I can go further than that. Without the measures that I have announced today, it would not be possible for the Government to make the decision to proceed in 2016, because the long-lead items would not have been ordered and purchased, and we would get to the end of life of the existing Vanguard submarines without a successor replacement being available.

As a Member of Parliament for an area where shipbuilding is vital and having been a manager up in Faslane dealing with communication cables in a previous life, it is difficult to trust a Government who will build aircraft carriers without planes to understand where we are going on this matter. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the jobs of my constituents and people further up the Clyde are safe, that these submarines will still go to Faslane, and that we will still build British ships in British yards, albeit unless we get independence, in which case all bets are off?

Given the tone of the questions today, the hon. Gentleman is right that the only threat to that capability seems to come from the Scottish National party. However, I must take issue with him on the carriers. The Government who ordered the carriers without the ability to pay for planes to go on them were his Government.

Does the Secretary of State agree with Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach that

“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats…we currently…face”,

and that

“the case is much stronger for funding our armed forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them”?

Will he accept their expert advice?

I might observe that those people all have one thing in common that might make them slightly partial in this debate. I find it extraordinary that anyone can stand up in this House after 65 years of nuclear-armed peace and say that a strategic deterrent does not make people safer. The possession of a strategic nuclear deterrent has ensured this country’s safety. It ensured that we saw off the threat in the cold war and it will ensure our security in the future.

The French Government release figures showing every aspect of their deterrent budget, from infrastructure studies, research and development, tests and operations to procurement and equipment, by both year and multi-year spend. As we move towards the final decision in 2016, can we have a guarantee that the same figures will be released by our Government so that the British public can see the total that is spent on deterrents?

The hon. Lady has a touching confidence in the figures released by another Government. We will release as much information as we can, bearing in mind two things: the overriding need for security and the overriding need to maintain sufficient commercial space to get the best possible deal for the taxpayer when we negotiate these contracts.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we faced a larger conventional military threat in the second half of the 20th century than in the first half, and that the single factor that ensured that tens of millions of people did not die defending our freedoms in the second half of the century was that we had the nuclear deterrent?

The Secretary of State talks blithely about long lead-in items, but they are leading inexorably to one thing—he has already made a decision to renew Trident. Is his fiction not just a fig leaf to cover the Liberal Democrats’ embarrassment about yet another sell-out?

Yes, the strategic defence and security review makes it clear that we are proceeding with the plans for the replacement Vanguard submarines, subject to a main gate review in 2016. That is the Government’s position, and today’s announcement is simply another step in that process. It is not a new or different announcement but simply proceeds in the direction that we have already set out.

Does the Secretary of State agree that what he has announced today is a vital strategic investment in Britain’s nuclear-powered submarine capability, which is vital for maintaining the United Kingdom’s national interest?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Today’s announcement ensures that the capability to build submarine reactor cores, which has been at the heart of our programme since the early 1950s, will continue for the next 40 or 50 years at Raynesway in Derby.

Maybe the Secretary of State could communicate his new-found enthusiasm for the public sector boosting the private sector to some of his colleagues in other fields of endeavour.

What is the reality of a main gate decision when the Secretary of State is showing such enthusiasm for the whole project? Is it not a fact that main gate will be totally ineffective?

No, not at all, and I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady that the Ministry of Defence now operates a rigorous business case analysis and investment approvals process. When the project gets to main gate, its affordability and the reliability of the estimates will have to be demonstrated for it to pass that hurdle.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement. Is he willing to confirm that this decision takes us one step further on the road towards ensuring that jobs at Devonport dockyard, the only part of the United Kingdom that still has a nuclear licence, will be safeguarded?

My hon. Friend is well aware of the plans for Devonport dockyard, and nothing that I have said today changes the previously announced policy of relocating our submarine capability to the naval base at the Clyde.

Has the Secretary of State given any thought to where Trident will be located following Scottish independence in 2014? May I assure him that there will not be a welcome in the hillside if he is thinking about a Welsh port?

The Government do not expect that the people of Scotland will opt for independence in a referendum in 2014. We are quite confident that, on mature consideration, they will see the advantages of remaining within a United Kingdom and enjoying the benefit of the security afforded by the United Kingdom’s nuclear umbrella.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in an uncertain world, a replacement for Trident is a vital insurance policy for the security of the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland?

I do, and that is a key point. The people of Scotland benefit from the UK’s nuclear umbrella, and I hope they will continue to do so.

To better inform the main gate decision due in 2016, will my right hon. Friend undertake to put before the House the main conclusions of the Trident alternative study?

The Trident alternative study is a review that has been agreed by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister and will report to them. I cannot give any undertaking at the moment that its conclusions will be published in any detail, because obviously there are significant security considerations involved. I am sure the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister will make a statement in due course, once they have received the report.

As a Derbyshire MP, may I warmly welcome this announcement, and the jobs and investment this project will bring to Rolls-Royce and the surrounding area? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the expertise at Rolls-Royce and the commitment and dedication of the local work force that will ensure that this project is a success?

As my hon. Friend knows better than most people, Derby has an extraordinary concentration of highly skilled engineering jobs and it is that that has sustained the city so well. Of course, Rolls-Royce has a range of world-beating capabilities, and the investment we are making today will ensure the future of just one of those capabilities.

Can the Secretary of State ever foresee a situation post-2016 in which a Conservative or Conservative-led Government would not proceed with the renewal of Trident?

As the Prime Minister has made clear, the Conservative party’s position is that we support not the renewal of Trident, but the replacement of the Vanguard submarines so that the Trident missile can continue to form the basis of our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. That is our preferred policy.

I think the majority of Members will welcome the written statement from our excellent Secretary of State for Defence, but they will be unhappy that this was announced not to the House this morning, but in the BBC studios yesterday and in the Sunday papers. In hindsight, does the Secretary of State think that that was a mistake?

As I hope I said at the beginning, I do not consider that the statement in question has taken the debate a whole lot further forward. This was an investment decision that was always envisaged in the clear policy that we set out in the strategic defence and security review, and I hope that by coming to the House and answering questions today I will have satisfied my hon. Friend’s desire to have an opportunity to ask me questions.

To what other purposes could that manufacturing capability at the redeveloped Rolls-Royce plant in Derby be put with an investment of £367,000 per job, should that decision not be made in 2016?

I think I just need to explain to the hon. Lady that the decision in 2016 will be about the replacement of the Vanguard class submarines to carry strategic nuclear missiles. We have a second class of submarines, the Astute class of nuclear powered attack submarines. The Royal Navy will always need nuclear powered attack submarines whatever we do with the successor to the Vanguard class. So this sovereign capability is required if the Royal Navy wishes to remain in the business of having nuclear powered submarines, and we certainly do. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) is signalling, from a sedentary position, his interest in participating. He is holding out his hands to imply the wings of an aeroplane. He may have flown here, but I am afraid that he did not fly here quickly enough. It is always a delight to hear the product of the hon. Gentleman’s lucubrations, but I am afraid that that will have to wait for another day, as he was not here at the start. We will hear the hon. Gentleman another time. We will save him up. It will be worth hearing, I feel sure.

As a Member of Parliament lucky enough to have HMS Inskip on the edge of my constituency, may I welcome today’s announcement? As someone who went to school on Clydeside, just a few miles down the road from Faslane, may I ask the Secretary of State, when he looks at job numbers, to look also at the wider supply chain and the taxi firms and hotels that would benefit from this decision?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The 6,000 direct jobs related to Faslane and Coulport are only the tip of an iceberg, as the local supply chain and the wider economy are extensively supported by the operations there. I would have thought that anyone who had the best interests of that region of Scotland at heart would seek to sustain that level of high-skill employment, not destroy it.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that should an enlightened Government cancel Trident in 2016 the reactors announced today could nevertheless power both Astute and Vanguard’s successor submarines, whether or not they carried nuclear warheads?

That is a technical question, and I will have to take notice of it and write to the hon. Gentleman. Essentially he is asking whether the core for a Vanguard submarine nuclear power plant could be used in an Astute submarine nuclear power plant.

It is always fascinating to hear the views of the hon. Gentleman, but his point of order will have to wait. We are in the middle of a statement, which is more important than his point of order—[Interruption.] —difficult though it may be to persuade him of that important fact.

Is the Secretary of State as surprised as me that any Member would debate whether this nation should secure its borders? And what better than to procure those tools from a high-quality British company using a highly skilled work force in the east midlands?

I agree with my hon. Friend; this is a classic example of a coincidence of interest between the strong and resolute defence of the United Kingdom and the support of a high-technology manufacturing base.

I welcome the announcement, which is clearly great news for world-class British engineers, skills and jobs. However, does the Secretary of State agree that this is also an economically sensible decision to avoid the costly skills gap we saw in the run-up to the Astute-class boat programme?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are two ways of sustaining these skills. We either provide orders to the companies that employ them so that they do something useful and make things, or we simply pay them to stand idle and allow their skills to decline. We have chosen the former, which is the right way to go.

I welcome the Government’s announcement. Our independent nuclear defence has not only protected democracy in this country and around the world but expanded it. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential in an even less certain world that we continue our independent nuclear deterrent?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the context of this debate: a world getting not safer but more dangerous; a world that, in spite of our ardent wish that the non-proliferation treaty succeed, is threatened by significant proliferation and the ever-present risk of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.

Rolls-Royce is an excellent east-midlands company employing many people from my constituency. Today’s announcement underlines the Government’s commitment not only to high-tech manufacturing but to the east midlands. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind the House, particularly our Scottish National party and Liberal Democrat colleagues, of one of the salutary lessons of history, which is that the only people ever to have nuclear weapons used against them did not in fact have any?

Of course, my hon. Friend is right: for better or worse, the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons has demonstrated itself over the past 65 years.

With high-tech businesses in my constituency forming part of the supply chain to our nuclear powered submarines, I welcome this announcement. Did my right hon. Friend note the encouraging welcome given to this announcement by the Rolls-Royce unions?

I am delighted that the unions at Rolls- Royce have welcomed the announcement. They will clearly recognise the value of supporting these high-tech jobs, which are vital to the UK skills base.

I welcome today’s announcement. The investment is necessary for the construction of the last of the Astute-class submarines, all of which will be based at Faslane. I hope the Secretary of State can assure the House that investment in Faslane, which is necessary for all the British submarines to be based there, will not be held up by the long delay before the SNP’s referendum in October 2014.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are pressing ahead with their plans on the confident assumption that the referendum will deliver a vote in favour of the Union.

I am still smiling, Mr Speaker. Is the Secretary of State’s understanding, based on the SNP’s opposition to this investment, that an independent Scotland would leave its citizens fairly defenceless against nuclear attack, or would it rely on another nation to protect it?

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), let me say that my hon. Friend takes me back to a point that I have made before. The SNP needs to be clear whether it will seek to reverse its policy on NATO membership, and thus to shelter under the nuclear umbrella provided by others while shirking any responsibility for delivering that strategic security.

I was advised that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) came into the Chamber at three minutes past 4, which is very late—

The hon. Gentleman should not be nodding his head in that fashion: he is not helping his own cause. I am going to work on the charitable assumption that my informant was misinformed, because the hon. Gentleman was busily offering me protestations of innocence only a few moments ago. I think that the mantras of MacNeil had better be heard, for what it is worth.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. According to Professor Steven Pinker, since 1945 it has been the major nuclear powers that have been involved in conflicts, yet the non-nuclear neutral states have not. Why is their deterrent so much better?

It really was not worth it, Mr Speaker. You might think that during such a long, delayed flight, the hon. Gentleman would have been able to come up with a rather more interesting question. He missed the initial answer to the question. This announcement is about the production of cores for submarine nuclear reactors for both strategic missile submarines and conventional attack submarines. It is about maintaining a vital, sovereign UK capability. He will have to draw his own conclusions about the politics of nuclear deterrence.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State and colleagues. Before we proceed to the main business, I feel sure that the House will want to hear the point of order of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), of which he was very seized fewer than five minutes ago.