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Defence Capability (Conventional Weapons)

Volume 590: debated on Monday 12 January 2015

5. What plans he has to consider delivery of UK defence capability through conventional rather than nuclear weapons as part of the 2015 strategic defence and security review. (906898)

The next strategic defence and security review is a matter for after the general election. My Department is preparing for the review, but our focus remains the delivery of the 2010 review.

In a period of changing security threat, and as the national security strategy noted in 2010, is it not sensible to consider how ending the Trident replacement programme would release resources that could be spent more effectively on other security measures, as well as on a range of other public spending priorities, not least our national health service?

Successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, have been committed to our continuous at-sea deterrent for more than 45 years, and I hope that the Labour party in Scotland will not waiver from that. It would be extremely dangerous to move to any kind of part-time or lesser deterrent, and the Conservative party will not gamble with Britain’s national security.

My right hon. Friend has just made that commitment to continuous at-sea deterrence and, as I understand, it is the position of both main parties that the successor submarines for Trident should go ahead. Will he therefore guarantee to me that there will be no question of any delay in signing the main-gate contracts if we end up with another hung Parliament and the Liberal Democrats or Scottish nationalists seek to exact that as a price for their participation and support?

I confirm to my hon. Friend and to the House that the main-gate decision is scheduled for 2016. I will not speculate on the possibility of a hung Parliament, except to note that I know the Liberal Democrats would favour some kind of part-time deterrent, although it is pretty obvious to me that our enemies are not part time.

Given that RUSI is predicting that by the early 2020s the replacement of the nuclear deterrent will account for some 35% of the defence procurement budget, and given that this summer, whatever the outcome of the election, Ministers at the Ministry of Defence will be struggling to make limited resources pay for a long list of major procurements, could it possibly make sense to exclude from a comprehensive review the biggest single procurement?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend, who has some experience of these matters, does not attach the importance to continuing the deterrent that we do. Of course, the costs of the deterrent are spread over a number of years. As I have said, successive Governments in office have, every time they have re-examined the need for the deterrent, committed to continuing it.