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Successor Submarines

Volume 604: debated on Monday 18 January 2016

5. What assessment he has made of the effect on UK security and the economy of building four Successor ballistic missile submarines for the nuclear deterrent; and if he will make a statement. (903053)

The nuclear deterrent is the cornerstone of the UK’s defence security policy. Maintaining continuous at-sea deterrence requires four ballistic nuclear submarines. The UK’s defence nuclear enterprise is gearing up to deliver the Successor replacement to the Vanguard class submarines. It will not only keep Britain safe but support over 30,000 jobs across the UK in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It makes a significant contribution to the UK economy.

Thirty thousand jobs! I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Notwithstanding proposals for nuclear missile boats or submarines without nuclear missiles, does he not accept that there are something like 17,000 nuclear warheads around the world, with some possibly threatening us? What is my hon. Friend’s assessment of the likely risk to national security should we not proceed with the four missile submarines?

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the importance of the deterrent to our national security. We have seen—I think he was referring to comments made in the past 24 hours—the most extraordinary contortion emerging from the champagne socialist salons of Islington. The idea of spending tens of billions of pounds to build but not arm a strategic deterrent betrays the new kind of politics from the Labour leadership: a lurch back to the discredited unilateralism of the 1970s and a breathtaking lack of understanding about how to keep this country safe, with consequent threats both to national security and to tens of thousands of jobs across the UK.

Does the Minister agree that the issue is about not just the number of jobs involved in the Successor programme, but the high-skill nature of those jobs? Despite ill-informed comments from my own party at the weekend with regard to those jobs, does he also agree that we cannot simply turn them on and off like a tap when we need them?

I would like to add my tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s stalwart work, both on the Government Benches when he was a Defence Minister and on the Opposition Benches when he was a shadow Minister; it is a sorry state of affairs to see him sitting right at the back of the Back Benches today.

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, quite right to point out that this is a long-term endeavour: to design and build a nuclear-enabled submarine takes decades. This is a 35-year project from initial conception to commissioning. Those skills not only take a long time to develop; they cannot be switched on and off. They are at the very forefront of engineering capability in this country. Building a nuclear submarine is more difficult than sending a man to the moon.

19. In the light of the astonishing comments made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition on having a submarine-based nuclear deterrent without actually have any deterrent involved, does my hon. Friend agree that in an increasingly uncertain world it is crucial to continue the decades-long consensus held on our nuclear deterrent? (903068)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the considered way in which he made the point that this House is here to deliver national security to the United Kingdom as a whole. It is in all our interests to share a common objective to maintain, at the cornerstone of our defence, a continuous at-sea deterrence posture. We very much hope that, when it comes to a vote, colleagues from across the House will be able to recognise the consensus on this issue.

The replacement of the nuclear deterrent is, of course, a sovereign decision of the United Kingdom and its Parliament. However, deciding not to proceed would have repercussions across NATO. Will the Minister tell us what he feels the repercussions would be for NATO, and for Britain’s standing in NATO, should we decide not to go to maingate?

Our deterrent is a NATO asset, so the NATO alliance depends in part on our ability to make that asset available should the need arise. Our NATO allies are taking a very intense interest in the deliberations of this House and the hon. Lady is right to highlight that.

Does the Minister agree that all NATO countries are part of the NATO nuclear alliance, which is based on the three members who are in possession of weapons; and that to spend all the money on a nuclear deterrent, but not actually have one at the end, would be the worst option of all?

I have already indicated that I think it is completely farcical to spend tens of billions of pounds on a weapon that can never be used and therefore can never fulfil its deterrent objective. I completely agree with my hon. Friend.

I think this gets to the heart of the confusion that lies at the centre of Scottish nationalist party policy. The deterrent has been in use every single day—and night—for the last 53 years.