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Volume 650: debated on Monday 26 November 2018

The first responsibility of Government is the protection and defence of the United Kingdom and its citizens. Nuclear sits at the apex of our defence and deterrence strategy. It is there to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and our way of life.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the continuous at-sea deterrent and look to Trident’s renewal, what more will he do to ensure that new supply chains benefit British manufacturers most, especially those in Stoke-on-Trent South?

I am very much looking forward to joining my hon. Friend in a visit to Goodwin International, a brilliant example of a firm in Stoke-on-Trent that supplies the UK and operations right across the globe. It goes to show that the investment we are making in our nuclear deterrence not only benefits greatly the people of Barrow, but supports a global supply chain and an enormous supply chain in the United Kingdom.

For those who were not here on Thursday I reiterate, I hope on behalf of the whole House, congratulations to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) on her election as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It is with some joy that I call not only Mrs Madeleine Moon, but President Moon. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees with me that the nuclear deterrent—I stress the word “deterrent”—is also a vital part of our NATO alliance security and defence strategy, and that it is vital not just for the UK but the whole of the alliance?

If I may address Madam President on that point, Mr Speaker, the hon. Lady is absolutely right. We are the only country that assigns its nuclear deterrence to the defence of NATO, so it plays a vital role. It also plays an important role in ensuring that Britain is an even more powerful voice within NATO and acts in a real leadership role in that organisation.

It is great to follow a president, for the first time in my life. Although we have strategic nuclear forces, we do not have tactical nuclear weapons. That is a gap in our strategic escalatory ladder. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that we work very closely with our NATO allies, which do have such weapons, so we can ensure no gaps in escalation if, heaven forbid, that were to be necessary?

We always work very closely with all our NATO allies, looking at the broad range of threats that Britain and our NATO allies face. We often talk about nuclear deterrence, but we must not forget the importance of conventional deterrence as well, which is provided by all our forces, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the British Army, whether that is about our forces having the right capabilities or where they are deployed. We are leading NATO in terms of our deployments in Estonia, Poland and, through the summer, Romania.

In light of the press speculation about the financial position of Babcock plc, what assurances can the Secretary of State give not only that the company is able to carry out the current refits of our nuclear submarines, but about any threat that there is to our continuous at-sea deterrent?

We always work incredibly closely with all our suppliers to ensure that there is uninterrupted supply and support for all our forces. That is what we will continue to do with Babcock.

The latest Russian aggression towards Ukraine shows the type of blackmail that western Europe could be subjected to if it did not have the protection of NATO’s nuclear shield. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not just about the jobs up in Cumbria? My father spent a lot of time refitting and maintaining our deterrent class fleet at Devonport, which is where we expect the Dreadnought class to be refitted.

We can all be very proud of the skill and workmanship at the Devonport dockyard, which has been integral to looking after our nuclear deterrence for almost 50 years. It is something that it will continue to do long into the future.

Workers in Devonport dockyard are world class, their nuclear skills are second to none, and it is the only place in the country that can refit our nuclear submarines, but there is much disquiet about the communications between Babcock and the Ministry of Defence. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that the MOD and Babcock have picked up their communications so that any refit problems on HMS Vanguard—that Trident sub—can be resolved, and without the pressure of it looking as though our Trident subs will not be refitted on time?

As I said earlier, we recognise not only the brilliant skills that are held at the Devonport dockyard, but the importance of having a strong relationship with all our suppliers. We always work very closely, whether it is with Babcock, BAE Systems or Rolls-Royce, on the availability and deliverability of all our military assets.

The Secretary of State was obviously missed at our CASD reception, but we understand that he had a rather important emergency Cabinet meeting and noted that when he emerged from it, he remained as the Defence Secretary, which was helpful. Will he pay tribute from the Dispatch Box to the work that has gone into ensuring that we have had the continuation of the deterrent for 50 years, and does he agree that the problems with the refits make it all the more important that we deliver Dreadnought on time?

I formally offer my apologies for not being able to attend the reception, which I sadly had to miss, but I look forward to attending a future one, and I would like to formally record my thanks to the men and women of Barrow, who have continuously worked so hard to provide us with the world’s cutting-edge submarine technology. Like the hon. Gentleman, I was very proud when I went through Barrow to see those Astute class submarines and the Dreadnought being built. It is absolutely integral to our national security. This is not just about the Royal Navy, but about the whole industrial supply chain pulling together to make sure that Dreadnought is delivered on time and in budget.