Skip to main content

Trident Nuclear Programme

Volume 741: debated on Monday 20 November 2023

6. If he will make an estimate of the annual maintenance and running costs of the Trident nuclear programme. (900152)

The Ministry of Defence co-ordinates a range of interdependent programmes to support, maintain and renew the nuclear deterrent. The expected cost of the combined defence nuclear enterprise will be set out at supplementary estimates in February.

The estimated costs of Trident’s renewal stand at the moment at £31 billion, with a further £10 billion earmarked for contingency. We know that containment of nuclear material is a problem for the Ministry of Defence, and we also know from recent reports that a Vanguard-class submarine nearly had a collision over the weekend. Our party put in a freedom of information request asking about transportation of nuclear material through Scotland, and that was rebuffed. The UK Government may be content to play second fiddle to the US on weapons of mass destruction, but can the Secretary of State explain the lack of transparency on WMD movement in Scotland, and justify Scotland’s being kept in the dark? Is it not time to abandon this costly and dangerous bomb and get it out of Scotland for good?

I profoundly disagree about this being the time to abandon the deterrent. I could not think of a worse time. The policy of the hon. Gentleman’s party is not just to abandon the deterrent but to withdraw from NATO. I could not think of a more reckless policy to undertake in the face of Russian aggression. We support the deterrent and we will continue to invest in it.

Does the Minister share my relief that both main parties in the House of Commons support the retention and renewal of the nuclear deterrent? Did he also share my relief that, in July 2016 when the vote was held on whether to renew the nuclear deterrent, there was a massive majority of 355 in favour of doing that? That sends a message to the Scottish nationalists about how unrepresentative their views are.

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for that remark. I was delighted that those on the Labour Front Bench showed their agreement by nodding when I gave my previous answer. I am delighted that there is consensus. I think we all agree that, particularly at this time, the country needs the security of a deterrent to deter what would be the most aggressive threats to our nation’s freedom.

May I confirm again that Labour’s support for our nuclear deterrent, which we maintain on behalf of our NATO allies, is total? However, following reports in newspapers about a malfunctioning depth gauge on a Vanguard submarine at sea, can the Minister explain what steps he has taken to ensure that such an incident never happens again?

First, I am delighted to hear confirmation of Labour’s total support for the deterrent. That sends a very powerful message to our adversaries about our national endeavour to support the deterrent and its renewal. On the specific story that the hon. Lady mentions, she will not be surprised to hear that we do not comment on operational matters in respect of our submarines.

This one will break the convention.

Let me also welcome the Secretary of State to their position. The nuclear enterprise has an uncapped budget, and, after the demise of HS2, is the largest single public procurement project on these islands. For those of us on the SNP Benches at least, that is money spent on a weapons system that is designed never to be used, which not only bleeds money from the conventional MOD budget but sucks it from hospitals, schools and social care. On a day when the preview of the autumn statement in the Financial Times reads,

“Stagnation nation: governing the UK when ‘there is no money’”,

can the Minister advise the House what steps his Department is taking to ensure that there are no further cuts to conventional forces or elsewhere because of the uncapped, runaway Trident budget?

The hon. Gentleman talks about budget and cost. I can be open about the figure that matters: 80 million. That is the combined death toll in the first and second world wars. We have not had a third world war and we are profoundly lucky, and I put it to the House that it is not a coincidence.

We know from the official history of the submarine service by Peter Hennessy and James Jinks that, during the transition to Vanguard, contingencies were made in Whitehall for the possible alteration of the continuous at-sea deterrent to take account of the complete breakdown of one or more hulls. This involved diving a Polaris submarine into Loch Long to remain there on a quick reaction alert. Can the Minister advise the House on what discussions his Department is having on the contingencies that we now see arising from an almost 40-year-old Vanguard fleet?

The hon. Gentleman, too, will not be surprised to hear that we will not comment on that, other than to say that we have had a continuous at-sea deterrent since 1969. We should all be proud of that, and I am delighted to see that Members on both sides of the House who support our Union also support the nuclear deterrent.