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Volume 608: debated on Monday 18 April 2016

2. What discussions he has had with the Leader of the House on the timetable for a vote in the House on replacement of the Trident missile submarines. (904478)

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear on 10 February, we will bring forward a debate and vote in the House at the appropriate moment, and announce it in the usual way.

Can the Minister tell the House where Trident falls in value terms in regard to the cost-benefit ratio using the Government’s own standard appraisal mechanism? Can he confirm that an appraisal has been conducted, and will he make it available to Members in the Commons Library?

I will of course make available what figures I can to the hon. Gentleman, but let me be clear that the overall cost of the Successor programme was set out in the strategic defence and security review that we published in November. It is £31 billion, which should be seen in the context of a deterrent that will serve us for over 30 years.

It is an open secret that the Ministry of Defence wanted this debate to take place in the spring, so I do not blame the Secretary of State for the fact that it has not happened. However, he is on record as saying that people are worried about the wavering position of the Labour Opposition on this matter. Would it not assist us to restore bipartisanship to the issue if the debate were to be brought forward, at least to before the Labour party’s conference, or do the Government—by which I mean No. 10—prefer dissension at a Labour party conference to bipartisanship on a particularly important issue?

Well, no. The position is that in November we announced our commitment to replacing the existing four Vanguard submarines, and we would like that principle to be endorsed by a vote in this House. I would obviously like that vote to take place as soon as possible, respecting of course the periods of purdah that will exist this spring and summer.

Does the Secretary of State understand that, unlike some on the Opposition Benches, we will not allow any individual questions over cost—valid though they might be in and of themselves—to be used as an excuse to wriggle out of our commitment to the British people? Those who remain true to the spirit of Attlee will do the right thing for Britain.

I am very glad to hear that. I would certainly caution the Labour party against moving away from the moderate mainstream support for a deterrent that every previous Labour Government have expressed. Indeed, I note that the advisers of the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) told journalists that her review would be fudged, as the

“last thing we want…is another reason for those who oppose Jeremy to call for him to go”.

The hon. Lady seems to be the only person who thinks that defending our country means defending the Labour leader.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Trident alternatives review concluded that there was no credible or affordable alternative to a Trident-based nuclear deterrent?

Yes. The alternatives were looked at exhaustively as part of the Trident alternatives review three years ago, and I set out the principal arguments as to why we are making this replacement in a speech to Policy Exchange on 23 March.

Last Monday, I had the privilege of visiting Rolls-Royce in Derby, which is working on the Successor programme, and meeting members of the unions and the management. The one thing that they all want is certainty on the decision on this programme and on provision for the future. Does the Secretary of State agree that any notion that we would have an easy option to cancel the programme at some point in the future—say, at the next general election—would be disastrous not only for our defence but for the workforces in Derby and other places that are reliant on it?

It would be disastrous for our defence and for jobs in this country. It would also be disastrous for our relationship with all our principal allies. Let me be very clear that this programme is already going ahead. We have spent nearly £4 billion, as authorised by the House, on the Successor programme. Work is under way in Barrow, in Derby and in a number of other locations across the country, including those in Scotland, and the programme is already employing several thousand people in small companies.

The Minister for Defence Procurement wrote in November 2014:

“The security requirement to source and sustain certain capabilities within the UK—for instance nuclear submarines…means that single source procurement is and will remain a significant activity… The taxpayer is entitled to know that this money is being spent properly…That is why the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) has been established”.

So can the Secretary of State please tell the House how many meetings his Department has had so far with the SSRO about the Successor programme?

I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady about the number of meetings that may or may not have taken place. Let me be clear, however, that the programme is now under way and it is time she made up her mind as to whether she will support it or will we be taking a message to our allies, including the President of the United States, who visits on Friday, that the Opposition are no longer prepared to support a deterrent that they have always supported in the past?

I asked the Secretary of State specifically about the SSRO and the Successor programme. I appreciate that he does not know the answer, so let me tell him that there have been no meetings—I have a letter here from the Ministry of Defence. The SSRO was tasked with saving at least £200 million last year through its scrutiny of MOD contracts. However, because the Secretary of State will not allow it to do its job properly, it has agreed savings of only £100,000. Why is it not being allowed to scrutinise the Successor contract? Is it because, as the Department has said:

“The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options… unfettered from public comment about”

their “affordability”? That is not good enough. We demand that the Secretary of State reverse the decision and open up the Successor programme to the independent scrutiny that it requires.

The hon. Lady appears to misunderstand completely the function of the Single Source Regulations Office, which is to supervise contracts once they are signed. This particular contract is still under negotiation, and I am certainly not going to go into the details with her or, indeed, in the House until it is signed. Once it is signed, we will of course ensure that it is properly scrutinised.