Hansard on AWE and Trident Replacement, 20th April, 2009

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20 Apr 2009 : Column 58W

AWE Management

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether (a) public-private partnership and (b) private finance initiative arrangements may be put in place under the AWE Aldermaston management contract. [269710]

Mr. Quentin Davies: There are no plans to put in place public-private partnership or private finance initiative arrangements under the Ministry of Defence's contract for the management and operation of the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

20 Apr 2009 : Column 70W

Trident

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of the effects of reductions in the value of sterling on the estimated costs of the Trident replacement programme. [269711]

Mr. Hutton: The main part of the programme, covering the successor to the Vanguard Class submarines, has yet to reach the Initial Gate approval stage. In accordance with normal MOD procurement processes, a revised cost estimate that is due in September 2009 will inform this decision and this will include an assessment of the exchange rate risk.

Defence debate
20 Apr 2009 : Column 65

Willie Rennie:
[...]
Will the Minister confirm whether we will have four or three submarines for the replacement Trident, because Lord Malloch-Brown indicated in another place that we could no longer keep up a continuous sea deterrent with only three submarines? Will the Minister clarify whether we will have four? He is looking puzzled about this; perhaps he should check his colleague’s comments in Hansard as he made a clear statement that we could no longer follow through on the commitment made in 2006 that we might have three replacement submarines rather than four. We need clarification on that because it was only about two and a half years ago that we agreed that there could be a commitment to cut the number to three, and I am sure that many hon. Members cast their vote on that basis. We need clarification on why the decision has, apparently, been made, and on what basis.
I agreed with the Prime Minister when he said recently:
“We cannot expect to successfully exercise moral and political leadership in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons if we ourselves do not demonstrate leadership on the question of the disarmament of our own weapons.”
However, the signal we sent out in 2006, when we agreed to renew the fleet of submarines and to enter into an agreement with the US on new missiles, was destructive. That decision need not have been made at that time; it was never necessary to make all the decisions back in 2006. Whatever the reasons for doing so were—such as, perhaps, support from the previous Prime Minister for the current Prime Minister—it was not necessary to make those decisions at that time, and it sends a message out to all those who will attend the NPT talks next year that we have no intention of giving up our nuclear deterrent until at least the middle of the century. I accept all the arguments about industrial drum beat and the necessary lead time for research, development and design, but making a full and, effectively, final decision on Trident six years before it was absolutely essential was unnecessary and reckless. We could by all means have made some of the
decisions—the essential ones—at an earlier stage, but with main gate at around 2014, the big decision only needed to be made in advance of that. In fact, we should have a debate at initial gate too, rather than the announcement being snuck out in a recess.

Mr. Hoyle: The hon. Gentleman talks about drum beat, which is important to Barrow-in-Furness and keeping the skills there, but the key point is the necessity of taking the decision now if we are to keep our design skills in place. The people with such skills cannot simply be brought together and then design a submarine. Whether the wider decision is right or wrong is another matter, but the fact is that we must make the decision one way or the other and do so now, so I disagree with him.

Willie Rennie: I agree with that, and the hon. Gentleman should have listened more carefully to my comments as I referred to “all the decisions”. Some of the decisions—the essential ones—could have been made at an earlier stage, but why make all the decisions then, because that sends a message out to the whole world that we are going to renew no matter what happens in the NPT talks in 2010? The hon. Gentleman might think that this is a subtle difference, but it is actually an extremely important difference. Many people—experts from outside the House—recognise that we had an extremely valid and powerful position and we should have stuck to it, but unfortunately not enough hon. Members agreed.
Linda Gilroy: I am a little confused as to whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing from a multilateralist or unilateralist point of view. Will he clarify that? We now have what is basically a minimum deterrent, and we need to keep that minimum deterrent in order to be part of the negotiations, not just in 2010 but beyond as well.

Willie Rennie: This is how things have happened in the past: we have made the main decision at main gate—we have not made all the decisions well in advance of when it was necessary. I am a multilateralist, but I want to get rid of weapons, and I want to ensure that we have the right conditions so that we can have a decent set of talks in 2010 with no barriers in the way. What the House did in 2006 was put one big barrier in the way—or rather four now, not three—because people think that we are now committed to Trident until 2050. Some Members of this House may not want to get rid of nuclear weapons at all, but I do; I want to get rid of those weapons. A lot of people, however, seem to hold to the position that we should keep weapons no matter what.

Mr. Arbuthnot: I am following the hon. Gentleman’s speech with enjoyment, but I am now confused as to why he is asking for an answer now about whether we have three or four submarines. Can that not be delayed until later?

Willie Rennie: I think that sending out a message on whether we are going for three or four is important because if we give the impression that, as well as the reduction in warheads, we will go down to three submarines, that would be significant—and what message does it send to the rest of the world if we are already going back on a commitment that was so recently made in this House? It is important for us to know whether the intention is to have three or four submarines.
Allowing the House to make decisions at a later stage would have significant advantages. It would send a message to the rest of the world that we were seriously contemplating a nuclear-free world. [Interruption.] The Conservatives scoff because they do not really believe in getting rid of nuclear weapons. They pretend that they are multilateralists, but in reality they want to keep nuclear weapons for ever. I may be an idealist, but I still hold out hope of getting rid of nuclear weapons, because that is what this country, and the world, deserves.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, and I am a little bit not up to date on Liberal Democrat policy. Given what he says from the Front Bench, when a Liberal Democrat Government are elected in 2010, will his party’s new great leader be committed to abolishing Trident? What will his decision be?

Willie Rennie: We want the NPT talks in 2010 to be a great success, and we will put a huge amount of effort into making sure that they are a success.

Mr. Gray: So do we all.

Willie Rennie: That is doubtful. We have made no bones about the fact that we are in favour of renewing Trident after those talks if we are unsuccessful in them. We have made that absolutely clear. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is being a wee bit mischievous. I will send him our policy document, since he has such great interest in our policy. He may benefit from reading it.
Waiting until 2012 or 2014 would give us a clearer view of the world. We could see how the world was at that time. Why make the decisions way before it is absolutely necessary to do so? We would also be able to weigh up the various defence and other expenditure priorities before putting a mark on the contract. All is not lost; there is a way out for the Government, and I like to help them whenever I can. When the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), makes his winding-up speech, he could announce that he will allow the House to have a vote in 2012 or 2013 on the main gate decision on the replacement of Trident subs. I know that he has the power to do so; he has tremendous power within the Labour party, and he may allow us to have that vote. It is essential that in 2012 or 2013, the House is given the power to vote. There is also an indication that we should have some discussion at the initial gate
stage, rather than the initial gate decision being snuck out in another recess. Perhaps the Minister could explore that possibility, too. Such an announcement today would be the most powerful boost that this country could give to those NPT talks in 2010. It is a powerful message that we could send to other countries, and I urge him to make that announcement today.
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