New Forest East

DEFENCE – TRIDENT – 10 July 2013

Jonathan Lord: We know that the Liberal Democrats, the party of half-measures, are very half-hearted and mealy-mouthed about this issue, and it is no surprise to me that they are not represented here today. I think the direction of travel of my Conservative party, ably led and assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) here, is absolutely clear; we wish to have a Trident replacement. Will the hon. Gentleman [John Woodcock] give me some assurances that the Labour party, another potential party of Government, has the same view on this matter?

John Woodcock: Indeed I can, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution.

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Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman [John Woodcock] for his generosity in giving way. I should like to revert to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord), whom I thank for his kind remarks, which I did not deserve. Will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to the last Defence questions, when the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) made the excellent point from the Dispatch Box that if the alternatives study says that the choice is between a full-time deterrent and a part-time deterrent of, say, only two submarines, then at least we should get round to signing the contract straight away for the two submarines? I was encouraged by that and I shall be pressing the Secretary of State for a meeting to discuss that proposal so that Trident cannot again become a political football between the Liberal Democrats and the two major parties that support it.

John Woodcock: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his wise words on this issue, which we hear so often from him. There could well be a number of reasons why it makes sense to bring forward the main gate decision. Indeed, if that requires a new coalition for that one issue in this Parliament, then I know that many of us, from across the House and in this Chamber today, will be prepared to be a part of it.

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Also, given the high fixed costs, does the Minister agree that abandoning CASD would mean a disproportionate downgrading of the deterrent’s capacity to deter the grotesque horror of a nuclear war, by removing the guarantee that currently exists, namely that any nation that launched a nuclear attack on the UK could be hit by a counter-strike no matter what damage our country sustained? Furthermore, does he agree that it would be highly perverse if those who pursue disarmament – admittedly for absolutely laudable motives – were actually to increase the risk of nuclear conflict in future decades through their unilateral gestures, rather than making the world safer? Also, if I can tempt him to speculate, does he think that it was that woolly thinking from the Liberal Democrats that has left the party in the extraordinary position of having no representation at all in the defence ministerial team at this vital moment?

Dr Julian Lewis: Thank goodness for that. [Laughter]

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Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the Minister for giving way. I know that his time is so limited. It is worth putting on the record that the Prime Minister has said that, as long as he remains leader of the Conservative party, we will have a continuous at-sea deterrent. But it would help – and it would be nice – if those of us who have requested a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss how we can prevent being blackmailed in future by the Liberal Democrats in the event of a hung Parliament, as we were in the past, could be given a particular date to look forward to.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Dunne): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing the commitment of the Conservative party, from the highest levels, to continuous at-sea deterrence. I was not aware that he had requested a meeting with the Secretary of State. I am happy to take that up, and if the Secretary of State is unavailable I am happy to meet him as a fall-back, in the first instance. ...