DEFENCE – TRIDENT SUCCESSOR – 3 February 2014
Vernon Coaker: I had to look twice at today’s date. Reading the Guardian this morning, I thought that it must be April the first. Apparently the Defence Secretary is the champion of the shipyards and the workers, the insider on Shadow Cabinet discussions, and the man in the know on Labour Party policy. Labour’s position is in favour of the minimum credible independent continuous-at-sea deterrent, and I have told the Defence Secretary that directly and recently. Will he now tell the House why he is playing party politics with an issue of such national importance?
Mr Hammond: I do regard this as an issue of national importance and I hugely welcome the position of the hon. Gentleman and his Front-Bench colleagues, but we should not be naive about this: he knows and I know that there are those who do not support this position and that there are those who are seeking to undermine the consensus that we have formed in the national interest. I hope he will agree with me that it is important that all of us who believe this consensus is in the national interest do what we can when we can to ensure that those who are seeking to destabilise it do not succeed.
Vernon Coaker: Having been to Barrow after a few days in post to see the successor programme and having met Keep our Future Afloat and the trade unions regularly since then, my and our position is clear. Perhaps the Secretary of State is a little confused. Are these whispers he says he has heard about the Opposition in fact about those he serves alongside in government, namely the Liberal Democrats? Is it not his coalition partners, not Labour, where the opposition comes from when it comes to retaining a nuclear deterrent?
Mr Hammond: In terms of official party policy the hon. Gentleman is of course right and I do not know why he is trying to make a spat out of this: we agree on this issue. He knows very well, however, who within his party is seeking to reopen this issue. He knows what is going on behind the scenes and I absolutely support his determination to hold the line in the Labour party. I wish him every success in doing so.
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Dr Julian Lewis: I welcome the fact that Members of both the Conservative and Labour Front Benches are vying to show which party is the more committed to the successor Trident nuclear system. Is the Secretary of State aware that an analyst at the normally sensible Royal United Services Institute defence think-tank has suggested that even an inactive fleet of submarines can help deter actors from seriously threatening the UK? Does he agree that to adopt such a dangerously destabilising posture would not even save any significant money at all?
Mr Philip Hammond: First, I agree with my hon. Friend. The outcome of the Trident review precisely showed that the negative impact on our strategic defence would not be justified by the small amounts of money that would be saved by changing the posture. May I also say to him that in respect of the specific article to which he refers, the content was much more measured than the headline suggested and in fact made it clear that there would be very significant additional risks in adopting a different nuclear posture?