DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – TRIDENT & CARRIERS – 1 March 2010

[Willie Rennie: I am relieved to hear what my hon. Friend (Nick Harvey) said, because I have not spoken to him since his visit. That shows the Conservatives' position on the matter – they are not committed to the aircraft carriers. Revealingly, however, the Defence Secretary also refused to answer the relevant question, and I was a bit puzzled by that, so I hope that he will take this opportunity to contribute.]

Dr Julian Lewis: I can help out the hon. Gentleman, because last Thursday I, like the Secretary of State for Defence, had the pleasure of going to Portsmouth to attend the steel-cutting ceremony for the first of the aircraft carriers. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, who said that the Government were committed to the aircraft carriers – I think that I am using his words correctly – unless there were to be some very radical recommendations from the defence review. I took that to mean that the Government's position is that they are not exempting the aircraft carriers from the defence review, even though they believe that they will probably be confirmed by it. That is a sensible position for the Secretary of State, and indeed for us, to take.

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[Mr Rennie: In short, Labour and the Conservatives will never, ever disarm. With their words, they dismiss the treaty. The inability absolutely to predict events means that according to them, there should always be a nuclear deterrent. Irrespective of the threats, the cost and the treaty's aim to ease international tension and strengthen trust, they will always retain the full-blooded, gold-plated system. That directly contradicts the disarmament aims in the treaty.]

Dr Lewis: Does the hon. Gentleman understand the meaning of the phrase "general and complete disarmament", which was in the part of the treaty that he read out? It means an arms-free world. When we get to the stage at which we can safely have an arms-free world, we can safely have a nuclear-free world. If we have a nuclear-free world when countries are still at each other's throats and armed to the teeth with conventional weapons, we will make the world safe only for world war three. As long as other countries have nuclear weapons in a world such as we live in today, my party will want to have a nuclear deterrent.

[Mr Rennie: That is the cold war mentality-it has never moved on. There is always an idea that because we cannot predict the future, nothing must happen.]

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Dr Lewis rose –

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Bob Ainsworth): I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he is going to stand up now and tell us whether the defence budget will be safe from the axe in his party's proposed autumn Budget.]

Dr Lewis: It is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman to give way, but when I try to intervene it is because I want to ask him questions, not because I intend to answer any he might wish to put. The question I wish to put to him is this: does he, or does he not, accept that if any money that is forthcoming from a Treasury reserve budget in order to fight wars is added to the core budget, yet the proportion is still only 2.5 per cent. of GDP, it is no good the Secretary of State saying the Government are funding the wars separately if the overall peacetime defence budget as a proportion of GDP is remaining the same? The Secretary of State is giving with one hand and taking away with the other, and he is not fully funding the wars that he undertook.