CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – NUCLEAR DETERRENT – 15 March 2010

Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman [Nick Harvey] for his usual courtesy in giving way. As I understand it, both the Government and the Opposition have said that there will be only one exemption from the strategic defence review: we have said that there will be a strategic nuclear deterrent when the review is over. Do the Liberal Democrats share that view, or do they want that question put into the review?

Nick Harvey: I thought that the Government and Opposition had said rather more than that – I thought that they had said that they were absolutely hellbent on the method of sustaining the nuclear deterrent that was distilled in the White Paper – and, indeed, subsequently voted through the House. If the hon. Gentleman's question was more broadly whether the nuclear deterrent should be included in the review, I must say that it should be. The Liberal Democrats have said nothing to the effect that we believe a decision should be taken at this stage to cancel the deterrent. The position is as stark as the Conservatives' posture suggests only if one subscribes to the belief that the only possible way in which to sustain a nuclear deterrent past the late 2020s or early 2030s is through the mechanism that the Government devised in their White Paper. I do not believe that that is the case. It is therefore only right and proper that the decision taken at that time should be covered by the strategic defence review.

Dr Lewis: Let me make the Conservatives' position crystal clear. Our position is that outwith the terms of reference of the review, there will be a strategic nuclear deterrent, and it will be submarine based. As far as I know, there are only two possibilities for a submarine-based strategic nuclear deterrent: ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. I do not mind looking at cruise missiles again, but I would be amazed if they were found to be viable. What is the hon. Gentleman's position? Is he saying that, in the unlikely event of the Liberal Democrats' leader becoming Prime Minister, there will be a strategic nuclear deterrent?

Nick Harvey: We have a nuclear deterrent. It is there, it is paid for, and it has another 20 years of life in it. The point is that the hon. Gentleman already seems hellbent-now, here, in 2010-on deciding that there should continue to be a nuclear deterrent during the 30 years between 2030 and 2060. He view appears to believe that that should happen irrespective of any other development in any part of the globe. He has already made that decision, and in so doing has held in contempt the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which calls on the nuclear states to use their best offices and sincere endeavours to negotiate away nuclear deterrents over a period of time.

I cannot say now what the strategic environment will be in 2030 with any more certainty than the hon. Gentleman can. What I can make clear is this: while it is certainly not the Liberal Democrats' view that we should do away with our nuclear deterrent in the aftermath of the election, it is ludicrous to conduct a review of our defences that we portray as strategic, long-term and tackling fundamental questions, if a precondition of the debate that is to take place is an absolute certainty that, irrespective of anything that happens in the world, we are hellbent on being a nuclear power for the 30 years between 2030 and 2060. I am not saying that the Government have said that; I am saying that that is what the hon. Gentleman said last time he rose to speak at the Dispatch Box.

Dr Lewis: As I rise to speak at the Dispatch Box again, let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. The nuclear deterrent that we shall require to replace the existing nuclear deterrent will take a long time to construct. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can wait 10 or 15 years before deciding whether or not to start building the next generation of nuclear deterrent, he is taking us, and the electorate, for fools. As for the commitment in the non-proliferation treaty, nothing in the treaty requires us to get rid of our nuclear weapons as long as other countries have nuclear weapons too, and that is something that my party will never do.

Nick Harvey rose-

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Before the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) replies, may I remind all Members that interventions must be brief? Many Members are still waiting to make their contributions to the debate.

Nick Harvey: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

No one is saying that we should close off the option for future Governments now, but it makes nonsense of a strategic review to take the position adopted by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and to say that, come what may, we will remain a nuclear power for all those decades.