DEFENCE – TRIDENT POSTPONEMENT – 16 September 2010

Dr Julian Lewis: May I seek to reassure hon. Members on both sides of the House who are firmly committed to the continuation of the nuclear deterrent, given that I was my party's spokesman on this issue for many years, that both I and the Secretary of State for Defence came into politics primarily to ensure that this country would always have nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them? I cannot answer directly for the Secretary of State for Defence, but I would be amazed if he remained Secretary of State for Defence if a decision of the sort that was aired on the BBC were to be taken in defiance of all the pledges given to the electorate and given to Conservative MPs by our leadership when we were asked to join the coalition.

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Dr Julian Lewis: Will my hon. Friend give way?

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): I need to make a bit of progress, and I have a suspicion that my hon. Friend will want to come in a bit later.

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Nick Harvey: Let me say this again: the decision on Trident has been taken. It was laid out in the coalition agreement, which made it perfectly clear:

"We will maintain Britain's nuclear deterrent"

and, in due course, replace it. The value-for-money study, which is currently taking place but has yet to arrive at any decisions, may well consider the expenditure profile, and the order in which we programme different parts of the work, but I cannot speculate on that. However, the initial gate decision is on course to be made later this year or, at the latest, in the early part of next. We know that under the timetable, main gate will be at the tail end of 2014 or, possibly, in the early part of 2015; that is already known and understood ...

Dr Julian Lewis rose –

Mr Harvey: Ah! I had anticipated my hon. Friend wanting to come in, and this was the point at which I thought he would want me to give way.

Dr Lewis: And the Minister has done so very graciously. He is doing his best at damage limitation. What would reassure me even more would be to know from him that no one employed by the Government was responsible for the extremely damaging story that was leaked to the BBC last night.

Mr Harvey: I have absolutely no grounds whatever to think or believe that it was, and to the extent that I am able, I am happy to offer that reassurance. Obviously, I cannot account for every employee anywhere in government, which is rather a large thing, but I do not believe that that is what happened or think that there is any point in the House dwelling on any speculation about what happened.

Dr Lewis: Will the Minister allow me one more time?

Mr Harvey: Well, as it is my hon. Friend, I will.

Dr Lewis: If that is the case and we are meant to discount the story, will the Minister just confirm one thing? When he talks about possible decisions about main gate in the context of value for money, does he accept that no interpretation of a value-for-money assessment could result in a decision that the Trident replacement should not go ahead at all?

Mr Harvey: I do not think that that is within the scope of the study under consideration; the study is about how we might improve the existing programme's value for money and delivery. Again, I cannot pre-empt the decisions that the National Security Council will arrive at shortly, when it addresses the value-for-money report, but my hon. Friend's point is considerably wide of its scope.

[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here]