DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – TRIDENT – 24 July 2006

Dr Julian Lewis: Given the importance of the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in finding the money for any successor to the Trident submarine fleet, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether his good friend the Chancellor told him before he made his Mansion House speech, or only afterwards, that he was going to declare himself in favour of keeping the nuclear deterrent, not only in the present Parliament but in the long term?

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Des Browne): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his persistence in trying to get from me an answer other than the one that I have given him now on a number of occasions, which is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have many discussions, the nature of which I consider to be confidential. [Laughter] It was hardly a surprise to me that my right hon. Friend should make a speech that was entirely consistent with party policy. I only wish that all of the people on these Benches would make speeches that were entirely consistent with party policy.]

Dr Lewis:  With the greatest respect to the Secretary of State, not only was it consistent with party policy, it went rather further, because in talking about the long term it suggested replacement, not just continuation, of the existing fleet. But let us leave that aside and take the right hon. Gentleman's answer as a no – he did not know until he read the speech. Given that the Prime Minister has said that the nuclear deterrent historically has tended to be sui generis, thus implying that separate funds would be found to pay for any successor to the present Trident fleet, can the Secretary of State confirm that it is not intended to raid the conventional defence budget to pay for a new generation of the strategic nuclear deterrent?

[Des Browne: I can confirm that it is not intended to raid the conventional budget to pay for a new generation of nuclear deterrent, but I do that from a position that no decision has yet been made about whether there will be a new generation. The timing of the decision will be such that it will be able to be incorporated into the discussions between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury in the comprehensive spending review, and that is when the decisions will be made. Finally, the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to come to the conclusion that my answer meant that I did not have a conversation with my right hon. Friend about the content of his speech.]