[Oliver Colvile: ... Earlier today I looked at the Liberal Democrats’ website. They are still saying:
"Britain's nuclear deterrent, which consists of four Trident submarines, is out-dated and expensive. It is a relic of the Cold War and not up-to-date in 21st century Britain. Nowadays, most of our threats come from individual terrorist groups, not communist countries with nuclear weapons. The Liberal Democrats are the only main party willing to face up to those facts. The UK has four Trident submarines on constant patrol, which are nearing the end of their life. A decision needs to be made about what we do to replace them."
I emphasise that I am quoting the Liberal Democrats:
"It would be extremely expensive and unnecessary to replace all four submarines, so we propose to replace some of the submarines instead. They would not be on constant patrol but could be deployed if the threat from a nuclear-armed country increased."
They quite obviously have taken no notice of what has been going on in Ukraine.]
Dr Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend is making a crucial point. It is worth adding that the Liberal Democrats, when sending a submarine to sea, would send it unarmed, wait for a crisis to arise and then sail the submarine back to its home port in order to put the nuclear weapons on board, presumably by the grace and favour of the country now threatening us.
[Oliver Colvile: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. The Liberal Democrats are making it clear that they want to reduce the number of submarines and they might make that a condition of being in any coalition with the Labour Party. ... ]
* * *
Dr Lewis: Will the Minister confirm that 13 Type 26 vessels will be ordered?
[The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Mark Francois): As my hon. Friend will know, we are still at the assessment phase for the Type 26 programme, but 13 is still the planning assumption. Additionally, the latest version of the Royal Marines’ protected mobility Viking vehicle is being rolled out, and four new Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers will be built over the next four years, with the first due to enter service in 2016. We are also making full provision for the successor deterrent system, providing the ultimate guarantee of our national security. In answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport – and to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) before he has made it – the Royal Navy has maintained a continuous at-sea deterrent for over 50 years, based on four boats. It is envisaged that that will continue under a new Conservative Government.]
Dr Lewis: I would not have liked the Minister to have anticipated an intervention that was not then made, so can we therefore conclude that in a hung Parliament there would be no question of our ever agreeing again to a deal with another party to postpone the main-gate contract signing, as unfortunately happened in 2010?
[Mr Francois: My hon. Friend, with his usual eloquence, tempts me down a difficult alley. I cannot give him the assurance that he wants on that point, but I think I have made the party’s position on four boats clear. I regret that I disappoint him, as I know he has hankered for a fifth boat for some time, but I cannot promise that to him either. ... ]
[NOTE: The Minister was joking about Julian wanting a fifth boat ... probably.]