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Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th December 2011.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 2:30 pm, 19th December 2011

What expenditure on the Trident replacement he expects to have incurred by 2016.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

We expect to spend £3.9 billion on the successor submarine programme by the maingate decision-point in 2016. We have deferred the decision on the future warhead until the next Parliament. We are spending around £900 million a year at AWE—the Atomic Weapons Establishment—on capital investment and running costs to ensure that we can sustain the capabilities to maintain the current stockpile. As a consequence of this sustainment, we will also have the capability to design and produce a new warhead, should that be required. We expect to spend around £8 million over the next three years to examine the condition of the physical infrastructure at the naval bases and current communications systems for the successor submarines.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

By the Minister’s own figures, the Government are proposing to spend £5 billion on the submarine replacement and the preparations for a new missile system from AWE Aldermaston, which means that after the next election the new Parliament will be confronted with the decision whether to renew the Trident system, having already spent £5 billion on it. Does the Minister not think that we are walking—indeed, sleepwalking—into a massive expenditure, after that, of £25 billion on a replacement, plus the running costs? Is it not time we brought this vanity project to an end and cancelled the Trident system?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

No, I do not think that at all. In fact, not spending that money would prevent us from preserving the option for the next Parliament to take the decision. The hon. Gentleman is fond of pointing out the problems in respect of the capability for the nuclear deterrent, but let me assure him that the work we are undertaking will have benefits for other classes of nuclear submarines in future— particularly in respect of the primary propulsion systems, for example with the PWR3. There are real benefits from doing this work—not just for the security of the nation in the short term, but for the long term as well.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

Given that both the Polaris and Trident submarines came in on budget and on time, is that not a good precedent for the successor system? Will the Minister take the opportunity to repeat in resounding terms the assurance that the Prime Minister gave to Conservative MPs when the coalition was formed—that Trident will be renewed, whether the Liberal Democrats like it or not?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I believe that, notwithstanding the views of Jeremy Corbyn, no programme is subject to greater scrutiny in the House than the nuclear deterrent. That is one of the reasons for the accuracy of our costings. Let me assure my hon. Friend that the primary responsibility for our nation is the security of the country, that the nuclear deterrent is the ultimate guarantee of the country’s security, and that we stand firmly behind it.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the Minister tell us how many Government staff are working on his review of alternatives to the Trident system, when he now expects the review to end, and whether he has reached a final conclusion on whether its findings will be published?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman off the top of my head exactly how many Government colleagues are involved in the review, but I will write to him about it. What I can tell him is that its findings will be available towards the end of next year for the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to consider, and that, given that it will constitute a full and frank exploration of the alternative systems at a highly classified level, there are no plans to publish either the report or the information on which it draws. However, we are a long way from the end of the review, and it is therefore premature to speculate on how the final assessment might be used once it has been completed.

Photo of Tessa Munt Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells

What is the point of having a review if no one, except a select few, has an opportunity to look at its findings? Should not the Liberal Democrats, in particular, be allowed some access to that information? [Interruption.]

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces says, I was of the view that the Deputy Prime Minister was a Liberal Democrat—and he will see the report.