UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 6:58 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 6:58 pm, 18th July 2016

Of course I agree with that; I think that is a fact of history that is generally recognised. We have heard many powerful speeches—in particular those by Vernon Coaker and my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat—making the case for the independent nuclear deterrent, but I say to my colleagues who made those powerful speeches that, fair enough, we are going to have an independent nuclear deterrent, but it is not good enough to say that the cost is not an issue. I am looking at this purely as a longstanding member of the Public Accounts Committee, and I say to my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin that a total cost of £31 billion plus a contingency of £10.6 billion plus an ongoing cost of 6% of the defence budget is a lot of money, and we must constantly probe the Government, question them and ask whether we are getting good value for money. I accept the arguments and I have read the reports, and I know all the alternatives have problems, but we simply cannot give a blank cheque to the military-industrial complex; we cannot, as good parliamentarians concerned with good value for money, stop questioning British Aerospace and other providers all over the country on whether they are providing good value for money.

The cross-party Trident commission talked about three possible threats: the re-emergence of a cold war-style scenario; an emerging new nuclear power engaging in strategic competition with the UK; or a rogue state or terrorist group engaging in an asymmetric attack against the UK. The commission found that there were questions about whether this particular system—which is what I am talking about; I am not talking about arguments in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent—would be viable against these threats, so we must require the Secretary of State and the MOD to go on answering these questions.

I am probably not making myself popular with Members on either side of the House who have very strong views, but when I came to this place one of the first ways I irritated a sitting Prime MinisterMrs Thatcher—was to team up with David Heathcoat-Amory and question whether we needed a ballistic missile system and whether Cruise missiles would not be a viable alternative. I know that those who sit on the Defence Committee, who will know much more about defence, have dismissed this, but in recent years the American Government have converted four of their ballistic missile-carrying submarines into submarines that carry Cruise missiles.