MPs today called for clarity on spending on Britain’s Trident replacement programme and on the process through which this spending is approved. But the Minister responding to the Westminster Hall debate (1:30pm) provided few answers beyond repeating decades-old justifications for retention of the Cold War system.

Peter Luff MP, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology attempted to minimise the scale of the money that will be committed ahead of the main investment decision (‘Main Gate’), due to be made in 2016. He stated that spending on actual parts for the submarines is “likely to amount to around £500m”. Yet such spending is only one part of the total amount that will have been committed by that point. In a Parliamentary Answer released today, Liam Fox had already revealed to Jeremy Corbyn MP that “The forecast cost…of the elements of the concept phase” totals £905m of which “£687 million had been spent to the end of January 2011”.

Despite this, the Minister said, “It is simply not true to say that large parts of the build programme will have been completed by Main Gate [2016]. Nor is it true to say – and I can reassure the Honourable Lady and the Honourable Gentlemen – that we will be locked into contracts and that we will have spent so much that we have to build the boats when we get to Main Gate. There’s nothing in the current programme preventing us from making choices in 2016 about what deterrent capability we might want or how many boats we might order.”

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said “We would welcome the Minister’s assurances were they not coming from the same Ministry which is currently building an unwanted aircraft carrier. Today the Minister trotted out many of the tired old justifications for the continuation of a Cold War stance on nuclear weapons. He says there is nothing to prevent the government from ‘making choices in 2016 about what deterrent capability we might want’. But he says that on the same day that Liam Fox confirms £283m has already been authorised for the very compartment that will carry the Trident missiles. How the minister can say the choice of capability remains open is far from clear when he fails to consider any other option. Spending will soon go ahead on parts of the system – such as the ordering of actual steel for the subs – even though such spending has never been authorised. Ministers need to launch a proper public debate on whether Britain actually needs nuclear weapons for its security. When everything else is up for cutting, Trident cannot be excluded from consideration.”

Speaking after the debate which she had initiated, Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran said “There is genuine concern about the escalating cost of Trident replacement. The debate today was about trying to get more information from the government about what has already been spent, but also about what they intend to spend over the coming years. We were told in 2007 when Parliament voted on this issue that the project would cost between £15-20 billion but we know that past projects have frequently gone well over budget. We need as much transparency as possible about what money is being spent on our behalf on this nuclear weapons system.”

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The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.

Written answer from Liam Fox responding to Jeremy Corbyn on the cost of spending in the concept phase of the programme