The engagement of the Ministry
5. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State
for Defence have both stated that no decisions on the future of
the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent have yet been taken and have
each promised an open debate in Parliament, and in the country,
on any potential Trident successor. In June 2005, the Prime Minister
told the House of Commons that the Government "will listen
to Honourable Members before making any decisions on replacing
Trident". In September
2005, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Dr John
Reid MP, stated that "it is not only a good thing that there
will be such a discussion, it is
inevitable" and pledged,
"we are not going to have a secret Chevaline-like decision
taken by some of the cabinet which then proceeds without any public
discussion or debate".
6. In evidence to us on 1 November 2005, Dr Reid
It is not absolutely essential that you have
a cross party consensus but in my view that would be desirable.
It is also be desirable with any such important issues that there
is the maximum information and consensus across the public as
well as across Parliament.
7. In evidence to the Liaison Committee on 7 February
2006, the Prime Minister stated that "there will be the fullest
possible Parliamentary debate". He stated that the decision
on the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent "is
a huge decision for the country and it will probably be done in
a far more open way than decisions have been taken before".
8. In July 2005, we asked the Ministry of Defence
(MoD) to give us by the end of September a memorandum explaining
what work it and other government departments were doing to inform
the decision on the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent;
when more precisely the decision was expected to be made; what
constraints the UK was under in making this decision; what options
for replacement were under consideration and what estimates had
been made of their costs; and which specific elements of the nuclear
deterrent would require replacing and upgrading and by what dates.
9. In September 2005, the MoD responded to this request,
No decisions on any replacement for the Trident
system have been taken, either in principle or detail. Whilst
some decisions are likely to be necessary in the current Parliament,
they are still some way off. Indeed Ministers have not yet begun
to consider the range of options that might be available. Whilst
work has started in Government to begin the process of preparing
for future Ministerial decisions, this work by officials is still
at a very early stage and no advice has been presented to Ministers.
It will take a considerable time before this work generates a
detailed understanding of the relative costs and capabilities
of different options. We shall let you have this information in
due course, and will seek to be as open as possible.
10. On 24 November 2005, we received a memorandum
outlining some of the broad issues relating to the UK's current
strategic nuclear deterrent: an assessment of the international
legal constraints relating to a replacement of Trident; the expected
life of the Trident system; and the investment at the Atomic Weapons
Establishment. The MoD
told us that it was not in a position to provide information on
future deterrent systems: "Ministers have yet to begin to
consider future deterrent options and it is likely to be some
time before we can provide advice on the range of options that
might be involved, including their costs". 
The MoD also declined to participate in an informal seminar we
held on 13 December 2006 on the grounds that:
there is nothing further we could usefully say
at this stage beyond the information that the Secretary of State
gave to the Committee in evidence on 1 November and that which
was contained in the memorandum sent to the Committee on 24 November.
11. When announcing this inquiry in January 2006,
we published the MoD's memorandum on the internet in order to
inform the public debate. We invited the MoD to give evidence
to the inquiry, but it declined.
We later provided the MoD with the transcripts of the evidence
received and invited it to make any comments on the evidence,
or any corrections of fact. It thanked us, but said it had no
comments to make.
12. We welcome the Government's promise of a full
and open debate in Parliament, and in the country at large, on
the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. We are surprised
and disappointed that the Ministry of Defence has refused to participate
in our inquiry. We believe that a genuine and meaningful debate
is only possible with the active participation of the MoD. We
call upon the MoD to engage fully in our forthcoming inquiries
into the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. We hope
the MoD will make a substantive response to this report and that
it will address openly the issues we have raised.