Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report

1  Introduction

1. In July 2005, we announced that we would conduct a series of inquiries into the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent over the course of the current Parliament. Our intention was to encourage and inform the public debate on the future of the nuclear deterrent and to highlight the key issues and questions to be addressed in that debate.

2. Our first report, published in June 2006, focused on the strategic context and timetable for decision-making.[1] It considered the threats which the UK's deterrent was intended to combat, which countries could develop nuclear weapons capabilities in the 2025 to 2050 timeframe, and how this might affect the strategic context in which decisions on the UK's deterrent would be made. And it sought to clarify the timetable within which these decisions would be taken and implemented.

3. In this second-stage inquiry, we have focused on the UK manufacturing and skills base. We have considered the level of investment needed to sustain essential infrastructure and core skills in the UK submarine construction industry; the potential consequences of a gap in the submarine building programme for the long-term viability of the domestic manufacturing and skills base; the implications of the rationalisation of the UK ship-building industry for the construction, maintenance and affordability of a Vanguard-class successor; and the linkage between the Government's Defence Industrial Strategy and the decision on retention, replacement or abolition of the UK's Trident system. We have also examined the Government's investment programme at the Atomic Weapons Establishment and we have considered the possible impact of a new civil nuclear build programme for the retention of nuclear skills and expertise in the military sector.

4. As part of our inquiry, we visited the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire; BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria; Devonport Management Limited at Devonport Royal Dockyard, Plymouth; Rolls-Royce at Raynesway, Derbyshire; and HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane and Coulport. We took evidence at Westminster from BAE Systems, Devonport Management Limited, Rolls-Royce, MacTaggart Scott, Alsthom, Weir Strachan and Henshaw, the Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign, GMB, Amicus, Greenpeace, CND, and Lord Drayson and Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials. We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry. And we appreciate the assistance provided by our specialist advisers, particularly Rear Admiral Richard Cheadle and Professor Michael Clarke.

5. The Government's White Paper on the future of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent was published on 4 December 2006.[2] It concluded that the UK should retain an independent, submarine-based nuclear deterrent capability.

6. This report does not seek to assess the findings and conclusions of the Government's White Paper. That will be the focus of our next inquiry. We intend to take oral evidence on the White Paper in the New Year, and to publish our conclusions before the House of Commons debates the future of the deterrent in March 2007.

7. The fact that this inquiry has focused on the submarine manufacturing and skills base should not be taken as an endorsement of the existing submarine-based nuclear deterrent, or as an indication of our collective support for, or opposition to, the renewal of that deterrent, submarine-based or otherwise. Nor should it be taken to mean that we think industrial and employment factors should be decisive in the debate on the future of the deterrent. Any decisions on the future of the UK's deterrent should be taken on the strategic defence needs of the country. Our intention in making this report is to ensure that the House of Commons, and the public, are aware of the manufacturing and skills base issues which will need to be addressed if a decision is made to renew the submarine-based deterrent. We recommend that the Government respond to this report in good time for publication before the debate in the House of Commons on the White Paper in March 2007.

1   Defence Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2005-06, The Future of the UK's Strategic Nuclear Deterrent, HC 986 Back

2   Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, Cm 6994, December 2006 Back

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Prepared 19 December 2006