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4 Mar 2010 : Column 349WH—continued

Mr. Lewis: The right hon. Gentleman raises a point that is difficult to argue with. It all depends on one's definition of "sub-strategic role", but I do not think that we could disagree on how he defined it in his contribution. The difficulty is in the definition. However, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the potential role of Trident. That takes me on to Trident itself.

It will be useful quickly to update the House on the initial gate process; I think that all Members will be interested in that. The House will be aware that we had originally planned to consider the concept phase of the future deterrent submarine programme in the autumn of 2009. However, further time was necessary to ensure that decisions on submarine propulsion and design options were based on robust information. New technical options are being considered, and a few more months are needed to evaluate them fully before taking a decision.

In the 2006 White Paper, we announced our intention to introduce a new class of submarine from the mid-2020s. That timetable is still on track, despite the delays. However, it does not mean that we have taken an irreversible decision that commits us irrevocably to possess nuclear weapons for the next 40 to 50 years. It is important to make that point.

I turn to a point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). He hints that he does not agree with our position, but I am still unclear about his party's position. On some occasions, the Lib Dems say, "We are conducting a fundamental review and will inform the public when we have reached a conclusion about our policy." On other days, the party's Front-Bench spokespersons say, "We have decided not
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to replace like with like." The position is unclear. Are the Lib Dems conducting a fundamental review, with all options remaining open, or have they made a definitive decision that they will not replace like with like?

Mr. Davey: I am happy to help the Minister. I hope that he will then answer the questions that I raised about Trident. We do not believe that there is a case for renewing Trident on a like-for-like basis. I hope that that is clear enough for him.

Mr. Lewis: The problem is that we are not clear about the Liberal Democrat position on the replacement of Trident because the party has not said that it will not replace Trident. It has tried to hint to a particular section of the electorate that it is less comfortable with the concept of Trident, but it has not said that it will not replace Trident. Its policy will have to become clearer as we get nearer to an election.

Let me deal with the important point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton about the future approach to sanctions in respect of those countries that are not complying with their obligations under the NPT. We agree that that is a very important priority for the review process. The Prime Minister made it clear in his speech at Lancaster house last March that we need to strengthen the regime to deter non-compliance by ensuring certainty of detection and, where non-compliance has occurred, by ensuring certainty of serious consequences. Sanctions are one option, as is suspending co-operation with the IAEA, for example. We are looking to the review conference for a mandate to address those concerns. The hon. Gentleman is right: that will be a significant part of what Britain will be seeking to achieve as one of the key outcomes of the review.

The year 2010 will be crucial. There is significant consensus in the British Parliament, I believe, about what is the morally and politically appropriate position for this country to adopt in the context of the negotiations. It is important that we should be seen to provide strong leadership. It is equally important that, at a time when we have hope that the journey towards a nuclear weapons-free world can gather momentum, we should not allow Iran and North Korea to be developing a nuclear weapons capacity or to be expanding their ambitions further.

I hope that we can secure and maintain the maximum unity of purpose and consensus and that during the period of the conference, despite the political difficulties that we may have in this country, we seek an all-party consensus and maximum effectiveness in the British input.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Government publish in advance of the conference any particular strategic document, and will they use the conference to seek parallel meetings with non-NPT states, all of which are normally there at NPT review conferences? I shall be at the latter part of the conference, and I am happy to be a consensus figure in favour of disarmament, if that helps the Minister.

Mr. Lewis: That may be an offer that I can refuse; I am not sure. I am not clear whether we have a commitment to publish our negotiating position formally, but I am happy to ensure that there is engagement with right hon. and hon. Members with an interest in these issues. In the lead-up to the conference, we can ensure that as
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much information as is available gets to those right hon. and hon. Members, so that they are clear about the broad approach that we intend to take.

As for meetings with other states, which my hon. Friend asked about, I should say that we meet those states on a bilateral basis and one of the issues that we raise with them consistently is the NPT review process and what their attitude to that may be. With that, I conclude my contribution.

5.19 pm

Mike Gapes: With the leave of the House, I thank the Minister for his detailed response and all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about me. I would not have been able to play the role that I have in the Committee over the past five years without the co-operation and dedication of a number of colleagues, not least the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) and the staff of the Committee, who also need to be praised for their work. I also place on the record my appreciation of those officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with whom the Committee deals. They have been consistently helpful in response to the requests for information that we regularly make and in the correspondence and deadlines that we give them.

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I have two other points. The first is the problem of the transition between this Parliament and the next. In previous international conferences, from time to time Members or former Members of both Houses have played a role in parliamentary delegations, assisting as part of a UK delegation to disarmament negotiations. It may not be impossible for some former Members of this House or the other place to assist during the transition period, and I hope that that can be borne in mind.

Finally, I place on the record my great sadness at the death of Michael Foot. I was in Brussels last Monday and Tuesday with the Foreign Affairs Committee at the UKRep offices, and on Monday evening I went to the Grand Place in Brussels. When I heard of Michael Foot's death yesterday, I looked at a photograph on the wall of my office. It is a picture of Michael Foot and me in the Grand Place in 1982. We had been attending a meeting of the Socialist parties from NATO countries that were campaigning against cruise, Pershing and SS20 missiles. This is an apposite moment to draw attention to that, and to hope that the non-proliferation review conference goes some way further towards the goal that Michael Foot had and his aspiration for a world without nuclear weapons.

Question put and agreed to.

5.22 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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