The following transcript from the House of Commons Jan 24 floor debate was provided by Hansard, the Parliamentary gazette:
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the test firing of a Trident nuclear missile in June 2016.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Sir Michael Fallon)
In June last year, the Royal Navy conducted a demonstration and shakedown operation designed to certify HMS Vengeance and her crew prior to their return to operations. It included a routine unarmed Trident missile test launch. Contrary to reports in the weekend press, HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified as ready to rejoin the operational cycle.
We do not comment on the detail of submarine operations, but I can assure the House that the safety of the crew and public is paramount during any test firing and is never compromised. Prior to conducting a Trident test fire, the UK strictly adheres to all relevant treaty obligations, notifying relevant nations and interested parties. Here, the Chair of the Defence Committee, the Opposition Defence spokesperson, and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee were informed in advance.
I can assure the House that the capability and effectiveness of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt. The Government have absolute confidence in our deterrent and in the Royal Navy crews who protect us and our NATO allies every hour of every day.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He will know that I am a strong believer in this country’s independent nuclear deterrent. Major inroads have been made in recent decades in public transparency on nuclear issues, on which is important to maintain a consensus and support for our nuclear deterrent. That has included openness and publicity about test launches in Florida.
The Secretary of State will have seen claims in the press at the weekend that in the latest test the missile veered towards the United States. Will he confirm whether that was the case? Will he tell the House when he was first informed that there was a problem with the test and when his Department informed the then Prime Minister, David Cameron? Was it the Secretary of State or the then Prime Minister who decided to shelve the Department’s customary practice of publicising test launches and ordered a news blackout?
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the present Prime Minister about the test, and why news of it was not relayed to Parliament before the debate on the Successor submarine programme last July?
Finally, I pay tribute to the members of our armed forces who for the past 48 years have maintained Operation Relentless and the UK’s continuous at-sea deterrent.
Sir Michael Fallon
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman not only takes a close interest in defence but has borne responsibility for the defence of our country and supports the deterrent. However, I must disagree with his call for greater transparency.
There are few things that we cannot discuss openly in Parliament, but the security of our nuclear deterrent is certainly one of them. It has never been Government practice to give Parliament details of demonstration and shakedown operations.
There have been previous examples where some publicity has been decided on a case-by-case basis and informed by the circumstances at the time and by national security considerations. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full transcript, on the House of Commons Hansard website.