HC Deb 15 December 1998 vol 322 cc443-4W
Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish in theOfficial Report the text of the letter dated 30 November from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) concerning nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union. [63900]

Mr. Doug Henderson

Following is the text of the letter to which I understand my hon. Friend refers.

Letter from the Secretary of State for Defence to Mr. Alan Simpson, dated 30 November 1998: In my answer to your Parliamentary Questions on 19 November, (Official Report, cols 712–713). I undertook to write to you about certain aspects of Trident computer systems. You asked first about the percentage of computer chips purchased "off the shelf' from suppliers. The Trident Strategic Weapon System was procured "off the shelf' from the US Government under the provisions of the Polaris Sales Agreement as amended for Trident. It is not, therefore, possible to provide the level of detail called for in the question. However the US has a programme of work to provide certification of Year 2000 compliance for all items associated with the system procured by the UK As far as your question about audits and action plans on millennium compliance is concerned, I can tell you that a comprehensive audit of the deterrent is being conducted by a dedicated Deterrent Millennium Task Group. At the top level this includes areas such as the missile and warhead, fire control, navigation, targeting, firing chain, reactor and propulsion control, sonar, command and control and all associated shore based facilities. Each of these areas is further sub-divided into many hundreds of smaller sub-systems, each of which is being investigated. Extensive tests are being conducted on all equipment associated with the Trident Weapon System and its supporting infrastructure to confirm that it will not be affected by any key dates before, during and after the turn of the century. A programme of trials is in place to provide further verification. I trust this also addresses your question about systems identified as being critical to the safe and continuous operation of the Trident system. It would not be in the national interest to disclose the details of our audits and investigations as this would reveal information which could compromise the effectiveness of the UK's strategic deterrent. I am therefore withholding this information under exemption 1, Defence, security and International relations, of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. As far as our discussions with the US are concerned, we are working extremely closely to ensure that common equipment critical to each nation's defence capability, including Trident, are millennium compliant. In addition to the regular, frequent meetings on the wider Year 2000 problem, regular meetings are held with the US under the provisions of the Polaris Sales Agreement with Year 2000 compliance one of the items on the agenda: The most recent such meeting was on 10 November. The US programme I have already mentioned has a forecast date for completion of 31 December this year. You also asked about planned expenditure to ensure millennium compliance of the Trident systems. There is no separately identified central record of planned millennium compliance expenditure specifically related to the Trident system. I would, however, refer you to the answer given by Margaret Beckett to Maria Eagle on 21 October in which she announced the results of the latest quarterly review of Government departments and agencies progress in tackling the bug. The results of the next quarterly review will be announced shortly to the House and the updates to quarterly plans will be placed in the Library of the House and on the internet. Finally, there is no central record of the number of staff dedicated to ensuring the Trident systems's millennium compliance which you also requested. However, staff in relevant appointments are working to ensure the status of all systems is identified and that action plans are in place where required. I am copying this letter to Llew Smith to whom I also undertook to write in respect of his question on the issue of millennium compliance of nuclear systems. I hope this is helpful. I am placing a copy of this letter in the Library of the House.