By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP have written to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg calling for clarity on the status of the UK government’s review on alternatives to the Trident nuclear weapons system after Lib Dem Nick Harvey was stripped of his defence minister post in the recent reshuffle.
Mr Harvey’s post at the MoD was traded by the Deputy Prime Minister to bring disgraced MP David Laws back into government as Minister of State for Education.
A close political ally of Nick Clegg, Mr Laws had previously held the post of Business Secretary, but was forced to resign after just 17 days in office after it came to light that he had misled the House of Commons about his expenses, claiming for housing costs when he was in fact staying with his partner.
As part of the 2010 coalition agreement Mr Harvey, as armed forces minister, was leading a review expected to report this autumn. With no Lib Dem presence now in the MoD, SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP has called for clarification.
The MoD has already agreed to spend £5bn on a new Trident system, most of it on a new submarine design, while some of the money has gone on research at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston into the capability of a new warhead.
The 2010 Coalition Agreement stated that the LibDems would advocate alternatives to like-for-like replacement and the ongoing Trident Alternatives review had been expected to report later this year.
Following the cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, Mr Harvey returned to the backbenches. Speaking immediately after the reshuffle, Mr Harvey confirmed that his post at the MoD had been traded by Mr Clegg, and said:
He said: “Nick Clegg made it clear that the decision was not a reflection on my performance in the job, which he said was widely regarded as having been excellent.
“Rather, it’s a strategic political decision to ‘trade’ this post for one in another government department.
“My replacement at Defence will therefore be a Conservative.”
It was later announced that Mr Harvey was to be awarded a knighthood by the Coalition Government.
While in opposition, Mr Harvey voted against the renewal of Trident and his oversight of the Trident review was unpopular with the Lib Dem’s Conservative allies. With no LibDems at ministerial level in the MoD, Mr Laws will now oversee the defence review, although he is a minister in the Department of Education.
Speaking on Sky News last week, Mr Harvey voiced his concerns that his replacement would be unable to give the Trident review his undivided attention, saying Mr Laws had “an awful lot else he’s got to be doing”.
“He’s already got a foot in two government departments, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Education. He is a very able man, he has got a very empirical mind but I hope that that isn’t going to suffer from having somebody not actually on the case and there are other issues coming up on the international agenda which Lib Dems are going to have to work very hard now without a minister either in defence or the Foreign Office to keep abreast of.”
Mr Harvey said he also regretted that Liberal Democrats no longer had influence on the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan or the possibility of joining the US or Israel in any military action against Iran.
Asked if he was disappointed at losing his ministerial role, Mr Harvey said he had been “knocked for six” when he was told the news.
Mr Robertson said:
“With the Tories now unrestricted by Lib Dems at the MoD there are urgent questions over the status of the Trident Alternatives review. We need clarification from Nick Clegg – have the Lib Dems abandoned the promise they made in the coalition agreement on Trident.
“If they have, it makes the decision to trade the defence post to install David Laws back in government very costly indeed.
“Trident is not wanted in Scotland, and never has been – yet the UK Government are proposing to waste £100 billion dumping another generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the River Clyde.
“The vast majority of MSPs, as well as the churches, trade unions, and civic society across the nation totally oppose Trident nuclear weapons being based in Scotland. A key advantage of independence is that it is the only constitutional option which gives Scotland the powers to have Trident removed from Scottish waters.
“While Lib Dem partners in the UK Coalition seem to have abandoned their opposition to Trident renewal, it is quite clear that the people of Scotland remain overwhelmingly opposed to a new nuclear weapons system on the Clyde.”