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Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Saturday, 17 April 2010 14:26 UK

Election: Lib Dem Trident policy ridiculous - Ainsworth

HMS Vigilant, one of Royal Navy's Trident submarines
Lib Dems hope moves can be made towards multilateral disarmament

The Liberal Democrat policy on Trident has been called "ridiculous" by Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.

Labour and the Conservatives both want to renew the UK nuclear weapons system when Trident expires in the 2020s.

The Lib Dems "rule out like-for-like" replacement, instead saying they will seek "alternatives" and support efforts at multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Mr Ainsworth claimed the Lib Dem policy would leave Britain with a "cheap and ineffective" deterrent.

But Lib Dem defence spokesman Nick Harvey told BBC Radio 4's Today he hoped "significant headway" would be made in the next 20 years towards multilateral disarmament.

He said: "It is absurd to decide now that we are absolutely determined to be a nuclear power from 2030 through to 2060."

He said in turn it was wrong to commit billions of pounds to Trident replacement now. The Liberal Democrats say like-for-like replacement would cost £100bn and have said they would consider cheaper alternatives.

Nick's position appears to be that he wants to continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent but he wants a cheap one.
Bob Ainsworth
Defence secretary

The government has put the bill for Trident renewal at between £15bn and £20bn.

"I would sincerely hope that in the 20 years between now and the point at which our existing deterrent expires that we would have made significant headway on the world stage with moves towards multilateral disarmament," Mr Harvey said.

But Mr Ainsworth said plans had to be made now to replace Trident if the new system was to be ready in time.

He said: "Nick's position appears to be that he wants to continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent but he wants a cheap one.

"And a cheap one would be a vulnerable and ineffective one and that is the fact. It is a ridiculous policy."

'Come clean'

For the Conservatives, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the UK faced "real threats" from North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and Iran which he said was trying to develop them.

"The Lib Dems will not tell us what they will do in the face of these threats.

"Nick Clegg says he will save billions by scrapping Trident, but he does not tell us if he will replace it. "

"Until the Lib Dems come clean, many will conclude that they are closet unilateralists - the sort of one sided disarmers we thought we had seen the back of when CND were defeated in the 1980s," he said.

The Conservatives, he said, wanted to replace "our ageing nuclear deterrent with a modern, submarine based system which will protect us for decades to come".

The SNP's Angus Robertson told Today the three main UK parties were prepared to spend "scores of billions on weapons of mass destruction with no other mainstream party giving another view".

"That is what the SNP is doing in Scotland, " he said. The SNP would scrap Trident and permanently rule out nuclear weapons in Scotland.

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