There must be a "free and open" public debate over the future of the UK's nuclear deterrent, a Midland MP said yesterday.
But there is probably no need for a vote in the House of Commons - because both major parties agreed with replacing Trident, said Brian Jenkins (Lab Tamworth).
The Staffordshire MP is a member of the Commons Defence Committee, which today published the results of an inquiry into Britain's nuclear weapons.
The committee expressed "surprise and disappointment" at the refusal of the Minister of Defence to participate in its inquiry, and it warned there could be no real debate about the future of Trident unless the MoD was willing to take part.
This week, Tony Blair signalled a decision would be made later this year about replacing the aging Trident force.
Chancellor Gordon Brown, who is expected to succeed Mr Blair as Prime Minister, has already signalled his personal support for maintaining Britain as a nuclear power, to the anger of the Labour left.
In its report, the Defence Committee called for a "genuine and meaningful" public debate, saying the MoD needed to spell out the rationale for a nuclear deterrent.
And, in a move bound to stoke the fire of controversy, it claimed the UK could actually scale back its strategic nuclear deterrent in the light of the reduced threat of nuclear attack. In the post-Cold War era, it may no longer be necessary to always maintain a Trident nuclear submarine at sea, the committee stated.
Such a move would mark a major shift in the posture of the nuclear submarine force which has formed the basis of Britain's strategic deterrent for almost 40 years.
The existing deterrent is made up of four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered submarines, each capable of carrying up to 16 Trident II D5 missiles armed with up to 12 nuclear warheads, with one vessel always at sea.
The MoD has always argued that the "continuous-at-sea deterrent cycle" (CASD) is necessary to avoid a potentially catastrophic misunderstanding if a Trident submarine was to set sail during a time of heightened international tensions.
The fear has been that a potential enemy could misread such a move as a deliberate escalation by the UK. However the committee argued that such precautions may no longer be necessary.
"In the light of the reduced threat we currently face, an alternative possibility would be to retain a deterrent, but not continuously at sea," the report said.
Abandoning CASD - which requires at least three vessels - would mean that the UK could get by with a smaller nuclear submarine fleet.
Ministers have not ruled out replacing Trident with an air or land-launched system, although most experts believe that they will continue to opt for a submarine-based system.
The first of the Vanguard s ubmarines is due for replacement in 2020. Designing and building a successor is estimated to take 14 years.
Mr Blair came under pressure this week when he refused to confirm whether MPs would be allowed to vote on whether to replace Trident.