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It is a pleasure to follow the part-polemic by Pete Wishart. He was unable to answer a question put to him when he was challenged by Opposition Front Benchers about the extent to which his party, as the head of an independent Scotland, would be prepared to shelter under the American nuclear alliance. That is an important question that his party has to answer.
I say that from the perspective of someone who intends to vote with the hon. Gentleman this evening. It is right that there should be a proper debate about this, and I therefore welcome the debate that his party colleagues have introduced. We should have a cool, calm consideration of the merits of the Trident weapons system. Over the course of a decade, I have been increasingly uncomfortable about the prospect of renewing this weapons system. It is a system, and we are renewing the submarines that make up part of it. Some people have said that the motion is therefore technically in error, but without the submarines the system is pointless and without the missiles it is pointless. That is what the motion means and it is on that basis that I support it. Let me explain why.
The clinching argument for me—although I also want to refer to lots of other issues—is the opportunity cost of spending, let us say, £100 billion on renewing the weapons system over its lifetime. I am wearing the regimental tie of the Light Dragoons and want to make it clear that I spent a long time in defence, professionally and then subsequently as a special adviser in the Ministry of Defence and then in the Foreign Office. I remember trying to plan a scenario, in a political sense, for the circumstances in which the United Kingdom would decide to use nuclear weapons or weapons of similar destructive power, but, frankly, I found it impossible to find such a scenario. I think that that is still the case, and the deterrent effect of that uncertainty has been discussed.
Thirty years on from the decision taken in the 1980s to acquire the Trident system, things have changed significantly and, given the opportunity cost of acquiring the system, I believe that the decision to spend £100 billion should be altered. This weapons system is of much less practical utility than it used to be in deterrence terms and, given the cost-benefit analysis, the time has come to say that this is a business that the United Kingdom should probably get out of. As a nation, given the other potential demands on our defence budget, we can no longer justify the expense.
I listened carefully to the arguments made by my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin—he made an extremely good speech—and they need to be addressed. First, if we buy this system, will it come at the expense of other parts of the defence budget? My view is that it will. My hon. Friend maintained that if the system is not bought, the Treasury will not give the Ministry of Defence the money. However, we have just made a significant political commitment to maintain defence expenditure at 2% of GDP.