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I advise the House that the amendment has not been selected.
I beg to move,
That this House
believes that Trident should not be renewed.
It is a pleasure to move the motion that stands in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru and the Green party.
The SNP was elected to this place in such numbers in May on a promise to do three things: first, to argue that the maximum possible powers be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, via the full delivery of the vow; secondly, to fight tooth and nail against the failed and divisive policies of austerity, and to protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society from the worst excesses of this Government; and thirdly, to oppose Trident. By bringing this matter to the Floor of the House today, the SNP can say that within the first six months of being here, we have done exactly what we promised to do. Of course, there is much more that we need to do on all those issues, but no one will ever be able to accuse us of not doing what we said we would do.
In recent months, Trident and the UK’s nuclear—
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will make some progress.
No one could deny that Trident and the nuclear deterrent have been at the forefront of public debate for many years, not only because this is the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but because the United Kingdom will soon decide whether to commit to spending £167,000,000,000 over the lifetime of the Trident programme.
We had high hopes that we would not be a lone voice. When the rank and file of the British Labour party elected Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed unilateralist, as its leader, SNP Members hoped that there would be serious opposition to Trident. Of course, the mere thought of that caused palpitations among both the red and blue shades of the British establishment. I genuinely wish the right hon. Gentleman well in continuing his robust opposition to Trident.
While the hon. Gentleman is outlining the reasons behind the motion, will he explain the SNP’s apparent incoherence during the Scottish referendum campaign, when it pledged to scrap Trident on the one hand and to seek to join NATO, a nuclear alliance, on the other?
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not accept for a moment her definition of incoherence. If that was incoherent, the actions of Germany, Spain and many other members of NATO are equally incoherent. I would point—
No, I will make some progress. I realise that you are very keen to get in on this debate—so keen that you left a little message on my door this morning.
I am not keen to get into this debate and I did not leave a message on anybody’s door.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I wish the right hon. Member for Islington North well. I say to Members of his party that being anti-Trident can be a vote winner. The fact that the SNP was returned in such great numbers on an explicitly anti-Trident platform is testimony to that.
In recent weeks, the Scottish Parliament, yet again, reaffirmed its outright and overwhelming opposition to Trident. The Scottish Government, the Scottish TUC, the Scottish Churches and great swathes of Scottish civic society have set their face against Trident.
Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind us how the different political parties in the Scottish Parliament voted on Trident? What decision was reached at the annual conference of the Scottish Labour party? Does he not think it strange that the single Member of Parliament from the Scottish Labour party, who opposes Trident and whose party opposes Trident, is not even in the Chamber for this debate?
As my right hon. Friend points out, there is an established consensus among the Scottish political parties against Trident. The Scottish National party, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialists and, as he says, the Scottish Labour party are all opposed to Trident. We have a Government in Westminster with just one elected Member of Parliament from Scotland, representing a party that failed to achieve even 15% of the vote in Scotland, yet they insist that they have the right to foist on Scotland weapons of mass destruction that Scotland has said it does not want.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have been asked a number of times by the media and the press, “Are you doing this simply to embarrass the Labour party?”, but the Labour party needs no assistance from me in embarrassing itself on this matter.
I will take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention in a moment.
I have always argued that there is no moral, economic or military case for Trident, and—let us be absolutely clear—there is no moral case for any state to possess weapons of mass destruction. Possessing the wherewithal to destroy the world and everything in it several times over is not something to be proud of; indeed, it is something to be deeply ashamed of. I know of no creed, belief system or article of faith that has ever said it is okay to hold the threat of annihilation over one’s neighbour, and to disguise it as peacekeeping.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the possession of nuclear weapons serves as a deterrent that has worked well for many years? In 1994 Ukraine unilaterally disarmed, relying on a treaty with Russia that meant it would not invade. That undertaking was broken and Ukraine is now suffering because of the absence of those weapons.
I will pick up the hon. Gentleman’s point later in my speech. The idea of a deterrent is important and I will address that issue.
Not only is Trident morally questionable, but I believe it is economic madness. In 2006 when the Successor programme was first discussed, the likely cost of building new submarines was put at between £15 billion and £20 billion. Yesterday’s strategic defence and security review put that cost at £31 billion, with £10 billion of contingency on top of that. That is £41 billion set aside to build submarines—the cost has doubled in the last decade, and I shudder to think what it will be in the next decade. Based on the Government’s own figures, the lifetime cost of Trident will be in the region of £167,000,000,000. That is real, taxpayers’ money, and there is no escaping that fact. It may—indeed, it should—embarrass the Labour party that that money has been made on the backs of the poor and the most vulnerable in our society.
The Chancellor appeared at Faslane, appearing out of nowhere like Mr Benn—I mean the cartoon character, not Hilary Benn—to announce £500 million of extensions to jetties. On the same day, the United Nations announced that it would be investigating whether the Government’s policy of cutting welfare support to the disabled was a violation of their human rights.
My hon. Friend’s constituency is next to mine. Does he have the same grave concerns that I have about the alarming number of nuclear safety incidents that have been reported at Faslane naval base? There was a 54% increase in the number of incidents reported in 2013-14 compared with 2012-13. Such incidents threaten the safety not only of the workers at Faslane nuclear base—a large proportion of whom live in my constituency —but the communities that surround it.
Order. I remind the House that interventions should be extremely brief. It is not proper for a Member to read out what amounts to a mini-speech that purports to be an intervention.
I agree with my hon. Friend that safety is paramount, and I raised that issue last week in a debate in Westminster Hall. There are huge safety concerns among workers at Faslane about the cuts being made within the nuclear operations department.
I hope my hon. Friends realise that my election in Argyll and Bute suggests that we do not have to put all our eggs in one basket. Let me make it clear that by saying no to Trident, we are not saying no to Faslane—far from it. [Interruption.] The SNP has never, and will never, consider closing the Faslane base. Whether as part of the United Kingdom or—hopefully sooner rather than later—as part of an independent Scotland, Faslane will have a bright, non-nuclear future as a conventional naval base. Faslane is a fantastic facility, and its proximity to the north Atlantic means that its prospects are not dependent on having nuclear submarines based there. [Interruption.]
Given the outrageous chortling from both sides of the House, does my hon. Friend agree that the only way that the UK establishment parties will support Faslane is if it has nuclear weapons? What a shocking proposal that is.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Today we have seen through any pretence that the Labour party is somehow taking a radical position on nuclear weapons—it is bewildering.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. As I understood it, he said that without nuclear submarines at Faslane, and with the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom, he would seek to have a naval base with ships at Faslane. He also said that he considered it a waste of money to build new hardware for the Navy because that money could be better spent on welfare. Those points do not seem to marry up.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but at no point have we said that we will double-spend that money. Scotland’s share of the money that we would save by not renewing Trident would be in the region of £15 billion over the lifetime of Trident, and that money could be invested in conventional defence and in turning Faslane from a nuclear submarine port to a state-of-the-art conventional naval base.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will make progress. I have taken a lot of interventions and been very generous.
I have always argued that there is no military case for Trident because it is not a military weapon. Trident is a political weapon that can never, and will never, be used. Nevertheless, it is set to consume between 30% and 50% of the UK defence procurement budget.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that Trident is being used every day? Every moment that we have continuous at-sea deterrence, Trident is being used. The fact that it is never fired in anger is a symbol of its success.
It will come as no surprise to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with him at all, and I will come on to the point about deterrence.
I will make progress. I have been very generous up to now.
The money spent on Trident is put into keeping Britain at the top table of the United Nations Security Council. Money that should be doing good—whether through peacekeeping, reacting to emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak, or relieving the humanitarian crises that are currently unfolding in the middle east and north Africa—is being sacrificed on a collective military and political ego trip that has more to do with status than with defence.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will make some progress.
Indeed, Members should not just take my word for it. In a Defence Committee evidence session last week, General Sir Richard Shirreff, referring to finding money for Trident, said:
“you either go down the line of nuclear capability at the expense of conventional capability or conventional capability at the expense of nuclear. It seems to be that sort of zero-sum game”.
The problem with Trident is that it puts pressure on the rest of the defence budget to the detriment of our overall security. Even Tony Blair, not someone I seek to quote often in this place, wrote in his memoir about Trident renewal that
“The expense is huge and the utility…non-existent in terms of military use.”
He decided to go down the road of Trident renewal, however, because it would be
“too big a downgrading of our status as a nation.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that nuclear weapons are actually making us less, not more, safe? They give out a signal to the rest of the world that the only way to guarantee security is by acquiring nuclear weapons, therefore driving proliferation rather than countering it.
I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree.
Tony Blair summed it up: the UK’s obsession with having an independent nuclear deterrent is little more than a former imperial power indulging in a desperate search for a better yesterday. Possessing Trident is not about defence; it is about the illusion of continuing past glories regardless of cost. The fact is that we cannot afford it. Pride, it seems, will not let us back down. We would rather cut benefits from the disabled. We would rather take tax credits away from the working poor, as long as the bottomless pit of Trident is fed.
I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have written to the former First Minister about these issues on a number of occasions and have not yet received any answers. In the event of decommissioning the nuclear fleet and the warheads at Faslane, where in Scotland would the nuclear materials be stored and disposed of, and how much would it cost the Scottish taxpayer?
Scotland is absolutely set to take its responsibility. Scotland accepts that we have responsibility and Scotland will take care of it, but to use that as an argument to re-arm is, frankly, ridiculous.
I will make some progress.
The possession of top-end military capabilities without the ability to exercise them effectively is known in strategic parlance as a hollow force. To put that in a more colloquial way, we are acting as though we have a fur coat and nae knickers. Trident is a military and political ego trip paid for on the backs of the poor.
“in theory, the British Prime Minister could give the order to fire Trident missiles without getting prior approval from the White House has allowed the UK to maintain the façade of being a global military power. In practice, though, it is difficult to conceive of any situation in which a Prime Minister would fire Trident without prior US approval.”
In reality, it will be a US commander-in-chief who will ultimately decide. In 18 months’ time, that commander-in-chief could be President Donald Trump. Does anyone seriously think that Trident makes the world a safer place?
I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman. Let me press on.
Everyone accepts that the world has never been a more uncertain place. The world is changing and the threats are changing. They are most certainly not as they were 30 or 40 years ago. Many military strategists recognise that the changes have to be prepared for accordingly. They have identified important threats. There is mass migration into mega cities; by 2040, it is thought that 70% of the world will be urbanised. The great movement of people because of climate change and the search for natural resources, such as water and energy, will cause huge global problems too.
We are increasingly engaged in an ideological war with terrorism. Hybrid warfare and cyber-attacks will be among our enemies’ main weapons. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that Daesh was an existential threat to the United Kingdom. We have to assume, sadly, that after the evil of Daesh is destroyed other ideologically driven groups will emerge. Looking ahead, in many ways the traditional nation state will not be the main enemy. Why then, given the radical changes happening in the world, is the UK’s response exactly as it was 30 or 40 years ago—nuclear-armed submarines at sea 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with nuclear missiles pointed at and designed to obliterate European cities?
The hon. Gentleman makes the case for Britain’s unilateral nuclear disarmament, a case we have heard many times in this Chamber over the years. How does he address the inescapable fact that the only nation that has ever had nuclear weapons used against it, namely Japan, did not have any?
I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman is driving at. To perfectly honest, it was not exactly worth waiting for. It makes no military sense at all. I return to the view that Trident is not a military weapon; it is purely a political weapon.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly satisfied that the Russian state is no longer a threat to western security and the security of the UK. Perhaps he could give us his reasons for thinking that. Why is he so confident that Russia is no longer a threat to the security of the UK?
The hon. Lady is advocating that every country in the world—Germany, Poland, Norway and Sweden—should arm itself to the teeth. Is she honestly arguing for that? Does she believe that Russia is going to come sweeping across the plains and invade the United Kingdom? Is that what she is honestly advocating? If she wants to argue that every country in the world should possess its own nuclear weapons, I advise her to take that to the Labour party. From the sound of it, she may well get some support.
As I mentioned at the start of my speech, there was a genuine, though forlorn, hope that, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, there would at least be a debate on Trident in this place. I fear that the right hon. Gentleman has not managed to take his party with him. The paltry attendance of Labour Members today suggests exactly that.
The Labour party’s refusal to debate Trident will disappoint many in their own rank and file. I have no doubt that when the Prime Minister promises a vote on the maingate decision, as he did yesterday, I will see the right hon. Member for Islington North voting with the Scottish National party against Trident renewal. I fear he will have to swim through a tide of his own MPs going through the Lobby with the Conservative party again to support Trident renewal at a cost of £167,000 million. Labour loves to talk about being a multilateral party, but it cannot hide behind the fig leaf of multilateralism while committing the United Kingdom to this massive increase in nuclear weaponry. If the Labour party decides to support the Government in renewing the Trident missile programme, it will be as morally bankrupt as the Conservative party.
If Trident was ever an answer, it was an answer to a 20th-century problem, not to the problems we face in the 21st century. Trident is a purely political not a military weapon. It does not make us any more safe than nations that do not possess weapons of mass destruction. Trident is all about the UK projecting power. It is a desperate attempt to cling to the remnants of a fading imperial past, and is being paid for on the backs of the poor. Trident is diminishing the rest of the UK’s capability, and therefore there is no moral, economic or military case for renewing it.
The Government welcome the opportunity to discuss our nuclear deterrent, so I thank Brendan O'Hara for tabling the motion.
In his statement yesterday, the Prime Minister set out the growing scale, diversity and complexity of the threats we face, and to tackle them we must have an array of weapons, up to and including the nuclear deterrent. It is worrying that, in a more dangerous world, the cross-party consensus we used to enjoy on our deterrent appears to be weakening. I remind Opposition Members that it was Labour Ministers—Attlee and Bevin—who in the
1940s argued for a nuclear deterrent with “a Union Jack” on the top of it, yet today the leader of the Labour party opposes his party’s official policy. He wants to scrap Trident and has said he is not prepared to use it.
Equally worrying is the non-attendance of the shadow Secretary of State, who has been admirably clear in opposing her leader while agreeing to lead a review of the policy. I can well understand her anger at the decision to appoint as co-chair of that review Mr Ken Livingstone, who wants not to review Trident but to abolish it. Indeed, he declared London to be a nuclear-free zone. This is like appointing an arsonist as the co-chief fire officer.
Our international allies look on with dismay at this shambles opposite, which can only be of comfort to adversaries. I appeal again to the tradition in the Labour party that proudly supports our independent nuclear deterrent to renew the consensus, to put aside party politics in the national interest, as the shadow Chancellor said on television on Sunday, and to join us in remaking the case for the deterrent.
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, and I look forward to debating and to the House deciding on the principle of renewing the four submarines—not the Trident missile—next year.
The decision had to await the publication of the SDSR yesterday, but I hope we can now take it in 2016. We will then have to get on and start building the Successor submarines, as I shall explain.
Successive Labour and Conservative Governments have judged that a minimum credible nuclear deterrent is critical to our national security—that a nuclear deterrent is the only assured way of deterring nuclear threats and blackmail by nuclear states. For more than 60 years, it has done that job. Whatever side of the argument we are on, let us pay tribute to the crews of HMS Vanguard, Vengeance, Victorious and Vigilant, their families and all those who ensure, and have ensured, that one of those boats is on patrol 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
I accept what the hon. Lady says, and of course if she is married to one of them, she will know better than anybody in the House, but I have met some of the crews and I have yet to meet a submariner who does not have faith in the job he is doing—but there we are.
The decision that Parliament has to take next year, which hon. Members just asked about, is not whether to replace the Trident missile or renew the warheads, but whether to replace the Vanguard submarines that need to be replaced by the early 2030s.
What might the future of Faslane be without nuclear submarines and how many jobs, at the largest industrial employment site in Scotland, would be lost if nuclear submarines were banned?
There would obviously be significant implications for Faslane if the nuclear deterrent was no longer there, as was pointed out yesterday by GMB Scotland, which said:
“The commitment in the SDSR to multilateralism and to the successor programme going ahead is welcome as it is crucial to jobs” in Scotland.
The Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to replace the Vanguard submarines, and it takes over a decade to build and trial a nuclear submarine, so we have to take that decision in 2016. Design work is already far advanced, and in yesterday’s review we announced further investment of £600 million, which takes the assessment phase cost from £3.3 billion to £3.9 billion.
I want to make three basic points about why renewal is vital. First, this is about realism. We are of course committed to creating the conditions where nuclear weapons will no longer be necessary. We have reduced our nuclear forces by well over half since the height of the cold war; this very year, I cut the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40, and by the mid-2020s, we will have reduced our overall stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads. Unfortunately, those actions have not been matched by any other nuclear nation or stopped unstable nations seeking to acquire or develop nuclear weapons.
My right hon. Friend mentioned costs. If we had had an effective Opposition yesterday, and even today, there might have been a greater focus on the cost overruns, which are what worry me. He is making sterling efforts to deal with the problem in the MOD, for which I salute him, but will he commit to holding the feet of the private sector to the fire and making sure there are no more cost overruns? This is too big a project to take money from the conventional forces.
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I will come later to how we will deliver the successor programme and maintain that downward pressure on costs that he wishes to see.
I said that other nations have not matched our own disarmament. Russia is commissioning a new Dolgoruky class of eight nuclear submarines, is developing and preparing to deploy a variety of land-based ICBM classes, and is planning to reintroduce rail-based ICBMs. Last month, North Korea showed off a long-range ballistic missile carrying miniaturised nuclear warheads. It has carried out three nuclear tests and, in defiance of the international community, conducted ballistic missile tests. In an unpredictable nuclear age, we cannot simply wish away threats that exist now or that may emerge in the 2030s, 2040s and right through to the 2050s.
“under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”
Progress is being made by negotiation.
Indeed, and Members on both sides of the House should absolutely welcome that agreement with Iran, but we have not had similar progress from any of the other states that use nuclear weapons—and there are still a large number of states that are trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way again later, but I must make some progress.
My second point is about the practical effect of the deterrent. Our nuclear deterrent works. It deters aggression every single day. There have been many conflicts in the last six decades, and not one of them has involved a direct conflict between nuclear states. Not one country under the protection of an extended nuclear umbrella has been invaded. Our nuclear deterrent is operationally independent—Brendan O’Hara is quite wrong about that—and its command and control system as well as its decision-making apparatus are ours, and ours alone. It offers, of course, a second centre of decision making within NATO that will complicate an adversary’s plans. It is worth reminding ourselves that NATO is a nuclear alliance. One of the absurdities, if I may say so, of the Scottish National party’s position is that while opposing Trident it would—if voters had not rejected its separatism last year—have sought NATO membership and would then have benefited from its nuclear umbrella.
The third reason we must renew our nuclear submarines is that there is no alternative at the moment. How do we know that? We commissioned the Trident alternatives review in 2013. Having looked at all the alternatives—non-submarine alternatives, other submarine alternatives, non-continuous deterrent—it demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable or cost-effective as the Trident-based deterrent. If we accept that there is a threat—perhaps the SNP does not—that needs to be deterred, and if we accept that our enemies work nights and weekends, we must also accept that there can be no half-measures. A four-boat continuous at-sea posture is the minimum way to offer the security we need.
Will the Secretary of State therefore explain to me and my colleagues how Trident addresses the real current threat that we are experiencing—the threat from radical jihadism? Would those enemies not be jumping for joy if the UK ever even thought about threatening IS with nuclear weapons?
As the SDSR document pointed out yesterday, there are a series of threats to our country at the moment, and we have to deal with all of them. One of them has been the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the commitment of countries such as Russia to continue to spend more on developing their nuclear weapons, as I have pointed out.
Several hon. Members rose—
I must make a little more progress.
We have to address the consequences of passing this motion tonight. It is scarcely believable that other nations, hearing the news from 4 o’clock today in the House of Commons, will suddenly decide to disarm or stop seeking nuclear weapons. There are 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. We wish there were not, but there are. Anybody voting in the Division tonight has to answer who, after we had got rid of our nuclear weapons, would continue to provide the deterrent.
It would send a terrible message—that we are not serious about deterring other countries, particularly those rogue countries that seek every day to develop exactly the kind of nuclear weapons that we already have.
We have touched in the debate on the future of HM Naval Base Clyde, which is one of the largest employment sites in Scotland. It is set to increase to 8,200 jobs by 2020 when all the Royal Navy’s submarines will be based at Faslane. That is a reminder that the Successor programme is a national endeavour, involving thousands of people and hundreds of firms right across our country, including in Scotland. Our state-of-the art submarines require skills that keep our Royal Navy and our country at the cutting edge, and they will inspire the next generation of engineers, software developers and designers. If the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute had his way, thousands of jobs would disappear and those manufacturing skills would be lost.
It has not been made clear to us how the SNP plans to deal with the industrial damage that will result from its decision. In the Scottish Parliament, it hid behind a vague motion that
“firm commitments must be made to the trade unions on the retention of defence workers’ jobs”.
Workers on the Clyde do not want parliamentary motions; they want to be sure of a pay cheque every month. They want to know that they have got a job. Indeed, the acting Scottish secretary of the GMB, Gary Smith, said that diversification
“is based on Alice-in-Wonderland politics promising pie-in-the-sky alternative jobs for workers who are vital to our national security”.
That is the authentic voice of a Scottish trade union.
The MOD permanent secretary Jon Thompson told the Public Accounts Committee in October that the Trident project is one that keeps him awake at night. Given the excessive escalation in Trident costs announced yesterday, can the Secretary of State not see how Trident undermines conventional forces? He may not lose sleep over this, but is not the UK sleepwalking into a reduction in conventional forces because of his decisions?
The document we published yesterday, the strategic defence and security review, really gives the lie to the hon. Gentleman’s proposition, because we are spending more on conventional defence, as well as renewing our Successor programme. The hon. Gentleman is right that the management of that programme has to be done properly and cost-effectively, so let me turn to the whole issue of cost.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will make a little progress, and then give way again, as I know a number of hon. Members want to get into the debate.
There have been some wild reports, accentuated today, suggesting that the Trident replacement will cost £167 billion. That assumes a year-on-year growth in GDP of 2.5%.
That same logic would see us spending around £800 billion on overseas aid over the same period, with a Defence budget of about £100 billion in 2060. Let us look at the facts. We estimate that four new submarines would cost £31 billion—a cost spread over 35 years, which amounts to an insurance policy of less than 0.2% per year of total Government spending for a capability that will remain in service until 2060.
Let me put that £31 billion in context for the House and for those among my hon. Friends who are so keen on advanced high-speed railway lines. The Successor programme will cost £31 billion, with a contingency fund above that taking the total budget to some £40 billion. High Speed Two will cost £50 billion.
The Secretary of State said that he would put the £31 billion in context. Does it not constitute a £6 billion increase in the last year? We should add to that the £10 billion contingency fund, and also take into account the promise in the review to spend £178 billion on equipment, which we are told is an extra £12 billion. It is clear that that extra money will actually be spent on Trident, and that the Secretary of State is cutting provision for tier 1 threats to pay for a nuclear deterrent to deal with what is classed as a tier 2 threat. There is no doubt that nuclear weapons are being paid for at the expense of conventional protection.
No cuts in weapons are included in the document that we published yesterday. On the contrary, there are more ships, more planes, more equipment for the special forces—more frigates being built on the Clyde. Let me very clear. The figure has increased—and we gave the House the correct update yesterday—since it was specified in a 2006 White Paper and adjusted again in 2011. The figure that we gave yesterday has been updated from the original estimate four years ago. The cost is £31 billion for the four submarines, with a contingency fund of £10 billion on top of that.
Let me now respond to the question that was asked by my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, from the depth of his experience as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Yes, we must be eagle-eyed where costs are concerned. The new conventional submarines that are being built at Barrow, the Astute class submarines, are late, but the new Successor submarines cannot be late. We therefore believe, the Chancellor and I, that it is essential to reform the way in which the submarines are delivered, to ensure that continuous at-sea deterrence can be maintained, and to ensure that the taxpayer is given proper value for money. We are establishing a new delivery body for the Successor programme, and a new team at the Ministry of Defence, headed by an experienced commercial specialist, to act as the single sponsor for all aspects of the defence nuclear enterprise, from procurement to disposal.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, if we want to keep Britain safe, it is not a question of choosing between renewing our nuclear deterrent and taking the necessary action against ISIL—given that both are vital—and that it would be foolhardy, not to say arrogant, to believe that anyone in the House can predict the risks and threats that Britain will face in the next 30 or 40 years?
I could not have put it better. In our latest assessment, which is contained in the document that was published yesterday, we tried to estimate the threats to our country. We should be honest and humble about the fact that the 2010 review did not predict the resurgence of Russia and the action that it took in Crimea and Ukraine; nor did it predict the rise of ISIL. We try to predict, but we cannot be sure further ahead.
Last year, the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Several hon. Members rose—
I have already been generous in giving way.
Let me remind the House that the deterrent is for the whole of the United Kingdom, and that the people of Scotland will benefit from the security it provides.
Earlier this year, in the last vote on Trident, Parliament voted to support it by a majority of 327. Yesterday the Prime Minister confirmed our intention to hold a debate and vote on the principle of continuous at-sea deterrence and our plans for Successor. This afternoon we face the SNP motion, and our allies and our adversaries will be paying attention.
This is not a time to gamble with our security; on the contrary, it is a time to safeguard this generation and generations to come. Let me put it as simply as Liz Kendall just put it to me. If Members on either side of the House can be absolutely sure that no nuclear threat to this country will emerge throughout the 2030s, the 2040s and the 2050s, they should vote for the motion. I cannot be sure of that, and Conservative Members are not prepared to gamble with our nation’s security.
It is a great pleasure to respond to the debate, which comes at a time when the Labour Party is conducting a review of our defence policies in general and our approach to Trident in particular.
The decision that Parliament will make in the coming months about the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent is a matter of huge importance for the country. It will affect our defence and security strategy for decades to come, as well as our global standing. As we have already heard today, it will affect thousands of livelihoods in the United Kingdom that depend on renewal of the deterrent. It will affect the role that the United Kingdom can play in global progress on disarmament, and it will go to the very heart of the UK’s relationship with our NATO allies, for whom we currently provide an important arm of the Nuclear Planning Group.
Operation Relentless, the Royal Navy’s codename for the continuous at-sea deterrent currently undertaken by the Vanguard class of submarines, has been patrolling since April 1969. The British people rightly do not expect parliamentarians to take a decision to end or continue such patrols lightly. They recognise that this is a question of complexity and a fine political balance, as well as a question of military effectiveness.
There are, of course, strongly and deeply held views on each side of this crucial debate, and we have the utmost respect for all of them, but let me be absolutely clear: this issue is too important for the future of our country for Members to play party-political games with it. We all know that the SNP scheduled this half-day debate not to influence Government policy—in fact, its contribution did not feature a single question to the Government—but to attempt to score cheap political points.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way in a moment.
Anyone who may have genuinely believed that what we were going to hear today was a serious case presented by the SNP had merely to witness the speech made by Brendan O'Hara, who could barely contain his delight at the fact that the Labour party was reviewing its position. There has been no serious contribution to the debate about Trident, and no serious challenge to the Government. SNP Members are simply engaging in cheap political point-scoring, exactly as they did during an Opposition day debate back in January.
Several hon. Members rose—
Indeed I will. [Laughter.] Once again, SNP Members are laughing. They think that this is a highly hilarious debate, but the fact is that it is not highly hilarious for the people whose lives depend on it, and it is not highly hilarious for the people who rely on the NATO umbrella and the nuclear deterrent for their security.
We feel that it is not appropriate to vote on this motion at a time when we are still conducting our review. We think that the motion is a cheap piece of political point-scoring—
We know that the Labour party is currently in a total and utter shambles and mess over Trident, but if the outcome of the review that is being undertaken by the former Mayor of London is a recommendation that the Labour party support its leader on the issue of unilateral disarmament, will the rest of the party back him?
I shall talk in more detail shortly about the way in which the review is being put together. However, in the case of an issue of this kind, on which there are plainly differences of opinion, it is nonsense to suggest that the involvement of different people with different opinions is a shambles. The position is absolutely clear: the Labour party is discussing this decision, and we will listen to a variety of views before reaching a conclusion.
I think that many Conservative Members will be very sympathetic to the serious way in which the hon. Gentleman is tackling this matter, but will he undertake to return to the House when the review has been completed, in order to clarify the Labour party’s position for the benefit of the nation? It is obvious that there can be no fudging on the issue of nuclear deterrence: you are either in or out.
I will be able to offer a bit more clarity to the hon. Gentleman very shortly.
The SNP motion has, as the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute was honest enough to admit, not been without problems. The original motion, which each SNP Member signed without noticing the mistake, said Trident should not be “removed”. Subsequently, they discovered they had made that mistake.
As the Secretary of State made clear, the motion talks about Trident, but actually the decision we are facing at the moment is about renewal of the Vanguard class of submarines, not renewing Trident at all. Important details like that may be lost on SNP Members, as, indeed, apparently was the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum, in which the majority of Scots voted in favour of staying part of the United Kingdom and they will be aware that that involved having Trident.
I am somewhat perplexed by the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that we should not be discussing Trident. This debate is about Trident and it is vital that we understand the position of Labour Members on this very important issue.
Once again, that makes it clear that this motion is all about the Labour party’s position. I have attempted to clarify the difference between the decision this House will be facing shortly and the wording of the motion before us.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that even though the SNP called this debate, it has failed to set out its position either on how it would replace jobs or how it would dispose of the weapons? Should not the debate have been about its policy, as it called this debate today?
For the second time today, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. There is, of course, a whole series of inconsistencies in the SNP position. Today we were hearing that a decision to go forward with Trident would be choosing to buy nuclear capability on the backs of the poor, yet only half an hour before that we had heard SNP Members saying all the money being spent on Trident would instead be spent on conventional weapons. Either the money they are saving from Trident is going to be spent on hospitals, schools and transport, or it is going to be spent on conventional forces.
No one can blame the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute for being so confused, however, because if we look back through the history of the SNP, we see that this confusion is very long standing. In 2012, Alex Salmond was saying all the savings would be spent on conventional defence, then he and Nicola Sturgeon were saying in 2014 that they would be spending the money saved on Trident on childcare, then on “Good Morning Scotland” it was instead going to be spent on tackling youth unemployment and on colleges, and the Scottish Parliament motion in 2012 said it should be spent on welfare. So there is a long history of the SNP being utterly baffled about what this money is going to be spent on.
Would the hon. Gentleman be interested to hear that only a couple of weeks back I was being heckled that this magic money-tree could be spent on tax credits as well? That is another example to add to his long list.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will put that on the end of my list. [Interruption.] It is an important point. We are having a laugh, but the truth of the matter is that people deserve clarity on what is being said in this House. This is a matter of the utmost importance.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will make a bit of progress, but I will happily take interventions later.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute said a moment ago that Labour’s position needed clarifying, and I am happy to offer him that. Labour’s position, as agreed by the national policy forum in 2014 and approved by Labour party conference in Brighton this year, is that we are committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent. That is the policy that was in the manifesto that all Labour Members of Parliament fought the 2015 general election on, and we are proud of the previous Labour Government’s approach to, and success on, disarmament. That saw Britain make huge progress in nuclear disarmament through international frameworks. We almost halved the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160 and reduced the number of deployed warheads on each submarine. We also scrapped the free-fall WE177 tactical nuclear weapons in 1998, making the UK the only recognised nuclear-armed non-proliferation treaty country to possess just one nuclear system. All that is simply a declaration of fact.
My right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn has recently been elected to be the leader of the Labour party and his views on the subject are well known. He appointed my hon. Friend Maria Eagle to be his shadow Secretary of State for Defence knowing her clear position on this question.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the way in which he is conducting this part of the debate. Will the review his party is carrying out consider the implications for HMNB Clyde, the submarine base at Faslane and for the Royal Naval Armament Depot Coulport and also the implications for Plymouth?
I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. This is very much a question about our military capability, but we can never ignore the fact that it is a very important economic regeneration question, too.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North announced at conference, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence will lead a review on all aspects of our defence policy including our nuclear deterrent. She has been clear that she is going to lead an evidence-based review in an open-minded, inclusive and transparent way that investigates the issues that have been reviewed on many occasions and also searches for any new relevant evidence.
If the right hon. Gentleman had been slightly more patient, I would have got to precisely that point. If he bears with me, I will be able to enlighten him.
As I made clear, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood will be leading that review, and my very next sentence is that, as is standard for policy commissions that will feed into the national policy forum, a member of the national executive committee, Ken Livingstone, will co-convene that review on behalf of the NEC. But, as the leader of our party said at conference and reiterated yesterday, it will be led by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood.
Several hon. Members rose—
Let me make a little progress, because many Members wish to contribute to the debate and I am keen to give them an opportunity to do so.
It is really important for our politics and for those on both sides of the debate that we all embrace the opportunity to debate the cases for and against. Politics is changing; there is a mood out there for more transparency, not just in our party but in society as a whole. So we in the Labour party welcome this opportunity.
Pursuing a policy of multilateral, not unilateral, disarmament has been the accepted positions of the major parties in British politics for 30 years and, as a result, many of these issues have not been the subject of widespread and inclusive debate. We in the Labour party welcome this opportunity, and as someone who willingly supported the position the Labour party fought the last general election on, I say that all of us who support maintaining a nuclear presence should not be afraid to allow open and honest debate of this important issue.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to crack on, because I know many Members want to contribute. I will try and take some more interventions towards the end of my speech.
It would clearly be ludicrous for me to pretend that there are not differences of opinion within the parliamentary Labour party and the wider party on whether this is the right policy. In the end, national party conference and the NPF will decide what the Labour party’s approach to this question will be in the future, but this year’s Labour party conference concluded that there were more pressing contemporary motions to debate and so the NPF report reaffirmed the party’s support for the continuous at-sea deterrent.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the Labour party UK conference, but I notice that he does not mention the Labour party Scottish conference, which voted against Trident. Does that count for absolutely nothing, as the hon. Gentleman’s boss told her Labour party colleagues? Scotland just doesn’t matter, does it?
I have to say that I think those kinds of comments are utterly offensive. The truth of the matter is—[Interruption.] Once again, we are discussing an important matter, and the people are watching and people’s jobs are on the line, and SNP Members are laughing their way through this debate. The truth of the matter is that the Scottish Labour party had a vote at its conference, and of course that will be considered as part of all the many contributions made to this debate. The views of many people with a whole variety of opinions will be considered. The vote that took place and the views of individual members will be considered as part of that.
My hon. Friend will understand, as a neighbouring MP, how important the Trident successor programme contract will be to places such as Sheffield, in terms of jobs in the supply chain. The tone of today’s debate underlines the importance of the debate on Trident and the fact that it is a UK matter. It deserves a UK-oriented focus, not a narrow, nationalist outlook.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the supply chain to this project, not just in the areas where it will be built but right across the country. This is a decision for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is one that we will all be responsible for, and that we will all have an opportunity to benefit from.
In the light of the lengthy procurement process required for complex weapons systems, Parliament voted in 2007 to
“maintain the strategic nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the existing system”.
The Secretary of State went into greater detail on the history of that decision earlier. We should also remember that there are 28 NATO alliance members who are offered protection by each other. The fact that our contribution through Trident is a vital reassurance was brought home to me on a recent trip to Brussels to meet NATO allies.
If Britain and France appeared to be weakening their nuclear contribution, there is no guarantee that other allies would not decide that they could no longer be secure under the NATO umbrella or that they would not look to procure their own deterrents. Our own unilateralism could, in fact, lead to an increase in the number of nuclear states. Today’s shooting down of a Russian aircraft, apparently by Turkish forces, should underline for us how precious that interconnection and mutuality is, how unpredictable the world is, and how important it is for those NATO allies on the southern and eastern borders of NATO that the UK sends a message to those who threaten us that we will be resolute and trustworthy.
I respect utterly the way in which the hon. Gentleman is addressing this issue. He talks about the Labour party reviewing its policies, but will he address the worrying point that, whatever the outcome of the review, the leader of the Labour party has made it clear that he would in no circumstances use the deterrent? Has the party’s policy not therefore already been decided? Even if Labour decides to go ahead with Trident, its leader has said that he would not use it, thereby denying it its potency as a deterrent.
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but this project will be valuable to our country over 25 to 30 years and beyond. When we are making these significant infrastructure decisions, the day-to-day details are perhaps less important than the longer-term capability.
The review is being led by the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. I shall not go into the arcane details of Labour party processes, but a member of the national executive committee is involved in supporting that process. That is the role that Ken Livingstone will play.
As I said a moment ago, this is not the first time that SNP Members have brought this question to the House, but they will know that their own approach to defence has failed to stand up to close scrutiny. Their White Paper that preceded their failed referendum campaign was clearly uncosted and provided no breakdown of costs for equipment, personnel or budgets.
I will not give way again; I am going to complete my speech—[Interruption.] We listened to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute for quite some time, and I still do not know what he really thinks. The SNP’s White Paper failed to confront the contradictions between the party’s desire to join NATO and its desire to remove all nuclear weapons from Scottish soil. It was clear from the hon. Gentleman’s contribution that the SNP had no understanding of what would be involved when it said that it wanted to sign up to NATO. It thought that it could be a part of the alliance while being somehow removed from NATO policies. It cannot have its cake and eat it.
This is not a question of what my opinion is; it is a matter of simple fact that NATO is a nuclear alliance. Membership of NATO, which the SNP supports, requires allies to be members of the NATO nuclear alliance and to sit on the appropriate committees. So the fact is: an independent Scotland that was part of NATO would be covered by the nuclear umbrella. To be frank, I suspect that it is precisely because it would be covered in that way, with all the strength and security that that would offer, that it wants to be a member of NATO. That would give assurance to its own members. This is not a question of my opinion; it is a simple statement of fact.
No, I am going to finish in a moment.
On the back of yesterday’s strategic defence and security review, the Government must clarify a number of the urgent issues that have been touched on already today. First, will they give us a breakdown of the new cost estimates for the Successor fleet that they have provided? Specifically, what are the latest figures for warhead and infrastructure refurbishment? Secondly, can the Minister confirm that the Treasury is to take the lead on the procurement of the Vanguard Successor class? If so, will he explain why? In setting out the mechanics of that arrangement, can he explain what it says about the level of confidence the Chancellor has in the Ministry of Defence? What input will Defence procurement experts have into the Treasury’s work on this? Was the decision made with the support of the Secretary of State for Defence, and if so, why did he think the matter would be better handled outside his own Department? Thirdly, will the Government clarify the timescales of the Successor programme? What criteria did they use to decide to further extend the life of the existing fleet? What is the strategy underpinning that decision? And, most importantly, can the Department resolutely guarantee that the decision will not adversely impact on the maintenance of our continuous at-sea deterrent posture?
I hope that the Minister for Defence Procurement will have an opportunity to respond to my questions. They are questions that he might reasonably have expected from the Members who called the debate, as they have had much longer to scrutinise the Government on this matter, but of course they are only interested in highlighting the difficulties that they perceive in the Labour party.
In summary, the Labour party’s review, under the stewardship of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood, will consider any new evidence. It will examine the views of people from across the spectrum of opinions. It will allow people across the party, in the trade union movement and in communities right across the land to engage in the debate. It will learn about the facts and debunk the myths, as part of a national conversation. We will not shrink from the debates; we will relish them. This is an issue on which we believe there needs to be more light and less heat. We will not play political games with an issue as important as this, but the House can be assured that when that review has been concluded, the Labour party will have a position that has been the subject of the widest public debate in the history of military decision making. People will be able to have real confidence that the position we reach is one that the party—and, indeed, the country—can support with confidence.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. A great many people have indicated to me that they would like to speak in the debate. The House will be aware that another important debate is to follow, so I shall therefore have to impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of six minutes, starting with immediate effect as we hear from Mrs Sheryll Murray.
Members will know of my special interest in the Royal Navy, as the mother of a serving Royal Navy warfare officer, although I am absolutely sure that my daughter would want to stick to surface ships rather than serving on one of the four Vanguard class submarines. I am really pleased that Carol Monaghan has joined the family of people in this House who have a connection with the Royal Navy, and I hope that she will make many contributions to these debates.
It is now more than 70 years since these bombs were used in anger. We must remember that this is not new technology, and that the threat is real. That is why we must have a credible nuclear deterrent that others believe we will use if we are attacked. A continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is essential, because the deterrent has to be credible. It gives the UK the ability to respond instantly from a moveable location; that assists in providing security against any possible threats. Throughout my life, under Labour and Conservative Governments, we have had a credible deterrent, because we had the leadership to back it up.
The hon. Lady and many of her colleagues have criticised the Leader of the Opposition for saying that he would never fire Trident, presumably because it is not a deterrent if we promise not to use it. Will she tell us in what circumstances she would have it on her conscience to launch an attack that would annihilate tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent, unarmed civilians?
Having the deterrent and leading people to think we can use it is what the deterrent is about. It is no good publicising the fact that it will never be fired; that is a useless deterrent.
Let me try to put it in simpler terms, for those who struggle to understand what a deterrent is, by using the analogy of a burglar alarm. We have a burglar alarm at home that we turn on when we go out, because we hope it will put people off breaking in; and we have a nuclear deterrent, which is there when we go to bed, to keep our country safe.
We also need to remember that the UK’s nuclear deterrent contributes to our collective security as part of NATO. If the UK did not have an at-sea deterrent, NATO’s collective security would be weakened, leaving the UK dependent on others. That seems to be what the Scottish National party is determined that it wants.
On the message of deterrence, does not having nuclear weapons mean that we are the most direct threat to other states that have them? Rather than the weapons being a deterrent, do they not make us a key target in this family of nations?
A deterrent is extremely important, and that is precisely what this is; it is not there to use in anger. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the words I started with: the last time these bombs were used in anger was 70 years ago. I am speaking today not just because I believe in a credible nuclear deterrent—I do—but because of the importance it has in my constituency. Trident has provided a massive amount of employment for my constituents, in the same way that Faslane and Coulport provide a massive amount of employment north of the border.
I am sorry, but I have used up my time. The repair, refuelling and refit of the Vanguard class submarines is carried out in the D154 submarine support facilities at Devonport, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Oliver Colvile. Devonport’s expertise and experience should be used in any future programme. As a local county councillor at the time, I will never forget standing by the banks of the River Tamar in Mount Edgcumbe park, watching the first Vanguard submarine edge her way around Drake’s island and into Devonport dockyard for its refit. Continuing to refuel and refit these submarines at Devonport is likely to safeguard up to 2,000 jobs. I fully support the Government in their goal of having successor submarines replace the Vanguard class ones, and having a credible nuclear deterrent to protect this nation for decades.
What a pleasure it is to follow such a thoughtful and well-informed speech from Mrs Murray. I wish you had been in for the start of this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, because what a shambles it was. Let me give you, for background, the context in which the debate was called for. The SNP is presiding over a disgraceful mismanagement of the core activities of government in its nation. Let me tell the House of the dreadful mess the SNP is making of health and education; there is a need to do so.
Order. Let me clarify that the hon. Gentleman is not giving way right now, although he has indicated that he will do so shortly.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman says he is going to dig into the Scottish Government’s record on health and education, but I do not think that is applicable to today’s motion.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am listening carefully to what John Woodcock is saying, and I will decide if he has strayed from the motion. At the moment, my interpretation is that he is introducing his speech and that he will come to the precise point of the motion very shortly.
You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, SNP Members do not like people holding them to account for their terrible failure. I was just explaining the disgraceful mess that they are making of schools in Scotland, where the poorest children are being left behind—
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am not giving way. I would have been happy to take an intervention from every single one of you robots—you are getting your instruction—but the proposer of the motion refused point blank to take my intervention, so I am not taking any from a single one of you.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May we have some clarification on whether the charming expression “robot” is parliamentary language or not?
Yes, Mr Nicolson, I was just turning over in my mind whether the description “robot” for a Member of this House would be considered derogatory. I have come to the conclusion that in some circumstances it might, and in some it might not. For the moment, I am concluding, for my own peace of mind, that the hon. Gentleman was thinking of a high-functioning, intelligent robot. Therefore, for the moment, I will not call him to order for the use of the word, but I am sure the House will be warned that we should be very careful in our use of language.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek clarification: I thought the hon. Gentleman called the hon. Members “Roberts”, and anyone from Scotland should not mind that reference, bearing in mind Robbie the Bruce.
No, on the contrary. As to Mr Paisley’s point of order, every eldest male member of my family for the past 100 years has been called Robert; it must be a good thing.
We will have no more points of order on this issue. Any term that is considered to be in any way derogatory towards an honourable Member of this House will not be allowed, and I will be listening very carefully for the rest of the debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very happy to refer to SNP Members as honourable robots if that is any help, but robots they are, following their instructions in an extraordinary unity almost never seen before in this place.
I was making a point about the failure on hospitals over which the SNP is presiding—there is failure on waiting times, intolerable pressure on nurses and so on. Instead of addressing those points, the SNP seeks this parliamentary distraction of a debate on Trident, and we will not fall for it.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving way, because he was not given way to earlier in the debate, and he should have been. He has set out the context of the debate. Does it surprise him that today, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Sinn Féin, which butchered and bombed people across the entire United Kingdom, has a similar motion calling for the cancellation of Trident? Would he like to reflect on that?
I do not know. It is certainly something on which the Scottish National party Member who winds up may wish to reflect. I will go back to the SNP in a moment, but first let me implore the Minister to respond to my questions, because, understandably, I was not able to intervene on the Secretary of State for a second time earlier in the debate. In his winding-up speech—or he can intervene on me now—will the Minister make it clear that the change in management structure for this programme will in no way affect the superb workforce in Barrow-in-Furness, Derby, and so many constituencies around the country? The measure has long been discussed and is designed to get increased effectiveness out of the programme.
Furthermore, will the Minister comment on the extra pressure that may be placed on the ageing Vanguard class hulls by the further delay, and on whether the Royal Navy and his Department have carried out the scoping that will be required because of the extra delay in the in-service date for the new boats?
This is a debate about the Scottish National party, whose Members are sitting next to me. They seem perfectly happy to scrap 10,000 jobs in Faslane.
If everybody will sit down, I will explain my views. I would have been happy to have taken all these SNP interventions, but the proposer of the motion—the honourable chief robot—refused to allow me to intervene even once, so I will not take their interventions. They would be happy to throw on the unemployment scrapheap—
In the remaining time that I have, let me quickly read a list of some of the constituencies in Scotland that are affected by the submarine supply chain: Argyll and Bute, which we have already mentioned; Aberdeen North; Coatbridge; Chryston and Bellshill; Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East; Dunfermline and West Fife; East Dunbartonshire; East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow; East Renfrewshire; Glasgow Central; Glasgow North West; Glasgow South; Glasgow South West; Glenrothes; Gordon; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath; Linlithgow and East Falkirk; Livingston; Midlothian; Motherwell and Wishaw; Paisley and Renfrewshire North; West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine; and West Dunbartonshire.
I will not give way, because I will not get any more time. I want to finish on the argument, which has been made clearly, that it is morally indefensible for a state to possess nuclear weapons. I do not agree with that at all, because they are there to prevent nuclear weapons from being fired. However, if the SNP think that it is morally indefensible or even “repugnant” to possess such weapons, why is it happy to be under the nuclear umbrella of another nation? It is not the case that other NATO members do not have nuclear weapons. I do not think that I can use the word hypocrisy, but it is a rank wrong that the party feels able to shelter under that umbrella while being happy to name-call the rest of the United Kingdom for wanting to keep nuclear weapons.
The question is not whether we do, or do not, go ahead with Trident, because the votes on that are absolutely nailed on. This will go past the point of no return. The real question exposed in this debate is: in which SNP constituency—which place in Scotland—will the nuclear toxic waste, which the SNP has admitted it will take, go?
This is an extremely important debate. Already this afternoon, we have heard some errant wrongs in the nature of our NATO alliance. I hope that Members will forgive me for taking a moment to correct them. NATO is a nuclear pact. NATO demands nuclear capability. NATO requires states to allow deployable nuclear weapons. It is simply incorrect to say that any member state can be a NATO member without tolerating, allowing, encouraging and even permitting the deployment of nuclear weapons from its states.
Germany has nuclear-capable artillery. Belgium has nuclear-capable aircraft. Denmark has runways for such aircraft and has subs basing for it in Danish waters. Every NATO state is nuclear-capable and allows the deployment and the firing of nuclear weapons from its territory. That is part of the 1949 alliance. If countries do not like it, they should not sign it; that is very, very clear.
NATO countries sign that alliance for a very good reason. It is because nuclear weapons work. Since 1949, no two nuclear states have fought each other or gone to war in any way. Why? Because nuclear weapons are appalling; they are utterly awful.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the many venerable academics who believe that, had it not been for nuclear weapons, it is almost certain that in the cold war period we would have had a third conventional world war, which would have been far more bloody and brutal than the first or even the second?
Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend very much for that intervention. The appalling nature of nuclear weapons is exactly what keeps us safe. The very fact that they are an existential threat to so many regimes and to so many dreadful leaders around the world is exactly what puts them off. Few bunkers and no society could survive a nuclear attack, and that is exactly why nuclear weapons work: nobody wishes to face them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, in highlighting the fact that war is the real enemy, we need look only at the loss of life that we have seen from war this century. In the first and second world wars, we saw terrible destruction from conventional weapons. Ironically, those weapons were stopped by the two attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Though those attacks were utterly awful, and I will not in any way say that they were not, it is quite clear that what they did was prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives—not just American lives, but Japanese lives too. Many prisoners of war, many of our relatives, survived the second world war—I am talking about the relatives of Members not just on the Government Benches but on the Opposition Benches too—because the horror of those two attacks brought an early end to that war, and thank God they did, because hundreds of thousands of lives were saved.
However, nuclear weapons do not work alone. They work as part of the spectrum of defence. They are part of everything from the infantry soldier with his bayonet right the way through to the Trident nuclear submarine. They work across the entire spectrum, because it is only the range that allows Her Majesty’s armed forces to intervene at an appropriate level on each occasion. In exactly the same way as a diplomat requires the military for his words to have credibility, so too the soldier requires the submarine to know that he will not be undermined by an attack from one of the other states that may sympathise with the enemy.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful contribution. In his considerable experience working in the Ministry of Defence, has he ever seen a viable reorientation of defence expenditure away from the nuclear deterrent which would give us the same level of assurance around our defence?
Some work has been done on that, but only at a very basic level. The truth is that, when people rightly talk about the cost of defence and the cost of the nuclear deterrent, what they rarely consider is how much the conventional alternative costs. If we truly wish to deter and to persuade an enemy that we will not be steamrollered by their wish or blackmailed by their desires, we need to have a deterrent that allows us not to strike first, but to strike back. No conventional force offers the same pound-for-pound capability as the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. Members may not like it, but that is why the nuclear deterrent is the cheapest alternative.
The deterrent is not working when Russian submarines in our waters are being spotted not by maritime patrol aircraft or vessels, but by fishing boats. We are now in the ridiculous situation where our deterrent is either to nuke them or to chase them away with bayonets.
The hon. Lady makes an entertaining but factually unsound point. Our capabilities are to chase them away with our hunter-killer submarines and the Royal Navy’s patrol vessels, and that is exactly what they are doing. Most important, when we see those Russian submarines coming towards us, we do not immediately think, “Let’s bow to Mr Putin’s latest desires and hobble ourselves to the Kremlin’s wishes.”
Instead, we think, “They won’t dare, because they know we can.” That is what grants us the independence of action and guarantees us the independence of movement that we require as an active supporter of human rights and of the dignity of humanity in this world.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the ultimate proof that they are a deterrent is that although submarines may be circling the United Kingdom, they are not firing missiles?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
Looking around the world, we might think that the real threat today is militant jihadism or a dirty bomb. That is, of course, true in the immediate sense, but I wonder how many Members on either side of the House would have looked around the world 20 years ago and said, “We’ve got to be worried about ISIS.”
Forgive me, but I must make some progress. How many of us would have thought that, rather than being one our allies, as we very much hoped she would be in the 1990s, Russia would be resurgent after the cold war, changing the borders of a European country for the first time since 1945 and sponsoring militias in Ukraine that intend to bring death not only to the peacekeepers we send, but to civilian aircraft flying overhead? Who would have predicted that? I would wager that no one would have predicted it. Because of that inability to predict, it is essential that we in the United Kingdom guarantee the ultimate security for us and our children. It is not enough to wish for peace—we must work for it and fight for it, and the nuclear deterrent is the ultimate proof that we will both work and fight for our own security.
Please let me make a little progress.
We heard for ourselves the MOD’s misgivings about Trident and how it is unaffordable and threatens spending on other equipment.
The Prime Minister’s war drums are beating. He wants to open up another war front in Syria, to add to the current commitments of service personnel around the globe, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we have troops engaged abroad, the MOD was telling us that the inventory of support material for the armed forces has been cut by a quarter in the past four years, and that the funding is about to be slashed from £30 billion to less than £10 billion by keeping what was described as
“the minimum amount of kit”.
Spending on Trident, however, is to be protected and enhanced.
We were told that a huge gap of some £8.5 billion exists between what the generals, admirals and air chief marshals say the armed forces need and what Whitehall is prepared to provide. In the words of the permanent under-secretary,
“a process of going through what people want and saying, ‘I know you like that fantastic new thing. Actually, what you need is this’, will lower the bill.”
Whitehall bean-counters will be telling the armed forces what they really need, but spending on Trident will be sacrosanct. There will be no back-up body armour for troops on the battlefield, but there will be plenty of cash for Trident. Provision of troop transport options will be a matter for Whitehall, but the transport of weapons of mass destruction cannot be questioned.
We were told that the nuclear enterprise is what keeps the MOD’s senior civil servants awake at night. The permanent under-secretary said that the current annual running cost of Trident is
“in excess of £3.5 billion”,
but that if it is renewed the figure will rise to more than £5 billion a year. He said that he could drive savings in other areas,
“but that project is a monster and it is an incredibly complicated area in which to try to estimate future costs.”
Therefore, while Trident—an unusable and abhorrent abuse of scientific discovery and human imagination—can name its price and pick the pockets of any other budget in the MOD, other parts of the service are resourced or starved on a Whitehall whim.
I appreciate that the hon. Lady was in Australia at the time, acting in various episodes of “Home and Away”, but is she aware that during the 1970s the CND was largely funded by the KGB, as the Mitrokhin archive proves? Some of these arguments therefore sound a little hollow when they are made with the cash of our enemies.
The air crews that the Prime Minister wants in the Syrian skies cannot be sure of a reliable supply of spare parts for their planes, but Trident will always have whatever it needs.
There is another insult in the midst of that mess, as the MOD outsources logistics and supply for armed forces to Leidos, an American firm that started out providing advice to the American defence nuclear industry. Those of us who campaigned in the independence referendum will recall being told that no vital pieces of defence infrastructure are provided by companies from outwith our borders. How things change and yet stay so much the same.
We might also want to take note of the legal position. My constituent Ronald King Murray—Lord Murray—who is a former Lord Advocate for Scotland and a respected legal thinker, has offered the opinion that nuclear weapons are illegal under international law. Given what Tom Tugendhat said about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I point out that Lord Murray was a serving soldier preparing to attack Japanese positions when the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima 70 years ago, and he thinks it may well have saved his life. However, he formed the opinion then, in spite of the preservation of his own life, that the weapon is probably illegal, and his opinion has not changed in the seven decades since.
Lord Murray suggests that the International Court of Justice might use the occasion of the case being brought by the Marshall Islands to update and enhance its 1996 ruling, which is that the use, or threatened use, of nuclear weapons was illegal. It may well decide now to rule that the possession of such weapons is illegal.
I have nearly finished. The Government might not wish to take any note of legal advice on military issues—some previous Governments have shown a reluctance to take such advice too—but surely Ministers will not wish to ignore the effect that renewing Trident would have on other areas of defence spending. They do not have to listen to us; they can speak to officials at the MOD—cancelling Trident would be very good for their sleep patterns.
I have nearly finished. The combined effects of spending cuts and the blind insistence on spending huge sums on a virility totem would leave poorly equipped frontline service personnel even worse off. I certainly hope that the Government would have the decency to consider them.
I was concerned to read that the motion for this debate has only one sentence:
“That this House believes that Trident should not be renewed.”
There is not much substance behind that, and as the debate goes on it worries me more and more. Deidre Brock has questioned the legality of Trident. That is a matter for legal debate, but the fact is that it and nuclear weapons exist.
As my hon. Friend makes clear, a lot of legal advice on issues such as this is a matter of interpretation. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and say that we will not be involved in something that exists. The fact is that a nuclear threat exists.
About three years ago, John Woodcock, who is no longer in his place, and I went to Ukraine, to Kiev. This was after the Russian intervention in that area. As was mentioned earlier, the Budapest agreement of 1994 made it clear that, in return for unilateral disarmament, Ukraine’s borders would be protected by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. Yet, when the Russian Federation walked in, nothing could be done. As I mentioned in Foreign Office questions earlier today, the world’s attention may have shifted to the situation in the middle east and Syria, but there is a live war going on today in Ukraine. I hold the United States partly responsible for that, because a weak foreign policy by what I consider to be one of the worst Presidents of the United States has allowed Russia to take strategic decisions and walk into countries such as Ukraine, knowing that there was no deterrent. Deterrence is what this debate is about. As my hon. Friend Jake Berry said, no one has a burglar alarm because they want people to burgle their house; they have one as a deterrent. It is incredible that in a world that is so dangerous and becoming more so, we have a debate whose purpose is to try to disarm us as if the rest of the world would then fall into line.
I am intrigued by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Following the logic about Russia invading Ukraine, and given that we have this deterrent, surely it did not work in that situation.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because his intervention makes my point: there was no deterrent to stop Russia going into Ukraine because President Putin rightly recognised that President Obama would not intervene in international affairs. There were no checks and balances—no counterweight to what has become a new superpower. Putin just walked in, and was allowed to do so.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that Ukraine was persuaded to give up its nuclear weapons, and as a result Putin has been able to ride roughshod over international agreements?
Exactly. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
This debate is not about war-mongering. It is not about a desire to launch nuclear weapons; it is the direct opposite. It is about the fact that a nuclear deterrent has prevented major world conflicts, but today we see that there are conflicts taking place. We talk about Daesh getting its hands on nuclear weapons, or about North Korea, which would be able to launch an attack on South Korea. Let us not forget that there was never a peace treaty between North Korea and South Korea. Technically they are still at war, but they have been able to face each other off with conventional weapons for several decades. If that game changed with nuclear weapons, there would have to be western intervention concerning South Korea to make sure that it could counteract that threat from North Korea; otherwise, hundreds of thousands of innocent people would be murdered by a regime with no other intention than wiping out its neighbour. That is what a deterrent prevents. That is why this debate is so important.
Nobody in this Chamber, nobody in NATO, nobody in the western world and probably not even President Putin would want to use nuclear weapons. That is not what this debate is about. It is about making sure that when something exists, those enemies who would use it do not have the opportunity to do so because they know it would be pointless. North Korea will not launch a nuclear weapon at South Korea if it knows that 10 seconds later it would disappear off the face of the map as well. However unpalatable that truth may be, that is the truth that has kept the peace.
If we consider the first world war, and then the second world war, which was fought with conventional weapons but had a much higher death toll and in which far more civilians were killed than in the first world war, we see that as technology advances and wars increase, more and more of the civilian population die. It was noticeable that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box earlier this week, he made it absolutely clear that military action that may be considered in Syria would be part of a wider programme with targeted intervention to try to prevent civilian deaths. Western leaders today spend most of their time trying to work out how we can intervene to reduce civilian deaths, and there is nothing better for that than having the Government who may be pushing their people into war know that they themselves would be wiped out. That is hugely important.
There has been a lot of talk about whether Trident is the right thing to spend money on. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said, it amounts to 0.2% of GDP. What would a war, even one fought with conventional weapons to which we may not be able to respond, do to the GDP of Europe, of the western world?
Would my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that the £31 billion is rather less than the debt interest payment that we are still having to make as a consequence of the legacy of the previous Government?
I agree with my hon. Friend, although I do not want to be too skewed towards other debates. My hon. Friend’s comment is important, though, because this country cannot have a solid defence or a capable strategic defence review unless we have a strong economy. That has to go hand in hand with this debate.
None of us today wants to renew Trident because we are war-mongers. We are the exact opposite. But we have to be aware of the threats in our world—threats that we have to be capable of responding to even though we hope that we never have to respond to them. The last 70-odd years has proved that. In the Cuban missile crisis, when President Kennedy said that we were eyeball to eyeball with the Russians, they backed down because they knew that doing otherwise would mean the destruction of their own country as well as the country that they were attacking. That is the proof that, however unpalatable Trident renewal may be, the nuclear deterrent works.
This is a matter of profound national importance. It is a debate on the security of our nation, but it is also about our standing as a nation among our allies and in the eyes of our adversaries. The history of our position as a nuclear power stems from our desire to protect ourselves and not to shy away from our responsibilities to our allies.
We must acknowledge the historically critical role that the Labour party has played in developing the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent. It is important to recognise too the Secretary of State’s call today for consensus on this matter, which I warmly welcome.
It was the then Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, who in 1945 began the preliminary work and feasibility studies that paved the way for the independent nuclear deterrent. Following the end of nuclear co-operation with the United States in the shape of the McMahon Act in Congress, in October 1946 the Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernie Bevin, pushed ahead with plans for Britain to develop our own system.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to join him in praising Mr Attlee, indeed Major Attlee, who fought with enormous courage in the first world war? Does he not think that his former leader would have looked at the nuclear alliance and thought, as the Romans did, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.”—“If you seek peace, prepare for war”?
I absolutely agree: Attlee invented the nuclear deterrent, so of course he would have agreed with that. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to today’s debate, which I welcomed.
One reason the debate is so important to me is that my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Barrow and Furness have always been at the heart of our independent deterrent, and that is a source of immense pride in Cumbria. Not only that, but I was elected, as were my colleagues, on a clear manifesto commitment that reads:
“Labour remains committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent”.
A number of colleagues have mentioned NATO. The principle of maintaining an independent deterrent is clearly demonstrated through our commitment to our NATO allies.
I have visited the Barrow shipyard, so I totally understand the passion of the workforce and the commitment to the Successor programme project. It was not only Major Attlee who supported the nuclear deterrent but figures on the left of the Labour party, including Nye Bevan, who said that we should not walk
“naked into the conference chamber”.
Absolutely—I could not put it better. It is one of our party’s greatest achievements, and it should be recognised at every opportunity. I thank my hon. Friend for her steadfast support for the industry and the deterrent. She knows precisely what this means for the manufacturing sector in her constituency.
To bring things into a more modern context, does the hon. Gentleman agree with one of my constituency predecessors—Lord Browne, the former Defence Secretary—who drew attention today to the January 2013 report by the US Defence Science Board, which basically said that nuclear weapons are at risk of cyber-threat and might be useless for deployment following cyber-attacks?
No, I do not agree with that.
The most recent strategic concept from NATO reaffirmed its long-standing policy that
“as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance. Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of NATO’s strategy.”
Forgive me if I do not take any more interventions. I need to make progress.
The strategic concept continues:
“The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance”,
including, crucially, the UK. Although that clearly demonstrates the treaty obligations that we must maintain with regard to our allies in NATO and our NATO membership, it espouses the single most fundamental principle underpinning the argument for maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent: while other nations have nuclear weapons, so should we. This is not about bravado, international one-upmanship or, as has bizarrely been said, a virility test. It is a clear demonstration of strength and capability which provides deterrence. Although the threat from other nation states has reduced over the past few decades, only the most naive would say that it has fully diminished. While there are nuclear weapons in the world, the only effective deterrent is maintaining our own independent nuclear weapons. Unilateralism will never work. Believe me, this party has tested that theory to destruction. Only a multinational approach can rid the world of nuclear missiles.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will not take further interventions.
We have managed to maintain our deterrent while reducing our warheads which, as a piece of policy craft, should be acknowledged and celebrated. We are the only major advanced nuclear country to demonstrate that.
Moving on to the economic side of the issue—we cannot disregard that—people well versed in the history of military and civil nuclear engineering will understand clearly the benefits of this industry to my constituents in west and south-west Cumbria. The expertise amassed over 70 years in Copeland and in Barrow-in-Furness has cemented our place as world leaders in nuclear technology and knowledge. It has provided a basis for highly skilled jobs that have enabled communities to benefit from vast private sector investment such as new nuclear reactors, alongside the successor programme in Barrow-in-Furness. Our position as world leaders has been hard earned, principally by my hon. Friend John Woodcock and me, by the trade unions, and by decades of work in the nuclear industry. Maintaining skills and expertise is crucial to the economic wellbeing and growth not just of my constituency but of my county and, indeed, the north-west of England.
The Trident replacement is forecast to generate as many as 26,000 jobs throughout the UK, with more than 6,000 at the BAE shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness where the submarines will be built. The livelihoods of many people in the south of my constituency depend on the renewal of Trident. People who advocate defence diversification—we heard from the Secretary of State that the GMB has described that as pie in the sky— have yet to put forward a comprehensive plan for how they would achieve that. We also have to take into account the impact on smaller companies that make up the supply chain. The 2014 update to Parliament on the project states:
“Work done to date has identified over 850 potential suppliers across the UK. This underlines the fact that the nuclear deterrent represents a significant national undertaking, which is drawing on cutting edge capabilities, innovation, design and engineering skills available in the UK, and is providing employment opportunities and development prospects for a substantial number of apprentices, trainees and graduates in a wide range of technical and other disciplines.”
The expertise, the cutting-edge capabilities and the innovation all have their birthplace in west and south-west Cumbria. The benefits of those opportunities for thousands of apprentices, graduates and trainees will be felt across every single community that I represent. Opponents of the renewal of Trident will make the case that the skills can be deployed in other industries without ever really making it clear what those industries are and how they intend to put in place the comprehensive retraining plans necessary to redeploy nuclear workers. In fact, the proponents of diversification have had nearly four decades to come up with a plan to demonstrate how diversification would work, and we are still waiting. There is no plan, and there never will be a plan.
We have to approach the world as we find it, not as we would want it to be. To vote against the renewal of Trident is to vote potentially to put thousands of people out of work, to waste knowledge and expertise amassed over decades, to neglect our duties to our allies, to diminish our ability to defend ourselves and certainly to diminish our standing in the world. Britain has proudly punched above its weight on the world stage for centuries. We are a global leader. We should never step back from this responsibility.
I find myself in a position where I am proud to support my constituents, proud to support my constituency, proud to support my country, and proud to support Labour party policy in the best traditions of Clement Attlee.
I rise in support of renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. Before I speak about that, may I pay tribute to those Labour MPs who have put party politics to one side and are thinking very much of the British national interest? There is no Member of Parliament more valiant in that cause than John Woodcock, who has been a shining example of what it means to stand up for one’s constituents. He has fought for the local economy that he represents and ensured that the arguments that he passionately believes in are held not just in the House but throughout the country. Many of us could learn from the work that he does on this important matter.
I grew up on the Clyde coast, not a million miles from Faslane. Indeed, I went to school in Dumbarton, which is close to Faslane, so I know how important HM Naval Base Clyde is to the local economy. With more than 8,000 jobs in the area by 2020, it is the engine of that part of Scotland. In fact, it is by far the largest employer in Scotland.
In fact, there are many jobs associated with HM Naval Base Clyde, including support staff, staff in accommodation, and staff in local businesses. They would still be there if conventional warships were based in Faslane.
I admire the hon. Lady’s optimism, but we have been told that there will be 8,200 jobs—an increase—as a result of moving Astute-class submarines up there. Does she honestly expect us to believe that there would be that number of jobs, either direct or indirect, as a result of her party’s policy in an independent Scotland? In effect, the ships would be glorified fishery protection vessels, and they could be located anywhere.
Several hon. Members rose—
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the people of Argyll and Bute, and the people of Dumbarton are so unaware of the circumstances in which they live that at the general election they could not work that out for themselves? Had they not believed what we were saying, I would not have been elected and my hon. Friends who represent Dumbarton would not have been elected.
Absolutely. Elections are always referendums on the future. I spent the day with the hon. Gentleman on Thursday looking at the aircraft carriers. If we took HM Clyde out of the equation, along with Coulport, Faslane and the skills that those high-paid jobs bring, his constituency would be a far poorer place.
I will not give way, as I want to make progress.
The independent nuclear deterrent is vital to the future of this country. It is vital for our manufacturing base, and for our skills base and apprenticeships. I have constituents at BAE Systems in Warton and Samlesbury who are working on the Successor class programme. There are engineers and apprentices who look forward to working on that programme. The length and breadth of the United Kingdom, men and women, young and old, and those in apprenticeships across all skills bases will be dependent on the nuclear deterrent and the Successor class programme, and we ignore that at our peril. If the Successor class programme is taken out of the equation, the result is not just the loss of the independent nuclear deterrent, not just the threat to our national security and not just the devastating impact it would have on places such as the Clyde. All our communities would suffer as a result.
I beg the Labour party to come to its senses. It should not be down to independent-minded Labour MPs who passionately believe in national security to recognise that. It should come from the top down. I hope that as part of its defence review Labour will come to appreciate the unique importance of Trident and recognise that British national security cannot be put at risk. We cannot hope for a safer world; we have to work to secure it, and the deterrence provided by Trident is an integral part of that security. I hope the Labour party will not let us down at the crucial moment.
I put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State and the team at the Ministry of Defence. Yesterday, the strategic defence and security review outlined how conventional forces would fit in with the future of our country. We are not relying solely on Trident for our defence. I welcome the anti-submarine warfare capability aircraft that were announced yesterday, which will be based in Scotland and will play an integral part in looking after the deterrent.
Is it not noticeable that in the report published yesterday there were no threats in tier 1 for which Trident would be appropriate as a response?
We know that we live in an unpredictable world. Every strategic defence review has almost been redundant by the time the ink was dry on the paper. At the time of the previous review, no one foresaw the so-called Arab spring or a resurgent Russia. It is vital that the Government maintain all the ability to respond to a threat, regardless what it might look like. That never occurs at a time of our choosing.
Conventional weapons are at the heart of our defence. That is why the Government outlined yesterday across all three services a very clear strategy, ensuring that conventional weapons and the modernisation of our armed forces were integral to it. But they would not be as effective if the United Kingdom were stripped unilaterally of our nuclear deterrent. Ultimately, it is a weapon that we all hope and pray will never be used, but the very fact that we have it sends out a powerful message to any potential adversary that the United Kingdom takes our security seriously, takes its defence seriously, and will defend its allies in NATO. We are not a country that can sit back and hope that someone else will secure our future for us. When we have done that in the past, we have sometimes been found wanting. The United Kingdom must always look after its own defence. I hope Trident and Successor class submarines will always be at the heart of that.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to take part in a very important debate on a subject to which the House has not given sufficient time in recent times, although we have known for some years that we would have to address the issue. For the benefit of Government business managers, may I say that I think the House would be better served by a more substantial motion in Government time, which might allow wider consideration of the challenges that face us?
We are dealing today with an Opposition day debate. I listened with great care to the speech of Brendan O'Hara. It was remarkable that it focused on the position of the Labour party as much as it focused on the Government. That is a novel position for an Opposition day debate. In fairness, I am not entirely without sympathy for the approach, given the current difficulties in the Labour party. It is not that Labour lacks a clear position—in fact, I would suggest that Labour has too many clear positions and it is difficult to reconcile them all within the one party.
I have sympathy with the review that Labour is undertaking. I wish it well, but I have severe misgivings when I hear that Ken Livingstone has been put in charge of it. Putting Ken Livingstone in charge of a review of nuclear weaponry is a bit like putting King Herod in charge of the nursery.
I commend Toby Perkins for his contribution to the debate and the manner in which he made it. The review could do an awful lot worse than to take as its starting point the Trident alternatives review that was carried out at the behest of my party in the previous Government, which looked at various alternatives and different ways in which the question could be approached.
Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify the stance of his own party? A member who represents his party in my constituency claimed that we did not need a nuclear deterrent because we did not use it in the Falklands. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify his party’s policy, please?
I am not responsible for every contribution from every member of my party in every constituency, any more, I suspect, than the hon. Lady would want to be for her own party. I will come to my party’s position in a moment, because I think it is central to the debate and I want to put it on record. The hon. Lady has the advantage of being able to consider the terms of the amendment that was tabled but unfortunately was not selected for Division today.
It is worth remembering that we are having this debate only because the maingate decision, which was to have been taken in the previous Parliament, was delayed until this Parliament. When the Minister responds to the debate, I invite him to accept that although his party wanted to take that maingate decision in the last Parliament, events vindicate the decision that was made and this is the right point in the cycle to take it.
We live in an ever-changing and uncertain world. As Alec Shelbrooke, I think, said earlier, we cannot ignore the fact that nuclear weapons exist. I wish they could be uninvented, but they cannot. That is the basis on which we should approach this debate. It is not just about whether the position should be reviewed or not: it is about what the United Kingdom, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, can do to take a lead in the international community and among the nuclear powers to ensure that there is a serious movement towards multilateral nuclear disarmament.
This was a formative debate in my early political years, as it probably was for you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the 1987 general election, but the world was a very different place in 1987. The cold war was still at its height and the Soviet Union still existed. We have seen enormous change since that time, but the change has not all been in one direction. We have only to look at the situation in Ukraine and the Crimea to realise that such old enmities never die. It is not pertinent to say what is a tier 1 or a tier 2 risk at this point. The question is what the situation will be in the future.
Having said all that, I would still say that the Government’s determination to pursue a like-for-like replacement for Trident ignores the different world in which we now live and misses the opportunity that we have as a force for multilateral nuclear disarmament to take a different approach—to take a step down the nuclear ladder—and as a nuclear power to meet our obligations under the various nuclear non-proliferation treaties.
When the Secretary of State addressed the House, he spoke of what he has done to reduce the number of nuclear warheads currently available for deployment. I commend him for that. He lamented the fact that this has elicited little response from other nuclear or nuclear-aspirant countries. I suspect that that is because despite the reduction in the number of warheads, the Government continue to cleave to the notion of continuous at-sea deterrence. The time has now come for a very long and serious look at whether that remains an appropriate approach. My party has reached the conclusion that it is no longer necessary or appropriate. We would like to see an end to continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence, while of course maintaining our deterrence capability. That would allow us to take something of a lead in taking the step down—[Interruption.] If John Woodcock wishes to intervene, I will take an intervention, but I will not take sedentary chuntering.
My hon. Friends and I are baffled about how this part-time deterrence would work. Why would it save money, how would it stop the first-strike capability, and what would the submarines do when they were not deterring?
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a serious debate about this, then I am well in the market for that. He should understand, though, that this is a legitimate and substantial proposal that commands a lot of support among many people who understand and accept the need for nuclear weaponry but are prepared to look at how we use our position as a nuclear power and as a proponent of nuclear disarmament rather than as something that is—[Interruption.] Before he continues to shake his head, he might well find that his own party’s review comes up with something very similar to this. He should be careful not to disparage today what he might find in his manifesto tomorrow.
It is unfortunate that this debate has occasionally generated more heat than light, but it is an important one that this House has to have, and I suspect that we shall be returning to it in the months and years to come. When we do so, it should be on the basis that this is our opportunity to be a leading force for nuclear disarmament in the world; it is not all just about the renewal of weaponry.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. It has been a lively debate and we are running out of time. After the next contribution I will have to reduce the time limit for Back-Bench speeches to four minutes.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for permission to speak in this debate. I apologise to the House for the fact that because I was chairing a public sitting of the Defence Committee I could not be here for the opening speeches. For that reason, too, I have deliberately refrained from making any interventions.
Although the issue of strategic nuclear deterrence is very divisive, we can all agree that the calibre of the speeches on both sides of the House—and on both sides of the argument—has been very high indeed. If the Chairman of the Defence Committee had to mirror the views of its members, I would probably spend just over 90% of my time arguing passionately in favour of the nuclear deterrent and just under 10% of it arguing equally passionately against it, because we have, and are delighted to have, on the Committee Douglas Chapman, who is a consistent and thoughtful opponent of Trident.
Fortunately, however, I do not have to mirror those views. The views I am expected to put forward are clearly marked as my own, and they have been pretty much the same for 35 years, half of them outside this House and the remainder inside this House. On my having been elected to chair the Defence Committee, something may have come as a bit of a surprise to people who looked at the list of the five hon. Members from the Labour Opposition who were kind enough to nominate me to that role. One was the shadow Armed Forces Minister, Mr Jones, and that is hardly a surprise. However, at the other end of the spectrum, I was fortunate enough to enjoy the support of the current Leader of the Opposition. The reason was that we both agree on one thing. Even though our views on whether we should continue to have a nuclear deterrent are diametrically opposed, we both agree that both sides of the case have a good argument to make, and that when we make it on the Floor of the House, everybody learns something.
With the support of the now Leader of the Opposition, I managed to secure, on
I fear that I will not have enough time to deal with the point about cyber-vulnerability, so I commend to the House the article in The Guardian today in which Franklin Miller, a leading expert for 20 years on the American nuclear systems and, indeed, the holder of an honorary knighthood from this country, explains why there is no question of the nuclear deterrent being connected in any way to the internet and being in any way vulnerable in that regard. Similarly, on the question of tiers, I merely say that tier 2 threats are often more dangerous than tier 1 threats, and that is why the Defence Committee has just published a report in which we challenge the utility of ranking threats in this way.
Let me now stick to reciting my few arguments. There is not much time for any detail unless someone is kind enough to intervene on me. The first of the military arguments is the most important of all: that future military threats and conflicts will be no more predictable than those that engulfed us throughout the 20th century. That is the overriding justification for preserving armed forces in peacetime as a national insurance policy.
That point leads directly to the question of what it means to say that we are “using” Trident. Those of us who believe that the possession of a deadly weapon is the best method of stopping other people who possess similar deadly weapons from using them against us, say that Trident is in use every day of the week, and if ever the button had to be pressed, it would have totally failed in its purpose.
My second argument is that it is not the weapons themselves that we have to fear but the nature of the regimes that possess them. Whereas democracies are generally reluctant to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear dictatorships—although they did against Japan in 1945—the reverse is not true. Let us consider what might have happened if in 1982 a non-nuclear Britain had been facing an Argentina in possession of even just a few tactical nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them. Would we then have dared to use our conventional forces against its inferior conventional forces?
The third argument is that the United Kingdom has traditionally played a more important and decisive role in preserving freedom than other medium-sized democracies have been able, or willing, to do. Democratic countries without nuclear weapons have little choice but either to declare themselves neutral and hope for the best or to rely on the nuclear umbrella of their powerful allies. We are a nuclear power already, and it is also much harder to defeat us by conventional means because of the existence of the English channel.
The fourth argument is that because the United States is our closest ally, if the continent of Europe were ever occupied and the nuclear forces of the United States had not been used, an enemy might feel that they could attack us with nuclear weapons with impunity.
For those who say that our nuclear deterrent is in the hands of the Americans, what does my right hon. Friend make of the fact that every Prime Minister has to write a letter held in every submarine that is never, ever seen unless in the most dire circumstances?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. There is no question but that the Trident nuclear system is entirely autonomous. Indeed, nothing—not the Americans, not any form of cyber-bug—can possibly intervene if, heaven forbid, the worst happened, the United Kingdom were attacked in part or in whole and the submarine commander had to open the dreaded letter written by the Prime Minister.
The fifth and final military argument is the most important of all. I put this to people when they try to say, “Well, you’re inflicting cuts on our conventional capability.” The argument is that there is no quantity of conventional forces that can compensate for the military disadvantage that faces a non-nuclear country in a war against a nuclear-armed enemy. The atomic bombing of Japan is a perfect example, not only because the Emperor was forced to surrender, but because what of might have happened under the reverse scenario: if Japan had developed atomic bombs in the summer of 1945 and the allies had not, a conventional allied invasion to end the war would have been out of the question.
The debate should and will go on, and I congratulate SNP Members on giving us the opportunity to take part in it today.
May I make it quite clear at the beginning that, during the cold war, I was a multilateralist? I have never been a member of CND, and I have no moral objections to nuclear weapons or to nuclear power. Indeed, once the atom was split in the 1940s, that could not be undone, even though Oppenheimer himself said that, in retrospect, he wished he had never discovered how to do it.
However, time has moved on and we live in a different world nowadays. There are usually two arguments why the UK should have a so-called independent nuclear deterrent. I have to say that in my opinion both of them are myths. The first myth is that the system is independent; it is not. The UK has four nuclear submarines, each can carry up to eight missiles and each missile can carry up to five nuclear warheads. The UK does not own the missiles; it leases them from America, where they are made, maintained and tested. Our four submarines have to go to the American naval base in Georgia to have the missiles fitted. It is of course said, “Oh, but we have operational independence.” That is also a myth. Does anybody seriously believe that the UK could deploy and use nuclear weapons anywhere in the world without the approval of the Americans, because I do not?
The hon. Gentleman asserts as a fact that something is a myth, but can he substantiate why he thinks what Conservative Members say, which is that the deterrent is independent in operational terms, is a myth? He is just spouting something said by Labour Members since 1983, but with no substantiation.
The last time the United Kingdom acted with other countries was when they acted with France and Israel over the Suez canal in 1956. As I am sure Conservative Members are well aware, Harold Macmillan made it perfectly clear in his memoirs that the Americans said we had to leave Suez and end our military action, because if we did not they would bankrupt the country. If the hon. Gentleman feels that the Americans would be quite happy to let us deploy and use our nuclear weapons, he can believe that, but I do not. I want to move on.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. Should the British public sleep soundly in their beds in a few years’ time knowing that, when it comes to our nuclear weapons, Donald might hold the Trump card?
The second myth, which has not been argued today, but is often expressed, is that if the UK did not have nuclear weapons, it would somehow lose its place on the UN Security Council. Of course, that is also nonsense, because when the Security Council was formed, only one of the five permanent members—America —had nuclear weapons.
This country, like all other developed countries, faces threats to its security from rogue states, international terrorist groups and groups within our own society who want to destroy it. In my opinion, these threats are best met by our membership of NATO, the most successful mutual defence pact in history. It never attacked anybody between the time it was set up in 1948 and the end of the cold war. The tragedy of NATO has been that, after the cold war, it became not a mutual defence pact, but the world’s policeman, which has caused enormous problems in its member countries.
The way to deal with threats from domestic terrorism is by having a fully staffed and fully financed security service, by ensuring that the police have the money to do the job they need to do and by ensuring that our own conventional forces are given the tools of the job when they are sent into military conflicts on our behalf.
Let me make this point. We have witnessed terrible terrorist atrocities in this countries—the London bombings —but did our ownership of nuclear weapons do anything to prevent them? We saw what happened in the terrible attacks in Paris last weekend, but France is a nuclear power. France has a nuclear deterrent, but did its ownership of its own nuclear deterrent deter the terrorist groups who carried out the atrocities in Paris?
I am not convinced that we should spend a huge sum of money on renewing our own nuclear deterrent, which, as I have already said, is not independent in my opinion. I very strongly believe that we should be members of NATO and that NATO members should not be averse to contributing towards the nuclear umbrella that America provides. I would have no objection to that, but I believe the idea that we should somehow have our own so-called independent nuclear deterrent just does not stack up.
Yesterday’s national security strategy and SDSR indicated the future strategy for, and shape of, our security and defence arrangements. The continued reliance on nuclear weapons of mass destruction—or the deterrent, as the UK Government prefer to call it—remains at their heart. In my speech, I will contend that these nuclear weapons do not serve Scotland or the UK as an effective deterrent. On one recent estimate, the cost will be £167 billion over the programme’s lifetime. I would argue that these colossally expensive weapons are fundamentally a status symbol for the United Kingdom, as opposed to usable military weapons. As misguided as that sounds, successive Westminster Governments have been fixated on replenishing our cold war security system for another generation.
The Trident system comprises four nuclear-powered submarines equipped with multiple missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Each missile has the sole purpose of destroying an entire city and every living person within it, indiscriminately. Those cannot be legitimate weapons of war. We do not live in a time when our security is strengthened by those weapons. The ability to obliterate a major city is not something that defends us, if indeed it ever was.
In the past few weeks, we have seen the evil that extremist hate groups can bring to our doorstep. They are made up of splintered networks throughout our towns, cities and communities, which makes them formidable to take on. I would argue that that is where we should be taking action and employing our resources. I welcome the many aspects of yesterday’s SDSR announcement by the Prime Minister that will do exactly that. The investment in 1,900 additional security services and intelligence personnel to counter the threat of espionage is welcome. That is the kind of thing that we should be investing in. The commitment to take the threat of cyber-attack as seriously as any conventional attack is correct and I welcome it.
I want to see more investment in conventional capacity. Yesterday’s announcement on maritime patrol aircraft was welcome. The aircraft that were taken away in 2010 are being replaced. The new aircraft are being put in Lossiemouth, where they should be, to defend our north coast. That widely acknowledged gap is now being filled. It was stated yesterday that our defence and security strategy is closely aligned with the plans of our NATO partners. I would argue that the UK contributes nothing to that defensive alliance other than the retention of nuclear weapons. If our strategic aim is genuinely to work, it should complement what our partners bring to NATO. Supporting NATO conventionally is the way to achieve that.
The cost of the Trident upgrade cannot be ignored, even by those who simply accept the nuclear deterrence philosophy without question. I am speaking, respectfully, to many Members in the Chamber. I object to these weapons anyway on moral grounds, and on the basis that they do not serve a military use, but their cost surely cannot be justified any longer.
I want to make sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that no Government Member would press that button with any relish or delight, but while foes and potential enemies have such weapons, it is absolutely right and proper that we have an equal defence mechanism to ensure the security of the realm. There are lots of debates that can be reduced to pounds, shillings and pence, but the defence of the realm is not one of them.
I would make two points in response. First, I do not accept the deterrence argument; that is why I am making the argument that I am making. Secondly, I ask Members who are looking at this matter with an open mind: is this system necessary at any price, when we are taking resources away from conventional weapons? That is a genuine question that has to be answered if we are to renew this system.
In the time that I have left, I want to quote—
I was conscious that you were looking for additional time. Can I get this right? You welcome yesterday’s commitments to additional investment in national security by this country, which the SNP wants to leave. You will take the investment, the security and the support, but you want to leave this country and—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember that he is speaking through the Chair. I have no interest in this debate. He was speaking to Steven Paterson, not the Chair.
You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have heard that rebuke on numerous occasions and I am happy to follow all the other Members who have had to apologise to the Chair.
The hon. Gentleman knows the point that I am making. You want national security and investment from this national Parliament, but you want an à la carte—[Interruption.] Sorry, the hon. Gentleman wants an à la carte approach. I am not prepared to play fast and loose with our national security, and neither should he be.
I think that I am grateful for that contribution. It will surprise no one in this room that, as an SNP Member, I stand for independence. I believe that that is the best future for Scotland. However, I will play a constructive part in the security arrangements of the UK for as long as Scotland remains a part of it. That is a reasonable thing to do.
I was about to quote Major General Patrick Cordingley, who stated in The Guardian on
The hon. Gentleman’s narrative stacks up if we are in a realm of debate in which we have to decide whether to have one or the other. At the moment, we are able to support our conventional services and have nuclear weapons. Are we not better off having two clubs in the bag, rather than just one?
My point is that we are not doing enough to strengthen conventional weapons; we could be doing more. For example, yesterday the number of frigates was cut from 13 to eight. I would like us to strengthen our conventional forces.
The replacement of Trident fails to address the threats outlined in the SDSR and the national security strategy. Instead, we should invest in conventional forces, equipment, intelligence, counter-espionage, and combating cyber-terrorism, as well as actual terrorism on our streets and the streets of our allies. I implore the House to consider what threats Trident actually combats, and to reject its replacement.
Trident is a term often used to describe the UK’s entire nuclear weapons system, including Vanguard class submarines, Trident missiles and nuclear warheads. Each Trident D5 missile can hold up to 12 nuclear warheads, and each warhead has eight times more capacity to kill and destroy than the bomb that exploded over Hiroshima. Each submarine has 16 missile tubes, which means that it is technically capable of carrying 192 warheads. If deployed as per Hiroshima, 192 warheads, times eight, equates to killing 61 million people. With four submarines, that number grows to 250 million deaths. It would, of course, be far worse than that: a nuclear strike would lead to water supplies and arable land being polluted. Livestock would die; crops would fail. For those not initially killed by our nuclear weapons, starvation would follow. By arming themselves with Trident, the UK Government are saying that they are prepared to inflict that fate on millions of innocent civilians if that were deemed necessary.
Nobody can win a nuclear war. An exchange of nuclear weapons would lead to a level of devastation that neither side, or indeed the planet, could ever recover from. I acknowledge that we have imposed limits on the use of those weapons, but that will come as little comfort to the dead and the dying. The plan is to use a maximum of 40 warheads. Obviously, while sitting in the cloistered atmosphere of Westminster and playing war games, somebody decided that 39 warheads were not enough, and 41—well, that would be plain barbaric.
The only rational thought that could justify the renewal of Trident would be a genuine belief that its existence in some way, shape or form contributed to a more peaceful world. Since world war two, the nuclear deterrent has not stopped wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Falkland Islands—I could list 20 or 30 more countries. It has not deterred terrorist attacks in London, Tunisia, Mali, Paris or New York. If nuclear weapons have proved to be completely inadequate in preventing those wars and atrocities, what are its successes? What threat does Trident address, and who does it deter?
The hon. Gentleman’s argument is like saying that just because the antidote to one deadly disease is ineffective against other deadly diseases, we should not have the antidote.
If we had used our time, effort, money and ingenuity to fight deadly diseases instead of creating weapons of mass destruction, the world would be a better place today. We should be looking for humanitarian solutions, not for death.
Former Defence Secretary Des Browne, and Ian Kearns, the former adviser to Parliament on national security, stated:
“It has become clearer, for example, that a set of long-term threats has emerged, to which deterrence, nuclear or otherwise, is not applicable”.
Former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo said:
“Our independent nuclear deterrent is not independent and doesn’t constitute a deterrent against anybody that we regard as an enemy. It is a waste of money and it is a diversion of funds”.
I agree with Crispin Blunt when he said:
“The successor Trident programme is going to consume more than double the proportion of the defence budget of its predecessor…The price required, both from the UK taxpayer and our conventional forces, is now too high to be rational or sensible.”
I am not naive, and I know there are dangers in the world, but the sort of threats that we need to address will not be placated by Trident. The UK Government have identified terrorism, cybercrime, pandemics, natural disasters, foreign instability and foreign conflicts as our primary risks over the next five years. Trident will not solve any of those issues. In the meantime, Scotland’s coast continues to be poorly guarded, and our maritime reconnaissance is poor.
I am aware that the UK Government have finally committed to new maritime patrol vehicles, but the gap in our capability will remain, at least until 2020. Westminster’s irrational commitment to Trident has come at the expense of defence jobs in Scotland. Between 2000 and 2010, cuts to military personnel in Scotland were measured at 27.9%, compared with 11.6% across the UK as a whole. The decline continued between July 2014 and July 2015, as personnel numbers in Scotland dropped by a further 9.5%. At a lifetime cost of £167 billion, it is clear that Trident makes no economic sense. It solves none of our pressing foreign policy priorities, and it is draining resources from our conventional forces. Trident is not the solution; it is very much part of the problem.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Three more Members want to catch my eye. I am very sorry to say that I will drop the speech limit down to three minutes, so that they can all be accommodated.
I congratulate Ronnie Cowan on a superb speech. It is a pleasure to follow it, and I agree with everything he said.
I am speaking not for the Labour party, but for myself. I am a lifelong unilateral nuclear disarmer, and I have not changed my view one jot. I hope my party’s commission comes around to my position. There are other members of the parliamentary Labour party who take the same view. We maybe in a minority, I do not know. However, tens of thousands of Labour party members outside this House and millions of fellow citizens take our view, and not the view that seems to have a majority in the House today.
I am the vice-chair of the parliamentary Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. At one time I was the national chair of the trade union CND. I marched from Aldermaston many, many years ago in a column of tens of thousands of people led by Frank Cousins, Barbara Castle, Anthony Greenwood, Tony Benn and many others in our movement who were unilateral nuclear disarmers. As has been said, nuclear weapons are an insane abomination. They are capable of vaporising vast numbers of people in one explosion and horribly injuring thousands more, as well as spreading toxic radiation across the world. Any sane person would say they had to go. I am not convinced that our fellow Europeans in Germany, Italy and Spain would vote for us to keep our nuclear weapons. I do not know, but I suspect not. One day, we will win the unilateralist argument in Britain and get rid of them.
Hon. Members have raised the issue ofreplacing jobs. Replacing jobs is quite easy. The issue is not the existence of jobs, but what those jobs make. If we had people making thumbscrews, we would say those jobs were not right, and we would replace the thumbscrews with something more benign—and nuclear weapons are much more horrific than thumbscrews. Nevertheless, we have to think about what people are doing in their jobs. We could replace all nuclear weapons jobs with jobs relating to conventional weaponry. Our forces are under-resourced. We heard from Deidre Brock that military experts and people in the forces say we need to spend money, not on nuclear weapons, but on conventional forces. The construction of new ships would provide jobs in Barrow-in-Furness. Even just decommissioning existing Trident nuclear submarines—I want to go further than not renewing them and decommission them now—would provide a lot of work for some years to come. There are many arguments that I would like raise if I had more time, but that is it for now.
I thank my Scottish National party colleagues for securing this important debate. Hon. Members have been challenging one another to be clear on nuclear weapons, so before I come to the substance of what I want to say in the very brief time I have, I want to put my party’s position on the record. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that my party believes that nuclear weapons, the possession of them and the willingness to use them, are illegal, immoral and a grotesque diversion of resources from the real threats we face.
Let me start by focusing on the misguided claim that nuclear weapons make us safer. I would argue that they do not and I am not alone in that. Last year, under the umbrella of the European Leadership Network, senior military, political and diplomatic figures, including former Conservative Foreign Secretary and former Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Defence Secretary Des Browne and former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, came together with the explicit aim of
“shining a light on the risks posed by nuclear weapons.”
Reporting in advance of the third international conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, they warned:
“We believe the risks posed by nuclear weapons and the international dynamics that could lead to nuclear weapons being used are underestimated or insufficiently understood by world leaders.”
I could not agree more, and that would seem true of our own Prime Minister here today. His main argument for replacing Trident, as he said in response to questions on the SDSR yesterday, is that they are the “ultimate insurance” in an “uncertain world”. What he fails to acknowledge, however, is that it is precisely our possession of nuclear weapons in contravention of the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that is exacerbating that uncertainty. It is leading to the very scenario that he is so keen to avoid.
The Secretary of State has said that we live in an uncertain world. Yes, we do, but the logic of his argument must be that every other country in the world should also seek to protect its populations by acquiring nuclear weapons. Is he relaxed about a world in which every single country is trying to acquire nuclear weapons? Does he really think that that level of proliferation will make us safer? I don’t think so. By keeping and upgrading our nuclear weapons, we send a signal to the rest of the world that security is dependent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons. In the words of Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General:
“The more that those states that already have” nuclear weapons
“increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other states feel that they too must have them for their security.”
The logical conclusion of the Government’s argument is a world full of nuclear weapons, which will only make us less safe.
Under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Government have a duty to pursue negotiations, in good faith, on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament at an early date. Replacing the Trident system means committing the UK to maintaining an arsenal of nuclear weapons for decades to come, in complete contravention of the NPT. Disarmament is the best way to reduce dangers and improve global security, strengthen the NPT regime, deter proliferation and de-escalate international tensions. Nuclear weapons are a diversion from the real threats we face, and we should get rid of them now.
I rise to sum up for my party after a debate that, by coincidence, falls in the week when we heard the Government outline their plans for defence spending in the years ahead and when we will hear the Chancellor present his first autumn statement under a majority Government. I was struck yesterday when the Prime Minister pronounced from the Dispatch Box that Trident would not squeeze out other defence expenditure. From what we have heard today, he has clearly failed to convince some hon. Members.
I thank everyone who has taken part in this extremely thoughtful and thorough debate. It was interesting to listen to all the contributions, whether or not I agreed with what was said. I echo the thoughts of Dr Lewis, who was clear about the importance of our having these discussions. Like my hon. Friends, I was elected on a clear platform of ensuring a stronger voice for Scotland, standing up against austerity and always opposing the renewal of weapons of mass destruction.
I am not surprised to hear enthusiasm from Government Members, such as Tom Tugendhat, for keeping nuclear weapons. It was disappointing but at least clear. I am, however, disappointed to have seen such empty Labour Benches during the debate. As noted by Hywel Williams, that can only be because they are not clear about their position. Is it the Scottish Labour position of not renewing Trident? Is it the position of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who supports weapons of mass destruction? Is it the position of Scottish Labour members who do not? Is it the position of Jeremy Corbyn, who opposes Trident, or of his colleagues who support renewal, such as—I think—Toby Perkins? Or is it something else?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I have nothing to add.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield’s characterisation of the debate as a stunt was particularly unedifying and unhelpful. Our position on Trident could not be clearer or more consistent, and it was both reasonable and appropriate that we sought a debate on it. The only stunts are the mental acrobatics of anyone trying to get their head around the ever-changing Labour position. The position of all hon. Members on Trident is important —this is a vital discussion—so I would have sincerely welcomed their full participation.
My hon. Friend Brendan O'Hara, who opened the debate, represents the constituency that houses our nuclear weapons. All hon. Members should read his logical, detailed and powerful speech. He pointed out the astonishing and rocketing costs of Trident. Anyone watching the television yesterday would have felt that the cost was going up with each news bulletin. This must surely concern us all. I must also commend my hon. Friend Martin John Docherty for his passionate and well-made points about nuclear safety.
Clearly, some Members, including Conservative Members, are very sincere in their belief in the merits of weapons of mass destruction. Although I disagree with the Secretary of State for Defence, I appreciated the measured and considered way in which he made his contribution. I support his positive comments about how hard our service personnel work. However, I cannot agree with his assertion that nuclear weapons are a means of defending ourselves against today’s threats.
My hon. Friend Pete Wishart usefully pointed out the futility of nuclear weapons against threats such as those we currently face from Daesh. Although I did not agree with Mrs Murray, I was pleased to hear her say—I think—that she would not push the button, and I appreciated her thoughtful tone and manner.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention, but I am no clearer about her position on that issue. The measured approach in her earlier contribution contrasted with that of her colleague Jake Berry, who compared Trident to a burglar alarm. I disagreed, too, with Alec Shelbrooke and Mark Menzies. Again, though, I thought their contributions were sincere and interesting, and I thank them for the tone they brought to the debate.
I was disappointed by the Labour Member who suggested that opposition to Trident was a narrow nationalist issue. I must disagree, as this issue concerns every one of us. Frankly, I was appalled at the comments and the tone of the name-calling contribution from John Woodcock. His contribution added absolutely nothing constructive to today. On the other hand, I thank Kelvin Hopkins, who made a useful and constructive speech, making his principled objections to Trident clearly understood. I commend, too, my hon. Friend Deidre Brock for her compelling and insightful speech, and her thoughts on the legality of the use of Trident.
I was also pleased to hear the knowledge and insightful contribution of my hon. Friend Carol Monaghan.
Mr Carmichael correctly pointed out that it is important that this debate is taking place now, as we rapidly approach main gate. I cannot support his call for a deterrent in another form, but it was positive to hear another Scottish representative participating in today’s debate, and it is unfortunate that neither the Secretary of State for Scotland nor Ian Murray were in their places for today’s debate.
I was struck by the powerful remarks of Caroline Lucas, who focused on the dangers inherent in nuclear weapons, and by those of Mr Godsiff, who rightly questioned the independence of the nuclear weapons we hold.
I have recently met both the Hibakusha—Japanese atom bomb survivors—and the mayor of Hiroshima. The message that these people who were so directly affected by these terrible nuclear weapons bring was clear. I dearly wish that the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling and Dr Lewis had been able to join me to hear directly from them what the impact of nuclear weapons on real people really is.
The point made in the powerful speech by my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan—that no one can win a nuclear war—was well made, and I can only applaud those sentiments.
My hon. Friend Douglas Chapman pointed out that if Trident ever gets through the main gate, it will become a steady drain on the defence budget. It will compete for resources with conventional equipment, which will get chopped and changed to suit the Government of the day’s political requirements rather than the needs of the armed forces. The irony of our not flinching at the astounding hike in an already indefensible cost was not lost on my hon. Friend Steven Paterson. I have to wonder why this same logic was not applied to Nimrod, which the Government broke up when the price went up, leaving our huge Scottish coastline with absolutely no maritime patrol aircraft. As my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute said, that is a strange, worrying and very skewed logic.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green pointed out that the deterrent simply does not deal with our current threats and that it does not stack up. In the context of a capped defence budget, this does not make sense, as we saw from the concerns raised by Sir Edward Leigh. As the implications of the SDSR become clearer, there is no doubt that we will see areas in which the Government expect our armed forces to do less.
I remind the Secretary of State for Defence again that people in Scotland are clear: there is determined national opposition to the renewal of Trident. I say that with 57 of 59 MPs in Scotland being SNP Members, and with the Churches, much of civic Scotland and the Scottish TUC all in opposition to renewal.
As we heard from my hon. Friend Chris Law, this Conservative Government have no mandate to impose their immoral views on the people of Scotland. They show a wilful disregard of the people of Scotland and of the message that was sent here from the ballot box.
I am pleased to be able to follow Kirsten Oswald. I believe that she was making her debut in winding up a debate on behalf of her party, and I congratulate her on that. As she said, this has been a well-informed and at times passionate debate, and rightly so, because the strategic deterrent forms a key part of the Government’s No. 1 priority: the defence of the realm.
The Government are committed to maintaining a minimum credible and assured deterrent, as was clearly stated in the manifesto on which they were elected to govern the whole of the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady argued that we should respect the wishes of the Scottish people, and we should indeed take them into account, but that is the same argument as was advanced by the then leader of the Greater London Council when he declared London to be a nuclear-free zone. No nuclear weapon would have been allowed in this country had his views been entirely respected. That is not an argument that we can respect, because we have responsibility for the government of the United Kingdom as a whole.
We are committed to building four new nuclear-armed submarines to replace the current four Vanguard class submarines, but not to replacing the Trident missile, which is the notional subject of the debate. As was pointed out by Toby Perkins, the subject of the debate is not, strictly speaking, what is at stake today, because what we are actually discussing is whether or not to replace the submarine class, rather than the missile system.
Why do we stand by our commitment? First, as the Secretary of State said, this is about being realistic. We do not live in an ideal world, much as we might wish to. Our deterrent is there to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life. Those threats have not gone away, however much people might wish it were otherwise. The national security review which was published yesterday shows that, if anything, they are growing and becoming more complex and more diverse by the day.
Under the coalition Government, we as a nation took steps to reduce nuclear arsenals, and we have reduced the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40. Other nations with nuclear weapons have not responded to that unilateral action. They need to follow our example, and nations without nuclear weapons should end all notions of obtaining them. Those who wish to gamble with the nation’s security do so with no ability to predict what the world might be like in decades to come.
I am afraid that I have very little time.
Secondly, our deterrent works for us every day, for 365 days and nights each year, thanks to the brave service of so many of our valiant personnel serving on the Vanguard class submarines—and, indeed, the husband of Carol Monaghan, whom she mentioned earlier. I believe that he has now retired from the Royal Navy, but I respect the service that he gave.
The fact that we have a continuous at-sea deterrent sows the seeds of doubt in the minds of our potential adversaries. As was emphasised by my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat in a powerful speech, continuous at-sea deterrence works because it provides the ability to strike back. It also provides another decision-making centre in the NATO alliance, and complicates and confuses an enemy’s calculations.
Finally, there is no alternative. Notwithstanding the recollection of my friend and former colleague Mr Carmichael, the 2013 Trident Alternatives Review made it very clear that if we were to have a cost-effective way of delivering the minimum nuclear deterrent, Successor was the only viable solution. Moreover, the ramifications of removing our deterrent would be immense, putting at risk not just our national security and our position in NATO—the cornerstone of our defence—but our economy, our essential skills base, and thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom.
I asked the Minister earlier if he would reassure the workforce that the change in the industry would not affect their jobs throughout the supply chain. Will he do that now?
I am about to respond to some of the comments that have been made today. Before I answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I want to deal with the fantasy figures presented by the SNP’s defence spokesman, Brendan O’Hara, who had conjured up from nowhere the idea that if the nuclear deterrent ceased to exist, Scotland would benefit by some £15 billion as a result of not spending money on it. The cost of replacing the Vanguard class with the Successor class is, as identified clearly in yesterday’s document, £31 billion spread over decades—over some 30 years—so the idea of a much larger figure is not correct.
No, I am afraid I will not give way.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s apparent admission that in the event that the deterrent was to be decommissioned, Scotland would take its share of the nuclear decommissioning risk and location of nuclear material. That is very welcome indeed and is in stark contrast to the responses we have had from the Scottish Government to the disposal project currently in consultation.
The hon. Gentleman also indicated no willingness to acknowledge there is any potential threat from nuclear-empowered nations. He was challenged and signally failed to provide an answer as to what the potential threat might be from Russia, despite the fact that every time there is an incursion into either air or sea space approximate to our national territorial waters SNP Members are the first to jump up and ask what we are doing about it. It seems that they have, as so often, double standards. Finally, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there has been no increase in nuclear weaponry in this country—far from it; nuclear weapons numbers have declined.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield gave a thoughtful speech from a somewhat confused party position. On the governance of implementing a delivery organisation to make sure we deliver the Successor programme on time and to budget over the years to come, I can confirm that this will remain subject to oversight by the MOD. We are in the process of working out how we best learn the lessons of delivering major procurement projects like Aircraft Carrier Alliance to get the industry properly aligned, and the Ministry and the delivery organisations currently within DE&S properly aligned, to work in partnership to deliver this vital programme.
As the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made clear, this will be reporting through the MOD structures to the Secretary of State, and of course the Treasury will take its interest in the delivery of major programmes as it does in all our category A programmes, of which this will obviously be the largest.
We have had contributions from a number of Members across the House, and they have been well-recognised already. I do not have time to thank Members for contributing, but I would just say by way of conclusion that it was welcome to see consensus between most of the contributions of the Official Opposition and the contributions from the Government Benches. I recognise that many who stood up have done so with courage in speaking of their belief in the vital importance of our strategic deterrence, some despite the appalling provocations and bigoted comments from the former Mayor of London, who has allegedly been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition, without the courtesy of informing the shadow Defence Secretary, to, as we heard today, co-convene a Labour review of the strategic deterrent.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield did his best, but even he was unable to make clear what this review is for, who is in charge and what difference it will make. Heaven knows what will emerge from the review—we might get a clue from the vote imminently—but I was astonished to learn from the Opposition spokesman that he does not regard it as appropriate to vote on this motion in Parliament today. I say to those Labour Members who share my concern to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence, “Let your conscience guide you into the right Division Lobby this afternoon.” I urge Members of both sides of the House to do the right thing for the whole of the UK, not just for today but for tomorrow, and restore the consensus that has kept us safe for decades.