I beg to move,
That this House
supports the Government’s assessment in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a Continuous at Sea Deterrence posture, will remain essential to the UK's security today as it has for over 60 years, and for as long as the global security situation demands, to deter the most extreme threats to the UK's national security and way of life and that of the UK's allies;
supports the decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the current Vanguard Class submarines with four Successor submarines;
recognises the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs;
notes that the Government will continue to provide annual reports to Parliament on the programme;
recognises that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s;
and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.
The Home Secretary has just made a statement about the attack in Nice, and I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those killed and injured in last Thursday’s utterly horrifying attack in Nice—innocent victims brutally murdered by terrorists who resent the freedoms that we treasure and want nothing more than to destroy our way of life.
This latest attack in France, compounding the tragedies of the Paris attacks in January and November last year, is another grave reminder of the growing threats that Britain and all our allies face from terrorism. On Friday I spoke to President Hollande and assured him that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the French people, as we have done so often in the past. We will never be cowed by terror. Though the battle against terrorism may be long, these terrorists will be defeated, and the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité will prevail.
I should also note the serious events over the weekend in Turkey. We have firmly condemned the attempted coup by certain members of the Turkish military, which began on Friday evening. Britain stands firmly in support of Turkey’s democratically elected Government and institutions. We call for the full observance of Turkey’s constitutional order and stress the importance of the rule of law prevailing in the wake of this failed coup. Everything must be done to avoid further violence, to protect lives and to restore calm. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has worked around the clock to provide help and advice to the many thousands of British nationals on holiday or working in Turkey at this time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Turkish Foreign Minister, and I expect to speak to President Erdogan shortly.
Before I turn to our nuclear deterrent, I am sure the House will welcome the news that Japan’s SoftBank Group intends to acquire UK tech firm ARM Holdings. I have spoken to SoftBank directly. It has confirmed its commitment to keep the company in Cambridge and to invest further to double the number of UK jobs over five years. This £24 billion investment would be the largest ever Asian investment in the UK. It is a clear demonstration that Britain is open for business—as attractive to international investment as ever.
There is no greater responsibility as Prime Minister than ensuring the safety and security of our people. That is why I have made it my first duty in this House to move today’s motion so that we can get on with the job of renewing an essential part of our national security for generations to come.
For almost half a century, every hour of every day, our Royal Navy nuclear submarines have been patrolling the oceans, unseen and undetected, fully armed and fully ready—our ultimate insurance against nuclear attack. Our submariners endure months away from their families, often without any contact with their loved ones, training relentlessly for a duty they hope never to carry out. I hope that, whatever our views on the deterrent, we can today agree on one thing: that our country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all our submariners and their families for the sacrifices they make in keeping us safe. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
As a former Home Secretary, I am familiar with the threats facing our country. In my last post, I was responsible for counter-terrorism for over six years. I received daily operational intelligence briefings about the threats to our national security, I chaired a weekly security meeting with representatives of all the country’s security and intelligence agencies, military and police, and I received personal briefings from the director-general of MI5. Over those six years as Home Secretary I focused on the decisions needed to keep our people safe, and that remains my first priority as Prime Minister.
The threats that we face are serious, and it is vital for our national interest that we have the full spectrum of our defences at full strength to meet them. That is why, under my leadership, this Government will continue to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence. We will maintain the most significant security and military capability in Europe, and we will continue to invest in all the capabilities set out in the strategic defence and security review last year. We will meet the growing terrorist threat coming from Daesh in Syria and Iraq, from Boko Haram in Nigeria, from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, from al-Shabaab in east Africa, and from other terrorist groups planning attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We will continue to invest in new capabilities to counter threats that do not recognise national borders, including by remaining a world leader in cyber-security.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Ukraine would have been less likely to have lost a sizeable portion of its territory to Russia had it kept its nuclear weapons, and that there are lessons in that for us?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are lessons. Some people suggest to us that we should actually be removing our nuclear deterrent. This has been a vital part of our national security and defence for nearly half a century now, and it would be quite wrong for us to go down that particular path.
I offer the Prime Minister many congratulations on her election. Will she be reassured that whatever she is about to hear from our Front Benchers, it remains steadfastly Labour party policy to renew the deterrent while other countries have the capacity to threaten the United Kingdom, and that many of my colleagues will do the right thing for the long-term security of our nation and vote to complete the programme that we ourselves started in government?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the words that he has just spoken. He is absolutely right. The national interest is clear. The manifesto on which Labour Members of Parliament stood for the general election last year said that Britain must remain
“committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.”
I welcome the commitment that he and, I am sure, many of his colleagues will be giving tonight to that nuclear deterrent by joining Government Members of Parliament in voting for this motion.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Lady on her new role. If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our national security and our safety, does she accept that the logic of that position must be that every single other country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and does she really think that the world would be a safer place if it did? Our nuclear weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.
No, I do not accept that at all. I have to say to the hon. Lady that, sadly, she and some Labour Members seem to be the first to defend the country’s enemies and the last to accept these capabilities when we need them.
None of this means that there will be no threat from nuclear states in the coming decades. As I will set out for the House today, the threats from countries such as Russia and North Korea remain very real. As our strategic defence and security review made clear, there is a continuing risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons. We must continually convince any potential aggressors that the benefits of an attack on Britain are far outweighed by their consequences; and we cannot afford to relax our guard or rule out further shifts that would put our country in grave danger. We need to be prepared to deter threats to our lives and our livelihoods, and those of generations who are yet to be born.
Of course, when SNP Members go through the Lobby tonight, 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs will be voting against this. What message is the Prime Minister sending to the people of Scotland, who are demonstrating, through their elected representatives, that we do not want Trident on our soil?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that that means that 58 of the 59 Scottish Members of Parliament will be voting against jobs in Scotland that are supported by the nuclear deterrent.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way and congratulate her on her appointment. She mentioned the security threat that the country faces from terrorism. What does she say to those who say that it is a choice between renewing the Trident programme and confronting the terrorist threat?
I say that it is not a choice. This country needs to recognise that it faces a variety of threats and ensure that we have the capabilities that are necessary and appropriate to deal with each of them. As the Home Secretary has just made clear in response to questions on her statement, the Government are committed to extra funding and extra resource going to, for example, counter-terrorism policing and the security and intelligence agencies as they face the terrorist threat, but what we are talking about today is the necessity for us to have a nuclear deterrent, which has been an insurance policy for this country for nearly 50 years and I believe that it should remain so.
I would like to make a little progress before I take more interventions.
I know that there are a number of serious and very important questions at the heart of this debate, and I want to address them all this afternoon. First, in the light of the evolving nature of the threats that we face, is a nuclear deterrent really still necessary and essential? Secondly, is the cost of our deterrent too great? Thirdly, is building four submarines the right way of maintaining our deterrent? Fourthly, could we not rely on our nuclear-armed allies, such as America and France, to provide our deterrent instead? Fifthly, do we not have a moral duty to lead the world in nuclear disarmament, rather than maintaining our own deterrent? I will take each of those questions in turn.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her surefootedness in bringing this motion before the House and at last allowing Parliament to make a decision in this Session? We will proudly stand behind the Government on this issue tonight. I encourage her to tell the Scots Nats that if they do not want those jobs in Scotland, they will be happily taken in Northern Ireland?
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on becoming Prime Minister. Will she confirm that, when the Labour Government of Clement Attlee took the decision to have nuclear weapons, they had to do so in a very dangerous world, and that successive Labour Governments kept those nuclear weapons because there was a dangerous world? Is it not the case that now is also a dangerous time?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, the last Labour Government held votes in this House on the retention of the nuclear deterrent. It is a great pity that there are Members on the Labour Front Bench who fail to see the necessity of the nuclear deterrent, given that in the past the Labour party has put the British national interest first when looking at the issue.
I want to set out for the House why our nuclear deterrent remains as necessary and essential today as it was when we first established it. The nuclear threat has not gone away; if anything, it has increased.
First, there is the threat from existing nuclear states such as Russia. We know that President Putin is upgrading his nuclear forces. In the past two years, there has been a disturbing increase in both Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises. As we have seen with the illegal annexation of Crimea, there is no doubt about President Putin’s willingness to undermine the rules-based international system in order to advance his own interests. He has already threatened to base nuclear forces in Crimea and in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic sea that neighbours Poland and Lithuania.
Secondly, there is the threat from countries that wish to acquire nuclear capabilities illegally. North Korea has stated a clear intent to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and it continues to work towards that goal, in flagrant violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
I am going to make some progress. North Korea is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century, carrying out its fourth test this year, as well as a space launch that used ballistic missile technology. It also claims to be attempting to develop a submarine-launch capability and to have withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Based on the advice I have received, we believe that North Korea could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons. It also has a long-range ballistic missile, which it claims can reach America, and which is potentially intended for nuclear delivery. There is, of course, the danger that North Korea might share its technology or its weapons with other countries or organisations that wish to do us harm.
Thirdly, there is the question of future nuclear threats that we cannot even anticipate today. Let me be clear why this matters. Once nuclear weapons have been given up, it is almost impossible to get them back, and the process of creating a new deterrent takes many decades. We could not redevelop a deterrent fast enough to respond to a new and unforeseen nuclear threat, so the decision on whether to renew our nuclear deterrent hinges not just on the threats we face today, but on an assessment of what the world will be like over the coming decades.
It is impossible to say for certain that no such extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life, and it would be an act of gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future. With the existing fleet of Vanguard submarines beginning to leave service by the early 2030s, and with the time it takes to build and test new submarines, we need to take the decision to replace them now.
Maintaining our nuclear deterrent is not just essential for our own national security; it is vital for the future security of our NATO allies.
“being withheld as it relates to the formulation of Government policy and release would prejudice commercial interests.”
Given the scale of the decision that we are being asked to make, will the Prime Minister tell us the answer to that question—the through-life cost?
I am happy to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this section of my speech, I will come on to the cost in a minute.
Britain is going to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe, and we will not leave our European and NATO allies behind. Being recognised as one of the five nuclear weapons states under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty confers on us unique responsibilities, because many of the nations that signed the treaty in the 1960s did so on the understanding that they were protected by NATO’s nuclear umbrella, including the UK deterrent. Abandoning our deterrent would undermine not only our own future security, but that of our allies. That is not something that I am prepared to do.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister, with her very busy schedule, caught the interview on Radio 5 Live this morning with Owen Smith, who stated that he was a member of CND as a teenager, but then he grew up. Is not the mature and adult view that in a world in which we have a nuclear North Korea and an expansionist Russia, we must keep our at-sea independent nuclear deterrent?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I think he is right to point out that there are Opposition Members who support that view. Sadly, not many of them seem to be on the Front Bench, but perhaps my speech will change the views of some of the Front Benchers; we will see.
I said to Angus Robertson that I would come on to the question of cost, and I want to do that now. Of course, no credible deterrent is cheap, and it is estimated that the four new submarines will cost £31 billion to build, with an additional contingency of £10 billion. With the acquisition costs spread over 35 years, this is effectively an insurance premium of 0.2% of total annual Government spending. That is 20p in every £100 for a capability that will protect our people through to the 2060s and beyond. I am very clear that our national security is worth every penny.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for taking a second intervention. I asked her a simple question the first time around. I think that she has concluded her confirmation of the through-life cost for Trident’s replacement, but she did not say what that number was. Would she be so kind as to say what the total figure is for Trident replacement, including its through-life cost?
I have given the figures for the cost of building the submarines. I am also clear that the in-service cost is about 6% of the defence budget, or about 13p in every £100 of Government spending. There is also a significant economic benefit to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent, which might be of interest to members of the Scottish National party.
The Prime Minister quite rightly paid tribute to our submariners. Will she also pay tribute to the men and women working in our defence industries who will work on Successor? They are highly skilled individuals who are well paid, but such skills cannot just be turned on and off like a tap when we need them. Does she agree that it is vital for the national interest to keep these people employed?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Our nuclear defence industry makes a major contribution to our defence industrial base. It supports more than 30,000 jobs across the United Kingdom, and benefits hundreds of suppliers across more than 350 constituencies. The skills required in this industry, whether in engineering or design, will keep our nation at the cutting edge for years to come. Along with the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to all those who are working in the industry and, by their contribution, helping to keep us safe.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place as Prime Minister. Does she agree with me that, like John Woodcock, I have quite a lot of people in my constituency who are working in the defence industry, the nuclear power industry and the science sector? Will it not be a kick in the teeth for my constituents if we do not agree to this deterrent today?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Some constituencies—obviously, Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Barrow and Furness—are particularly affected by this, but as I have just said, there are jobs across about 350 constituencies in this country that are related to this industry. If we were not going to renew our nuclear deterrent, those people would of course be at risk of losing their jobs as a result.
I hope that the Prime Minister will come on to explain how a like-for-like replacement for Trident complies with article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about jobs here in the United Kingdom, and it is also about the development of skills here in the United Kingdom that will be of benefit to our engineering and design base for many years to come.
The decision will also specifically increase the number of jobs in Scotland. HM Naval Base Clyde is already one of the largest employment sites in Scotland, sustaining around 6,800 military and civilian jobs, as well as having a wider impact on the local economy. As the base becomes home to all Royal Navy submarines, the number of people employed there is set to increase to 8,200 by 2022. If hon. Members vote against today’s motion, they will be voting against those jobs. That is why the Unite union has said that defending and securing the jobs of the tens of thousands of defence workers involved in the Successor submarine programme is its priority.
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that the Government have looked at the Government procurement arrangements in relation to steel. Obviously, where British steel is good value, we would want it to be used. For the hon. Gentleman’s confirmation, I have been in Wales this morning and one of the issues I discussed with the First Minister of Wales was the future of Tata and the work that the Government have done with the Welsh Government on that.
I will now turn to the specific question of whether building four submarines is the right approach, or whether there are cheaper and more effective ways of providing a similar effect to the Trident system. I think the facts are very clear. A review of alternatives to Trident, undertaken in 2013, found that no alternative system is as capable, resilient or cost-effective as a Trident-based deterrent. Submarines are less vulnerable to attack than aircraft, ships or silos, and they can maintain a continuous, round-the-clock cover in a way that aircraft cannot, while alternative delivery systems such as cruise missiles do not have the same reach or capability. Furthermore, we do not believe that submarines will be rendered obsolete by unmanned underwater vehicles or cyber-techniques, as some have suggested. Indeed, Admiral Lord Boyce, the former First Sea Lord and submarine commander, has said that we are more likely to put a man on Mars within six months than make the seas transparent within 30 years. With submarines operating in isolation when deployed, it is hard to think of a system less susceptible to cyber-attack. Other nations think the same. That is why America, Russia, China and France all continue to spend tens of billions on their own submarine-based weapons.
Delivering Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrence means that we need all four submarines to ensure that one is always on patrol, taking account of the cycle of deployment, training, and routine and unplanned maintenance. Three submarines cannot provide resilience against unplanned refits or breaks in serviceability, and neither can they deliver the cost savings that some suggest they would, since large fixed costs for infrastructure, training and maintenance are not reduced by any attempt to cut from four submarines to three. It is therefore right to replace our current four Vanguard submarines with four Successors. I will not seek false economies with the security of the nation, and I am not prepared to settle for something that does not do the job.
I was listening carefully to the question from the leader of the Scottish National party about cost. Is it not clear that, whatever the cost, he and his party are against our nuclear deterrent? Scottish public opinion is clear that people in Scotland want the nuclear deterrent. When my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary votes to retain the nuclear deterrent tonight, he will be speaking for the people of Scotland, not the SNP.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend; he put that very well indeed.
Let me turn to the issue of whether we could simply rely on other nuclear armed allies such as America and France to provide our deterrent. The first question is how would America and France react if we suddenly announced that we were abandoning our nuclear capabilities but still expected them to put their cities at risk to protect us in a nuclear crisis. That is hardly standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies.
At last month’s NATO summit in Warsaw, our allies made it clear that by maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent alongside America and France we provide NATO with three separate centres of decision making. That complicates the calculations of potential adversaries, and prevents them from threatening the UK or our allies with impunity. Withdrawing from that arrangement would weaken us now and in future, undermine NATO, and embolden our adversaries. It might also allow potential adversaries to gamble that one day the US or France might not put itself at risk to deter an attack on the UK.
It is all very well looking at the cost of building and running the submarines, but the cost of instability in the world if there is no counterbalance reduces our ability to trade and reduces GDP. This is not just about what it costs; it is about what would happen if we did not have this system and there was more instability in the world.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment. I shall be voting for the motion this evening because I believe that the historical role of the Labour party and Labour Governments has been on the right side of this issue. I love the fact that she is showing strong support for NATO, but there is a niggle: have we the capacity and resources to maintain conventional forces to the level that will match our other forces?
The answer to that is yes—we are very clear that we face different threats and need different capabilities to face them. We have now committed to 2% of GDP being spent on defence, and we have increased the defence budget and the money that we spend on more conventional forces.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her new role, but let us cut to the chase: is she personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children?
Yes. The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it, unlike the suggestion that we could have a nuclear deterrent but not actually be willing to use it, which seemed to come from the Labour Front Bench.
I am sure the Prime Minister is aware that Russia has 10 times the amount of tactical nuclear weapons as the whole of the rest of NATO. On a recent Defence Committee visit to Russia, we were told by senior military leaders that they reserved the right to use nuclear weapons as a first strike. Should that not make us very afraid if we ever thought of giving up our nuclear weapons?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I pointed out earlier, Russia is also modernising its nuclear capability. It would be a dereliction of our duty, in terms of our responsibility for the safety and security of the British people, if we were to give up our nuclear deterrent.
We must send an unequivocal message to any adversary that the cost of an attack on our United Kingdom or our allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain through such an attack. Only the retention of our own independent deterrent can do this. This Government will never endanger the security of our people and we will never hide behind the protection provided by others, while claiming the mistaken virtue of unilateral disarmament.
Let me turn to the question of our moral duty to lead nuclear disarmament. Stopping nuclear weapons being used globally is not achieved by giving them up unilaterally. It is achieved by working towards a multilateral process. That process is important and Britain could not be doing more to support this vital work. Britain is committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in line with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
I am going to make some more progress.
We play a leading role on disarmament verification, together with Norway and America. We will continue to press for key steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and for successful negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Furthermore, we are committed to retaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor. We have cut our nuclear stockpiles by over half since their cold war peak in the late 1970s. Last year, we delivered on our commitment to reduce the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40. We will retain no more than 120 operationally available warheads and we will further reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the middle of the next decade.
Britain has approximately 1% of the 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world. For us to disarm unilaterally would not significantly change the calculations of other nuclear states, nor those seeking to acquire such weapons. To disarm unilaterally would not make us safer. Nor would it make the use of nuclear weapons less likely. In fact, it would have the opposite effect, because it would remove the deterrent that for 60 years has helped to stop others using nuclear weapons against us.
Our national interest is clear. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is an insurance policy we simply cannot do without. We cannot compromise on our national security. We cannot outsource the grave responsibility we shoulder for keeping our people safe and we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism. That would be a reckless gamble: a gamble that would enfeeble our allies and embolden our enemies; a gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.
We have waited long enough. It is time to get on with building the next generation of our nuclear deterrent. It is time to take this essential decision to deter the most extreme threats to our society and preserve our way of life for generations to come. I commend this motion to the House.
I commend the remarks the Prime Minister made about the horrific events in Nice. What happened was absolutely horrific: the innocent people who lost their lives. One hopes it will not be repeated elsewhere. I was pleased she mentioned the situation in Turkey, and I support her call for calm and restraint on all sides in Turkey. After the attempted coup, I called friends in Istanbul and Ankara and asked what was going on. The older ones felt it was like a repeat of the 1980 coup and were horrified that bombs were falling close to the Turkish Parliament. Can we please not return to a Europe of military coups and dictatorships? I endorse the Prime Minister’s comments in that respect, and I pay tribute to the Foreign Office staff who helped British citizens caught up in the recent events in France and Turkey.
The motion today is one of enormous importance to this country and indeed the wider world. There is nothing particularly new in it—the principle of nuclear weapons was debated in 2007—but this is an opportunity to scrutinise the Government. The funds involved in Trident renewal are massive. We must also consider the complex moral and strategic issues of our country possessing weapons of mass destruction. There is also the question of its utility. Do these weapons of mass destruction—for that is what they are—act as a deterrent to the threats we face, and is that deterrent credible?
The motion says nothing about the ever-ballooning costs. In 2006, the MOD estimated that construction costs would be £20 billion, but by last year that had risen by 50% to £31 billion, with another £10 billion added as a contingency fund. The very respected hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) has estimated the cost at £167 billion, though it is understood that delays might have since added to those credible figures—I have seen estimates as high as over £200 billion for the replacement and the running costs.
Is not the true cost the one we remember every Remembrance Sunday—the millions of lives we lost in two world wars? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to estimate the millions of lives that would have been lost in the third conventional war that was avoided before 1989 because of the nuclear deterrent?
We all remember, on Remembrance Sunday and at other times, those who lost their lives. That is the price of war. My question is: does our possession of nuclear weapons make us and the world more secure? [Hon. Members: “Yes!”] Of course, there is a debate about that, and that is what a democratic Parliament does—it debates the issues. I am putting forward a point of view. The hon. Gentleman might not agree with it, but I am sure he will listen with great respect, as he always does.
In the past, the Labour leader’s solution to a domestic security threat was to parley with the Provisional IRA. What would his tactics be in dealing with a threat to all the peoples of this nation?
Towards the end of her speech, the Prime Minister mentioned the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and multilateral disarmament. I was interested in that. Surely we should start from the basis that we want, and are determined to bring about, a nuclear-free world. Six-party talks are going on with North Korea. China is a major economic provider to North Korea. I would have thought that the relationship with China and North Korea was the key to finding a way forward.
How would the right hon. Gentleman persuade my thousands of Korean constituents that it is a good idea to disarm unilaterally while their families and friends living in our ally South Korea face a constant nuclear threat from a belligerent regime over their northern border?
I, too, have Korean constituents, as do many others, and we welcome their work and participation in our society. I was making the point that the six-party talks are an important way forward in bringing about a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, which is surely in everybody’s interests. It will not be easy—I fully understand that—but nevertheless it is something we should be trying to do.
I would be grateful if the Prime Minister, or the Defence Secretary when he replies, could let us know the Government’s estimate of the total lifetime cost of what we are being asked to endorse today.
It is hardly surprising that in May 2009 an intense debate went on in the shadow Cabinet about going for a less expensive upgrade by converting to air-launched missiles. Sir Nicholas Soames said at the time that
“the arguments have not yet been had in public in nearly an adequate enough way to warrant the spending of this nation’s treasure on the scale that will be required.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 491, c. 84.]
Seven years later, we are perhaps in the same situation.
The motion proposes an open-ended commitment to maintain Britain’s current nuclear capability for as long as the global security situation demands. We on the Opposition Benches, despite our differences on some issues, have always argued for the aim of a nuclear-free world. We might differ on how to achieve it, but we are united in our commitment to that end.
In 2007, my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett embarked on a meaningful attempt to build consensus for multilateral disarmament. Will the Government address where these Successor submarines are going to be based? The people of Scotland have rejected Trident’s being based in Faslane naval base on the Clyde—the SNP Government are opposed to it, as is the Scottish Labour party.
We are debating not a nuclear deterrent but our continued possession of weapons of mass destruction. We are discussing eight missiles and 40 warheads, with each warhead believed to be eight times as powerful as the atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945. We are talking about 40 warheads, each one with a capacity to kill more than 1 million people.
What, then, is the threat that we face that will be deterred by the death of more than 1 million people? It is not the threat from so-called Islamic State, with its poisonous death-cult that glories in killing as many people as possible, as we have seen brutally from Syria to east Africa and from France to Turkey. It has not deterred our allies Saudi Arabia from committing dreadful acts in Yemen. It did not stop Saddam Hussein’s atrocities in the 1980s or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It did not deter the war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s, nor the genocide in Rwanda. I make it clear today that I would not take a decision that killed millions of innocent people. I do not believe that the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations.
As Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend will be privy to briefings from the National Security Council. Will he explain when he last sought and received such a briefing and what is his assessment of the new Russian military nuclear protocols that permit first strike using nuclear weapons and that say that they can be used to de-escalate conventional military conflicts?
Britain, too, currently retains the right to first strike, so I would have thought that the best way forward would be to develop the nuclear non-proliferation treaty into a no first strike situation. That would be a good way forward. I respect my hon. Friend’s wish to live in a nuclear-free world. I know he believes that very strongly.
I think we should take our commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty very seriously. In 1968, the Labour Government led by Harold Wilson inaugurated and signed the non-proliferation treaty. In 2007, the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South rightly said that
“we must strengthen the NPT in all its aspects” and referred to the judgment made 40 years ago
“that the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons was in all of our interests.”
The then Labour Government committed to reduce our stocks of operationally available warheads by a further 20%. I congratulate our Government on doing that. Indeed, I attended an NPT review conference when those congratulations were spoken. Can the Government say what the Labour Foreign Secretary said in 2007 when she said that her
“commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons is undimmed”?
Is this Government’s vision of a nuclear-free world undimmed? My right hon. Friend also spoke as Foreign Secretary of the
“international community’s clear commitment to a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone”.
I will not give way.
Indeed, at the last two nuclear non-proliferation treaty five-yearly review conferences there was unanimous support for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone across the middle east, which surely we can sign up to and support. I look forward to the Defence Secretary’s support for that position when he responds to the debate.
I thank my hon. Friend for his view. As he well knows, the party decided that it wanted to support the retention of nuclear weapons. We also decided that we would have a policy review, which is currently being undertaken by my hon. Friend Clive Lewis.
My hon. Friend Neil Coyle is as well aware as I am of the existing policy. He is also as well aware as I am of the views on nuclear weapons that I expressed very clearly at the time of the leadership election last year, hence the fact that Labour Members will have a free vote this evening.
Other countries have made serious efforts—
I will come to my hon. Friend in a moment.
Other countries have made serious efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament within the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. South Africa abandoned all its nuclear programmes after the end of apartheid, and thus brought about a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the continent. After negotiation, Libya ended all research on nuclear weapons. At the end of the cold war, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, although they were under the control of the former Soviet Union and, latterly, of Russia. Kazakhstan did the same, which helped to bring about a central Asia nuclear weapons-free zone, and in Latin America, Argentina and Brazil both gave up their nuclear programmes.
I commend the Government, and other Governments around the world who negotiated with Iran, seriously, with great patience and at great length. That helped to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear programme, and I think we should pay tribute to President Obama for his achievements in that regard.
The former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo said:
“To say we need nuclear weapons in this situation would imply that Germany and Italy are trembling in their boots because they don’t have a nuclear deterrent, which I think is clearly not the case.”
Is it not time for us to step up to the plate and promote—rapidly—nuclear disarmament?
Like me, my right hon. Friend stood in May 2015 on the basis of a party policy which had been agreed at our conference, through our mechanisms in the party, and which supported the renewal of our continuous at-sea deterrent. He now has a shadow Front Bench and a shadow Cabinet in his own image, who, I understand, agreed last week to present that policy from the Front Bench. Is he going to do it, or will it be done by the Member who winds up the debate?
My hon. Friend is well aware of what the policy was. He is also well aware that a policy review is being undertaken, and he is also well aware of the case that I am making for nuclear disarmament.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, a multilateral process is currently taking place at the United Nations. More than 130 countries are negotiating, in good faith, for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s refusal even to attend, let alone take part in, that process raises serious questions about their commitment to a world without nuclear weapons?
I think it is a great shame that the Government do not attend those negotiations, and I wish they would. I thank them for attending the 2014 conference on the humanitarian effects of war, and I thank them for their participation in the non-proliferation treaty, but I think they should go and support the idea of a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. No one in the House actually wants nuclear weapons. The debate is about how one gets rid of them, and the way in which one does it.
There are questions, too, about the operational utility of nuclear armed submarines. [Interruption.] I ask the Prime Minister again—or perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence can answer this question in his response—what assessment the Government have made of the impact of underwater drones, the surveillance of wave patterns and other advanced detection techniques that could make the submarine technology—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Shelbrooke, I want you to aspire to the apogee of statesmanship, but shrieking from a sedentary position, despite your magnificent suit, is not the way to achieve it. Calm yourself, man; I am trying to help you, even if you don’t know it.
We can all agree that nuclear weapons are truly the most repugnant weapons that have ever been invented by man, but the key is the word “invented”; we cannot disinvent them, but we can control them, and that is what this is all about—controlling nuclear weapons.
If this is all about controlling them, perhaps we should think for a moment about the obligations we have signed up to as a nation by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article VI of which says that the declared nuclear weapons states—of which we are one—must take steps towards disarmament, and others must not acquire nuclear weapons. It has not been easy, but the NPT has helped to reduce the level of nuclear weapons around the world.
I am stunned to hear the argument that has just been made from the Tory Benches that we cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. That argument could be employed for chemical and biological weapons.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have achieved the chemical weapons convention, a ban on cluster weapons and other things around the world through serious long-term negotiation.
My right hon. Friend is fond of telling us all that the party conference is sovereign when it comes to party policy. Last year the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the nuclear deterrent, so why are we not hearing a defence of the Government’s motion?
Party policy is also to review our policies. That is why we have reviews.
We also have to look at the issues of employment and investment. We need Government intervention through a defence diversification agency, as we had under the previous Labour Government, to support industries that have become over-reliant on defence contracts and wish to move into other contracts and other work.
The Prime Minister mentioned the Unite policy conference last week, which I attended. Unite, like other unions, has members working in all sectors of high-tech manufacturing, including the defence sector. That, of course, includes the development of both the submarines and the warheads and nuclear reactors that go into them. Unite’s policy conference endorsed its previous position of opposing Trident but wanting a Government who will put in place a proper diversification agency. The union has been thinking these things through and wants to maintain the highly skilled jobs in the sector.
Our defence review is being undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry for her excellent work on the review. [Interruption.] Whatever people’s views—
Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman has signalled an intention to take an intervention, but before he does—[Interruption.] Order. I just make the point that there is a lot of noise, but at the last reckoning—[Interruption.] Order. I will tell Mr Skinner what the position is, and he will take it whether he likes it or not. Fifty-three Members wish to speak in this debate, and I want to accommodate them. I ask Members to take account of that to help each other.
Under the last Labour Government, because of our stand on supporting non-proliferation, as a nuclear deterrent country we were able to influence a large reduction in the number of nuclear warheads around the world. Does my right hon. Friend really think that if we abandoned our position as one of the countries that holds nuclear weapons, we would have as much influence without them as with them?
We did indeed help to reduce the number of nuclear warheads. Indeed, I attended a number of conferences where there were British Government representatives, and the point was made that the number of UK warheads had been reduced and other countries had been encouraged to do the same. I talked about the nuclear weapons-free zones that had been achieved around the world, which are a good thing. However, there is now a step change, because we are considering saying that we are prepared to spend a very large sum on the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to article VI of the NPT—I am sure she is aware of it —which requires us to “take steps towards disarmament”. That is what it actually says.
I am not going to give way any more, because I am up against the clock.
In case it is not obvious to the House, let me say that I will be voting against the motion tonight. I am sure that will be an enormous surprise to the whole House. I will do that because of my own views and because of the way—
I apologise for having to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but we have a point of order.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that it is up to each right hon. and hon. Member to read the motion, interpret it as he or she thinks fit, and make a judgment accordingly. It is not a matter for the Chair.
The issue of course is the submarines, but it is also the new weapons that will have to go into those submarines as and when they have been built—if they are built.
We should pause for a moment to think about the indiscriminate nature of what nuclear weapons do and the catastrophic effects of their use anywhere. As I said, I have attended NPT conferences and preparatory conferences at various times over many years, with representatives of all parties in the House. I was very pleased when the coalition Government finally, if slightly reluctantly, accepted the invitation to take part in the humanitarian effects of war conference in Vienna in 2014. Anyone who attended that conference and heard from British nuclear test veterans, Pacific islanders or civilians in Russia or the United States who have suffered the effects of nuclear explosions cannot be totally dispassionate about the effects of the use of nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon is an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction.
Many colleagues throughout the House will vote for weapons tonight because they believe they serve a useful military purpose. But to those who believe in multilateral disarmament, I ask this: is this not an unwise motion from the Government, giving no answers on costs and no answers on disarmament? For those of us who believe in aiming for a nuclear-free world, and for those who are deeply concerned about the spiralling costs, this motion has huge questions to answer, and they have failed to be addressed in this debate. If we want a nuclear weapons-free world, this is an opportunity to start down that road and try to bring others with us, as has been achieved to some extent over the past few decades. Surely we should make that effort rather than go down the road the Government are suggesting for us this evening.
Order. In accordance with usual practice, no time limit on Back-Bench speeches will apply until after all the Front-Bench opening speeches have been made. That said, sensitivity to the very large demand is of the essence, and extreme self-discipline is required.
I have often had the pleasure of debating this topic with Jeremy Corbyn, both in and outside the House, but never in either of our wildest dreams or nightmares did we imagine that one day he would end up as leader of the Labour party. It only goes to show the unpredictability of political developments.
After the Falklands war, opponents of our strategic deterrent often pointed out that our Polaris submarines had done nothing to deter Argentina from invading the islands. However, there never was and never will be any prospect of a democratic Britain threatening to launch our nuclear missiles except in response to the use of mass destruction weapons against us. But just because we would baulk at threatening to launch nuclear weapons except when our very existence was at stake, that does not mean that dictators share our scruples, our values or our sense of self-restraint.
An example from history will do. Following the horror of the poison gas attacks in the first world war, it was widely expected that any future major conflict would involve large-scale aerial bombardments drenching cities and peoples with lethal gases. Why did Hitler not do that? Because Churchill had warned him that British stocks of chemical weapons greatly exceeded his own, and that our retaliation would dwarf anything that Nazi Germany could inflict. Poison gases are not mass destruction weapons, but nerve gases are, and Hitler seriously considered using them against the allies in 1943. He did not do so because his principal scientist, Otto Ambros, advised him that the allies had almost certainly invented them too. In fact, we had done no such thing and were horrified to discover the Nazi stocks of Tabun nerve gas at the end of the war. That was a classic example of a dictator being deterred from using a mass destruction weapon by the mistaken belief that we could retaliate in kind when actually we could not. Such examples show in concrete terms why the concept of deterrence is so important in constraining the military options available to dictators and aggressors.
I shall briefly list the five main military arguments in favour of continuing the specific British policy—pursued by successive Labour and Conservative Governments—of maintaining, at all times, a British minimum strategic nuclear retaliatory capacity.
The first military argument is 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 the armed forces in peacetime as a national insurance policy. No one knows which enemies might confront us between the years 2030 and 2060—the anticipated lifespan of the Trident successor system—but it is highly probable that at least some of those enemies will be armed with mass destruction weapons.
No, I am sorry. I normally like to take interventions, but I will not, because of the time pressure.
The 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 the case. Let us imagine a non-nuclear Britain in 1982 facing an Argentina in possession of a few tactical nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them. Retaking the islands by conventional means would have been out of the question.
The third argument is that the United Kingdom has traditionally played a more important and decisive role in preserving freedom than other medium-sized states have been able or willing to do. Democratic countries without nuclear weapons have little choice but to declare themselves neutral and hope for the best, or to rely on the nuclear umbrella of powerful allies. The United Kingdom is a nuclear power already, and it is also much harder to defeat by conventional means because of our physical separation from the continent.
The fourth argument is that our prominence as the principal ally of the United States, our strategic geographical position and the fact that we are obviously the junior partner might tempt an aggressor to risk attacking us separately. Given the difficulty of overrunning the United Kingdom with conventional forces, in contrast to our more vulnerable allies, an aggressor could be tempted to use one or more mass destruction weapons against us on the assumption that the United States would not reply on our behalf. Even if that assumption were false, the attacker would find out his terrible mistake when and only when it was too late for all concerned. An independently controlled British nuclear deterrent massively reduces the prospect of such a fatal miscalculation.
The fifth and final military argument is that no quantity of conventional forces 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 especially instructive not only because the Emperor was forced to surrender, but because of the reverse scenario: if Japan had developed atomic bombs and the allies had not, an invasion of Japan to end the war would have been out of the question. The reason why nuclear weapons deter more reliably than conventional ones, despite the huge destructiveness of conventional warfare, is that nuclear destruction is not only unbearable, but unavoidable once the missiles have been launched. The certainty and scale of the potential retaliation mean that no nuclear aggressor can gamble on success and on escaping unacceptable punishment.
Opponents of our Trident deterrent say that it can never be used. The two thirds of the British people who have endorsed our keeping nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them, and continue to endorse that in poll after poll—as well as in two general elections in the 1980s—are better informed. They understand that Trident is in use every day of the week. Its use lies in its ability to deter other states from credibly threatening us with weapons of mass destruction. Of course, the British nuclear deterrent is not a panacea and is not designed to forestall every kind of threat, such as those from stateless terrorist groups, but the threat that it is designed to counter is so overwhelming that no other form of military capability could manage to avert it.
If the consequence of possessing a lethal weapon is that nobody launches it, while the consequence of not possessing it is that someone who does launches it against us, which is the more moral thing to do—to possess the weapon and avoid anyone being attacked, or to renounce it and lay yourself and your country open to obliteration? If possessing a nuclear system and threatening to launch it in retaliation will avert a conflict in which millions would otherwise die, can it seriously be claimed that the more ethical policy is to renounce the weapon and let the millions meet their fate? Even if one argues that the threat to retaliate is itself immoral, is it as immoral as the failure to forestall so many preventable deaths?
Moral choices are, more often than not, choices to determine the lesser of two evils. The possession of the nuclear deterrent may be unpleasant, but it is an unpleasant necessity, the purpose of which lies not in its ever being fired but in its nature as the ultimate insurance policy against unpredictable, future, existential threats. It is the ultimate stalemate weapon, and in the nuclear age stalemate is the most reliable source of security available to us all.
May I begin by joining the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in their comments about the unhappy developments in both France and Turkey? I also understand that the Prime Minister needs to leave the debate shortly to attend to some important matters, so I will give her a wink when I finish the consensual stuff, which I want to start with—genuinely—because this is the first opportunity that I have had in the House to wish her well as Prime Minister. I also wish her husband, Philip, well. I do not know him, but we all know how important the support that we get at home is. It will be a test for both of them. We will not agree on many things, but where we do, we will, and where we do not, we will remain the effective Opposition in the House of Commons.
From my experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee I also know a little bit about the national security responsibilities that the Home Secretary has to enact, and the challenges get even bigger when one becomes Prime Minister. I wish her strength and wisdom in dealing with matters that are potentially life and death questions. Those are matters for the Home Secretary and for the Prime Minister and we wish her well.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister has led in this debate. That was not the plan of the Government. Perhaps in the new style of the new Government she thought that, on this important issue, she should lead, and we very much welcome that, because this is a huge matter. It will probably be the biggest spending decision by this Government. Given that—and I will come back to this—I find it utterly remarkable that, a number of hours into this debate, we still have no idea whatsoever of what the through-life costs of Trident replacement are. We can have different views on whether Trident is a good thing or a bad thing and on whether it is necessary, but I have asked the Prime Minister twice about that number. She has the opportunity to intervene on me now and give us that number. She is not going to intervene, because she would prefer not to say it. It is for her to explain. No doubt, her special advisers will be asked by the fourth estate why it is that the Government are asking us to vote for something, but cannot tell us how much it will cost. It is remarkable that in this, the biggest—
I was merely going to ask the right hon. Gentleman what would be the cost at which he would he support it? This is not a matter of money and spending for him. That is a smokescreen.
I will help the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues: there are no circumstances in which we would spend any money on nuclear weapons. This is a motion before the House, which has been proposed by the Government, and which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. and right hon. Friends are being asked to support in the Lobby. The last time I looked, I thought that Conservative MPs took pride in fiscal rectitude and in making good decisions with taxpayers’ money. It is remarkable that not a single one of them has insisted that those on their Front Bench tell us this evening what the biggest spending decision of this Parliament is going to cost. I ask again: will anybody on the Treasury Bench enlighten the House? Anybody? Again, answer came there none.
Incidentally, I have not yet ended with the consensual stuff. I am sorry, but I got a little ahead of myself—my apologies. I want to make the point about something that has not been brought up thus far. Perhaps it is the reason why the Prime Minister is here today—it would not surprise me. One of the first things that a Prime Minister needs to do on taking office is to write four letters. I am not asking what the Prime Minister has written or is writing in those letters. She writes a letter to the four submarine commanders, and we pay tribute to those who serve in our name. The husband of one of our number on the Scottish National party Benches served as a submariner on a Trident submarine. He was one of the last people to fire one of those missiles in testing. Incidentally, I should say that he is now an SNP councillor, and is opposed to the renewal of Trident.
I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning my husband, who did fire the Trident missile. Not only is he an SNP councillor, but he is in Parliament today and is a member of Scottish CND. I have made this point before. We support the personnel working on these submarines absolutely 100%, but not all of those personnel support the weapon they have been asked to deliver.
My hon. Friend makes her point very well.
Still remaining on the consensual side of this important debate, I want to stress that SNP Members do not confuse those who are in favour of renewing Trident with the thought that they would actually want to kill millions of people. However, as the Prime Minister has confirmed from the Dispatch Box today, the theory of nuclear deterrence is based on the credible potential use of weapons of mass destruction. Those who vote for its renewal need to square the theory with the practice of what that actually means.
Having said all of that, given the boldness of the Prime Minister’s recent personnel decisions, she has clearly been thinking about new ways of taking things forward. In that respect, it is hugely disappointing that she clearly has not taken any time to consider—perhaps to reconsider—the wisdom of spending an absolute fortune on something that can never be used and is not deterring the threats that we face today. I say again that we have not yet had any confirmation of what the Government plan to spend on this; they expect Members on both the Labour Benches and the Government Benches to sign a blank cheque for it.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister has clearly not given any new or detailed consideration to embracing the non-replacement of Trident, which would offer serious strategic and economic benefits, as outlined in the June 2013 report, “The Real Alternative”. Those who have not read the report should do so.
In the previous debate that took place in this House on
“improved national security—through budgetary flexibility in the Ministry of Defence and a more effective response to emerging security challenges in the 21st century” as well as
“improved global security—through a strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, deterring of nuclear proliferation and de-escalation of international tensions”.
There are also potential
“vast economic savings—of more than £100 billion over the lifetime of a successor nuclear weapons system, releasing resources for effective security spending, as well as a range of public spending priorities”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 591, c. 92.]
This seems to be pretty important, given that, when the Ministry of Defence was asked about it in a written question in February 2015, the then Defence Minister, Mr Dunne, who is not in his place but was here earlier—I gave him notice that I would be raising this matter—replied that the estimated annual spending on the Trident replacement programme beyond maingate in 2016 was
“being withheld as it relates to the formulation of Government policy and release would prejudice commercial interests.”
Here today we are part and parcel of formulating Government policy, and we are expected to sign a blank cheque. We have absolutely no idea what the final cost will be. Crispin Blunt, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has made a calculation—perhaps he will speak about it, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. He worked out that the in-service costs of a missile extension—the total cost of the Trident replacement programme—would be £167 billion.
Let me dispose of this part of my speech. The updated figure is now £179 billion —these are the Government’s own figures—based on capital costs of £31 billion, with a £10 billion contingency, and the Government’s assumption of about 6% of the defence budget as running costs, assuming a 32-year in-service life. That comes to a total of £179 billion.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. That is a very helpful intervention. I am not sure whether those numbers take account of the currency fluctuations that have had an impact on sterling—they do not. I see the hon. Gentleman shaking his head, so we should assume that the total cost is even higher than £179 billion. A calculation was made in May this year which suggested that it would be £205 billion. That is a massive sum. The Defence Secretary is shaking his head, but would he like to intervene on me now and tell us the number?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in response to a freedom of information request on the full-life costs, the MOD said:
“The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options . . . unfettered from public comment about the affordability”?
I suppose we should ask ourselves whether that “safe space” is the House of Commons. We are none the wiser. We have asked again and again and again. I am looking at the Defence Secretary again and he has the opportunity to intervene on me now to tell Parliament how much money his Government wish to invest in the Successor programme. Update, there came none.
It is not just about the cost; for us in Scotland, it is also about democracy. The people of Scotland have shown repeatedly, clearly and consistently that we are opposed to the renewal of nuclear weapons. When the SNP went to the country—the electorate—on an explicitly anti-Trident manifesto commitment, we won elections in 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016. I am delighted to be joined on the Front Bench by my hon. Friend Brendan O'Hara, who represents Faslane and Coulport because the electorate of Argyll and Bute preferred an SNP parliamentarian, elected on a non-Trident platform, to a Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat MP.
However, this is much, much more than an issue of party political difference, because in Scottish public and civic life, from the Scottish Trades Union Congress, to Scotland’s Churches—the Church of Scotland and the Bishops’ Conference, which issued a statement this week—to the Scottish Parliament, which has voted on the subject, all have voted or called for opposition to Trident renewal. There is cross-party support from not just the SNP, but the Greens and Scottish Labour. Almost every single one of Scotland’s MPs will vote tonight against Trident’s replacement.
It is an indictment of the new Administration that the first motion in Parliament is on renewing Trident when there are so many other pressing issues facing the country in the context of Brexit. It is obscene that the priority of this Government, and, sadly, too many people on the Labour Benches, at a time of Tory austerity and economic uncertainty following the EU referendum, is to spend billions of pounds on outdated nuclear weapons that we do not want, do not need and could never use. With debt, deficit and borrowing levels forecast to get worse after Brexit, and with more than £40 billion to be cut from public services by 2020, spending £167 billion, £179 billion, or £205 billion—whatever the number is that the Government are not prepared tell us—is an outrage. The Prime Minister’s first vote is on Trident. In the current climate, that is totally wrong. It is the wrong approach to key priorities. We should be working to stabilise the economy and sorting out the chaos caused by the Brexit result.
The Prime Minister has already undermined the words of her first speech, which many people, across all parties, found important. She vowed to fight “burning injustice”, and we agree, but Trident fights no injustices. Trident is an immoral, obscene and redundant weapons system.
The vote on Trident is one of the most important this Parliament will ever take, and the Government have an obligation to inform the public about such a massive decision—they have failed to do that. The Labour Opposition is facing three ways at the same time and letting the Government get away with this. We in the SNP are absolutely clear in our opposition to Trident. We would not commit to spending hundreds of billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction, particularly at a time when this Government are making significant cuts to public services—it would be morally and economically indefensible.
I am summing up.
Today, almost every single Scottish MP will vote against renewing Trident nuclear missiles. Only a few short weeks ago, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. If Scotland is a nation—and Scotland is a nation—it is not a normal situation for the state to totally disregard the wishes of the people. The Government have a democratic deficit in Scotland and, with today’s vote on Trident, it is going to get worse, not better. It will be for the Scottish people to determine whether we are properly protected in Europe and better represented by a Government that we actually elect. At this rate, that day is fast approaching.
Order. Before I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I remind hon. Members that there is a five-minute limit on speeches. If too many interventions are taken, then the limit will reduce very rapidly.
Because I suspect that I may be the only person on the Conservative Benches to make the arguments that I am going to make, I have taken some care with them. Given the time limit, I will not be able to deploy my full arguments here, but I will publish them on my website, because I know that many people will be following this debate. I agree with Angus Robertson that it is an extremely important debate.
It is because I care about the security of my country that I will not be joining my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight. Because we have capped defence expenditure at 2% of GDP, the cost of this programme comes at the expense of the rest of the defence programme. Therefore, we need to make a more rational judgment about the balance of expenditure in order to meet the risks that our country faces. This is a colossal investment in a weapons system that will become increasingly vulnerable and at which we will have to throw good money—tens of billions of pounds more than already estimated—in order to try to keep it safe in the years to come.
My right hon. Friend is technically right, but it would be a triumph of hope over expectation that we are going to see more than 2% spent on defence any time soon. When that happens, and if this is taken in isolation, to be spent outside the defence budget, then I will accept that my arguments need to be re-evaluated, but as things are set now, the budget for this weapons system comes at the cost of the rest of our defence budget.
Britain’s independent possession of nuclear weapons has turned into a political touchstone for commitment to national defence, but this is an illusion. The truth is that this is a political weapon aimed, rather effectively, at the Labour party. Its justification rests on the defence economics, the politics, and the strategic situation of over three decades ago, but it is of less relevance to the United Kingdom today, and certainly surplus to the needs of NATO. It does not pass any rational cost-effectiveness test. Surely the failures in conventional terms, with the ignominious retreats from Basra and Helmand in the past decade, tell us that something is badly out of balance in our strategic posture.
Let us not forget the risks that this weapons system presents to the United Kingdom. Basing it in Scotland reinforces the nationalist narrative, and ironically, for a system justified on the basis that it protects the United Kingdom, it could prove instrumental in the Union’s undoing.
We were told last November that the capital cost for the replacement of the four Vanguard submarines would be £31 billion, with a contingency fund of £10 billion. We have been told that the running costs of the Successor programme will be 6% of the defence budget. Following the comments of the right hon. Member for Moray, my latest calculation is £179 billion for the whole programme.
Yes, it is extremely straightforward. It is 6% of 2% of GDP on the basis of the Government’s proposed in-service dates of the system. The defence budget is 2% of GDP, and this is 6% of that share. That presents us with the number. It is not surprising that the number should be 6% of GDP, which is double the share of the defence budget in the 1980s, because the share of GDP spent on defence has halved since the 1980s.
The costs of this project are enormous. I have asked privately a number of my hon. Friends at what point they believe that those costs become prohibitive. I cannot get an answer, short of, “Whatever it takes,” but I do not believe that an answer of infinity is rational. It is not only damaging to our economic security; it also comes at a deeply injurious opportunity cost to conventional defence. At what point do either of those prices cease to be worth paying?
The costs are likely to rise much further. The standard programme risks, which are already apparent with the Astute programme, and the currency risk pale when compared with the technical risk of this project. There is a growing body of evidence that emerging technologies will render the seas increasingly transparent in the foreseeable future. Under development are distributed censors detecting acoustic, magnetic, neutrino and electromagnetic signatures, on board unmanned vehicles in communication with each other, using swarming algorithms and autonomous operations associated with artificial intelligence, able to patrol indefinitely and using the extraordinary processing capabilities now available and improving by the month. The geometric improvement in processing power means that that technology in today’s smartphone is far superior to that of the latest American fighter aircraft. Furthermore, unmanned aircraft will detect the surface weight of deeply submerged submarines communicating with those underwater receiving active sonar. Marine biologists are already able to track shoals of fish in real time from several hundred miles away.
Ballistic submarines depend utterly on their stealth by utilising the sheer size of the oceans, but if we are today able to detect the gravitational waves first created by big bang, how can we be so confident that a capable adversary would not be able to track our submarines 20 to 40 years from now? The system vulnerabilities are not restricted to its increasingly detectable signatures. What about the security of the Trident system against cyber-attack?
Part of the Government’s case is that all the other P5 states are also investing in submarine technology for their nuclear weapon systems. It would not be the first time that states have followed each other down a dreadnought blind alley, but the UK is the only nuclear-armed state to depend entirely on a submarine. If NATO’s technical head of anti-submarine warfare can foresee the end of the era of the submarine, our P5 colleagues will at least have their bets laid off. We won’t.
It is a pleasure to follow that imaginative speech by Crispin Blunt. I only wish he had brought in his fag packet so that we could have better understood the figures he tried to explain, but to no avail.
I am proud, unlike the people who are acting for our Front Bench today, to speak for the Labour party in this debate. It is the party of Attlee and Bevin, Nye Bevan and Stafford Crips—the men who witnessed the terrible birth of nuclear destruction and understood, with heavy hearts, that they should protect the world by building the capacity to deter others from unleashing it again.
I thank my friend for giving way. A nuclear deterrent also protects our soldiers in the field. Many of us, including my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, were soldiers in Germany. We took great comfort from the fact that we had nuclear weapons, because the other side—the Warsaw pact—could well have blasted us to hell, but they were put off, we hope very much, by the fact that we possessed nuclear weapons. Protection of our soldiers matters and is good for morale.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Those who wish to eradicate nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom cannot explain what would happen if, for example, Russia invaded a NATO state and there was no nuclear protection from our side and we were open to nuclear blackmail on a dreadful scale.
I am pleased to stand alongside members of Unite and GMB who have come down here to remind us of just how effective the workforce is and how important they are to so many parts of the United Kingdom. I am also proud that I will be in the same Lobby as the former Labour Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett, who committed the United Kingdom—the first time any nuclear-capable nation had done so—to a global zero: a world free from nuclear weapons. But—the Leader of the Opposition did not seem to want to mention this—she knew that unilaterally disarming while others keep the bomb is not an act of global leadership. That would not show others the way; it would be destabilising and a futile abdication of responsibility.
I also speak for the Labour Members and trade unionists who engaged in our policy making in good faith. Those people are now being ignored by the party leader, who clings to an idea of Labour party democracy to save his own skin, and that is not right. The party leader’s Trident review has never quite materialised, so let me mention the report of the Back-Bench Labour defence committee, which I chair. After hearing from 23 expert witnesses in 10 sessions, which many MPs attended—although not the shadow Foreign Secretary, anyone from the office of the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow International Development Secretary, who seems to want to take part in the debate via Twitter but who does not, apparently, want to stand up for herself—we found that there had been no substantive change in the circumstances that led the Labour party firmly to support renewing the Vanguard class submarines that carry the deterrent.
For the official Opposition to have a free vote on a matter of such strategic national importance is a terrible indictment of how far this once great party has fallen. There has long been a principled tradition of unilateralism in the Labour party. I was born into it, as the son of a Labour party member who protested at Greenham common. But what Labour’s current Front Benchers are doing is not principled. It shows contempt for the public and for party members. In what they say, Labour’s Front Benchers often show contempt for the truth. The situation would have been abhorrent even to Labour’s last great unilateralist, Michael Foot—a man who, for all his shortcomings as a leader, would never have allowed our party to stand directionless in the face of such an important question.
We do not know what is going to happen to the Labour party; this is an uncertain time. Whatever happens, I am proud to stand here today and speak for Barrow. I am proud to speak for the town that is steeped in the great British tradition of shipbuilding, and to speak for the men and women who give great service to their country with the incredible work that they do. So I will walk through the Aye Lobby tonight to vote in favour of a project that the last Labour Government began, in a vote that Labour itself promised when we sat on the Government Benches.
Failing to endorse a submarine programme that will support up to 30,000 jobs across the UK would not only do great damage to our manufacturing base; it would be a clear act of unilateral disarmament. It would tell the public that we are prepared to give more credence to improbable theories and wild logic than to the solid weight of evidence that points to renewing Trident. It is our enduring duty to do what we can to protect the nation for decades ahead, so I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting established Labour policy in the Aye Lobby tonight.
That was one of the most courageous speeches I have heard during my time in the House.
I am very sad that Alex Salmond is not here. When we last debated the matter in 2007, he was in his place and I was sitting on the Opposition Benches. He swept his arm to his right and said that we in the home counties could not understand what it was like to have such a powerful weapon on our doorsteps. I pointed out to him that if he came into my bedroom and looked across the Kennet valley, he would see the rooftops of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston; if he looked slightly to his left, he would see the rooftops of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield; and if he climbed on to my roof, he could probably see the missile silos at Greenham common. In my part of Berkshire, we need no lessons from anyone about the impact or the effect of living close to the nuclear deterrent. He replied as consummately as clever politicians do, that that was the first and last time he would ever be asked into a Tory MP’s bedroom.
The point is that the nuclear deterrent is my constituency’s largest employer, and it brings many advantages, not least to the supply chain of 275 local companies and 1,500 supply chain organisations nationally. Add to that its role in advising the Government on counter-terrorism; the effect it has on nuclear threat reduction, on forensics—not least in the recent Litvinenko inquiry—and on non-proliferation; its second-to-none apprenticeship scheme; and its academic collaboration with the Orion laser. None of that would matter one jot if the decision we were taking today was wrong. The decision we are taking today is right.
I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the situating of nuclear materials and weapons in his constituency. Does he agree that there is one big difference between his constituency and that of my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara? The hon. Gentleman’s constituents—witness his election—want nuclear weapons. The constituents of my hon. Friend, and those of all my hon. Friends, do not want nuclear weapons.
There are many polls that conflict with the information that the hon. and learned Lady provides. I was elected on a resounding majority, but who knows how much of that decision was about nuclear weapons being based locally? I think it was about a wide variety of issues.
The truth is that the nuclear deterrent has saved lives—this is a point that has not been made enough tonight—over the past few decades, because aggressors have been deterred. We have to ask ourselves how predictable future conflicts are. The leader of the SNP said that we are talking about deterrence today. We are not; we are talking about deterrence for 20 years, 30 years or 40 years. The SNP may have a crystal ball, and SNP Members may be able to say that there will be no threats to us in that time. I do not have a crystal ball, however, and I want to ensure the protection of future generations in this country.
That was a totally ridiculous intervention, which is not worthy of a reply. The hon. Gentleman might like to consider what kind of aggressor we might face in the future. We are not just talking about a resurgent Russia. What about groups of nations or individual nations? We know that nuclear weapons have proliferated in recent years. As we have reduced our arsenal, others have increased theirs. He needs to think not just about today, and not just about himself and his constituents, but about the future generations whom we are talking about protecting.
No, I will not take any more interventions.
We have to think through the recent conflicts in our lifetime: not conflicts in which nuclear retaliation would ever have been appropriate, but the Yom Kippur war, the Falklands—mentioned by my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis—the invasion of Kuwait, 9/11 and even last week’s coup in Turkey. We did not know that they were going to happen. Who can say that we would be any the wiser in the event of a coup de main operation that might not have happened if the potential enemy had been deterred by our possession of weapons that made them sit up and think? We need potential enemies to hold in their mind the fact that there is no advantage to them in aggression.
I have spoken tonight about our constituents and about future generations, but let us also talk about the concept of using nuclear weapons. There is a good, honest and decent concept, which goes back many generations and which I can respect, of disarmament and pacifism in this country. I happen to think that in this context it is wrong, but we can respect it. When people talk about using nuclear weapons, they need to understand the doctrine that governs them. Our nuclear deterrent has been used every single day of every single year for which it has been deployed. It does what it says on the tin; it deters.
I am sorry to say it, but no one believes that an independent Scotland would suddenly start to invest in Type 26 destroyers, fast jets and all the other paraphernalia of a nation that somehow wants to engage in the world in the way that Britain does. SNP Members’ sudden attraction to the idea of massive defence spending is complete nonsense.
No, I will not give way.
The nature of regimes in a more dangerous world is what we need to consider today. Although we have reduced our arsenal of nuclear weapons by 50% in recent years—the Leader of the Opposition completely ignored the fact that we have reduced our arsenal so considerably—the number of states with nuclear weapons has increased and the number of tactical nuclear weapons in the world is now over 17,000.
On the question of cost, I would just state that all this—the £31 billion over 35 years, plus the contingency—translates to about 0.2% of total Government spending. That will be reduced if we take account of the advantage for the supply chain of developing this suite of replacement submarines.
I will finish by saying that we need to listen to our allies on this issue. We have an agreement with the French—the Lancaster House agreement—and we have a long-standing agreement with the United States. Our nuclear defence is networked into our other allies as well. We need to think about their response to what we are debating as much as about the future generations that we will protect through our decision tonight.
Until three weeks ago, I anticipated that I would speak in this debate as Labour’s shadow armed forces Minister, but today I do so from the Back Benches. Either way, however, I am grateful to my hon. Friend John Woodcock for the work he did to ensure Labour’s approach to this debate was evidence based. In his capacity as chair of the PLP defence committee, he conducted an exhaustive series of seminars on the Vanguard renewal, with a wide body of contributors. We heard from the general secretary of CND, the Minister for Defence Procurement, two former Labour Secretaries of State for Defence, trade unions, firms responsible for the thousands of jobs that today hang in the balance, and academics and historians who placed the decision we face today in an appropriate global strategic and historical context.
I, too, have a historical context here. Back in the 1980s, my mother was a Greenham Common protester.
That is something else we have in common. I believe that both my parents were members of CND. I do not think I ever had the badge, but as a 13-year-old I certainly made some of the arguments we heard from our Front Bench a few moments ago. As with much of the discourse in the Labour party now, we are having a retro debate that we thought had been settled three decades ago. We have previously fought general elections on a unilateralist platform. Some people surrounding the Labour party leader may think that winning elections is just the small bit that matters to political elites, but to most of us—and indeed to my constituents—it is pretty fundamental to delivering the change our society needs.
My instinct was that the policy on which we fought the previous election was the correct one, but I none the less approached the review with an open mind. I heard all the tried-and-tested arguments in opposition to Trident, but I have to say that the weight of evidence in support of the decision the Government are taking today was overwhelming.
I was told many things. I was told that once I got to meet senior military figures, I would learn that none of them really wanted this and all wanted the money to go elsewhere. That simply was not true. From a range of experienced and expert opinion, I heard time and again that our armed forces recognise the strategic importance of sending a powerful message to our adversaries, of the geopolitical role that a credible nuclear deterrent plays and of its importance to our relationship with our NATO allies.
In the past nine months, I have visited NATO with two previous shadow Secretaries of State for Defence. We met representatives from Estonia, Latvia, Poland and several other NATO allies. For those countries, the Russian threat is not a dinner table conversation, but a matter of chilling daily reality. My hon. Friend Emily Thornberry was told how desperate they were for Britain to retain the nuclear deterrent and send a powerful signal to President Putin.
We were also told that it was too soon to make a decision, but Lord West made it clear to the PLP defence committee that, because of the existing extension to the lifetime of the Vanguard class of submarines, further delays to the programme would mean that we could no longer maintain a permanent and continuous posture.
As the case for not having Trident has fallen apart, the alternative options we have heard proposed have become ever more absurd. First, we had “Build the submarines, but don’t equip them with nuclear capability”, which would involve all the spending, but none of the strategic benefit. Secondly, we were told we could re-perform the exhaustive Trident alternatives review and have another five years of indecision to match the period provided by the coalition Government.
Brendan O’Hara told us that all his constituents do not want this. However, only 44% of his constituents voted for a party that wants to get rid of Trident, while 56% voted for parties committed to the retention of Trident, so that does not stand up to scrutiny in the way he suggests.
The most depressing exchange was with representatives of the GMB union in Barrow, when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury suggested that they might like to make wind turbines instead. They politely but firmly informed her that they were involved in designing and producing one of the most complex pieces of technology on the face of the earth, and that wind turbines had already been invented.
The House is being asked today to take a difficult and a costly decision.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his speech. He will have heard, as I have done, the case that many people have put to Labour MPs—that they do not back unilateralism, but would prefer an alternative nuclear weapons platform. What consideration did he give to those points when he represented us on the Front Bench?
That is a very important point. In fact, the Government tried to come to precisely that conclusion on behalf of the Liberal Democrat allies in the previous Government. The truth of the matter is that having a ballistic missile system based on submarines is crucial to ensuring that it is undetectable by our adversaries and that it provides a genuine and creditable deterrent in relation to our adversaries’ missile defence systems.
Labour Members should have confidence that the world-class technology produced by the very best of British manufacturing, which benefits suppliers in almost every constituency in the land—including, I am proud to say, at Cathelco in Chesterfield—is delivering the minimum credible continuous deterrent that we can deliver. It will aid global security and be viewed with great gratitude not just by the workers whose livelihoods depend on it, but by partners who are nervously watching our adversaries’ every move. Labour Members should know that they are voting in accordance with the policy they were elected on and in support of working trade union members and our heroic armed forces personnel; that they are contributing towards global security; that backing Vanguard is in keeping with our internationalist principles; and that it is the right thing to do.
I rise to support the motion, and I do so joylessly and with a heavy heart. Nobody can stand in a missile compartment of a ballistic submarine without a sense of terrible awe; our warheads have the capacity to destroy 40 million people. I know that everyone in the Chamber feels that responsibility extremely acutely, and that certainly goes for my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and their predecessors.
I spent much of my 20-year naval career at the tail end of the cold war. The cold war is over, however, and one can say it was won. The cold war did not become a real war, in part because of the terrible weapons that we are discussing this afternoon. We must not be preparing to fight the last war. Right hon. and hon. Members throughout the House are right to say that tomorrow’s wars are likely to be asymmetric wars, hybrid wars, wars involving terrorism, or conflicts involving climate change that, as we sit here, we really cannot fully understand. However, simply because those threats exist, that does not mean that nuclear blackmail does not and will not exist.
I fully accept that there are shades of grey in this debate. I absolutely reject the absolutist positions taken by some commentators, and I fully understand and respect arguments in relation to opportunity costs, but we have to make a decision now. We have been here several times before. In 2006, under the Labour party, we conducted what was appropriately called a deep dive. In 2013, very largely thanks to the Liberal Democrats—it pains me to say so, but it is nevertheless true—we undertook an alternatives review and dealt with many of the issues involved. I have no doubt that we will discuss this afternoon the alternatives considered at that time.
In the time available, I would like to speak briefly about the two propositions of redundancy and reputation. Those are respectable arguments that deserve to be dealt with properly.
Before my hon. Friend speaks about those two crucial points, does he agree that the speech we have just heard from Toby Perkins was a most powerful argument, based on core beliefs that he has clearly thought about deeply and for a long time? It should be compelling for those of our constituents who are not clear about the party lines on this issue.
My hon. Friend is right, and the speech by John Woodcock was also extremely powerful.
The redundancy proposition holds that advancing technology will make the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent redundant. It is supposed—despite all evidence to the contrary—that unmanned underwater vessels will appear and render our oceans transparent, but that is pure supposition. We cannot approach our defence on the basis of what might happen in the future. History is usually a guide in these matters, and this year we mark the centenary of the introduction of tanks into the battle space. We could have said then, “We must not develop this technology because of the possibility of sticky bombs and tank traps”, but we did not.
“naked into the conference chamber”.
What sort of emperor in new clothing would go into a conference chamber with President Putin, for example, and say, “I don’t have nuclear weapons—well, I have some nuclear-powered subs, but there are no weapons on them”?
The hon. Lady is right. I am enjoying the consensual nature of this debate—it is the House of Commons at its very best. In 1929, J. F. C. Fuller said that tanks would make infantry redundant. In a sense he was right, but his timeframe was completely wrong, and the infantry was adapted rather than abolished. The imminent end of manned fighters was confidently predicted in a 1957 Government White Paper. The important point, which the hon. Lady was trying to make, is that we cannot base our defence on what we imagine might happen.
The threat of cyber and of unmanned underwater vessels should invigorate our countermeasures and our attempts to detect and potentially disrupt aggressors. Nevertheless, just as the Lightning II joint strike fighter may have only half a life before it is rendered obsolescent, we must be open to the possibility that the Successor submarine may at some point over its long life be made obsolete. However, I do not think that a sufficient argument to deploy against the decision we will make today.
The second proposition that I want to touch on is that of reputation theory. The argument is that unilateralism will in some way raise our standing internationally, but that is hopelessly naive. Try saying that to people in Ukraine; try waving the Budapest memo at them. Many will say that had Ukraine not given up its share of the USSR’s nuclear armamentarium—about a third of it—when it became independent, its territory would now be assured and it would not have been invaded by Russia. I do not want to take that argument too far, because others will make counter arguments about the wisdom of Ukraine having nuclear weapons—personally, I am pleased it does not—but from the perspective of a state that is trying to face down an aggressor, that is a powerful argument.
Some say that if we cut our nuclear arsenal others will follow, but there is no evidence to suggest that that is the case. We have cut our arsenal dramatically in recent years, yet other states have increased theirs.
Finally, in this atmosphere of Brexit, when we are re-forging our links with other international organisations and operating in an outward-facing way that I find refreshing, we must think about our permanent membership of the UN Security Council. That membership is contingent on this country offering something. It may pain some right hon. and hon. Members to ponder this, but in large part our membership of that body is down to our continued possession of this terrible weapon.
I rise to support the motion. There are those who do not agree with my position, including in my own party, and I do not disagree that they have the right to hold their position. I respect their position; I do not question their motives, and I believe that people can argue from an alternative position to mine. Unfortunately, respect is something of a rarity in our political landscape at the moment, and it saddens me to say that that includes people in my own party.
Our independent nuclear deterrent has its origins in the great radical and reforming 1945 Labour Government. Political giants of my party took the decision that the UK should develop its own nuclear weapon. They saw that as being vital for our nation’s security against the rising threat from the Soviet bloc and the uncertain world they faced. That commitment to our national security, while pursuing a policy of outward-looking international engagement, has been a cornerstone of Labour’s position, and it is universally shared by our supporters.
Today we face an uncertain world, and some of the threats that we face are the same as those faced by our forebears in 1945. Those threats include state-on-state conflict and a resurgent Russia that is now wedded not to communist ideology and doctrine but to a crude nationalism that has no respect for international boundaries or laws. Russia has a clear path to increasing its military spending and its nuclear arsenal, and it has a doctrine of spheres of influence reminiscent of the 1940s. We also face threats such as Islamic terrorism, global warming and economic uncertainty. Is there one silver bullet to resolve all those threats? No, there is not, but the retention of our nuclear deterrent is vital to resist the threat of a resurgent Russia that is developing its nuclear weapons.
The Leader of the Opposition has portrayed today the uncertainty about the Labour party position. In the last Parliament I was asked by the then Leader of the Opposition to conduct a review of our deterrent. We met 28 stakeholders from all sides of the debate—including my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who was then chair of Labour CND—and that resulted in a report of more than 35,000 words. The report built on the work of the Defence Committee, the Labour Government’s 2006 White Paper and the Trident alternatives review. All the evidence that was taken came to the conclusion that replacing our Vanguard-class submarines was the only alternative. That report fed into our policy review and was adopted at our 2014 conference. That is the policy that I stood under, as did every other Labour candidate, including my right hon. Friend.
If time permits, I hope that my hon. Friend will mention an issue that affects a lot of my constituents in North Staffordshire. A lot of our young people join the military and put their lives on the line for this country. How can we stand here in this Chamber knowing that we are putting their lives on the line, but not giving them the back-up of a nuclear deterrent?
My hon. Friend is saying that the Labour tradition is to support our armed forces, and I totally agree. The manifesto that I and the Leader of the Opposition stood on was also voted on, and 9.3 million members of the electorate supported it. The argument in tonight’s motion is identical to what was in that manifesto. It is ironic that we are having a free vote, since my hon. Friend Maria Eagle put that argument to the Leader of the Opposition in 2015 and it resulted in her removal from the Labour Front Bench. Unfortunately I, too, had no option but to resign.
The alternatives review by my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry has been going on for the past seven months. Much airtime has been given to it, but not a single word has yet been published. It is a bit like the mythical unicorn—people believe it exists, but it has never actually been sighted.
The important point about our deterrent is security, but we cannot forget about the jobs it brings. I am proud to support both Unite and GMB members who work in the industry. They are professional, skilled and dedicated in their work. I challenge those who vote against the motion tonight to look those workers directly in the eye and tell them what the alternatives are for their communities—not empty promises of jobs tomorrow or in the future, but what will happen now.
My party has a proud track record in government on disarmament, to which I am committed, and I am glad the motion contains a commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament. More important for our nation at this time, however, is that walking away from our commitments to our NATO partners would be a fundamental mistake. It would indicate that we were withdrawing from the world, and we cannot afford to do that. Voting for the motion is in the long tradition of my party, which believes in the security of our nation. My party is committed to a peaceful and outward-looking world, and to ensuring that what we do in this House makes a difference and improves people’s lives. That cannot be done unless we have security.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the debate.
I represent the great city of Plymouth, where we have a long and proud naval history. Plymouth is where the Vanguard-class submarines are repaired and refitted. I will not make an overly lengthy contribution today, but I would like to give my experience of the representations made in my constituency, where the Trident programme plays such a significant role in our local economy. Representatives of Plymouth, sent here to represent our famous naval city, have always taken very seriously our twin responsibilities—to the nation’s security and to the employment prospects of those who have loyally maintained, and continue to maintain, the submarines that carry Trident missiles.
The Vanguard submarines are repaired and refitted at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth. For me and my colleagues who represent Plymouth, they are a vital source of employment for thousands, as they are for other Members with naval bases in their constituencies. That source is not as easily replaced as some might think, and my colleagues’ view and mine is that it would be simply a gamble too far. We live in a desperately unstable world. Last weekend was perhaps the most unstable for years. That should not in itself be an argument for maintaining our Trident programme, but it illustrates how we simply cannot predict events beyond next week, let alone far in the future.
National security is fundamental to delivering all that we come into politics to deliver—a fairer society, social justice and opportunities for all. Without it, none of the causes that I know I share with many Opposition Members would be achievable. The Government have a responsibility to put the security of the nation and its people first and foremost. We need to maintain our ultimate deterrent, because we simply do not know what the future holds.
I am not deaf to those concerned about the costs and risks of maintaining the fleet in Plymouth. There is an active community of people who write to me often about that issue. As with any other contentious issue, I have sought to understand the arguments. I speak to those who agree with me and, more importantly, to those who disagree with me. On this issue, however, I am single-mindedly sure: we must maintain our commitment to this programme and replace the Vanguard-class submarines with the new Successor class. Strategically, we cannot and should not wear the risk that comes with abandoning our continuous at-sea deterrence, and the message that that would send to our NATO allies.
Absolutely, I would support that move. I would love to have all the jobs that would come with that. We would be more than happy to have it and to build on our naval heritage in that way.
I assure my hon. Friend that all of us who represent constituencies in the south-west would be more than delighted if the work was transferred from Scotland to the south-west, in the event that our deterrent was to move.
Absolutely. We are proud of our naval heritage in the south-west—we are very proud of the people we support, our servicemen and servicewomen, and we would be delighted to make their lives easier by providing the facilities the south-west affords. Locally, the deterrent means thousands of jobs in Plymouth and a continuance of the Plymouth naval tradition that makes so many of us so proud. It is part of the fabric of our city. To lose that would be disastrous for the communities I am here to represent.
Let us not abstain tonight. Let us not play to our home crowd. Let us stand up for Britain’s place in the world and renew our nuclear deterrent. I say to Opposition Members—not to Scottish National party Members, because I have been struck by their rather childlike interventions about Libya and Iraq, which are totally separate issues—that I know many of my friends on the Labour Benches are of a similar mind to me on this issue. To those who are not, I say that I do not believe they love the country less in any way than those who support the motion. However, all the things we come into politics for are nothing without national security, and that must come first. To deliver the causes that I know are so dear to them and to me, we must renew our nuclear deterrent.
All steps must be taken to ensure the safety of this country’s people. The highly skilled engineering jobs I have talked about cannot be risked. Now, with everything that is going on—not just last weekend, but in the past year—is not the time to lower our guard. The Prime Minister mentioned North Korea. Can we really lose our nuclear weapons at this time? In an ideal world, I agree that it would be great not to have nuclear weapons, but how do we disinvent something that has been invented? The Government must base their decisions on the reality they face; others have the luxury to do otherwise. Trident remains the ultimate deterrent against an attack by those who would harm this country and our people, as it has been for 60 years. The point was made earlier that the Trident system is never used. It is used, every single day. A nuclear deterrent does what it says. The Government’s first priority is to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its people, and that is why I will support the Government’s motion tonight. I will be proud to walk through the Lobby with colleagues from across the House.
As my right hon. Friend Angus Robertson said earlier, there exists in Scotland a broad consensus against Trident. Tonight, I expect 58 of Scotland’s 59 Members of Parliament—98% of Scottish MPs—to vote against the motion. In doing so, we will be reflecting a consensus that exists in Scotland, where the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, the SNP, the Labour party in Scotland, the Scottish Green party, the Scottish TUC, great swathes of Scottish civil society and Scotland’s faith communities are all opposed to having nuclear weapons foisted upon us. Indeed, just last week the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic bishops of Scotland publicly reaffirmed their opposition to the UK possessing these weapons.
As an independent sovereign nation, we would act as every other independent sovereign nation in the world acts. The idea that Scotland is somehow incapable of defending itself as a part of the NATO alliance is absolutely bewildering and, if I may say so, unbelievably patronising. Despite what those on the Tory Benches like to think, Scotland has spoken and Scotland does not want these weapons of mass destruction.
Job losses are a concern wherever they occur and whoever the Member is, but I can say that the SNP has never and will never advocate the closure of Faslane. As a conventional naval base, Faslane has a bright non-nuclear future as part of an independent Scotland and I look forward to representing it as such. In the decade since the Government gave over time to debate Trident, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. The threats emerging from this rapidly changing world should force us to re-examine everything we once took for granted. We have heard often this afternoon that the world is a far more dangerous place than ever before. Just as the threats we face are far more complex and nuanced, so our response should be too, but sadly the Government have singularly failed to address that today.
Rushing to arm ourselves with even bigger submarines carrying even more devastating nuclear weapons does not reflect the reality spelled out in last year’s SDSR. Just nine months ago, the SDSR laid out what the Government regarded as tier 1 threats facing the country. As defined by the Government, they were: international terrorism, cyber-attack, hybrid warfare and natural disaster. Nuclear attack by a foreign power was not regarded as a tier 1 threat, yet today we are told that we cannot sleep safely in our beds unless the green light is given to spend almost £200,000 million—as Crispin Blunt tells us—on a renewal programme.
The world, and the threats we face, are changing, and the UK faces the problem of how to deal with this new world. The choices we make now will determine what we can do in the future, so let us be absolutely clear: as much as we would like to, we cannot do everything. This is about stark choices, and those choices have got an awful lot harder for the proponents of Trident since the Brexit vote and the prospect of our leaving the EU, especially given the recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which states that the UK’s GDP will reduce by up to 3.5%, resulting in the infamous black hole in the public finances of up to £40 billion by 2020. Surely the House has to know what that means for defence procurement before we sign a blank cheque for Trident.
Surely we are entitled to ask, before sanctioning £200,000 million for nuclear weapons, what the effect will be for our conventional forces. Will the Secretary of State tell us where the axe will fall in order that we might secure Trident? Will the Type 26 frigates be delayed yet again and their number further reduced? Is the Apache helicopter programme at risk? Will the F-35 programme be scaled back? Or will the axe once again fall on our already hard-pressed service personnel? It is not outrageous for the House, which is being asked to write a blank cheque, to ask for a full analysis of the cost of Brexit and the effect that the contraction of the UK economy will have on defence procurement.
We are being asked to buy four submarines, whose unique capability, we are told, is that they cannot be detected by hostile forces and therefore can move freely and undisturbed. That might well be the case today—I am sure they can—but can we honestly say that in 16 years, after we have spent £200,000 million, that unique capability will still exist? Every day, highly paid, highly intelligent people go to work in laboratories across Russia, China and the USA with the express intention of making the big missile submarine detectable and therefore useless. In all probability, by the time these new boats come into service, they will be obsolete and as difficult to detect as a white-hulled cruise ship is today.
There is no moral, economic or military case for possession of these weapons, and I will join my 57 colleagues from Scotland in voting against the motion. Despite Scotland’s overwhelming rejection of Trident, however, sadly I expect the motion to carry and Scotland to find itself in the intolerable position of having weapons of mass destruction that we do not want foisted upon us by a Government we did not elect. It is an intolerable situation, and I question how much longer it can continue.
It is a privilege to speak in a debate on one of the most essential issues that the House could discuss. This is not about a variation in tax policy that could be reversed or a change in social norms that will evolve with time; it is about the ultimate security of our nation in the coming century. This is not a time for games or minor interventions on questions of no relevance. It is time for a debate about the security of our state, the strategy of the UK and her place in the world.
I am proud to stand here, on the Conservative Benches, and look across at the Labour Benches and know that there are many people who value the UK—our freedom, our sovereignty, our liberty, our right to self-determination. I understand that they require an ultimate guarantee. We all know the truly horrific nature of these weapons, but it is through their horror and threat that they work. If they were not so horrific or terrible, the deterrent would not be so complete. We have seen time and again that the awfulness of weaponry demands a graduated response. When we see the initial use of force, we see the armaments of the infantryman and the armaments of small aircraft. We have seen this in Europe in the past century—even in the years since the second world war: we have seen Kosovo, we have seen Ukraine, we have seen threats to our close allies in Estonia.
We see these things, however, because the weapons used are controllable and measurable; they are, to use that awful phrase, small arms. However, the capability and purpose of the nuclear deterrent lies in its not being so measurable or controllable. It is truly horrific; and in that, it works. It works not because of its first-strike capability—any fool can have a first-strike capability—but in the second strike. It works not as a weapon of aggression but only as a post mortem weapon. It is a weapon that assures your enemy that, no matter what they have done to you, you can still respond. It is the ultimate guarantee of our sovereignty and security.
It is astonishing that, having just had a referendum in which we discussed the sovereignty and control of our nation, some people are looking to hand it over and diminish it, even though we know what counts. I therefore welcome what the Prime Minister said today. When asked if she would consider using the weapon, she said yes. She gave the clarity that deterrence requires and showed the strength that will make her a fine Prime Minister. It is that strength and clarity, around the most horrific of all weapons systems, that will maintain our sovereignty and freedom.
I have heard people ask today about the UK’s place in the world. Our place is at the top table, guaranteeing the international order and the freedoms and liberties of our friends. When I hear talk of unilateral disarmament and appeasement, I hear talk not of honour and morality but of dishonour and immorality. It is to abandon our position and our friends to say that dictators and despots should keep their weapons of destruction and nuclear power but that democrats should abandon the ability to defend themselves and their friends. That is unacceptable. The spectrum of defence, from the infantryman to the nuclear missile, is intertwined, is one, is blended. To unpick or divide is to disarm even the infantryman at the front. It is wrong, therefore, to talk of reducing spend on nuclear weapons and a lie to say that the money would be better spent on conventional weapons.
It is a privilege to follow Tom Tugendhat. I am proud to stand here as someone who upholds a position that the Labour party has always stood for—proud to recognise our international responsibilities and proud to recognise that a strong defence is essential to our country.
There is no Member in this Chamber who does not wish to rid the world of nuclear weapons or who believes that they have a superior morality to anyone else, but people disagree about how to pursue the goal that we all share of reducing the number of nuclear weapons and, if at all possible, of having a world completely free of nuclear weapons. We can make a choice to disarm unilaterally or multilaterally, but we live in a more uncertain world.
Who would have predicted a few years ago the rise of Daesh; who would have predicted what the Russians have done in eastern Ukraine or indeed in Crimea? As far as I can see, in reading back to that time, nobody foresaw those events. Given that we are trying to predict what might happen over the next 40 or 50 years, why would any Government say that they would give up the ultimate insurance policy and security for our nation in those circumstances? I do not believe that the Government should do that. I think that the Prime Minister was right to argue as she did, and I view the motion before us today as reasonable and responsible.
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the example he cites—the rise of Daesh—shows the sheer absurdity of spending money on this? In a way, we are investing in cavalry after the onset of the machine gun.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question. Having set out the reason for the uncertainty of the future we face, I want in my remaining minutes to dispel some of the myths that are mentioned when nuclear weapons are debated. Nobody here believes that nuclear weapons will in any circumstances deter the sort of attacks—the awful attacks, as we all accept—that we have seen on the London underground or in Nice, for example. Of course not. Nuclear weapons are not meant to deal with that; we have conventional weapons, counter-terrorism specialists and so forth to deal with those terrorist outrages. Nuclear weapons are there to deal with the sort of inter-state actors we might see in Russia, China, North Korea or other rogue states that we cannot predict at the present time. That is what nuclear weapons are for—not for the situation articulated by John Nicolson.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we do not have a bottomless pit or an inexhaustible supply of money, which means that choices have to be made? We are being asked to write a blank cheque for Trident this evening. At what point does Trident become too much for the hon. Gentleman?
That is a legitimate point and we have to make a legitimate choice. I support the Government’s choice because in an uncertain world as we look forward, it is a price worth paying for the defence and security of our nation. The hon. Gentleman and I know each other, so I know he is reading this stuff in a document that says that if we make an assumption that this will use about 6% of the defence budget between 2031 and 2060, Trident will cost £71.4 billion. If we make the assumptions made by Crispin Blunt, we can get to £179 billion. If we make the assumptions that the hon. Gentleman makes, we can get to another figure. The figures are all in there, and I am saying yes, this is a cost worth paying and something worth doing because it provides security for our nation.
Let me now challenge Brendan O’Hara. I have been reading the Scottish National party’s debate of a few years ago—in October 2012, I believe. Members of the Scottish Parliament resigned because of the ludicrous position into which the SNP had got itself. The Defence Secretary should make more of this point. The ludicrous situation is that the SNP is not prepared to accept British nuclear weapons, but it will accept the American nuclear umbrella in NATO. That is the sort of thing we get from SNP Members and they need to answer it. It is no wonder that some MSPs resigned when they realised that that policy was totally and utterly contradictory. Let them explain that to the Scottish people—that they will withdraw Trident, but want to remain part of NATO.
Of course I am aware of it. Is the hon. and learned Lady aware of the fact that NATO has something called the nuclear planning group, and that every single person in NATO has to be a member of that group and they have to agree to certain things, including the use of nuclear weapons in certain circumstances by the Americans? Is the hon. and learned Lady aware of that?
I cannot give way any more.
Jobs are, of course, another crucial aspect. Tens of thousands of jobs across this country are dependent on the nuclear deterrent and the continuation of this programme. Although the continuation cannot be based solely on jobs, they are an important consideration—whether the jobs be in Scotland, Plymouth or indeed elsewhere.
I very much support the motion. It is consistent with the traditions of the Labour party, which has always been proud to defend our country, proud to recognise our international obligations and proud to stand up against those who have imposed tyranny on the rest of us. We must recognise the responsibilities we have as a senior member of NATO and a senior member of the Security Council of the UN. That comes with obligations and responsibilities. This Labour party—or part of it, anyway—accepts those responsibilities and will vote for the motion.
It is an honour to follow Vernon Coaker, who has made not only a passionate speech, but an extremely well informed and able speech that puts very well the case for maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent. It is striking that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should choose this debate as the first occasion on which to appear at the Dispatch Box as Prime Minister to reinforce her personal will and determination to stand up for this country, to stand up for global peace and security and to demonstrate her personal resolve to project the values that our country represents around the world.
It is also striking that her very first act as Prime Minister was to pay respect to Scotland and the Scottish Executive by visiting the First Minister at the end of last week. If I may, I would like to address the Scottish dimension to the debate. The SNP is clearly represented in this House by many sincere unilateralists. No one need doubt their sincerity, but I very much doubt whether their views are as representative of Scottish opinion as they claim.
A recent poll showed a majority in Scotland in favour of maintaining the nuclear deterrent. [Interruption.] SNP Members shake their heads, and they are entitled to do so—I would expect them to—but I put it to them that there are many reasons why the SNP is ascendant in Scottish politics, and I do not think that their defence policy is one of them. I think they would still be doing well in Scotland if they were in favour of maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent. I do not think that the case of Trident renewal was uppermost in voters’ minds in Scotland at the time of the last general election or the Scottish election.
I appreciate that it was in their manifesto, but what of the bit of hypocrisy highlighted so ably by the hon. Member for Gedling? On the one hand, they reject the whole notion of nuclear defence, yet they want an independent Scotland to join NATO, which is a nuclear alliance, and benefit from the shelter that other countries are prepared to provide them with as part of the nuclear umbrella.
Perhaps, given his in-depth knowledge of Scottish politics, the hon. Gentleman can explain my presence in the Chamber today as the Member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute, a constituency that includes both Faslane and Coulport. Perhaps he can explain why the people of Faslane, Coulport and the rest of Argyll and Bute chose me when I stood explicitly on an anti-Trident ticket, if it is such a terrible and divisive vote-loser.
Order. I want to fit everyone in, and there are a great many SNP voices to be heard a little later. Long interventions mean that other Members do not have a chance to speak, and we do not want that to happen.
I will move on to the next point, Mr Deputy Speaker.
My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is fond of describing Trident as an insurance policy, but I counsel him to use that phrase sparingly, because the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent is so much more than just an insurance policy. It is not a premium. That description “de-emphasises” the way in which the deterrent is continuously used, shaping our global security environment, and expressing the character of our country and our national will and resolve. It does not sufficiently emphasise its deterrent quality, which is not to deter terrorism or much lower forms of combat.
The invention of nuclear weapons has undoubtedly ended large-scale state-on-state warfare, and I would even be so bold as to suggest that were we to disinvent them, we would be inviting the resumption of such warfare. I am not sure that human nature miraculously changed after 1945, but something in the global strategic environment certainly did, and we no longer see that large-scale state-on-state warfare.
Members of the Scottish National party have made much of the cost of Trident today, but let me ask them this question: how cheap would it need to be before they regarded it as good value for money? I do not think that that is an argument with which they are prepared to engage. They are against nuclear weapons whatever the cost, and they are perfectly sincere about that, so I invite them to stop bellyaching about the cost, because it is an irrelevant part of their argument.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the use of huge figures in isolation is at best unhelpful and at worst misleading? When applied across a 35-year time horizon, such massive figures would, in fact, be dwarfed by our international aid budget.
My hon. Friend is right. The cost of maintaining the nuclear deterrent on a year-on-year basis is much less than our aid budget. A year’s cost of the Trident missile submarine system is the equivalent of one week’s spending on the national health service. It is also about a quarter of our net contribution to the European Union, and I look forward to saving that cost.
At about 6% of the overall defence budget and about 2% of GDP, this weapons system represents extraordinarily good-value expenditure, given that it deters large-scale state-on-state warfare. It is a matter of great pride that our country has inherited this role, and, precisely because we do not want every NATO country or every democracy to have nuclear weapons, it is our duty as global citizens to retain the system, contributing, as we do, to the global security and safety of the world.
As was explained so ably by the hon. Member for Gedling, if a country is a member of NATO, it is a member of the NATO nuclear group. It is involved in the planning of deployment of nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they are its own weapons. Why would Scotland, under the Scottish National party, be so reluctant to play such a vital role in the global security of the country? I respect the fact that SNP members have personal scruples about nuclear weapons, and they are entitled to those scruples. I am merely arguing that were the Scottish people truly to vote on that issue and that issue alone, they might well find that their view was not representative of the aspiration of the true majority of Scots.
Some of the speeches that we have heard today have given me the feeling that the cold war is still going on, and “Come On Eileen” should be number one in the charts. At the other extreme, it has seemed that we are sitting here waiting for Mars to attack. A number of the arguments have struck me as slightly bizarre. However, this is a hugely serious issue.
We hear a great deal about the cost and the finances, but let us take a step back from that. Let us consider the worst-case scenario. Nuclear weapons have been fired in this country. There has been an attack. It has gone off. Are we really saying that our very first action would be the ultimate act of vengeance—that we would fire a nuclear weapon at those who had attacked us?
No. I think we have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman.
We need to think about how we actually present ourselves as a country. We cannot simply sit here saying, “Vengeance is the answer to all the problems that we face.” Some call it deterrence, but to me it is vengeance. We would be carrying out a revenge attack.
Earlier today, my hon. Friend George Kerevan asked the Prime Minister whether she would fire, and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Let us consider that question, because it is the question that we should be considering. That is what these weapons do.
I will not take interventions. I am keen to make my speech as quickly as possible, because a number of other Members wish to speak.
Do we genuinely want to renew this weapon of vengeance? That is what the debate boils down to. We are talking about rogue states. We are talking about situations that we cannot yet begin to comprehend. The threats that the country currently faces are not posed by states with nuclear weapons; they are posed by terrorist attacks and cyber-attacks. Nuclear weapons are not the answer to those problems.
Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Scottish CND who have come from all over the country to lobby us. They came to Parliament last week, there were events throughout the country over the weekend, and more came here today. Some Members will know that last year I presented a ten-minute rule Bill on the nuclear convoys that regularly travel through my constituency. Sadly, the Bill ran out of parliamentary time and could not be given a Second Reading, but to me the answer seems simple. If we do not have the nuclear weapons, we do not need the nuclear convoys, and we can reduce the risk to those in our communities.
Let me end with a thought for Members to ponder. At the weekend, a friend said to me that if 50 nuclear warheads were set off—which is not impossible; we certainly have that capability—the result would be worldwide famine. That is the reality of the weapons that we are dealing with. There can be no place for them in the world in which we live today. It is time for the country to take a lead, to make a stand, and to say, “We are taking the first step.” By doing that, it could genuinely make the other countries follow its lead, and we could get rid of nuclear weapons throughout the world.
We have been debating the issue of whether we should have an independent nuclear deterrent for 70 years. I suppose Ernest Bevin summed it up well. We have already heard the quotation about walking naked into the conference chamber, but Bevin said—only he could speak like this:
“We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the Union Jack on top of it.”
Like all of us, I have thought about this issue for many years, and, like most people, I have reluctantly concluded that we must have an independent nuclear deterrent. However, the debate is not just about whether or not we have an independent nuclear deterrent. I was campaigning with my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis 30 years ago in the Coalition for Peace through Security. The argument was about the existence of the independent nuclear deterrent, and we were supporting Michael Heseltine against unilateralists, particularly in the Labour party.
This is a serious debate in which we have to ask what sort of independent nuclear deterrent we want. I think it is our general conclusion that an independent nuclear deterrent based on submarines is the only viable form of a deterrent because it is the most undetectable given modern technology. I have no ideological qualms with either an independent nuclear deterrent or one based on submarines, but those who argue in favour of Trident have to keep making the case, because during the cold war the threat was clear and known, and an independent nuclear deterrent based on ballistic missiles designed to penetrate Moscow defences made a great deal of sense; we knew who would be striking us, and we knew who to strike back against, and this mutuality of awareness was what kept the cold war cold. Those who argue against a nuclear deterrent have to meet this fact of history: the existence of nuclear weapons kept the cold war cold.
To support what my hon. Friend has just said, if there had not been many conflicts going on in other parts of the world where the nuclear balance of terror did not apply during the cold war, it would be possible to argue that nuclear deterrence had played no part, but the fact is that communist regimes—proxy clients, as it were, for the superpowers—were fighting each other all over the globe. The one area where communism and capitalism did not fight each other was in Europe, because that is where the balance of power and the balance of terror was doing its work.
Of course I agree with that; I think that is a fact of history that is generally recognised. We have heard many powerful speeches—in particular those by Vernon Coaker and my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat—making the case for the independent nuclear deterrent, but I say to my colleagues who made those powerful speeches that, fair enough, we are going to have an independent nuclear deterrent, but it is not good enough to say that the cost is not an issue. I am looking at this purely as a longstanding member of the Public Accounts Committee, and I say to my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin that a total cost of £31 billion plus a contingency of £10.6 billion plus an ongoing cost of 6% of the defence budget is a lot of money, and we must constantly probe the Government, question them and ask whether we are getting good value for money. I accept the arguments and I have read the reports, and I know all the alternatives have problems, but we simply cannot give a blank cheque to the military-industrial complex; we cannot, as good parliamentarians concerned with good value for money, stop questioning British Aerospace and other providers all over the country on whether they are providing good value for money.
The cross-party Trident commission talked about three possible threats: the re-emergence of a cold war-style scenario; an emerging new nuclear power engaging in strategic competition with the UK; or a rogue state or terrorist group engaging in an asymmetric attack against the UK. The commission found that there were questions about whether this particular system—which is what I am talking about; I am not talking about arguments in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent—would be viable against these threats, so we must require the Secretary of State and the MOD to go on answering these questions.
I am probably not making myself popular with Members on either side of the House who have very strong views, but when I came to this place one of the first ways I irritated a sitting Prime Minister—Mrs Thatcher—was to team up with David Heathcoat-Amory and question whether we needed a ballistic missile system and whether Cruise missiles would not be a viable alternative. I know that those who sit on the Defence Committee, who will know much more about defence, have dismissed this, but in recent years the American Government have converted four of their ballistic missile-carrying submarines into submarines that carry Cruise missiles.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech on the cost, and he is absolutely right of course that we must keep costs under review and make sure that BAE and others deliver on time and on budget, but on the question of Cruise missiles, is there not a danger that were we to nuclear-arm Cruise missiles, any Cruise attack would have to be seen as a nuclear attack and therefore to be responded to in kind? Is there not a danger that Cruise missiles would up the ante, rather than lower it?
That is a powerful point, and I am not taking an absolutist position. I know that many Members do want to take an absolutist position on this, but I am not suggesting today that Cruise missiles are the answer, and my hon. Friend made the powerful point that the whole reason behind our independent nuclear deterrent is that it is not a system of first resort; that is what he was arguing, and he made that point again in that intervention. What I am trying to argue is that when our defence spending is so tightly constrained, whatever the arguments—and they are very powerful arguments—in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent, we have to keep questioning the Government on what was the source-argument for having a ballistic system of massive power designed to penetrate hugely powerful defences around Moscow, because that is not the threat we face today from either low-grade rogue states or terrorist movements.
I will be voting with the Government tonight, but I will not be handing them a blank cheque. I will be continuing to ask for value for money, and I believe every Member of the House should do the same.
May I say at the outset that I was a multilateralist during the cold war? I supported the balance of terror in Europe, I have never been a member of CND and, indeed, once the atom was split we could not unmake it. But the world has changed, and that is why I have changed my view.
May I also acknowledge the genuine and understandable concerns of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies that are intimately involved in the renewal of the Trident project? I would feel exactly the same way if I was representing their constituents, with 30,000 jobs at risk. I understand that, but the cost of this programme is admitted to be between £31 billion and who knows what, because the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have not answered the question put by the leader of the SNP about the final costs of the programme. I do not believe that can be justified as value for money when I think a number of the arguments are flawed.
What are those arguments? Usually three are put forward. The first is that the system is independent. It is not; the UK has four nuclear submarines, each of which can carry up to eight missiles. The UK does not own the missiles; it leases them from America.
Can the hon. Gentleman please explain to the House what precise technical expertise he has to suggest these are not genuinely independent missile systems?
The UK leases the missiles 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. That is a fact. It is of course said by those who support renewal that we have “operational independence”. Bearing in mind that we do not own the missiles but lease them from America, I just do not believe that there is any scenario in which a British Prime Minister would authorise a submarine commander to use the nuclear weapons anywhere in the world without first notifying the Americans.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he is being very reasonable in his approach. The point about the second centre of decision making, which both Republican and Democrat American Governments have supported since 1958, is about the danger that another country might think it could pick off the UK without the Americans responding on our behalf. They probably would respond but it would be too late by the time the aggressor found that out. That is why knowing that the UK can defend itself is welcomed by the Americans, so that no fatal miscalculation of that sort can be made.
I have debated these issues with the right hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions and I respect what he says, but I just do not agree with him.
The second argument put forward is that if the UK did not have nuclear weapons, it would, somehow, lose its place on the UN Security Council. That is nonsense, because when the Security Council was formed only one of the five permanent members had nuclear weapons—America. If it is now argued that to be a member of the UN Security Council, one has to have nuclear weapons, countries such as Japan, Germany and Brazil, which have legitimate claims to become part of an enlarged Security Council, would not be allowed to join, but three countries would be able to join—North Korea, Israel, and Pakistan, because they all have nuclear weapons.
The third argument is that nuclear weapons give us protection in an ever-changing world. 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. As I have said many times, 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—after the Berlin wall came down—it changed from being a mutual defence pact and became the world’s policeman, and that has caused enormous problems in its member countries. I believe that our security is best guaranteed by NATO, but I also believe that all the countries of NATO should contribute towards the cost of the nuclear umbrella; they should not get a free ride from America.
The way to deal with threats from terrorism, domestic or international, 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 for the job when they are sent into military conflicts on our behalf. The Chilcot report, which came out a week or so ago, graphically identified the deficiencies in materials and protections that our troops in Iraq faced. British soldiers should not go into any conflict on our behalf without the best equipment and protection we can give them.
Let me make this final point. We have witnessed terrible terrorist atrocities in the past year or so, and we witnessed the London bombings, but did our ownership of nuclear weapons prevent these things? We saw what happened in Paris and at the weekend in Nice, but did France’s nuclear deterrent prevent those things from happening? I am not convinced that spending a huge sum on renewing our nuclear deterrent, which I do not believe is independent, is justified; we should support NATO, back it and contribute to it, but I am not convinced that this is value for money. That is why I will vote against the motion this evening.
Margaret Thatcher and, I believe, Tony Benn used to say that there are no final victories in politics. Despite the storms of past controversies and the hard work required to win important arguments, some arguments need to be won again and again, by each generation in turn, and so we are here again today. Some politicians talk as though a world without nuclear weapons were a possibility that could be realised, or at least seriously advanced, by our giving up our own unilaterally; as if the threat from nuclear armed states is not real, growing and still unanswered; and as if Britain should, in these times of all times—these post-Brexit times when we need our friends and allies more than ever—step back from our own defence and that of our allies. In essence, whether opponents say it or not, they suggest that we should piggy-back on our already stretched friends.
The hon. Gentleman is a defender of the idea of a nuclear deterrent and the deterrent effect. Does he follow that logical train of thought and therefore stretch to agreeing with biological and chemical deterrents?
Today, we are discussing the nuclear deterrent.
We have heard some curious arguments tonight. We have heard an argument that this is all about cost, but security is not about cost; security is the foundation of everything we hold dear. Without security, there is nothing. Without security, the costs are incalculable.
Nuclear deterrence has preserved the security and stability of this country for half a century. When I was a teenager, our national response to what appeared to be the end of the Soviet menace in the 1990s was to plan for a reduction in the size of our nuclear arsenal, without abandoning our commitment to an independent deterrent capability. That was then a sensible way to hedge against unpredictable future threats to this country’s vital interests. It was the right approach then and it is the right approach again today.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will have browsed through the business pages of The Sunday Telegraph yesterday. He will have noticed that there is some concern as to whether BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce can actually deliver the Successor programme on time and on budget. Does he think it would be wise for the Secretary of State to make contingency plans for possible failure in that direction?
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point. As I understand it, the Secretary of State is committed to reporting annually on the progress of the project, and I hope that will give some comfort to the hon. Gentleman and to all of us who want to see it proceed successfully.
In the time I have available, let me summarise the arguments as I see them. First, deterrence is not simply for the cold war history books, as some have said this evening. Deterrence remains essential to prevent major wars from occurring between nation states, and to prevent our being coerced and blackmailed by threats from those who possess nuclear weapons. Deterrence also extends into war itself, ensuring—or attempting to ensure—that any war, whether large or small, is a limited war.
Secondly, we still live in a uniquely dangerous world, at risk of terrorist attack, as we heard from the Prime Minister earlier. We are also at risk and uncertain in terms of nation states and other major powers around the world, as other hon. Members have said. A couple of days ago, I saw on television the dignified face of Marina Litvinenko, as she stood on College Green, outside this building. She is a living testament to the danger and unpredictability of the regime in Russia.
We have seen further evidence of the growing long-term instability in Asia with the escalation of the South China sea dispute. That is surely one of the disputes that will mark out our generation and beyond, and which in turn will encourage the United States to pivot its attention and resources further towards the Pacific and away from Europe’s security. In late June, North Korea succeeded in launching a home-grown intermediate-range ballistic missile, which flew a distance of 250 miles to the Sea of Japan after five previous failed attempts. And let us not forget that it is little over a year since the signing of Iran’s nuclear deal, which I suspect will only delay the prospect of that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Hon. Members might not be aware that Iran celebrated the first anniversary of the signing of that deal by firing a long-range ballistic missile using North Korean technology.
Surely the poisoning of Litvinenko and the annexation of Crimea happened despite our having nuclear weapons, so what exactly have they prevented?
The point that I am making is that we cannot predict the future. We only have to look at the events of recent days and weeks to see the incredible unpredictability of this world. Most Members, myself included, could not have predicted the events of the last three weeks and we certainly cannot predict the events of the next three or four decades.
On the subject of Russia’s actions, would not the annexation of territory on our continent have been unimaginable two years ago? This just goes to show that we need to be prepared for things that are completely beyond our expectations.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The past is a poor predictor of the future. Looking back at our own history, we can say that we are not good at predicting the future.
Thirdly, as the Prime Minister has said, we cannot outsource our security—or rather, we can, but we take a grave risk if we do so. In the early post-cold war period, the willingness of the United States to stand with its allies—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in the last 10 seconds of his speech. Is he aware of the book by Peter Oborne in which the author tells of the Iranian leadership describing nuclear weapons as “haram”?
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many people still wish to speak and that there is not very much time left. I now have to reduce the time limit to four minutes.
When I sit in the House of Commons, I talk to many Members who support Trident. I can tell them that those weapons can kill 100 million people, but they know that. I can tell them that watersheds will be poisoned, crops will fail and many people will die from famine, pestilence and plague, but they know that. I can tell them that weapons of mass destruction have not stopped wars across the globe, but they know that. I can tell them that WMD are no protection from terrorism or cybercrime, but they know that. I can tell them that the £179 billion could be spent on health, education, housing, transport and social welfare, but they know that. The difference between us is that they believe that WMD are a deterrent and that their existence has kept us safe. Let us look at those claims.
In the lead-up to today’s debate, the Henry Jackson Society was kind enough to send me a copy of its report, “Foreign Nuclear Developments: A Gathering Storm”. A better title would be “Be afraid: be very afraid”. The report makes it clear that it would be foolhardy of the UK to give up its nuclear weapons because North Korea, Russia, China and Iran either have nuclear weapons or are actively pursuing them.
It is a well-rehearsed argument on deterrence that to prevent other nations from striking us, we must have the ability to strike them. It is of course a flawed theory. I will, however, give the Henry Jackson Society credit for its bravery in issuing a report outlining bold theories about the imminent nuclear threat of other nations just a week after this House was asked to consider the findings of the Chilcot report. Chilcot reminds us that we should be cautious of second-guessing the military intentions of other countries.
In voting on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, we need to ask ourselves: who are these weapons deterring? Can those in favour of Trident genuinely foresee a situation in which China or Russia would commit such an act of economic suicide as a nuclear strike against a western power? The primary factor in establishing peace in an increasingly globalised world is the linked economic interests of nations, not the imminent threat of nuclear attack. To say the world is safer because of nuclear weapons is akin to saying that there would be less gun crime in the United States if there were more firearms.
General George Lee Butler, a former Commander in Chief of the US Strategic Command who was once in charge of all US strategic nuclear weapons, has said:
“Nuclear deterrence was and remains a slippery intellectual construct that translates very poorly into the real world of spontaneous crises, inexplicable motivations, incomplete intelligence and fragile human relationships.”
Nuclear deterrence requires an assumption that the Governments of our enemies will always act rationally. What deterrence are nuclear weapons to Governments or organisations that hold extreme or fundamentalist religious views and have no fear of death? What deterrence are nuclear weapons to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse that has nothing left to lose? The reality is that we cannot guarantee that such Governments will always act rationally. Trident therefore offers us no protection. So if it is not a deterrent, is it therefore nuclear revenge?
We are locked in our cold war mentality of maintaining weapons to counter threats that do not exist, telling ourselves that an imminent threat could emerge at any time. Spending billions on Trident renewal is paying a ransom to past fears when we should be investing in a hopeful future. The generations to come shall reap what we sow. I fear that if we continue down this road we may never be able to find our way back to a safe haven.
It is always a pleasure to follow Ronnie Cowan, even though I disagree with the points that he made.
This is an interesting debate for me, because when I was growing up my father worked in the Devonport dockyard on the refits of the Vanguard-class submarines. I remember the campaign back in the early 1990s to get that refit work done in Plymouth rather than having it end up in Rosyth, and we can still see the hole that exists there.
Given that we have heard in the past that it was too dangerous to put the nukes in Devonport, as a keenster on the nukes, would the hon. Gentleman have nuclear weapons based in Devonport?
Before the proposal for independence was rejected in the referendum, there was a debate about whether we would have the nuclear weapons in the south-west, and I think most people said, “Yes, of course we will.” Other MPs representing the south-west have spoken in the debate, and we would certainly welcome the jobs and investment involved.
Let us be clear about the choice before the House today. It is whether to have a deterrent. I have listened to some of the alternatives that have been put forward today, and I think Mr Godsiff would find it useful to visit Coulport and see what is actually there. That might help his knowledge. It has been suggested that we might put something on an Astute-class submarine. I think it is safe to say that no nation, seeing a cruise missile coming towards it, is going to wait until the thing detonates to find out whether it is a conventional missile or a nuclear missile. That proposal would also involve far more risk to the submariners, because they would have to get much closer to the country that we were deterring. The operations would also have to become more sneaky. People might think that a submarine might want to act sneakily in order to remain hidden, but that is not the case. The idea behind a ballistic missile capability is that it assures people that we can provide a credible deterrent and a credible response to a nuclear attack, either on ourselves or on our allies, but also that it provides other nations with an assurance that we are not planning a sneaky first strike. If we had the kind of technology that some have suggested, it would simply undermine the situation and provoke worry and fear in others.
It is also worth looking at what we have done to reduce our own nuclear weapons. The RAF no longer has strategic bombers, and we have also removed the weapons from Royal Navy shipping. I think that we are the only one of the declared nuclear powers that has nuclear weapons on one platform only. That is the real way to reduce the nuclear threat, not through some gesture towards disarmament.
Is the nuclear deterrent still needed? To answer that question, we need to look at the alternatives. One of the alternatives put forward is to rely on article V of the north Atlantic treaty—that is what the SNP proposes. NATO is not just a conventional alliance but a nuclear one, yet the SNP would wish to join it. I find it interesting that the SNP wants a nuclear-weapons-free Scotland, yet when I enjoyed all 670 pages of “Scotland’s Future”—the White Paper for independence—I found that it contained the classic comment that the SNP would still allow NATO vessels to visit without confirming or denying whether they carried nuclear weapons. In effect, the SNP’s own version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” A big ballistic submarine could still pull up, but that would be all right, because the SNP would not have asked the question.
What the SNP wants is to be a member of NATO and for NATO to be nuclear-free. That would be the best solution. There is a choice between investing in Trident and extra investment in conventional arms, because the reality is that no conventional surface warships are based in Scotland. We heard about the Falklands earlier, but there are no warships in the Falklands. We are not taking up the responsibilities that we should be. Should we not fix that rather than waste £200 billion on weapons of mass destruction?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it gives me the opportunity to expose some of the holes in his defence knowledge. The Royal Navy regularly bases a capital ship around the Falklands when the needs demand it, and there is also an offshore patrol vessel down there.
We have heard in today’s debate that nuclear weapons do not deter Daesh, but a battle tank will not deal with a cyber threat and an infantryman will not shoot down a high-altitude jet aircraft. The reality is that we need to consider the spread of current threats and possible future threats and then look at what we put into them. Could we, as a NATO member, realistically face nuclear blackmail? Yes we could. Vladimir Putin is not revamping Russia’s nuclear capability because he wants it to appear at an air show.
I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I will press on, given the time.
Although NATO depends on mutual defence, how confident are we that future United States Governments will want to continue to accept 70% of NATO’s bill? How many people are confident that Donald Trump—once an ambassador for business in Scotland—would put the defence of Europe at the top of his list? If he did not, the deterrence against aggression from the east against our eastern allies would ultimately be determined by Britain and France possessing an effective nuclear deterrent.
There are arguments about biological and chemical weapons, but the reality is that if an attack with such weapons was launched against this country by an aggressor state, one part of our potential response would be the consideration of a nuclear response, so that argument does not defeat the need for a deterrent.
Finally, on the argument that international law could get rid of all nuclear weapons, sadly I think that some of the rogue states that are likely to be a threat would just file it along with all the other bits of international law that they are breaking. This debate is about the UK’s ultimate insurance policy and ensuring that we can meet the threats of the future, so there is only one vote that Members can sensibly make this evening, and that vote is Aye.
One of the great traditions of this House is that on matters of conscience, such as that before us today, Members draw on a wide range of different experiences and viewpoints in coming to their conclusions.
The argument has been made that not replacing our nuclear weapons would diminish our international standing and be an abdication of our role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have heard that Trident is a necessary deterrent—the ultimate insurance policy for our nation. People have written to me about the jobs that rely on Trident.
My right hon. Friend and I both believe in a tradition of beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Does he agree that programmes such as KONVER, for the peaceful transition of skilled technicians into peaceful programmes, represent a far better recipe for peace in the world than a never-ending arms race?
I commend that Swedish programme. Like my hon. Friend, I stand here first and foremost as a Christian, and I speak from that perspective. I stand here united with Pope Benedict XVI, who has said:
“In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.”
I stand here alongside all the world’s faiths. In the words of the UK multi-faith statement on nuclear weapons:
“Any use of nuclear weapons would have devastating humanitarian consequences…and violate the principle of dignity for every human being that is common to each of our faith traditions.”
The idea of loving thy neighbour and protecting our world for future generations simply cannot hold if we have stockpiles of weapons that can destroy our neighbours and our world. Not only do nuclear weapons contradict religious principles, but any form of international relations based on the threat of mutual destruction is totally contradictory to the preamble and article 1 of the United Nations charter, which talks of a system of peaceful resolution of disputes.
It is against that backdrop that I recall that I joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement before I became a member of the Labour party. I remember growing up in the 1980s hugely disturbed by the idea of nuclear annihilation, which was played out all the time in films such as “Threads”. The cold war has of course dissipated somewhat, but each of the 40 warheads carried by a Trident submarine is exponentially more powerful than the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of people and casting a long and dark shadow over our history.
It is right to remind the House of the huge cost of the Trident programme, and to mention my constituents. My constituency has seen two riots in a generation; residential care homes, drop-in centres and youth centres have closed; unemployment is double the national average; and life expectancy is five years below the national average. Haringey is home to 12 of the most deprived wards in the country, and 47% of children in a ward on the doorstep of Spurs live in poverty. Against that backdrop, I cannot with good conscience vote for what is effectively a blank cheque for nuclear weapons.
I am not in the same place that I was as an 18, 19, or 20-year-old. It is possible to come to a multilateralist view and still have concerns about scale and cost. We should ask some pretty hard questions about why we do not share a nuclear capacity with our neighbours in NATO and why we need to have an independent programme at such a huge cost. Given our commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, why do we hear so little about it? Thatcher and Reagan used to talk about it regularly in the 1980s, but why do we vote against non-proliferation at the UN?
People such as Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach have said:
“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of the violence we currently face, or are likely to face—particularly international terrorism.”
Those men are no pacifists or unilateralists, they are simply responding to a changing international context. It is with that in mind that I will vote against the Government tonight.
I have ended up following Mr Lammy on several occasions, but I will not break the mould by agreeing with him tonight and will be voting with the Government after listening to some of the most powerful speeches that I have heard in this place for a long time. The hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) made passionate cases and, as someone who listens to debates, I can say that their cases have been heard clearly tonight.
Today’s vote is one of the biggest tests for Britain and her place in the world. Given the events of the last few weeks, if we get this wrong, Britain’s place at the heart of an internationalist world could be put at risk. No one can predict the future of our international relations over the coming decades, and the challenges that we face as a nation are tremendous. We face exciting but uncertain times ahead as we carve out Britain’s new position in the world. For me, in the interests of national security, to maintain Britain’s seat at the top table and for the defence of the United Kingdom, it is crucial that strong armed forces are accompanied by a strong nuclear deterrent. I therefore wholeheartedly back the renewal of Trident.
I want to take a moment to thank all our servicemen and women who devote their lives to the security of our nation. We need to do all that we can to ensure that their lives are not put in danger. A strong nuclear deterrent works as a means of promoting peace, co-operation and discourse in a very uncertain world.
I want to look back to the cold war and the effect the presence of nuclear deterrents had on its progress. During the period, there were very many small deadly conflicts where there were no nuclear weapons present, yet the big superpowers were encouraged to avoid hot war at all costs for fear of those deadly weapons being activated. I am not saying that the presence of nuclear weapons will ensure our safety on their own, but if they can have even a small deterrent effect on saving the lives of troops and protecting the United Kingdom, they are a sensible thing to have.
It is important in debates such as this that we remain realistic about future developments on the international stage. If we look at some of the world’s key aggressors such as North Korea, we will see that they are advancing towards the creation of a nuclear warhead. If we were to have no nuclear arsenal or one that was not world leading, we may not face a problem in the here and now, but a few decades on, we may come to a situation in which states may be more inclined to attack the UK, knowing that we cannot answer in the same way.
Does the hon. Gentleman have any concern for Scotland and does he know how many nuclear warheads may be pointed at Scotland by the very fact that we have the deterrent based on our soil?
I am concerned about not just Scotland, but the rest of the world. Britain’s position in campaigning across the world for a reduction in the number of nuclear weapons should not distract us from what we are debating here today. Given the uncertainties in the world, I believe that we must be pursuing an international approach and an international deterrent via NATO.
I understand that there are Members in this House as well as people across the country who advocate a very different position and are calling for the removal of Trident. However, BAE Systems, Babcock International and Rolls-Royce, all specialists in this area, have made it very clear that the renewal of Trident does not mean that we are moving away from the long-term goal of nuclear non-proliferation, but are instead enhancing it and, at the same time, improving the chances of peace around the whole world.
Sorry, I have little time left.
Our approach to nuclear weapons has been measured and proportionate so far, and I welcome that approach and want to see it continue. The UK has set an example of how to implement a minimum strategic deterrent by reducing our warhead total from 200 to 160 in recent years. We should not deviate from that approach as Britain looks to reassert its soft power internationally.
Although the strongest arguments for the renewal of Trident have to be the defence of our nation and our people, there are other arguments that also strengthen that case, and I wish to finish my remarks by touching on the economic arguments. At a micro level, Trident renewal will have a positive impact on the British economy. Maintaining and sustaining this defence capability supports more than 30,000 jobs and around 2,200 people are already working on the Successor programme. Not only will the renewal of Trident create many more specialist and non-specialist jobs, it is estimated that more than 800 British companies will contribute to the programme and therefore feel the positive effect through jobs and growth. Given the current economic climate, we must focus our attention on that economic argument.
Let us be clear, if we fail to renew Trident, we will be doing more harm than good. If we leave the door open for nuclear blackmail, it would increase the possibility of unnecessary conventional warfare, and decrease our standing in the world. I therefore urge the House, for the benefits of national security, long term peace, and for confidence in the British economy, to support the renewal of Trident.
It is a sad irony that a week after the long-awaited Chilcot report highlighted the worrying extent of group-think in Whitehall and Westminster, a large number of MPs will be traipsing through the Lobby in support of the principle of renewing a deterrent that represents a 20th century solution to the 21st century defence and security problems that we all experience today. Those MPs could include those who believed the UK Government’s claptrap on Iraq. Perhaps nothing has been learned from Chilcot, and those MPs will be doing exactly the same on Trident.
The Defence Committee has recently completed an inquiry into the implications of an increased Russian assertiveness for UK security. In evidence session after evidence session, I struggled to find any real evidence of why I should support the renewal of Trident at a cost of up to £205 billion. In fact, as witness after witness listed the very real 21st century threats faced by the UK and our NATO and EU allies, most, if not all, could be filed under the heading of hybrid warfare, or terrorism.
Closer to home, we see an increase in Russian naval and air activities in our own territory, and the pattern is very similar to that experienced in Ukraine. There is no outright aggression, but a determination to poke, prod, check and test reaction times, which, from the UK perspective, have often been laughably slow. For example, the last time the Russian carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, took shelter in Scottish waters, it took 24 hours for a frigate to arrive from Portsmouth to escort it from the Moray Firth.
One must realise that, as an independent nation, we could provide the same support to NATO as every other single small European country, such as Denmark, Sweden and so on. It is a shameful neglect of security around Scotland that we have not one single surface vessel to protect our shoreline, and it simply points out that the age of deterrence can be viewed in so many different ways.
That could certainly be the case. I am sure that my hon. Friend is better informed on that point than some members of the Ministry of Defence.
Recently, the Committee visited NATO and discussed the needs of Scotland and the UK. What we heard a lot about from NATO was how we improve and increase our conventional forces, particularly those who could respond to hybrid threats. Indeed, the most prominent commitment that emerged from the Warsaw summit just last week was for a multinational brigade to be placed in the Baltic States and in Poland, which we wholeheartedly supported. What also emerged was this principle of a modern deterrence, which Trident resolutely is not.
The UK focus should be on what we can deliver for our NATO allies, instead of desperately clutching to this vestige of a long-gone superpower status—please, wake up and smell the polonium. We need to do that very quickly. Our NATO allies would rather be focused on the most basic of tasks, protecting our UK territory and that of our neighbourhood. When that Russian carrier was carrying out its activities in the Moray Firth, there were no major surface ships based in Scotland—indeed there was none north of the channel. Trident endangered us by fooling us into thinking that nuclear deterrence is the only sort of deterrence that we need.
The Royal Navy is now reduced to only 17 usable frigates and destroyers. To put that into context, the force that retook the Falklands in 1982 had more than 40 ships. The Falklands is currently without major warship protection for the first time since that conflict and UK anti-piracy and people smuggling operations in the Mediterranean and Caribbean are frequently undertaken by vessels that are simply not fit for task. To put it simply, Trident is eating into our conventional budget, which leads me to the very nub of the argument—every penny spent on Trident means a penny less spent on conventional defence. It is hardly any surprise that Admiral Lord West recently told the Defence Committee that the Navy had effectively run out of money in support of the new Type 26 programme. Therefore, while the entire Successor programme has funds ring-fenced with added generous contingencies, projects such as the Type 26s, due to be built on the Clyde, face delay after delay with a knock-on effect on construction, affecting jobs, skills and the workforce and our capability to defend ourselves.
Finally, this vote tonight puts hundreds of years of shipbuilding on the Clyde at risk because the MOD has skewed every military budget it has to spend, and it is spending that on Trident. More morally repugnant weapons of mass destruction can no longer be tolerated—indeed we must look at using other methods of modern deterrence—and to quote the Prime Minister, they are a “reckless” gamble that the country can ill afford.
It is an honour to be called in a debate of such national importance. For me, there is one compelling image that encapsulates why I will be voting with the Government, and I am sure many other Members have witnessed it. It is those unforgettable, harrowing glass cabinets on display in the Auschwitz museum—the piles of human hair, the mountains of shoes from the victims of the Nazis, which are a permanent, timeless reminder to all of us what happens when peoples and nations are tyrannised and brutalised in existential war.
For me, regardless of all the other arguments, that is overwhelmingly and singularly the key argument. I never, ever want to see my country again in the position that it was in in the 1940s, when we were faced with an existential threat. We were on the verge of being invaded and if that had been successful, we too would have had concentration camps in this country, and all the brutality that would have followed from that.
There may be those who say that such a war is incredibly unlikely. I say to them that there is only one guarantee against it, and that is the nuclear deterrent, however unpalatable that may be. In 1918, people would not have believed that there would be another world war, and surely not another world war even more brutal than the one that they had just experienced, but none of us can predict the future.
If we had the ability. The nuclear weapon is there for one thing only: to defend this country in the case of existential invasion. It is nothing to do with the terrorist threat or wars such as we had in Iraq. It is that one overriding thing. It is a guarantee of our absolute freedom and existence.
People talk about cost. We cannot have limitless cost. We must have discipline. There can be no blank cheque, but let us talk about some figures that we know definitively. In the first world war 10 million lives were lost. In the second world war 73 million lives were lost, mainly civilians. How many since then? Not a single one in a world war. That has not been a coincidence. Nuclear weapons are horrific, but they have kept the peace.
To take my hon. Friend back to the earlier intervention, it is a fact that both Germany and the allies were racing to invent the atomic bomb. There is no doubt that if the Germans had got the atomic bomb first, they would have used it against us, and if we had got the atomic bomb, we would have used it against them, just as the allies did against Japan to bring the war to an end.
My right hon. Friend is right. I do not want to go back over the historic debate but there are those who argue that if the Americans had not used those atomic bombs, the death count of US troops having to invade the Japanese mainland would have been astronomical. No one wants ever to have to use that weapon. It is an horrific thing.
I conclude with what, to me, is the fundamental point. Nuclear weapons are the single most horrible thing ever invented by man, but they have given us the most beautiful thing and we should never take it for granted. They have given peace in our time to every generation represented in this House, and we should not take that for granted. Instead of voting for complacency and relying on others to defend us, we must vote to stand firm and to deliver and guarantee that peace for many more generations to come.
My hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) referred to their mothers, who were at Greenham common. So was I. I did not meet their mothers, or at least not as far as I am aware, but there were tens of thousands of us who protested against nuclear weapons and the decision on the Cruise missiles, the Pershings and the SS20s. CND had hundreds of thousands on demonstrations. At that time many people believed that we faced the possible advent of a nuclear war. There was real fear in society.
The leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, has been compared in some debates with our current leader. I worked for and with Michael Foot. He was a great patriotic anti-Fascist. He stood up to the generals—the junta that took over the Falkland Islands—and he spoke in this House on a Saturday morning and made the case for why we had to liberate the Falklands from Fascism. I believe that Michael Foot tried his very best to unite the Labour party, even though he had divisions in his shadow Cabinet. He would not have taken the position that is being taken today by Jeremy Corbyn.
Michael Foot strove for international agreement and he worked for disarmament, but I and many others who were parliamentary candidates in 1983 know that we went into that election with what became known as “the longest suicide note in history”. In Ilford North where I was the candidate, the Labour vote almost halved and I only just kept second place from going to the new Social Democratic party. The Conservatives were rampant.
Afterwards, I was working in the party’s headquarters on the defence policy. We tried to square the circle by producing a policy document called “Defence and Security for Britain”. It had a Union Jack on the cover. We emphasised strong conventional defence. We called for a defence diversification agency, and we thought that that would be sufficient under Neil Kinnock, our leader, to do much better in 1987. We did do better, but defence policy was still a factor in our losing in 1987. So we had a policy review, which included visiting Moscow, which we did in 1989. Gorbachev was talking about a nuclear-free world by 2000. In that context the Labour party shifted its policy towards one of independent steps, but within a global multilateral framework.
That policy was denounced by the historian E. P. Thompson. I do not have time today to elaborate on this, but I will write about it. In 1989 he denounced the Labour party for going back on its unilateralist position. I wrote in the CND magazine, “What is this unilateralism? Is it a tactic to get something better or is it a quasi-religious totem for left-wing atheists?” I stand by that description of some of the views that we hear today. It has become a quasi-religious totem, rather than a practical means to take measures that bring about real and profound international change. That is why I will be voting for the Government’s motion this evening.
I am a proud member of both the GMB and Unite trade unions and I stand here today to make the case for our national security, both in terms of the role of the deterrent in an increasingly turbulent world, and for our domestic defence manufacturing capability.
Our country is at a crossroads. Just weeks ago we voted to leave the European Union and to forge our own destiny, but we must do this as part of the family of nations and the global community, embracing our responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a founder member of the NATO alliance, not running away from them. To be clear, I view the renewal of our continuous at-sea deterrent as a necessary evil. I, like all of us in the Chamber, would like to see a nuclear-free world, but this can be achieved only by international co-operation and be negotiated only from a position of strength.
To disarm ourselves unilaterally would not just be to abandon our responsibilities to our international allies, but would leave us at the mercy of other nuclear powers and would send us, in the words of Nye Bevan, so ably quoted by my hon. Friend Mrs Moon,
“naked into the conference-chamber”.
At a time of unprecedented global turmoil, it would be utter recklessness to abandon a fundamental element of our national security in the name of some abstract ideological objection, however well meaning.
Should we not get this into some sort of perspective? By 2020 the UK’s stockpile of nuclear weapons will be no more than 180, with only 120 operationally available, whereas Russia, China and North Korea have between 6,500 and 8,500 between them.
My hon. Friend ably outlines the threat we really face.
The horrific attacks in Nice last week were just the latest reminder of the risks we face. We are living through a period of extraordinary global turmoil, with threats coming from not just international terrorist networks but a resurgence in tensions between state actors—not least Russia, as the Defence Committee outlined only this month. Not only should Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine and the Arctic give us pause for thought, but the Russian nuclear doctrine has also changed radically, and for the worse, since the end of the cold war. Not since the fall of the Berlin wall has our deterrent been so critical to our national security. Russia, with its use of increasingly hostile rhetoric, is lowering its nuclear threshold. This is, therefore, no time for Britain to abandon our nuclear capabilities or our commitments to our friends and allies.
Our military is rightly widely admired as the best in the world, and we in this place owe it to the members of our military to ensure that they are provided with the resources and support they need to ensure that our country is prepared for any scenario. However, we must also look closer to home—to the security of our communities and our economy. On that basis, the argument for our deterrent is unquestionable. Tens of thousands of jobs depend on our commitment to the Successor programme.
I am not giving way.
Whole communities live their lives in the shadow of the shipyards and the darker shadow that falls alongside them—the uncertainty over their future and their livelihoods. These are skilled men and women, working good jobs to support their families, including in my city of Stoke-on-Trent, where one local company in Burslem contributes to the supply chain of the Successor programme. These communities need our support and our commitment to their industry, and today we have the opportunity to offer them the reassurance they need.
As a country, we need to protect our manufacturing capability and to ensure long-term investment in our national industry. As has been repeatedly stated in the debate—most powerfully by my hon. Friend John Woodcock—the renewal of our deterrent is my party’s policy and my union’s. For those who understand the proud history of our movement, that should come as no surprise. From Major Attlee’s support for Churchill in our country’s darkest hour to the founding of NATO under Ernest Bevin, our party has always stood up first and foremost for the security of our nation—we do now, and we always will.
As Tim Roache, the general secretary of my union, the GMB, has said:
“We’ve had enough of politicians on all sides playing politics with tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs and the communities they support.”
For the sake of those communities, for the sake of our economy and for the long-term security of our country, I will be voting in favour of replacing the current Vanguard submarines with the new Successor class, and I urge others to do the same.
Today’s vote and our decision about Trident are at the heart of what kind of future we want for ourselves and our children. However, it is also about the hard evidence and what we mean by safety in an uncertain and changing world.
The theory that having nuclear weapons makes us safer is entirely unproven, and nor can it be proven. As David Krieger from Waging Peace writes:
“In logic, one cannot prove a negative, that is, that doing something causes something else not to happen. That a nuclear attack has not happened may be a result of any number of other factors, or simply of exceptional good fortune.”
Indeed, many military experts argue that, in fact, nuclear weapons make us less safe, primarily because their very existence increases the likelihood that they will be used and contributes to the amount of nuclear material circulating around the world.
Back in 2014, senior military, political and diplomatic figures, including former Conservative Foreign Secretary 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.”
“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.”
The Government’s main argument for replacing Trident appears to be that it is the ultimate insurance in an uncertain world, but what they fail to acknowledge is that our possession of nuclear weapons in contravention of the non-proliferation treaty is exacerbating that uncertainty—it is leading to the very scenario that it is designed to avoid.
Nor have the advocates of nuclear weapons ever explained why, if Trident is so vital to protecting us, that is not also the case for every other country in the world. How can we possibly try to deny other countries the right to acquire nuclear weapons if we are upgrading our own nuclear weapons? Do proponents of Trident renewal genuinely believe that a world where all countries have nuclear weapons would be safer than the one we live in today?
Such immunity to reason means that there is a blinkered approach to the heightened risk of accidents or threats to UK nuclear weapons, whether that is in Scotland, at the Faslane and Coulport bases, or in England, at AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield, or whether it is in relation to the nuclear warhead convoys taken out on our public roads, such as the M4 and the M25—indeed, some were seen on the M74 just a few weeks ago—and which go through small villages, sometimes up to a dozen times a year.
There is also little recognition of the fact that nuclear weapons systems are themselves fallible. According to a quite shocking report by Chatham House, there have been 13 incidents since 1962 in which nuclear weapons have nearly been launched. One of the most dramatic, in 1983, was when Stanislav Petrov—the duty officer in a Soviet nuclear war early-warning centre—found his system warning of the launch of five US missiles. After a few moments of agonising, he judged it—correctly—to be a false alarm. However, if he had reached a different conclusion and passed the information up the control chain, it could have triggered the firing of nuclear missiles by Russia.
People say that we cannot uninvent things that have been invented, but biological weapons were banned in 1972, chemical weapons in 1993, landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008. If the political will is there, it can be done.
Right now, around 130 countries have endorsed a UN motion calling for a global ban treaty on nuclear weapons. Negotiations for that global ban treaty may begin next year, but this Government are holding out and refusing to engage with multilateral UN processes to secure a nuclear-free world. The Government therefore have no credibility when they say they are seriously working for a nuclear-free world. In an increasingly interconnected world, where our security is deeply linked to the security of those around us, and where we need to be gradually doing the slow and hard work of disarming, the Government’s response is the wrong one, and it takes us backwards. By voting to renew Trident, we are sending a signal that power by any means is necessary—
Last year, the Government produced their strategic defence and security review and the accompanying national security strategy, identifying the threats to the security of the United Kingdom and weighing them according to the perceived likelihood and level of threat. The documents also attempted to offer a response to those perceived threats in terms of the shape and strength of our armed forces in future years. However, the Government are disregarding the findings of their own SDSR in terms of the threats posed, by positing the UK’s entire defensive structure on the retention of the continuous at-sea nuclear weapons deterrent.
The affordability of the programme is a major issue because the costs of the entire Trident programme must be met from a finite military budget and at the expense of conventional forces and resources to combat new threats, such as cyber.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, ultimately, the Government should prioritise their spending on intelligence and national security to combat terrorism and cyber-security issues, rather than on nuclear weapons that can never be used?
I do accept that, but it is fair to say that, in the SDSR, the Government did make significant moves forward and invested correctly in intelligence and cyber. However, it is also true that we face a choice between investing in nuclear weapons and in conventional weapons and all those other responses: we cannot spend the money twice.
The Government have identified that £31 billion is necessary for the construction of the four replacement submarines, with a £10 billion contingency fund for unanticipated costs. However, the true costs of this programme in its entirety, including maintenance, the missiles and the nuclear warheads, will undoubtedly be far higher. As we heard earlier from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it could be £179 billion over the lifetime of the programme. We have form here. In the 2010 SDSR, the cost of replacing the submarines came in at £20 billion, but it is now £31 billion, with a £10 billion contingency for when it overruns, which is likely, given what happened with the Astute submarines—they overran.
I remind those saying we can have a nuclear deterrent and a capable military force that the 2010 SDSR is responsible for the Royal Navy going from 23 surface vessels to 19, with 40,000 personnel lost from the UK regular forces. Only last week, the House debated some of the appalling failures in appropriately arming and equipping our armed forces for deployment in Iraq, with Chilcot identifying a refusal to allocate a sufficient budget as a direct and damning failure. I ask colleagues to consider that before voting tonight, because this will be a vast and recurring spend over a number of decades. The Defence Secretary has said that his estimate of the cost of operating the continuous at-sea deterrent is about 6% of the defence budget, or about £2 billion to £2.3 billion per year. However, the fall in the value of sterling since Brexit could have a severe impact. One would imagine that the costs could go up, and our experience so far with other programmes is that that is what happens.
I turn to one of the central assumptions in the argument of those who support the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system for a period stretching to the 2060s—the assumed inability of an enemy to detect the single nuclear weapon-armed submarine on patrol at any given time. It is over 40 years until the 2060s—the projected end of the Successor submarines’ operational lives. Given the technological advances of the past 40 years—the internet, mobile phones, and satellite technology—are we seriously saying that we can predict accurately where technology will have taken us 40 years hence? This is a decision to commit a gigantic sum of money, over subsequent decades, to the continuation of the Trident programme, yet we must assume that there will be no technological advance that will allow for the detection of these vessels beneath the ocean surface. That is not tenable. Were such a technological advance to occur, even the most ardent advocate of the continuous at-sea deterrent would have to concede that it would mean the loss of the system’s most important advantage. In such a circumstance, the continuous at-sea deterrent would be rendered vulnerable, if not altogether obsolete. Sea drones are one such technology currently being considered that may have the potential to be propagated in coming decades. The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee suggested that that might happen. Such a development would, at least, require considerable investment in counter-measures, putting more pressure on future defence budgets.
Finally, I want to mention the elephant in the room—possible Scottish independence. I have no intention of getting into why this would be a very good idea for Scotland, although it would, but it has a direct and profound bearing on our debate, and it has not come up much tonight. Whether or not hon. Members agree that Scottish independence is preferable, it is at least a possibility. I am not sure that many right hon. and hon. Members would be prepared to bet on that eventuality not occurring over the next 40 years. Make no mistake—those weapons of mass destruction will not be tolerated in an independent Scotland. The refusal to take that into account when allocating £179 billion beggars belief.
So it is that I, as a democratic socialist, support every word of the motion before us in the name of the Prime Minister, because the truth is that the preservation of our national security does not wear the colours of any political party.
I begin by reaching out to all those in our country who do not support the retention and renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. This is a frequently polarised debate, but I want to say to those who oppose renewal that I understand how and why they feel the way that they do. I understand how and why their opposition to nuclear weapons motivates them to vote and act in certain ways, and I understand their fears. Like those people, like every defence worker and trade union representative of defence workers, and like the people who live in the communities where those jobs are so valued, I hope for a world free of nuclear weapons. I wish that we could uninvent those weapons of mass destruction, but we cannot, and will never be able to do so.
The world is an increasingly difficult and challenging place. The complexities we face in international affairs, foreign relations and diplomatic matters are increasing, not receding, and even if a mood swept our country that saw unilateral nuclear disarmament as desirable, I would argue against such a move. Multilateralism is the only way forward for our country. We can and should only divest ourselves of our nuclear weapons when those who seek to do us harm divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals too. The arguments for a multilateral approach to the UK’s nuclear deterrent, our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, our responsibilities towards our allies, global security, and more, are compelling.
An American diplomat told me recently about an emerging view on the left and right of American politics that the United States is tired of both fighting and paying for Europe’s safety. American politicians, in Congress and elsewhere, increasingly think that their European partners are not pulling their weight. There is already a long-term diplomatic pivot taking place in US foreign policy. Other alliances outside of Europe are being sought and established. That is the right of the US, but we risk the strategic relationship that we have enjoyed with it if we conspicuously fail to take the necessary steps to maintain our own nuclear deterrent.
Alongside this, we have a belligerent Russia on the borders of the European Union—a Russia that is now not only replacing its nuclear fleet but renewing it with a new programme of research, development and manufacture for a new generation of nuclear missiles. More concerning is the fact the Russian military has changed its nuclear engagement protocols. The new protocols permit the use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict in order to achieve “de-escalation”—an incredible proposition, but true none the less. Is this the time, with a weaker EU, an exasperated United States, and a sabre-rattling Russia, for the United Kingdom to abandon its nuclear deterrent? No, it is not.
That is a matter for my friends in the Scottish Parliament.
It is the policy of the Labour party to retain and renew our nuclear deterrent. As a Labour Member of Parliament, steeped in my party’s traditions, proud of its achievements, and excited by its possibilities, I will support my party’s policy tonight. But for the first time ever, we have witnessed the leader of the Labour party stand at the Dispatch Box and argue against the policy of the party that he leads. That is unprecedented. Moreover, this reckless, juvenile, narcissistic irresponsibility makes me fearful for the future of the party that I love. The sheer stupidity of this approach should be dragged out into the light and seen for what it is, because renewal is not only Labour party policy but the settled will of the country, and every parliamentary decision relating to it will have been taken by 2020.
Further to that, Lord Kinnock has repeatedly warned—and it looks as though he will have to say this to the Labour party for the second time in my lifetime—that
“the British people will not vote for unilateral disarmament. And that reality has to be dealt with.”
A policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament is a bar to being elected. A democratic socialist party with this policy can campaign to rid this country of poverty, to restore the national health service, to rebuild our economy, and to make sure that every man, woman and child in every community in our country enjoys equality of opportunity—but campaigning is all that it will ever do, because a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament will ensure that we will never govern. This logic is inescapable, and the leader of the Labour party knows it.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for that audacious and fundamentally incorrect intervention. I really do applaud his audacity.
The logic is inescapable, and the leader of the Labour party knows it. So we are forced to accept that the refusal to support the established policy of the Labour party and to acknowledge the achievements of the greatest Labour Government is not just a knowing embrace of electoral defeat but a real, studied and determined desire to split the Labour party. The manifesto I stood on at the last election pledged to renew our nuclear deterrent. The manifesto that I will stand on at the next election will pledge to renew our nuclear deterrent, whether the leader of the Labour party likes it or not. That will be true for hundreds of colleagues on the Labour Benches.
I urge all colleagues on the Labour Front Bench to respect the democratic processes of the Labour party, to respect the conference decision of the Labour party, and to vote with the established policy of the Labour party, and if they cannot do that, to return to the Back Benches.
I am against the renewal of Trident for all the reasons that have been so ably laid out by my hon. Friends here today. I am mainly against it because, morally, it is a corrupt concept. It is a weapon that is designed to kill people indiscriminately. The Prime Minister said earlier that she was willing to take the decision to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, but she should perhaps take some advice from the International Court of Justice, which says:
“States must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets.”
In my time as an MP, I have held many surgeries around my constituency. People come to me with their problems and I try to help them as best I can. Sometimes people come to my surgeries in tears because their disability benefits have been cut because the UK Government do not have the money to give them a decent life. People come to me saying that they have been unfairly sanctioned because the welfare budget has to be trimmed because there is no money. Women who were born in the 1950s come to my surgeries to tell me that they have to miss out on their pensions because there is no money. When Conservative and Labour Members tell us that it does not matter how much the Trident replacement costs, I tell them to come to my surgery, look those people in the face and tell them that.
If Conservative and Labour Members want to spend up to £205 billion on replacing Trident, they should think about the consequences for people. Incidentally, those consequences stretch right into my constituency, to the Army base that has been there for 250 years. Fort George is on a Ministry of Defence list of sites considered for closure because there is no money. That is the benefit of MOD spend, but it will be taken away from conventional, hard-working and valuable service personnel to pay for useless weapons of mass destruction.
No, I am going to carry on.
As my hon. Friend Steven Paterson has said, our future threats include cyber-attacks. There has been hardly any talk of the future investment needed to make sure that we make vulnerable systems invulnerable. I want to quote—[Interruption.] I know that Alberto Costa likes to intervene, but he rarely says anything of value. The Defense Science Board final report, “Resilient, Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat”—
Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the spiralling cost, which is even more difficult to calculate because of the massive fluctuations in the currency market as a result of the Brexit vote?
I can only agree with my colleague. I was about to make a point about the vulnerability of the military systems. The Defense Science Board report states:
“The United States cannot be confident that our critical Information Technology (IT) systems will work under attack from a sophisticated and well-resourced opponent utilizing cyber capabilities in combination with all of their military and intelligence capabilities.”
We face the prospect of investing in a military dodo, but the situation is even worse because it can be hacked and used against us, and the Government plan to spend up to £205 billion on it.
I will not vote for Trident renewal tonight, for all of the good reasons that have been laid out, one after another, by my colleagues, but the main reason is that it is an obscenity.
This debate is welcome, but I think that many Members will realise that it is not entirely necessary. The Government have initiated a debate the main purpose of which is to create, or highlight, discord in the Labour party. Frankly, however, the Labour party does not need any encouragement from the Government—it is doing a very good job of that itself.
More seriously, the four main threats to the UK identified in the strategic defence and security review were terrorism, the resurgence of state-based threats, the impact of technology and the erosion of the rules-based international order. Trident replacement, which will use 6% of our defence budget, will partially address one of those threats, namely the state-based threat from Russia.
As we have heard this evening, if we go ahead and build four submarines, they will cost us more than £31 billion. Five years ago, the figure was £21 billion. Given that the Scottish National party does not want the system, the cost is irrelevant to its Members, but those of us who want some sort of system, including the Liberal Democrats, are entitled to hear from the Government what the actual cost will be. We have heard figures that range from £179 billion to £200 billion-plus. We are also entitled to some clarity on whether the Government have finally tied down the uncertain issue of who will actually manage the system.
Our position is that we believe that we should retain a nuclear capability. We believe that the threats are such that the United Kingdom needs to have a nuclear deterrent, but we do not believe in a like-for-like replacement, which is why we will vote against the Government today. The party’s position has been debated at great length over the years. It was agreed in 2013, but it is still being debated, including at this very moment.
We seek to take a step down the nuclear ladder, but believe that giving up nuclear weapons in a unilateralist way—simply saying, “We no longer wish to retain nuclear weapons”—would not give us any leverage in non-proliferation discussions. Keeping a seat at the negotiating table is important, and having a smaller nuclear capability would ensure that we build submarines and retain the skills that, as we have heard, are so important for the country’s nuclear capability.
While a move away from continuous at-sea deterrence would strike some as leaving us more vulnerable, it would still mean that we had a nuclear capability and would keep many options open in a way that unilateralism would not. Indeed, it would make a contribution to our non-proliferation commitments. I asked the Prime Minister to explain how like-for-like replacement would comply with article VI, but I am afraid that I received no answer.
It is not 1980. Although we face threats, we do not face the existential threats that we faced then. It is a different world, and there is a way that we can begin to climb down another rung of the nuclear ladder and provide others with an incentive to do so as well. We have the opportunity to do that, and I hope that we will take it now.
Government Members seem to have the idea that we in the Scottish National party are against nuclear weapons for some kind of romanticised reason, but the reality is that we are against nuclear weapons and renewing Trident for logical reasons.
First, we have to remember the fact that, fundamentally, Trident is a weapon. We have already established that we would not fire first, so the only time that we would ever use this weapon would be if somebody launched a nuclear strike against us. To be frank, that would mean that we were all dead anyway. If I am dying, I do not care if we send a weapon back; I am more worried about the one that is coming towards me.
We keep hearing the phrase, “We can’t predict the future”, but if we are going to make defence policy, surely we have to think wisely about what we are deterring. What are the threats that we face? The 2015 national security strategy set out the tier 1 threats faced by the UK: international terrorism, climate change and cybercrime. How many terrorist attacks have nuclear weapons protected us or France from? The answer is zero. They have got hee-haw to do with climate change or cybercrime, so that brings us back to the argument that they are a deterrent, but only nine countries in the world have nuclear weapons. How come the other 180-plus countries do not feel the need to have this deterrent?
What other arguments are there for keeping Trident? We keep hearing that we need to keep it for the sake of jobs. Yes, it involves skilled engineers, scientists and workers who work very hard and are very talented, but why do we not invest the billions of pounds that we are proposing to spend on it in our energy and engineering sectors? Why do we not use that money in our renewable energy sectors? Climate change is a tier 1 threat to us, so why do we not spend that money on trying to tackle it?
If these weapons are not a security necessity and they are not necessary to save jobs, that prompts the question: what are they for? The fact of the matter is that this is all really about the UK maintaining a permanent place on the UN Security Council. As Tom Tugendhat, who is unfortunately not in his seat, made clear, these weapons serve no purpose other than satisfying the ego of the British establishment. This is about us putting our stamp on a world from which we are isolating ourselves more and more.
Too many times, I have sat in this Chamber and heard, as my hon. Friend Drew Hendry eloquently said, that we cannot afford to look after the disabled, we cannot afford to look after our unemployed and we cannot afford to pay pensions on time. We have heard Conservative Members say that they are the Government making the difficult choices, but the very same people who made the argument for austerity are now telling us that we can afford to write a blank cheque for these useless weapons. And for what? To preserve Westminster’s self-indulgent image of importance. This is all part of the Government’s long-term economic sham.
I want to provide some context about the reality of what this means. Paisley Gilmour Street, in my constituency, is the busiest railway station in Scotland outside Glasgow and Edinburgh, and it is one of the main routes on which nuclear waste is transported. Used nuclear rods come through my constituency, not in the dead of night but during the day when people are standing on the platform waiting to go to work in Greenock, or wherever else. If a mistake was made and an accident happened, it would be the equivalent of a dirty bomb. I put it to the Government that they, and their obsession with nuclear weapons, are one of the greatest threats facing my constituents.
I rise to support the motion. The Prime Minister said earlier that the first duty of a Government is to protect their citizens. I would add that the first duty of an Opposition, if they hope to become a Government, is to convince the electorate and the public at large that they will, and above all that they can, do the same. The Opposition cannot be ambiguous on that commitment. I fully understand those in our party who feel that their ethical values and the values of the Labour party are incompatible with that stance, but the public—the electorate—do not feel that our values and ethics are an adequate defence in the face of military aggression from countries that might threaten us.
I am old enough to remember campaigning in the days when Labour’s policy was unilateralism. I remember the cruel caricature of Labour’s defence policy, which was somebody standing with their hands up, labelled “Labour’s defence policy.” Regrettably, it resonated with many of Labour’s traditional voters. The feeling that, above all, people are entitled to security transcends voting behaviour, social class and income. It goes right across the piece, and Labour paid a very high price for failing to recognise that in the 1980s.
My hon. Friend Mike Gapes talked about how we succeeded in changing Labour’s former policy. Change it we did, and since then, whatever disagreements the electorate have had with Labour, they have not been about defence. We have won three general elections with a multilateral defence policy. In fact, multilateral defence and an independent nuclear deterrent have been our policy for the last six general elections and were a manifesto commitment in the last general election. That is backed by trade unions, which recognise that any removal of Trident would have a huge impact on levels of employment and skills, which are absolutely essential to people’s welfare.
I am sorry, I will not give way, because too many others want to speak.
Above all, the policy is backed by the public. For that policy to be overturned, four thresholds have to be met. The first is that there must be a huge improvement in international relations. That has quite clearly not happened—things have deteriorated. Russia’s lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, its activities in Ukraine, the situation in North Korea and the ability of terrorists to take over a country and possibly acquire nuclear technology mean that the world is much more dangerous.
The second threshold is that there must a compelling change of technology that would render nuclear submarines irrelevant. That has not happened. The third is a financial capacity that renders us unable to build them. That has not happened. The last is overwhelming evidence of public support shifting against the deterrent. That clearly has not happened.
As we know, it was the famous post-war Labour Government who first acquired Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Clement Attlee had just been elected Prime Minister when America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. He realised in an instant that the air raid wardens and fire engines that had fought to limit the damage done by Hitler’s bombs were now useless in the face of the awesome destructive power of this new weapon. He reasoned that the only way to protect the population was to have the ability to fight back, and therefore to deter the initial threat.
Since then, Labour has for the most part adopted a multilateralist stance on disarmament, believing that while other countries possess nuclear weapons, Britain should not disarm unilaterally. Our 2015 manifesto maintained our commitment to a minimum credible independent nuclear capability, and to looking at further reductions in global stockpiles. By 2025, the UK will have achieved a 65% reduction in the size of its nuclear stockpile.
This Parliament has always taken our disarmament goals seriously, but the world is too unstable and unpredictable right now to contemplate getting rid of our main defence strategies. Part of the abolitionist argument generally relies on the belief that nuclear weapons would not work against the current threats to the modern world from terrorist organisations such as Daesh and Boko Haram. However, just because they would not be used to combat such threats, that does not negate their use as a deterrent against other or future unknown threats. Those with whom we do not always agree—Russia, Iran, China and North Korea, for example —understand the relevance of nuclear weapons and have sought to increase their own capabilities.
I am proud of the superb engineering skills that are nurtured in this highly skilled industry. The MOD has stated that
“maintaining and sustaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent supports over 30,000 UK jobs and makes a significant contribution to the UK economy”.
No, I will not give way.
That is why both Unite and the GMB support the renewal of our submarines. Scrapping Trident would place skilled manufacturing jobs in my region in jeopardy. There are 20 businesses across the north-east involved in the supply chain for Britain’s Navy defence submarines. Our region is at risk of losing millions of pounds of funding after Brexit. I know from personal bitter experience of the demise of coal and shipbuilding that job losses on such a scale will lead to communities being wiped out. The fact is that if a decision is taken not to replace Trident, jobs will disappear and we will never see them again.
I acknowledge there remains an absence of a truly definitive cost for renewal, but one thing we can all agree on is that it will be incredibly expensive, and that needs to be monitored. The reality is that either we have Trident or we do not, and if we have it, we have to pay for it. If nuclear missiles were cheap or easy to come by, the world would be in serious trouble. The deterrent represents the ultimate security guarantee for the UK, and I believe that, right now, the potential costs of retaining it are worth more than the risks of disarmament.
I believe we should oppose the maintenance of the continuous at-sea deterrent. For me, the arguments are both moral and practical. I will take the moral argument first. I believe it is important that we all give full consideration to the scale of destruction that modern nuclear weapons can deliver. I want to read out a message from the mayor of Hiroshima in a recent statement:
“On August 6, 1945, a single atomic bomb rendered Hiroshima a scorched plain and tens of thousands were burned in flames. By year’s end, 140,000…lives had been taken. Those who managed to survive, their lives grotesquely distorted, were left to suffer serious physical and emotional after effects compounded by discrimination and prejudice. Nuclear weapons are an absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity.”
In the same statement, the mayor of Hiroshima called on us all to share the sincere message of their hibakusha:
“No one else should ever suffer as we have”.
Does my hon. Friend not share my concern that this latest round of renewal makes it difficult to ignore the fact that we are moving against our international duty into an era of permanent armament?
My hon. Friend makes a good case, and I agree with her.
Contemporary nuclear weapons are capable of delivering much greater levels of devastation, and they are eight to 10 pounds heavier than those that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One modern missile with 12 warheads could wipe out a city of 10 million people and leave it uninhabitable. As the International Court of Justice put it back in 1996:
“The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet.”
That is chilling, and it is important to keep hold of that vision of horror when considering Trident renewal.
I recently visited Woodchurch high school in my constituency, where I met the school council, which comprises pupils from each of the different year groups aged between 11 and 16. I asked them who felt that we should renew Trident. There was a slight sense of agitation in the room, and I wondered whether they were just a little shy on the topic. I then asked if anyone was definitely opposed to the renewal, and every hand shot up in the air without hesitation. The decisions that we make about nuclear deterrence today will have an impact on our children for decades, and it is important to remember that we are making a decision for the next generation.
The defence challenges that we now face are different from those in the post-1945 era when the world seemed divided into ideological blocs and the threat came primarily from other states, principally the Soviet Union. An attack was thought of in terms of a conventional military attack or a nuclear strike. Yes, there are concerns over the intentions of President Putin’s Russia. The annexation of Crimea and Russian involvement in the civil war in Ukraine has had a destabilising effect on security in central and eastern Europe, but we must also counter the threat from non-state actors such as terrorist groups. Nuclear weapons will not enable us to meet that threat, and money allocated to Trident could mean that the defence budget is not focused on the most serious challenges that we face. Trident’s replacement is projected to be operational for 30 years from the early 2030s. Is it possible to be sure that it will be an effective deterrent in 2060? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it will not.
I recently attended a meeting addressed by Lord Browne, the Labour Defence Secretary in 2006-07. He made a compelling argument against the renewal of Trident, focusing particularly on two practical issues: cyber-security and the detection of submarines by enemy forces. He warned that NATO countries cannot be confident that their nuclear defence systems would be able to survive an attack from a sophisticated and well-resourced opponent that was utilising cyber-capabilities in combination with its military and intelligence capabilities.
The Prime Minister spoke about the value of nuclear submarines patrolling our seas unseen and undetected. That may well be the case today, but it is not a given for the future. There is a real threat that with the increase in under-sea detection technology, the location of submarines is more likely to be compromised, thus undermining the fundamental rationale of continuous at-sea deterrence, which relies on submarines remaining undetected. There is also a real risk that advancement in detection technology will outpace any advancement in counter-measures.
It is important to take into account all the jobs that are reliant on Trident, and that a credible industrial strategy is created and a cogent plan signed off before any action is taken to not renew it. Jobs, skills, and incomes should be protected. I believe, however, that there is a real risk that these expensive weapons may become obsolete over the period of their lives, and we would be better off investing in a defence strategy that addresses the real dangers that we face from current strategic threats.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. This issue has been framed as contentious, controversial and sensitive, and it has been given unneeded attention from various sections of our media and political activists within and without this House. Most unfortunate of all is the fact that too many concerns have been proven to be political dogma, masked all too often by false and misguided idealism. Some in this House ignore the reality, but we must debate that reality and present it to the House. I fully support Trident renewal, and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, aerospace, defence, security and space have been identified as priorities in the programme for government. Therefore, if jobs are coming off the back of Trident, we in Northern Ireland will take them—if they are available, send them our way.
As everyone knows, our national security is no game, and Members will be hard-pushed to find someone who disagrees with the fact that the world is over-armed and that we need to move away from war, violence and weapons with nuclear capabilities. However, we have not yet realised that ideal world, and to ignore that would be to put our country and its people in danger. Our country would be less protected than it was yesterday, and we would be more threatened by enemies who would immediately be less deterred from attacking our country. We need to be prepared for the real world we live in, with all its inherent dangers. I continue to implore those opposed to a deterrent to consider that when we take all things into consideration and are rational about the issue, the arguments consistently and overwhelmingly stack up on the renewal side of the argument. Our deterrent is a deterrent, not an aggressor or a destroyer. It is fit for purpose and will be used only for its purpose.
Not only does Trident act as a deterrent and have the potential to be extremely effective, the efficacy of the system is testimony to the continued strength of British defence. Trident forms an integral part of our strong and ready defence of a strong and proud country. Over 30 countries have weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear or biological. The list contains our closest allies in NATO, but not all of those countries are in NATO. Were we to remove our deterrent, we would be stepping off the world stage and making our country a less significant player around the globe, and a less significant partner. We need the United Kingdom to remain strong. We need the United Kingdom now more than ever at the top table when it comes to global security. Scaling back our capabilities at a time when the world is more armed than ever, and is an incredibly volatile place, is not the way the go. The aims of disarmament need to press ahead. It is an aim that I am sure we all hope will come to fruition one day, but the ideal world does not yet exist and the context is not yet set for today to be that day for the United Kingdom.
Trident ensures, ultimately, that the United Kingdom would be able to stand up for itself even in the worst scenario imaginable. It sends out a strong message that no matter how many people talk down our standing as a nation, we remain one of the most staunchly defended nations on this earth, ready for whatever our enemies might throw at us. What is contentious about defending our country? What is controversial about preparing our country for the worst? What is sensitive about ensuring our country can react appropriately to the unthinkable? When cool heads come together and rational minds meet, the correct decision on this issue should court no controversy at all. Renewing our nuclear deterrent is the right thing to do; indeed, it is the only thing we can do. We in the Democratic Unionist party will support the Government tonight and join them in the Lobby to retain Trident and have Trident renewal.
I was elected by 15,000 voters with a 7,000 majority on a Labour manifesto in favour of Trident and multilateral disarmament. I am aware, however, of people in my constituency and in the Labour party who are against Trident. Indeed, I was a member of CND and am related to Henry Richard, the apostle of peace from Tregaron.
I need to go through the arguments that have been deployed against Trident. The first is that nuclear arms are awful and appalling weapons. Well, we know that and that is why they are such an awful deterrent. They are a deterrent because they are terrible weapons. The second is that these arms are obsolete and redundant because of various technological advances. If that is the case, why are Russia, China, France and the US investing in them? The technologists say they are not redundant. It is said that they cannot combat cybercrime or terrorism, but they are not designed to do so. Thirdly, it is said that they cost a lot of money. Well, £30 billion, plus £10 billion contingency, is a lot of money. It is something like £1.2 billion a year just for the capital costs, which is approximately 6% of defence procurement spending. That is a lot of money, but it would not transform the NHS or our conventional armaments, and it supports something like 32,000 jobs.
The key issue is this: do these weapons deter? As a member of the Council of Europe, when I talk to Ukrainian MPs they say, “If we had maintained a nuclear deterrent, the Russians wouldn’t have invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine.” When I speak to MPs from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, they say to me, “We’ve got Russian minorities, just like Ukraine. Russia will invade us. If the UK doesn’t have a nuclear deterrent, what are you going to do—come up with your conventional arms?” Our enemies will say that they will use tactical nuclear weapons and blow up Coventry. What are we going to do? Let them blow it up so that they can rewrite history and say, “It’s like Hiroshima, we saved lives”?
It is not difficult to think of scenarios where nuclear blackmail is effective, whether involving Russia or North Korea. That is sufficient reason to support a minimum nuclear deterrent. We could withdraw and say that we will be part of a nuclear alliance, letting France and America protect us. But what if France unilaterally disarms? What if Donald Trump comes along? Is he going to support us? I think not.
My position is the same as Aneurin Bevan’s. He died the year I was born—it was not my fault, by the way. He was, basically, a multilateralist like me. He understood that the purpose of these awful weapons was to sustain peace and prevent war. The purpose of the deterrence is to save lives, not to take them, and to deter aggression, not to attack. We all wish that these weapons did not exist, but the question is—and I respect the fact that it is a difficult question: do we want to take responsibility for the deaths of people if we do not have the deterrent and that provokes aggression?
Our nuclear capability has halved since the cold war. We have only 1% of the current nuclear stockpile of 17,000 nuclear weapons and our plan is to reduce their number further. In my view, we need—this is the lesser of two evils—a minimum capability. I wish we did not, but we do. The acid test is this: with nuclear weapons, will more or fewer people die? In my judgment, fewer people will die, and therefore we need to support the motion.
I rise to speak in favour of the motion, for the following reasons. First, it is the policy on which I was elected. My Labour colleagues and I were elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment to support the retention of an independent nuclear deterrent, and that is what we must do tonight. As a committed democrat, I intend to fulfil the mandate given to me by the 15,000 people in Aberavon who elected me, and my colleagues should do the same and fulfil the mandate they have from the 9.3 million people who voted Labour last May.
The second reason is jobs. As a Member of Parliament proud to represent the steelmaking heartland of Britain and Wales, I am acutely aware of the industrial implications that a vote against the motion would have. Across its lifetime, Trident will support almost 26,000 jobs, including 13,000 in advanced manufacturing. It will affect more than 1,000 businesses in almost 450 towns and cities across Britain. Scrapping Trident would further skew the economy, defence being one of the few sectors reliably and consistently creating sustainable, highly skilled and well-paid jobs outside London. As Unite the union stated just a few days ago, there can be no
“moral case for a trade union accepting the obliteration of thousands of its members’
jobs and the communities in which they live being turned into ghost towns.”
Thirdly, some years before entering this place, I worked for the British Council as director of its St Petersburg office. I have seen at first hand the nature of the Putin regime. I was withdrawn from Russia owing to concerns about my personal security, after the Kremlin’s campaign of intimidation in the wake of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. Just remember that. This is a regime that responds to having been caught red handed murdering a British citizen on British soil using nuclear material with denial, aggression and intimidation. My experiences in Russia convinced me of the need to retain our nuclear deterrent. We must be able to stand up to bullies.
We live in an unstable and unpredictable world. We know that expansionist, belligerent regimes such as the one currently governing Russia thrive in such conditions. The Russian Government have pressed forward with the development of the Dolgorukiy ballistic missile submarine and the next generation of cruise missiles. This is not the type of missile that we can hope James Bond will sneak in and disarm. The threat represented by this type of weapon can be prevented only through deterrence. Nuclear weapons exist precisely so that we will never have to use them.
I would dearly like to live in a world without nuclear weapons, but we must engage with the world as it is, not how we would like it to be. We must be realists, not fantasists. Deterrence has kept the peace for over 70 years. To give up the capacity for independent action would not only expose us to nuclear blackmail but severely weaken our standing in the world. So I ask all hon. Members to stand up for Britain when they enter the Division Lobby this evening and to join me in supporting the motion.
In November, the UK Government published the latest strategic defence and security review. At that time, scant assessment was made of the defence and security implications of Brexit. This can now only be interpreted as both naive and irresponsible. Eight months later and Parliament is being asked to forge ahead with defence spending policies based on the assumption that nothing has changed. But everything has changed: our relationship with Europe; the UK’s role in the world; even the Prime Minister and much of the Cabinet. Surely now, with such a fundamental shift in national strategy and circumstances, the time has come to revisit at least the principles of the defence spending review.
This commitment—I use last November’s costings—would tie up at least one third of the defence procurement budget, year on year, for the next 20 years. Questioning the wisdom of squandering huge sums on four Successor submarines is not a matter of being soft on defence; it is a matter of acknowledging the hard reality of a post- Brexit economy, of security threats utterly unlike those of the cold war, of technological advances and of the need to reassess the United Kingdom’s place in the world.
Surely now is the time for investment in defending against those threats that will be with us for decades to come, and surely there must be a priority for defence cyber-security. November’s spending review championed the national cyber-security plan, which has been allocated £1.9 billion for the next four years, yet the greatest part of this plan is to address civilian cybercrime, and only £90 million is specifically allocated to defence cyber.
We know that our conventional armed forces are under strength and ill equipped, and as Chilcot noted, such deficiencies put our soldiers in danger when deployed in danger zones. A national newspaper reported yesterday that the Army is placing under-trained recruits in front-line roles. Conventional forces, working in tandem with international law, can deliver peace and stability through peacekeeping. Trident can never do that.
I understand that the Prime Minister visited Wales today and had meetings with the Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones. I understand that my nation’s role in Brexit negotiations was discussed, and I understand that they discussed the future of the Union. The future of Scotland’s presence in the Union is now very much in question. Only a couple of years ago, Labour’s First Minister offered a warm welcome to Trident in Pembrokeshire at the prospect of just such an eventuality. Under pressure from his own Assembly Members, he backed off, but he will be encouraged by Labour Back Benchers today. My country has suffered the legacy of industrial decay and suffered at the hands of the poverty of Welsh Labour’s economic ambition and the poverty of its vision for Wales. But we will not accept the mantra of “jobs at any cost.”
If Trident leaves Faslane, the Westminster Government will need to find a base in England, because we are not so poor in spirit as to accept the toxic status symbol of Britain’s imagined standing on the world stage. The security of Wales is dependent on the security of the global community, not on antiquated technology. My Plaid Cymru colleagues and I will vote against this motion.
Too often today we have heard that Trident is classed as the ultimate deterrent. Yet the great warmonger, Tony Blair, is already on record as saying that it is a status symbol that “serves no military purpose”. What it means is that some others aspire to have that status symbol. We do not argue that we need to stockpile chemical and biological weapons to deter rogue states, so why do we argue that we need nuclear weapons? If we encourage a reckless gambler to play poker, he will not be afraid to go “all in” with his chips, so why do we argue that we should risk nuclear Armageddon as a possible deterrent? That is not the way to go. The only country ever to have suffered a nuclear attack is Japan, and it has never felt the need to get a nuclear weapon as a deterrent against a future attack. Instead, Japan makes the clear and logical argument that we need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The new Successor submarines, we have heard, will cost approximately £200 billion, yet they will not even protect us from the tier 1 threats identified in the 2015 SDSR. For me, it is incomprehensible to have a review that leads to 35% of the defence capital allocation going to a tier 2 threat when at least six higher-ranked risks were identified in the SDSR. Of these tier 1 threats, it is clear that Trident does not protect us from terrorism or from cyber-attacks for which the nuclear systems will be a top target. Some of the arguments we have heard today, such as that nuclear weapons guarantee us peace, are pieces of nonsense.
The argument for job creation, at a cost of £200 billion, is also nonsensical. If we are to believe the figure from the Ministry of Defence, 31,000 jobs will be created over the lifetime of Trident. At £6.5 million per job, that is the most expensive job creation scheme in history. It is actually a job creation scheme in reverse, given that it is risking jobs in the Clyde shipyards, and other men in the conventional forces—in the Army and the Navy—are being paid off to subsidise Trident.
What could we do with that money? We could spend more on renewables fabrication. We could engage in oil exploration off the west coast of Scotland, which nuclear subs have prevented. There would be alternative shipbuilding possibilities. We could invest in carbon capture and storage, and stimulate coal mining again. There could be infrastructure upgrades, and specific regeneration funding for the communities in which losses might be felt most.
Labour Members keep saying that they are worried about losing their heartlands. One of the appealing aspects of the leave vote was the fact that extra money could be spent on the national health service. Labour Members could now go to those heartlands and argue that the £2.4 billion annual cost of Trident—that is £50 million a week—could be spent on the NHS. Labour Members have also said that the argument against Trident was lost in the 1980s, but the SNP have won elections in 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016 on an anti-Trident platform. Given the Labour party’s internal nuclear warfare, we will go on winning in Scotland: that is a fact.
Part of the thrust of today’s debate has been worry about rogue states. I must say, and I want to put this on the record, that I also worry about the possibility of a Donald Trump, or one of the wannabe Prime Ministers in the Conservative party—Boris Johnson, or Dr Fox—getting his hands on the red button. As Billy Connolly said, you wouldn’t trust them with a TV remote control, let alone that red button.
Let me end by quoting some lines from a song that I listened to last night:
“Cos when the madman flips the switch
The nuclear will go for me.”
Those lines come from “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum”. Nothing has changed since 1981, when it was written, and we certainly should not be signing a blank cheque for Trident.
Over our recent history, Parliament has held many debates about the decision to send our armed forces into combat on our behalf. Throughout those important discussions, a single principle has united all Members of Parliament: the requirement to protect human life, and specifically to act at all times to minimise the impact of violent conflict on civilians. In modern times, that principle has been accepted by all parties and each individual Government in every theatre of combat.
“We regard any loss of life as deeply regrettable and we take our obligations to avoid or minimise casualties extremely seriously. Steps to avoid such casualties are integrated into every aspect of military operations.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 416, c. 141WH.]
“The prevention of civilian casualties was of paramount concern to force commanders operating in Iraq and the risk of this occurring was minimised at all times by the tactics and training of our forces.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 517, c. 847W.]
The same approach has been underlined by the current Government. In October 2014, the present Secretary of State for Defence, who is in the Chamber, explained how the strategy underlined our current combat operations, saying that
“the United Kingdom seeks to avoid civilian casualties.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 586, c. 668.]
Let us be clear. It is a long-standing doctrine that we should seek to take all possible precautions to minimise the killing of civilians in conflict. That moral objective has formed an integral part of our military planning, and our armed forces are specifically trained in tactics that reinforce the commitment. It is that moral standpoint that has led the United Kingdom to join other countries in banning items such as chemical and biological weapons and cluster bombs. I agree with the approach, but just how does it square with Trident? I do not accept that this debate should take place in an ethical vacuum. Indiscriminate death on an unimaginable scale is the cold reality of nuclear war. It is literally unthinkable. The use of nuclear weapons would be a disaster for our planet and for our civilisation.
No, I will not.
The use of nuclear weapons would not only make us the exception to the rule in the international community, but run counter to every single pronouncement that has ever been made by every post-war Government about the UK military’s terms of engagement. We have heard today that this Government and those on the Opposition Benches are prepared to support the renewal of Trident whatever the cost. That word “whatever” has borne very heavily upon this Chamber, not least in the context of the last week. It is not about “whatever.” Whatever the consequences? Whatever the cost? No, it cannot be about that; it is immoral, it is defunct, we should not be supporting it, and I will support my colleagues on the SNP Benches as we vote against the renewal of Trident this evening.
I come to this debate this evening along with my two colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party as pacifists—as people who strongly believe in nuclear disarmament and firmly believe that Trident and weapons of mass destruction are used to kill people in a very indiscriminate manner. For that reason, we will be going into the No Lobby tonight.
What we are debating today is the UK’s own role as a nuclear power. In the last six years—the time I have spent in this House—I cannot recall having heard any Minister convincingly explain why the UK’s nuclear arsenal provides any deterrent not already provided by the much larger arsenals of the allies. I have yet to hear any reason why nuclear weapons make Britain safer than non-armed states like Germany, Canada and Japan. There is no genuine security argument for the UK to spend these vast sums of money on weapons that can never be used, because the elephant in the room today is that this is about status, not safety. The reason the Government want to renew these weapons is not because they make us safer; it is because Ministers are afraid that without them the UK will further cease to be a world power.
Like my hon. Friend, I detect that this is about status. This is a vanity project, and the most thoughtful argument we have heard for the investment in Trident is actually that its use would be unthinkable.
I thank my hon. Friend for his very helpful intervention. In that respect, I remember going to a talk in this House some months ago given by the former Secretary of State for Defence Lord Browne, now in the other place, who said Trident was no longer applicable because of issues to do with cyber-security and detection.
I have even heard it suggested that renewing Trident is necessary to protect the UK’s place on the UN Security Council, but for a modern democracy weapons of mass destruction are no way to hold on to our place in the world. In truth, the calls to hold on to these weapons betray an insecurity that actually weakens the UK’s standing in the world. How can the UK call on other countries to commit to non-proliferation when it tries to hold on to influence through status-symbol nuclear weapons? This is not a harmless indulgence: renewing Trident only adds to the tension between powers at a time when we should be trying to de-escalate conflict and bring understanding across the world.
That is to say nothing of the danger Trident has brought to the North channel and the Irish sea, particularly to the fishermen in my constituency who trawl in those waters. As the representative of a constituency that will face huge uncertainty as a result of the political decision that is likely to be taken here tonight, I understand the position of hon. Members whose constituencies rely on the construction of these submarines for jobs and livelihood, but there are better ways of investing in growth for their communities which do not involve nuclear weapons.
Common sense dictates that the UK will have to decommission one day; that may be this year or it may be in 30 years from now, but the economic transition away from these submarines is inevitable—it is as inevitable as the decommissioning of the nuclear plants that has already taken place, but it is likely to take longer than projected. That is why we must take the £179 billion that Trident is set to cost over the next number of years and invest it in renewing peaceful, sustainable industry in the shipbuilding and port heartlands of our islands. That is how small nations make themselves indispensable on the world stage; it is not by threats or through weapons, but through long-sighted inward investment in skills and industry, through soft power and through commitment to peace and diplomacy. That should be the objective of this Government, because that is the objective of us on these Benches. We want to see peace and harmony, and we want to see growth and development. For those reasons, I, like my two colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell), will be in the No Lobby tonight.
I have listened for the last few hours to the various arguments on Trident, but I have not yet heard a single new and compelling case for its replacement. I have heard that it will have a blank cheque and I have heard that there are a lot of unknown unknowns about the future, but we still have not been given a single reason for replacement.
One thing is certain: no one in this House truly knows what it is like to experience the horror, shock, pain and loss, and the complete devastation, of a nuclear strike. I am therefore going to turn to the words of a survivor of a nuclear holocaust who came here a few months ago, Setsuko Thurlow, who is 84 years old. She could be our mother, our grandmother, our aunt or our sister. She told us that in the final year of war in Japan, when she was 13 years old, the first thing she remembers of the bomb hitting was a blue-white light and her body being thrown up into the air. She was in a classroom of 14-year-olds, every one of whom died; she was the only survivor. As the dust settled and she crawled out of that building, she made out some figures walking towards her. She described them as walking ghosts, and when some of them fell to the ground, their stomachs, which were already expanded and full, fell out. Others had skin falling off them, and others still were carrying limbs. One was carrying their eyeballs in their hands. So when I hear the Prime Minister today say that she would be satisfied to press the button on hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, I ask her to go and see Setsuko Thurlow—I am sure she would be delighted to have a discussion about what it is really like to experience a nuclear bomb. That in itself should be the complete reason why we do not replace Trident.
My second story takes me back a couple of years, when I was campaigning for Scottish independence, as were all my colleagues. During the campaign, I used a 1950s green goddess fire engine called the “Spirit of Independence”. Hon. Members may not know that the green goddesses were built as vehicles to protect people in the event of a nuclear strike, but were discontinued in 2003 because they had not been used and would have been utterly useless—they were never replaced. They had a top speed of 45 mph, so if a nuclear strike happened nearby— for example, 30 miles from Glasgow—they would have been completely useless.
I am outlining two short and simple reasons why we need to consider the end of this programme. Houses need building, and there are many jobs in defence diversification, renewable energies and many other industries for the highly skilled people working on Trident. A million people go to food banks every year. We should hang our heads in shame at even the possible thought of sacrificing all—
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he needs to listen to the facts. People are going hungry in this country, and people are going without jobs and are suffering. He may think that this status symbol is the most important thing, but I will not support it tonight and of course neither will my colleagues.
To start with, it is a disgrace, and it is contemptuous of this Parliament, that we are being asked to take not just the biggest spending decision of this Parliament, but the biggest strategic defence decision probably of our lifetime on the basis of 14 lines of text; there is no plan, no budget and no security assessment, beyond a glib assertion that the world is going to be a very dangerous place in 30 years’ time and we have to do something. I really do not think that is good enough. Yet again and as with many other things, this is presented here today, at this time and in this way, not for the benefit of the country, but for the benefit of the Conservative party, and that is disgraceful.
There has been much talk about deterrence, but—despite our questioning—no one has been able to tell us who or what has been deterred by our nuclear capability over the past 50 years. It certainly did not deter North Korea from getting nuclear weapons and it certainly has not deterred the misery and despotism in the middle east. In fact, it has been suggested that the only thing our possession of nuclear weapons will do is deter others from using theirs in a conflict because of the consequences.
That brings us to the morality of the entire question. Like my hon. Friend Chris Law, I was dismayed by the Prime Minister’s glib answer when he quizzed her on whether she would press the nuclear button. I say to the Prime Minister and to all those who support her motion tonight that they need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. They need to search their hearts and their consciences. They need to explain what kind of morality can justify the mass execution of non-combatants.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. He is making the moral argument against nuclear weapons, which I respect even though I disagree with it. Can he tell me why his party is prepared to join the nuclear alliance in NATO, sign up to the nuclear doctrine and accept a place under the nuclear umbrella when it is not prepared for this country to make a contribution?
As I was saying, we have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to see the mass execution of non-combatants. Is it right to have the genocide of innocents? Unless the hon. Gentleman and the other people who support this motion can answer those questions in the affirmative, there is no deterrent at all and it should not exist.
He has already intervened.
I want to say to colleagues on the Labour Benches who have spoken in favour of the Conservative Government’s position that I very much regret that they seem to be hiding behind the defence trade unions in justifying how they will vote tonight. Surely they do not have to be very smart to understand that if we do not start this rearmament and do not commit this £200 billion, we will have enough money to give a financial guarantee to every worker in that industry and to redeploy their ingenuity, skills and experience into construction and engineering projects that would be for the benefit of humankind rather than for its destruction. I would have thought that the Labour party argued for that, but it has lost its moral compass on this and many other issues, which is why it is in its present situation.
I was elected to this Chamber on a manifesto, but this issue was not buried somewhere on page 13. Every leaflet that I put out during that campaign had the words “No Trident” in 24-point type. In every election address that I made, I told the electors that I would vote against this proposed rearmament at every opportunity. I was elected with 49.2% of the vote.
Does my hon. Friend share my utter dismay at the fact that the House is considering Trident renewal when civic Scotland, the Churches, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and MPs here and in the Scottish Parliament are all so firmly against having Trident on our soil?
I do indeed.
I was about to say that the people who came second and third in my seat at the election also agreed with the position that I take here today. In fact, more than 80% of the Scottish population voted in that election for political parties that oppose the proposition before us. That should be a problem for the Government. How can it be, when one nation in this United Kingdom is so absolutely against the proposition, that that nation and no one else gets vested with the delivery of the system and all the security consequences that come with it? If the Defence Secretary is so keen on this project, he might want to consider the construction of a naval base somewhere on the coast of Kent. He would then be able to have all the nuclear submarines he wanted without our condemnation.
Finally—I say this in response to Mr Jones—in such stand-offs, somebody somewhere has to put the gun down first. The alternative to rearmament and the creation of a more dangerous world is a process of disarmament to provide an example and the building of international alliances that will make our world safer. After all, that is our exact strategy on chemical or biological warfare so why not with nuclear weapons, too? The SNP will vote against this proposition tonight, and I hope that colleagues on the Labour Benches will search their hearts and come with us into the Lobby.
Tonight I will vote against the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system and will join my SNP colleagues—the vast majority of Scottish MPs—in doing so. My opposition is based on three clear principles: the ridiculously high cost, its outdated ineffectiveness, and the morality of renewing a nuclear weapons system that we want to see the back of.
The new Trident system will cost in the region of £200 billion over the project’s lifetime. At a time when we are telling disabled people that we cannot afford to continue paying their £30 a week employment support payments, when we are telling the WASPI women that we cannot afford proper transitional payments on their pensions and when this Government accept that food banks, on which 1.1 million people rely, are just part of the social security system, we have to question extraordinarily large items of spending, so we must certainly question the affordability of Trident. In the wake of the damning Chilcot report into the Iraq war, in which we read about how ill equipped our soldiers were for that theatre, perhaps some of the £205 billion would be better spent on our under-equipped but actually used conventional forces, on restoring recently cut areas of defence or even perhaps on some jets to go on the aircraft carrier that we just built without having any planes to use on it.
We have to consider the effectiveness and practicality of the system. Even the new Chancellor, Mr Hammond, recently said that holding nuclear weapons makes a state a target. Nuclear weapons are ineffective and useless as a deterrent against the modern threats we face. We cannot threaten cyber-criminals or the terror groups that we fight with a nuclear bomb. Climate change is not tempered by nuclear weapons. None of those era-defining threats to our way of life and to our safety and security are protected by the mutual assured destruction of nuclear weapons. Some of the support for Trident reminds me of the arms race that led to the first world war. Each power was trying to outgun the others in order to avoid war when all they were really doing was making war inevitable. It is claimed that Trident is the ultimate deterrent, but if it is a deterrent at all, it is a deterrent against the wars and threats of the past.
Finally, on morality, each of the nuclear missiles carried by the submarines has about eight times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which caused absolute destruction. Imagine the destruction caused by just one of those warheads and then remember that each submarine carries forty. We must remember that nuclear weapons cannot be targeted; they are all about complete obliteration. They obliterate innocent men, women and children, which should be abhorred. While such weapons remain in our possession, there is a risk of them being used, which we cannot comprehend or countenance.
Trident is a cold war weapons system. It is outdated, immoral and extortionately expensive. Taking humanity, defence and our economy into account, we simply cannot afford to renew Trident tonight.
Our new Prime Minister’s main priority has been laid bare less than a week after she took office. It is not to address the shambolic management of the NHS, the shameful proliferation of food banks across the UK, or an economy and currency on the edge of a dangerous precipice; her main priority is to spend billions on a new generation of weapons of mass destruction with the decision hurriedly forced through this place. We do not even know the full cost of renewal. Without knowing something as basic as how much it will cost, how is there any chance of proper scrutiny?
The new Prime Minister made much of her visit to Scotland last week. She was there to push her case for our so-called special Union. What is really special about this Union is the absolute lack of parity of esteem. Tonight 58 of Scotland’s 59 democratically elected Members of Parliament will vote down this renewal. Thanks to our special Union, in which our larger neighbour dictates all terms of the relationship, the vote looks set to pass. This Government, with no mandate in Scotland, will force Scotland to be unwilling accomplices in their nuclear obsession. When we voice our disapproval, we are told to shut up and be thankful for the jobs. How many redundancies have taken place across the public sector in the past few years because, according to our former Chancellor, we need
“to live within our means.”? —[Official Report,
Vol. 1357, c. 602.]
Just how many more jobs could be created if we did not prioritise nuclear weapons over schools, hospitals, infrastructure and our conventional defence forces? While a bottomless pit of cash appears to be available for nukes, it is a source of great shame for all of us that we cannot afford to ensure that our military personnel are properly treated. One in 10 rough sleepers is a former service member. Sent off to fight wars in foreign countries, these ex-service personnel are denied the support that they deserve on their return from conflict. Although I commend the work of charitable organisations such as Soldiers Off The Street and Help for Heroes, it is nothing short of a national disgrace that they need to exist in the first place. These troops are prepared to put their lives on the line for our safety and we are not prepared to resource them, to look after them in service or to look after them on their return.
It is immoral to allow our soldiers to sleep rough on the streets; immoral to impose brutal welfare reform on the most vulnerable in society; immoral to watch the health service suffer from the ideology of a Government hell-bent on reform; and immoral to watch as food banks multiply exponentially. It is utterly immoral to spend billions on weapons that we will never, ever use and to place such a galling financial priority on them. The Prime Minister has made her priorities clear. Whether or not all my constituents agree with me on the issue of Trident, I am prioritising every one of them by voting against this new generation of weapons of mass destruction this evening.
Order. There are quite a lot of noisy private conversations taking place, including by hon. Members who have already addressed the House, and it is frankly rather discourteous to those who are waiting to do so.
The case against renewing Trident is quite simple and plain to us on the SNP Benches and to the vast majority of the people of Scotland, the Scottish Parliament, Scotland’s MPs and MSPs, and Scotland’s churches and civic society. Despite that, the Government and most of those in the Labour party, as it thrashes about in its death throes, are willing to press ahead with these grotesque plans. To spend up to £205 billion on the lifetime cost of replacement is simply immoral.
When we look around us, we see families struggling to make ends meet, even when the parents are working full time. We see women who have had the opportunity to retire cruelly snatched away from them, leaving them to work up to an extra six years to access the pension to which they contributed all their working lives. We see austerity biting into Scotland’s budget and budgets across the UK, as local services creak under the weight of cuts, cuts and more cuts. We see a new Prime Minister who, as her first priority, is apparently seeking to renew Trident at a time of austerity and real economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote. These weapons of mass destruction will cost billions of pounds. The people of Scotland and the people of the UK do not want them, do not need them and could never use them. The context of this decision is that debt, deficit and borrowing levels are forecast to get worse after Brexit, with more than £40 billion to be cut from public services by 2020. This is an absolute disgrace.
Let us look at the so-called security argument for Trident. It protects us from our enemies by providing a deterrent, we are told. Which enemies? Do we have any enemies that pose such a threat to us that we would destroy an entire continent to punish them? It makes us feel safe, we are told. Really? Tell that to Israel, which has nuclear weapons. Does anyone believe that those living in Israel feel secure? The biggest threat to our security is from terrorism. Trident does not protect us from that; in fact, it makes us a target. Does anyone seriously think that terrorists who are willing to wrap themselves in explosives and walk into a restaurant to detonate them will be deterred by Trident? That is the most likely and, most worryingly, the most common threat that we face in the new world order.
It is time for the UK Government to stop trying to strut around the world measuring the size of its warheads against the size of other countries’ warheads. As for the argument that we need to renew Trident because of jobs, perhaps the trade union baron Len McCluskey should take that matter up with his counterparts in the Scottish Trades Union Congress. A report has shown that many of the skills used by Scottish workers could be transferred. To argue that Trident is important because of jobs is like saying that we should not find a cure for cancer for fear that cancer surgeons may be unemployed. We need to get a moral grip. Trident cannot be justified morally, financially or economically. That is why its supporters cannot win in Scotland.
Order. Three remaining hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and the Front-Bench winding-up speeches must begin at 9.40 pm. Three colleagues from the same party can, I am sure, be sufficiently collegiate to work it out for themselves.
I regret that the Prime Minister has come to the House today and the first thing that she has tried to force through is a motion to commit this country to spending up to £200 billion over the next few decades on weapons of mass destruction. Where is the leadership? Where is the vision?
I welcome the Prime Minister to her position, and I wish her well over the next few years, but let us put this in the context of a Government who lecture us about fiscal responsibility. When the Prime Minister was asked twice by my right hon. Friend Angus Robertson to tell us what the cost of Trident replacement would be, she refused to answer. Every single Conservative Member will march through the Lobby and give a blank cheque to the Government. Do not lecture us about fiscal responsibility; that is fiscal irresponsibility.
My hon. Friend George Kerevan asked the Prime Minister if she is prepared to press the button. Her answer was yes. Have we forgotten the lessons of Hiroshima, which my hon. Friend Chris Law spoke about? Are we prepared to obliterate humanity? That is the result of pressing the button. We on the SNP Benches are not prepared to put a price on humanity by backing weapons of mass destruction. It is immoral.
We have to face up to the fact that this country’s conventional capability has been stripped to the bone. There is currently not a single surface vessel in Scotland, and the UK Navy has 17 frigates and destroyers—that is all. The Falklands, which we fought to defend as we entered the 1980s, does not have a warship stationed by it. We should be investing in conventional defence and taking care of our responsibilities in respect of terrorism, not investing in rusting hulks that will do nothing for humanity and nothing for our defence. In the context of Scotland, we now know that the price of Trident is that the contract for the Type 26 frigates has been put back. Workers in Scotland face redundancy as a consequence of this Government’s actions.
I shall conclude, as I want to let colleagues in. Fifty-eight Members from Scotland will be voting against the motion tonight. Scotland is speaking with a very clear voice: we do not want these weapons of mass destruction. Let me say to the House that this will be another nail in the coffin of the Union. If the House rejects what the people of Scotland want, which is the removal of these weapons from our soil, ultimately my country will be independent and free of nuclear weapons.
Time is short and I have little time for a preamble, but these weapons are a useless relic from another time. They are morally obscene, completely useless and utterly unaffordable at a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is wider than it has ever been, with the Government hellbent on destroying the welfare system and with thousands relying on food banks. Nothing will convince me that we should have any priority other than changing that horrific experience.
I do not want to live in a country where an already struggling family are told that their house is too big or that the room that gives them space for a wheelchair or support equipment is a luxury. I do not want to live in a country where we have nothing to offer our children but excuses and craftily worded answers when they see huge companies telling us they have paid their way, when in fact they have hidden accounts all over the world. I do not want this country to accept that families should need to go to a food bank to eat something in the evening when their kids come home from school. No one can say that is fair. No one can say that is acceptable.
In this Parliament—right here, right now—we have a choice: we can stand up and say, “No more. Not in our name.” No more will we stand by while the Government and their supporters, and often even the Opposition, walk the other way and plan to spend our money on something abhorrent, obscene and completely unnecessary in our modern world.
What could we do with £200 billion? That money could bring change. Tonight, the families I mentioned deserve change. They deserve better. They deserve a fairer future. They deserve to eat tonight, to be comforted, to be safe and to feel that they are part of our society and that we care about them. They have the right to opportunity and to an education, as far as they want to take it. They have the right to expect that this country, with all its wealth, status and opportunity, can move beyond insane projections of power and can care for its own to change things for the better.
Our lives, and everything we do, are about change. They are about the future we want, not the future that others are accepting for us. We should start testing ourselves. That should not be about how we build technology that is capable of destruction and death at an indiscriminate and barbaric level. It should be about how we provide for those who have little or nothing—or, to put it another way, it is about bairns, not bombs.
There is an absurd illogicality about this country’s debate over nuclear weapons. We are debating whether to spend upwards of £150 billion on a weapons system we will never fire because it is entirely redundant. Supporters of Trident would have us impoverish our grandchildren for an arsenal last effective in the 20th century.
Once upon a time, the enemy was clear: it was the Soviet Union. The balance of terror argument was equally clear: if Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev or Gorbachev threatened us with invasion, we had the capacity to murder millions of Warsaw pact citizens. However, those days are long gone. We cannot threaten nuclear annihilation against a Daesh death cult embedded in civilian areas, which is why the Defence Secretary struggled so badly this morning when asked to explain how Trident offered a defence against terrorism.
“But look at Mr Putin,” warn the nuclear apologists. “He might threaten us, and only Trident will stand in his way.” That argument is beyond absurd. Thus far, Putin has brutalised Chechnya, invaded Georgia, annexed part of Crimea and bombarded Syria—all against our will. He has a strategy as old as Russian foreign policy itself, and Britain’s nuclear fig leaf does not deter him one jot.
As Lord Bramall, the former Chief of the General Staff, put it, Trident, for
“all practical purposes…has not and…would not deter any of the threats…likely to face this country in the foreseeable or…longer-term future.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 742, c. 1229.]
The Government motion asks us to vote for a minimum credible nuclear deterrent. Would it not have been better if they had brought forward plans for minimum credible conventional forces, which strike me as much more pertinent?
It would indeed, because our conventional forces have been starved of cash. We have no conventional ocean-going surface ships based in Scotland, despite frequent Russian intrusions into our waters. We have built aircraft carriers without aircraft to fly off them or the necessary surface ships and submarines for protection. We have complaints from senior armed forces officials about the lack of appropriate equipment for our soldiers on the ground—directly contributing to deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, as described by Chilcot.
As Michael Clarke, director general of the Royal United Services Institute, puts it:
“The one thing that politicians don’t address when they talk about Britain’s nuclear weapons is how they do, or don’t, actually figure in practical defence policy for the next 10 or 20 years. It is really very depressing.”
We on the SNP Benches choose to defy that stereotype. We want to put logic at the heart of the UK’s defence policy. It is what our voters want; it is also what much of the military wants. Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley spells it out for the armchair generals who sit on the Government Benches, telling us that there is no purpose to it.
I appeal to my colleagues on the Labour Benches: vote with us. Follow your conscience; do not vote for a missile system that is the equivalent of a cavalry charge when the machine gun has already been introduced.
Let me take this opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister to her role.
It is stating the obvious that opinion has been sharply divided in today’s debate, just as it is that that was exactly the Government’s intention. As the Chilcot report clearly demonstrated, when we make decisions of war and peace—of life and death—based on political posturing, assumptions and poor evidence, the results can be catastrophic. There are few decisions more important than the future security of our country and weapons that could kill millions, so I, like most Members, want to see a world without them.
The question, then, is how we achieve that while ensuring that we have a defensive capability that is fit and proper for the 21st century. My personal scepticism about the current proposal is based on concerns about military utility, economic cost and benefit, and whether it is part of a genuine multilateral approach. Many of my hon. Friends have pointed to the position agreed by the Labour party conference in making a perfectly reasonable argument for a continuous at-sea submarine-based nuclear capability, though I would add that the policy also acknowledged a multilateral path to ultimate disarmament. Since that conference decision, a review has been instigated. Perhaps more importantly, we must take account of other developments, not least Brexit, in holding the Government to account today. The Government could have chosen to address that, and the other concerns that I and others have traditionally had, with clear answers; instead, they chose to divide rather than unite.
Let me be clear that I, for one, do not believe that this is about patriots versus pacifists, or who is moral or immoral. No matter what our differences, we all speak to what we think is best for our constituents and our country. That is certainly true of all Members who have contributed today. Many represent communities with a particular stake in this debate. I applaud, in particular, my hon. Friend John Woodcock, whose tenacity in standing up for his own community’s interest is second to none.
We heard a great speech from Crispin Blunt, the knowledgeable Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who described Trident renewal as a political weapon surplus to the needs of NATO. Sir Edward Leigh quoted Bevin’s famous comments about the need for an independent nuclear capability. However, as Labour Members know, Nye Bevan said:
“It is…not a question of who is in favour of the…bomb, but…what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed.”
He too was a multilateralist. Meanwhile, Richard Benyon invited us to come to his bedroom to see his large weapon—defence establishment at Aldermaston.
Last week I replied to the Secretary of State after his statement concerning the recent NATO summit. I spoke of NATO’s values: international co-operation; military force for defence, not aggression; mutualism and the sharing of risk; opposition to tyranny; and the defence of democracy. Those values are deeply held by Labour Members. It is no coincidence that two of NATO’s founding Governments were led by the new deal Democrats and the Labour party.
I do not want to interrupt the thread of my hon. Friend’s important argument, but may I bring him to the text of the motion and ask whether he shares my concern about the phrase,
“for as long as the global security situation demands”?
We have just had the Chilcot report, which reminded us that we are not safe if we do not uphold international rules and obligations. I, for one, would be very glad to hear from the Defence Secretary, and from my hon. Friend, what concrete steps are going to be taken to uphold our commitment to multilateral disarmament.
I will come to that issue later in my speech, but the motion as it stands calls into question the Government’s integrity in holding up the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Whereas the values that underpin NATO’s formation are timeless, the decision that the United Kingdom should build and maintain its own nuclear weapon system was a strategic military and political decision made on the basis of specific considerations at the time. Making a similar consideration is the task that falls to this House today. Unfortunately, the Government’s timing is wrong and they have fallen short of that objective.
The previous Prime Minister said that today’s vote was to “provide certainty”, but the Government motion does not do that, because it does not change anything. We simply have no more detail. Every indication is that this is a ploy that the Government repeat at will to avoid discussing critical issues. They then create the very uncertainty that they claim to be addressing. If that is not the case, the Secretary of State can very easily say so. There are no new costings in the motion. It used to be said that the Tories knew the value of nothing but the price of everything, but now they do not even know that. If there are any specific commitments to particular contracts, or if any are provided through today’s vote, perhaps the Secretary of State could list them.
The Government’s motion also asks us to endorse their record on multilateral disarmament. Many of us in this House are serious about multilateralism as a policy, not a soundbite. What have this Government, as opposed to previous Administrations, actually done to promote multilateral measures since last year’s non-proliferation conference failed to reach agreement?
The line between unilateralists and multilateralists is too often exaggerated. Surely if we can agree that our goal is for a world free of nuclear weapons, the question is: how do we get there? International agreement is not impossible. The last Labour Government deserve great credit for their role in the international treaties on cluster munitions and landmines. We therefore ask the Government to show real leadership, focus on our shared goals and give us a vision of how we can achieve them.
The motion also considers Trident renewal in isolation from, rather than in the context of, defence policy as a whole. Only last week we discussed the Chilcot report. He recorded a catalogue of equipment failures and their human cost. I know what it is like to be under enemy fire, needing air support and being told that none is available. Conventional forces remain our first form of deterrence against Russian aggression, and they defended our territory the last time it was invaded, in the form of the Falklands.
We need urgent assurance that spending on our nuclear capability is not made at the expense of conventional military equipment. In the past six years, the MOD has seen its budget suffer a real-terms cut of 9%. The number of attack helicopters has been cut by 21%; frigates and destroyers by 17%; fighter aircraft by 25%; and main battle tanks by 41%. The size of the armed forces has been cut by a fifth, and the MOD civilian workforce by almost a third, while carrier strike and maritime patrol craft have been axed altogether. To maintain one single capability at the expense of losing many others would not strengthen our defence, but weaken it.
Costs are critical. The MOD’s equipment plan has been left reeling by last month’s Brexit decision. That is not my conclusion, but that of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy. The implications for the defence budget may be profound, but we have had no clarity from the Prime Minister today. Where is it? Will the Secretary of State please tell us what assurances he has that the defence budget will be maintained in real as well as proportional terms?
Similarly, the motion asks us to, in effect, endorse the Government’s defence industrial strategy. Let me be clear that we cannot allow the devastation that happened to industrial communities in the 1980s under Thatcher happen again. Retaining a workforce with specialist skills is a matter of military as well as economic security. Those points have been made very clearly today by many Opposition Members and by the GMB and Unite trade unions, but neither they nor I endorse the Government’s defence procurement policy as a whole.
On current trends, 25p in every defence procurement pound is forecast to go to America by 2020. Given the consequences of Brexit for the exchange rate with the dollar, this urgently needs to be reviewed. Just last week, the Government announced a multimillion-pound purchase of nine P-8As and 50 Apache helicopters from America. When will the Secretary of State share with this House the detail to assure us that the deal will, in fact, secure British jobs in the long term? It is the same story on steel. The Prime Minister’s earlier words fell well short of any guarantee about the Successor programme.
The security threats that we face are many and fast changing. There are serious issues worthy of serious consideration. We have heard a range of views from across the House, and rightly so, because this is a complex issue. The biggest shock to our security, for many, has been Brexit. That resulted not from the actions of our enemies, but from the complacency and arrogance of our former Prime Minister and his short-term political game playing.
There can be no more important decision for this House to take than the renewal of Britain’s independent deterrent. Douglas Chapman, who is a friend of mine, did this House a disservice by criticising us earlier for groupthink. I have sat through every minute of this debate, and all the speeches, on both sides of the argument, have been powerful and passionate.
I pay tribute particularly to the speech of Vernon Coaker, who argued in favour of the motion, but equally to that of Mr Lammy, who argued against it. I will also remember the speech of Toby Perkins, which was based on the evidence. He started on the other side of the argument, he listened to the evidence and over the years he has changed his mind. I also pay tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt. He, too, opposes the position of his Front-Bench team. He said that he was a solo voice, but he is no less worthwhile for that. He made points about technology that I will reply to a little later.
If there was an example of groupthink, it was to be found in the Scottish National party—a party that ignores at least half of Scottish public opinion, and a party that is content to dispense with our deterrent but happy to cower under an American nuclear NATO umbrella.
The decision we are taking tonight is to approve four replacement submarines to serve us through the 2030s, the 2040s and the 2050s. Tonight, we make a judgment for the long term as to what we need as a country to keep our people safe, when we cannot know what nuclear threats may emerge 30 or 40 years from now. We can, in this House, all agree that a world without nuclear weapons would be a better world, but we have to face facts. The threats we face are growing. There are 17,000 nuclear weapons out there, and the Prime Minister reminded the House today of the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and the increased threat from Russian forces. Nuclear weapons are here, and they are not going to disappear. It is the role of Government to make sure that we can defend ourselves against them.
Defence, the No. 1 duty of Government, starts with deterrence—the principle that the benefits of any attack would be far outweighed by the gravity of its consequences for an aggressor. The point about deterrence, and our nuclear capability, is that it places doubt in the minds of our adversaries, whether they are nuclear states or rogue states, so that they can never be sure how we would retaliate. That is why the deterrent is not redundant. It is being employed every day and every night. We must be realistic about the growing nuclear threats to our country, and we must be equally realistic about the fact that the deterrent is a policy that we cannot now afford to relinquish.
That is why this Government are committed to building four nuclear ballistic missile submarines to replace our ageing Vanguard fleet when it goes out of service in the early 2030s. That commitment was clearly stated in the manifesto on which we were elected to govern, and it will enable us to maintain the unparalleled protection from the most extreme threats that our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent has afforded this nation, without a moment’s pause, for nearly 50 years under successive Conservative and Labour Governments. As the 2013 Trident alternatives review made unequivocally clear, no other system is as capable, resilient or as cost-effective as the Trident-based deterrent. There are no half measures here: a token deterrent would be no deterrent at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, speculated that our submarines might somehow become obsolete through new technology, but that is not the case. Submarines are designed to operate in isolation, and it is hard to think of a system less susceptible to cyber-attack or one better protected in the hiding place that is the ocean. Those who query whether our submarines would remain protected against such attacks should consider why the United States, Russia, China and France are now spending tens of billions of pounds renewing their own submarine-based weapons.
Let me turn to the question I was asked about cost. Yes, the Successor submarines are a serious investment. The cost of building the four boats is £31 billion spread over the 35 years of their life, with a £10 billion contingency on top. The in-service costs remain unchanged at, on average, about 6% of the annual defence budget.
This is the last opportunity for the Secretary of State. Please will he tell the House before we vote this evening what the total through-life cost of Trident renewal is? What is it?
Many Members have been in this debate all day and will have heard me give the cost for building the four submarines and the proportion that the costs will take when the submarines are in service.
My hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, Steven Paterson and Tom Brake asked about the delivery of the Successor programme. It will be managed by a new delivery body for the procurement and in-service support of all nuclear submarines. That will ensure that, unlike in previous warship programmes, the submarines are delivered on time and on budget. If they are not, the principal contractors involved will suffer penalties as a result.
Finally, I was asked about disarmament. We certainly want to see a world free of nuclear weapons. We have made significant reductions to our nuclear forces. We have cut our nuclear stockpiles by over half since the end of cold war. I reduced the number of deployed warheads on each of our submarines from 48 to 40 last year, and we are continuing work to reduce our stockpile to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s. We continue to play our part in talks through the non-proliferation treaty, and as has already been said, Britain has been leading the way in trying to get other countries to make progress, collectively, towards disarmament.
In conclusion, our continuous at-sea deterrent may have been born of the cold war, but it is no relic of the past. The cold war itself has been succeeded by a complex environment of emerging threats, rogue states and unpredictable non-state actors, some of whom have nuclear weapons, while others are intent on getting hold of them. Those threats will not disappear because we refuse to look at them. On the contrary, we must confront them head-on. We cannot predict the future, and we should not gamble with the long-term security of our citizens by assuming that no extreme threat will emerge while so many nuclear weapons remain. That is what this Government intend to do by replacing our Vanguard submarines to sustain the deterrent that has protected us successfully for so long.
As we contemplate this fundamental decision, I urge Members across the House to do what successive Governments have done and to do the right thing, not just for today, but for tomorrow, and vote to maintain our nuclear deterrent for as long as security conditions require it.
The House divided:
Ayes 472, Noes 117.
Division number 46
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House supports the Government’s assessment in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a Continuous at Sea Deterrence posture, will remain essential to the UK's security today as it has for over 60 years, and for as long as the global security situation demands, to deter the most extreme threats to the UK's national security and way of life and that of the UK's allies; supports the decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the current Vanguard Class submarines with four Successor submarines; recognises the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs; notes that the Government will continue to provide annual reports to Parliament on the programme; recognises that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s; and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.