UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour/Co-operative, Barrow and Furness 5:47 pm, 18th July 2016

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.