UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield 6:01 pm, 18th July 2016

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.