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.