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.