Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 3:10 pm, 10th April 2019

Labour fully supports the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and we are committed to the renewal of the nuclear submarines.

I pay tribute to all those whose hard work and dedication have supported the deterrent over its lifespan: workers on the new Dreadnought class at sites across the country, including those whom I visited in Barrow; and Royal Navy personnel past and present who have crewed the nuclear submarines over the past 50 years. Their commitment and skill are integral to the continuous nature of the deterrent. We are indebted to them for their service, and to their families for their support.

The first duty of Government is the protection of their citizens. The nuclear deterrent makes an important contribution to our country’s security, alongside our brave armed forces and a range of conventional and non-conventional capabilities.

We recognise that we live in a world where the number of states that possess nuclear weapons has continued to grow, and where others are actively seeking to acquire them. The threats facing the UK are real and undiminished, and there is a need to deter the use of nuclear weapons in all circumstances—none of us ever wants to be in a position where the deterrent is used. If we ever got to that situation, it would represent a catastrophic failure of our rules-based system and of the very concept of deterrence.

Deterrence encompasses a broad range of actions, from diplomatic means to conventional force and, ultimately, the nuclear deterrent. We must always ensure that we have the very best conventional forces, including cyber-capabilities, and that the UK uses its influence on the world stage to ensure that we deal with conflicts and tensions early, without allowing them to escalate dangerously.

The nature of the threats we face is changing, be they the ravages of climate change, drought, starvation, gross inequality within and between countries—whether state or non-state actors—ever more complex technologies, hybrid warfare, or the sophisticated use of cyber-information warfare to attack our democratic institutions and our open public cyber-spaces. We are committed to working with fellow NATO countries to counteract such threats and to guarantee the collective security of our allies.

As a nuclear-armed power, the UK has important obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, which British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was instrumental in establishing. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of its entering into force, the only treaty that imposes a binding commitment on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue the goal of multilateral disarmament together. Labour is committed to the NPT and to working with international partners on a multilateral basis to create a nuclear-free world. In government, Labour worked to reduce the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160. The last Labour Government signed the international code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation, as well as the international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism.

The other objective of the non-proliferation treaty is of course to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Unfortunately, the number of states that possess such weapons has continued to grow, and other countries are working actively to acquire them. North Korea has continued in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, despite significant UN sanctions and attempts by the international community to seek dialogue with the regime. The Iran nuclear deal, which was so painstakingly negotiated to curtail that country’s nuclear ambitions, is now under immense pressure due to President Trump’s decision to withdraw US support for it. As a nuclear-weapon state and a member of the P5, we cannot simply stand by as the international norm against proliferation of such weapons is eroded. Instead, the UK should take a leading role in multilateral efforts to combat that trend.

We know that there have been issues with the affordability and timely delivery of our own programme. The Public Accounts Committee has said that one-year budget cycles can present problems for programmes such as Dreadnought, and it recommended using this year’s spending review as an opportunity to explore longer-term budgeting arrangements for the nuclear programme. When the Minister winds up, will he set out the discussions he has had with Treasury on that? In addition to the Dreadnought programme, the Government are in the process of considering options to replace the warheads used in the Trident missiles. Will the Minister tell the House when he expects that work to be completed?

Finally, although I had not wanted to mention the B word, the Government have acknowledged that elements of the supply chain for the nuclear enterprise are based in other European Union countries. However, almost three years since the referendum, the level of access that we will have to EU markets post Brexit is still unclear. In the light of that significant uncertainty, what assurances will the Minister offer suppliers to ensure that there will be no impediments to parts crossing borders? I will be most grateful if he addresses those issues in his winding-up speech.