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Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 3:37 pm, 10th April 2019

I am now going to come on to the economic case. It ought to be the case, for sure—and on this I am sure we do agree with others—that the Government carry out a threat analysis and, subsequent to that, get what they need to meet that threat and to keep people safe. But we do not believe, quite simply, that Trident complements that effort. The total cost of Trident, from design through to life support, ran into many, many billions of pounds—estimated by some to be as high as £200 billion. We know for sure that the current renewal project is already woefully out of control. Indeed, over £1 billion of the £10 billion contingency that was set aside by the Ministry of Defence has already been tapped into, and of the extra £1 billion announced by the Chancellor, £400 million is exclusively for the nuclear renewal project. The most recent House of Commons Library figures tell us that the £2.2 billion per year spent on maintaining the deterrent is roughly equivalent to £42 million each week. That is about the same as we spend on income support, statutory maternity pay, carer’s allowance or winter fuel payments.

All of that represents a drain on conventional defence, which has always been the priority of the SNP. This is at a time when the Department has enormous funding gaps in its equipment plan, estimated by the National Audit Office to be well over £10 billion, and big gaps in the funding of the defence estate, which is draining money as though it were going out of fashion. It is at a time when the Ministry of Defence continues with the bizarre fetish of privatising and outsourcing things that do not need to be privatised or outsourced: the defence fire and rescue service, the war pension scheme, the armed forces compensation scheme and even the medals office. Those things must remain in the hands of the MOD in their entirety. In the armed forces, it is not uncommon for serving members to have to buy substitute kit because the money is not there to get it through the Department’s budget.

Far from enhancing our national security and providing the necessary capability to keep us safe, Trident is a drain on conventional defence, particularly as the Government keep it as part of the overall defence budget, to the point that it diminishes our conventional defence and security posture, which is in need of proper investment and oversight.

To make one last point, it can be concluded that this country is now an irresponsible nuclear power. The timing of this debate could not be more breathtaking if the Government had tried. We sit here today to mark 50 years as a maritime nuclear power, but just last week the National Audit Office told us that hundreds of millions of pounds are being wasted by the Government on storing obsolete nuclear submarines and their utter failure to decommission them properly and responsibly. The independent NAO—this is not me—has said that it puts the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear power at risk.

The MOD has not decommissioned a single submarine successfully since 1980, twice as many are currently in storage as are in service, nine still contain radioactive fuel, seven have been in storage for longer than they were in service and no submarines have been defuelled in the last 15 years. It is a total failure, and the liability costs estimated by the Secretary of State’s own Department run to £7.5 billion. We can be sure, as night follows day, that that figure will get higher. The auditors said that the MOD did not have a fully developed plan to dispose of operational Vanguard and Astute submarines or its future Dreadnought-class vessels, which have different nuclear reactors.

Here the House sits with the iron-clad consensus that we must renew a nuclear submarine programme that the Government do not even have plans to decommission in the future, even though the National Audit Office has just outlined what a costly farce that has become. This cannot just be shrugged off as though it is business as usual. The public expect us to get to the bottom of it. I ask the Secretary of State—perhaps the Minister will say when he sums up—whether he will set up a public inquiry into the farce of nuclear submarine decommissioning.