Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 5:30 pm, 10th April 2019

It is an absolute pleasure to follow what I thought was an excellent speech by John Spellar. He sums up the ethical as well as the practical case for why we need a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.

This has been a really good debate. I praise my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, the Chair of the Defence Committee, who set out very crisply why we need to do this and why it is so much in our strategic interest to make sure we have this level of protection. Mr Jones referred to “The Silent Deep” by Hennessy and Jinks. That excellent book sets out the debt we owe to: the technological brilliance of scientists and engineers; the political resolve of successive Governments and diplomats to ensure we acquire the technology; and, as my hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan pointed out, the personal courage, sacrifice and professionalism of thousands of submariners and their families down the decades. Even as we speak, our forces are keeping us safe. As we sleep tonight, they will be keeping us safe. That is a debt that we can never really adequately repay and the least we can do is spend time in this House today to put on record our gratitude and thanks for their service.

Churchill referred to the Spitfire as a machine of colossal and shattering power. These submarines, in their own way, are our modern answer to that. It is a power that we all hope and pray will never have to be unleashed, but as the right hon. Member for Warley pointed out, the mere fact of its existence makes not just nuclear but all war less likely. If we think about the 1960s and 1970s and the superpower conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, it seems to me that it is almost inevitable at some point that that would have flared into a conflict had it not been prevented by the fact that the consequences of that conflict would have been unthinkable. The act of crossing into West Berlin would have come at too high a price to pay. That remains, still, the fundamental basis for why we need the deterrent.

In the world we live in today, Theodore Roosevelt’s adage to “walk softly and carry a big stick” seems never to have been more apposite. There is the presence, we must acknowledge, of real evil in our world. It is intense and increasingly unpredictable. Whether it be Iran, North Korea or Russia, we all know that there are malign forces in this world who will not act by the rules that we act by, who will not live by the values that we live by, and who set very little value in the sanctity or dignity of human life. That is what we are up against. That is the choice that, as democratic politicians in one of the most powerful countries in the world, it behoves us to make. We would be failing not just ourselves but the rest of the world were we to duck that responsibility.

There was a window in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union when we heard much talk about the peace dividend, but I am a great believer in what Vice-President Cheney said when he said that the “only dividend of peace is peace”. We should not in any way to attempt to do defence on the cheap, or without the resources and tools to make sure we can keep ourselves safe. That is why it is so welcome that the decision to launch the Successor class programme has been made. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee and my right hon. Friend Mr Francois pointed out, it is crucial that we get regular updates and focus on continuing that programme at pace. We cannot afford further slippage. Frankly, we are already at the limit of what we can expect the Vanguard class to continue to deliver.

It is also why we have brave Labour MPs on the Opposition Benches making the case for why we need the strategic nuclear deterrent. This is not a debate for partisanship.