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Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 5:39 pm, 10th April 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Clarke.

I want to make a couple of what I consider to be very important points, but let me begin by saying that I think it is really good that the British Parliament is discussing this fundamental issue. I have agreed with most of the speeches that I have heard today—although I have disagreed with the Scottish National party—but I think it important for us to recognise that we sometimes need that clash of views, that clash of opinions, in order to establish better public policy. I say that as someone who utterly supports the continuous at-sea deterrent. However, I also strongly believe that it is representative of, and to an extent a political declaration of, the importance of our country on the world stage.

I have no problem at all with stating that view. It is not an old-fashioned view, as was suggested earlier, and it is not a view that Members should somehow not be proud of expressing in this Parliament. We are a senior member of NATO, we are a senior power in the world, and we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Those are fundamental matters for our country, and they bring with them fundamental responsibilities. In my opinion—which is not held by everyone in the Chamber—those responsibilities mean something when it comes to military deployment, diplomacy, and our view of the world. I think that our country makes a massive contribution to stability and peace in many parts of the world, and part of that contribution is the deterrent.

I was very pleased that the Secretary of State—and, indeed, many other Members—observed that we spend a lot of time in this Parliament simply asserting the need for the deterrent. We do not argue the case. We do not take on, in a proper, intellectual way, those who oppose it. We simply dismiss their opposition, and I think that that is wrong. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, it is perfectly possible, and feasible, and a philosophy that some people support, that having a nuclear deterrent is fundamentally wrong. We should accept that philosophy and argue with it, rather than simply dismissing it.

I think that some of the arguments that have been advanced are very important, but I also think that the argument has to be won in our country again. I have to tell the Minister, as someone who supports the deterrent, that mine is not a view held universally across the country. [Interruption.] Not just in Scotland, but throughout the UK, there are people—people in my own party, people in my own family, people in my own community—who do not agree with what I am saying. They will ask me, for example, “Vernon, how does having nuclear weapons defend us against terrorism?” Well, of course they are not meant to defend us against terrorism, but it is no good just saying that; it is necessary to argue it.

We have other ways of defending ourselves against terrorism, through, for instance, special forces, policing and Prevent. However, as many other Members have said, we are witnessing a rise in the activities of Russia and other states, and not simply rogue states. We used to say, “There are rogue states: what happens if North Korea…?” However, it is not about that; it is about what is actually happening in the state of Russia, which, as far as I can see, is a very real threat to our country, to western Europe and to democracy. But we have to explain that, and put that point of view.

Many of my constituents do not see Russia as a threat, in terms of its using nuclear weapons against us, and do not understand why we have to have nuclear weapons in order to deter it. It is therefore incumbent on people like me to say that it is important for the stability of the alliance—the stability on which NATO vis-à-vis Russia works—that that nuclear deterrent is in place. I think that the concept of mutually assured destruction does bring stability, but it is necessary to argue that constantly.

Similarly, I understand where the SNP is coming from, and I think it is perfectly legitimate to challenge them, and to say, “You may have a non-nuclear policy in terms of Scotland, but how does that fit with membership of the NATO alliance?” That is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. It is not dismissing what they are saying, but it is a challenge.

It is not only people in this Parliament who challenge that. Scottish National party Members know that at their conference in 2012, people resigned from the party because they saw it as a betrayal of policy to hold that a non-nuclear Scotland could still be a member of NATO, as NATO was a nuclear alliance. Indeed, one person said:

“I cannot belong to a party that quite rightly does not wish to hold nuclear weapons on its soil but wishes to join a first-strike nuclear alliance.”

That is a challenge to the SNP. I am not condemning that, but that is a challenge. Members of the SNP will have that argument within the party. All I am saying is, I believe in a continuous at-sea deterrent, and therefore it is important that I argue why I think that brings stability to our country.

President Obama made a brilliant speech in Prague, which inspired the world, in which he talked about global zero. He said he wanted a world where nuclear weapons did not exist. The challenge for people like me, and the challenge for this Parliament, and for the Defence Secretary, the Chair of the Defence Committee and all my hon. Friends, is, do we share that ambition? When has this Parliament ever debated how we re-energise, re-enthuse the drive for multilateral nuclear disarmament?

The Secretary of State rightly pointed to the fact that the last Labour Government and this Government, to be fair, have reduced the number of nuclear weapons and nuclear warheads. Who has got a clue that we have done that? Caroline Lucas will condemn any possession of nuclear weapons. That is a reasonable position to adopt. As for those of us who support that deterrent, how often have we gone out and explained to the British public that we believe that we can still defend our own country, but we can do it with fewer warheads, fewer missiles, in our submarines? That is a challenge as well.

How do we re-energise the non-proliferation treaty? How do we re-energise multilateral talks? These are big strategic questions for our country—even if there was an independent Scotland, they are massive strategic questions for us, and for NATO. When do we ever debate that, rather than simply hurl accusations at one another? There is a real need for that debate. I say to the Defence Secretary, how do we re-energise those non-proliferation talks, that non-proliferation treaty? Do we really mean that we want a multilateral process that leads to global zero?