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Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 6:43 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 6:43 pm, 10th April 2019

I want to get through my responses to the debate. Whenever we have these debates, Scottish National party Members try to disrupt the closing speeches. I have given way once and I will carry on.

My hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan—yes, she is wearing a submariner’s sweater—spoke eloquently about the detailed day-to-day experience of servicemen and servicewomen. Having been on one of those submarines, I will be honest and say that I am not sure that I could do it. It is the thought of being in a confined space for that length of time, so the ability to do that is something I always admire. What strikes me is how proud service personnel are and how much they love doing the role.

John Woodcock has long been an advocate of the continuous at-sea deterrent, holding many events in the House over recent years. He rightly talked about the workers in Barrow and the huge contribution they make to this national exercise. We should of course recognise the contribution made by those in all parts of the country. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport rightly pointed out the contribution those in his constituency make to the deterrent. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness talked about the medal campaign. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that he will look into the issue. I will make sure we do that as quickly as possible.

My right hon. Friend Mr Francois talked about his experience of going on board. I repeat my remarks about admiring the people who work in this service.

John Spellar rightly reminded us of the modern-day threats—not just in intentions, but in the capability that is being built up by many of our adversaries. It is important that we recognise that. He also rightly reminded us that many campaigners will talk about the weapons that we have pointing in one direction, but they never refer to the weapons that may be pointing at us.

Vernon Coaker made strong and powerful points. He was absolutely right that being a nation with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and a member of NATO comes with a responsibility. It is important that we stand up, and successive Governments have been proud to do that. The point he made that really struck home to me was that we are pretty poor at explaining why our deterrent is needed and advocating the case for it. He is absolutely right: I do not think the public are fully aware of the growing threats that we face and the need for this in the way that people were perhaps aware in the cold war in the ’80s and ’90s. It is also important to remind people, as he said, that we have done a lot of work to reduce the number of weapons globally. In 1986, there were 64,500 nuclear weapons. Now, there are 14,500. This is also the 50th anniversary of the NPT and it is important that we continue to redouble our efforts to do all we can to support that.

Caroline Lucas mentioned the ban treaty. While I respect her point of view, it fails to address the key issue that first has to be overcome if we are to achieve lasting global disarmament—that is, the security context in which we find ourselves—and does nothing to increase the trust and transparency that we really need between those nuclear states.

Finally on hon. Members’ comments, Carol Monaghan asked about her grandmother’s Christmas tree. I will try to find out if it is still on board. [Laughter.] And if it is, it will stay there.

It is also important to remind ourselves of the significant economic benefits that we get. Our continuous at-sea deterrent supports thousands of highly skilled jobs in hundreds of companies across the UK. BAE Systems, with around 8,000 personnel, is key in Barrow and Furness, where our submarines are designed and built, and Rolls-Royce has over 800 employees in Derby and Barrow who manufacture the plants that will power our submarines. Of course, the Atomic Weapons Establishment employs nearly 6,000 people working on manufacturing, maintaining and assuring the UK’s nuclear warheads, in addition to providing nuclear threat reduction services. I have mentioned the support that the Scottish economy benefits from.

Today is essentially about marking the tremendous contribution of the people who serve to protect our country. Those submariners and their families have done so much over the last 50 years. Many of the contributions from Members today rightly point out that these people go away from home for many, many weeks and months at a time and that is a big commitment for them to make. It is also a big commitment for the families that they leave behind. We should say a very big thank you today from all of us for the support that they have given to our nation to keep it safe. I am glad that the SNP will push this to a Division, because it means that this House can again show its support for what we believe is absolutely right.

I will end by quoting Churchill’s final speech to the United States Congress in 1955.

“Be careful above all things”,

he said,

“not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.”

Baroness Thatcher reminded Congress of that line when she addressed it herself in 1987, but she left out Churchill’s next line:

“Meanwhile never flinch, never weary, never despair.”

Operation Relentless has been maintained by thousands of brave submariners since 1969—and they never have.

Question put.