Anti-nuclear Campaign (Faslane)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:24 am on 24th January 2002.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 10:24 am, 24th January 2002

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2633, in the name of Tommy Sheridan, on Faslane and the anti-nuclear campaign, and one amendment to that motion.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 10:30 am, 24th January 2002

The motion should be straightforward. However, the ministerAllan Wilson—is leaving the chamber, perhaps because he knows that I might make reference to debates in the 1980s when I, along with other socialists, was expelled from the Labour party. In those debates, the minister might recall that we agreed on unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Is it not incredible that new Labour lodged the only amendment, which removes reference to the opposition to nuclear weapons? As I look around the chamber, I see quite a few ashen faces on the new Labour benches. Many of them probably have their Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament membership cards and, although they might not be able to produce them very often, they continue to support a movement that is morally, politically and economically correct.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

The key word in the reference that Mr Sheridan made was unilateral. Now that the Labour party is in power, we have reduced the number of nuclear missiles and we are working with our counterparts in other countries towards arms reduction. That is what happens when parties get into power. Unilateralism was something for the 1980s; arms reduction is something that we are doing now.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

It is utter tosh—with apologies to the Deputy Presiding Officer—for Mr McMahon to say that the Labour party is reducing nuclear weapons or other weapons. The new Labour Government has given more licences to export weapons of destruction across the world, has continued to accelerate the nuclear programme and is about to sign up to the star wars programme, which will lead to a further acceleration in nuclear proliferation around the world.

Mr McMahon has to accept that his party's problems are those of a political party that used to have some principles and soul. His party has abandoned principles, including the principle of unilateral nuclear disarmament. That principle was established at the 1982 Labour party conference by a two-thirds majority in a card vote and was in the Labour party manifesto. People might say that Labour lost elections in the 1980s, but it did not do so in Scotland. Unilateral nuclear disarmament is popular and it is right.

It is morally correct for Labour members to oppose inhumane weapons of destruction. Those weapons were declared illegal in 1996 by the International Court of Justice precisely because of their indiscriminate nature. Nuclear weapons are the most indiscriminate weapons ever created by mankind. It is right and proper that Scotland should stand for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

I will take an intervention from a member who is at least honest about his pro-nuclear stance.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

I am grateful to the member for giving way.

On the point that Tommy Sheridan made about the International Court of Justice ruling, I have examined the appeal court decision that was made last year. It states clearly that the use of such weapons for offensive measures could be considered illegal, but the use of such weapons to guarantee self-defence and protection against mass genocide was considered not to be illegal. That ruling was made referring to United Nations conventions and law of custom.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The point that I made about the International Court of Justice hearing was to establish that the use of nuclear weapons was illegal and that their very possession was illegal. The UK holds that the possession of nuclear weapons systems that are first-strike and offensive is illegal to the core. The Conservative party has supported continually and consistently nuclear weaponry. At least it is wrong consistently. The problem with new Labour is that it has moved from a position that was politically right to—

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I am not sure whether I can take another intervention.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, the member must not take any more interventions. He is already over time and he is now summing up.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I am sorry.

When it comes to decision time at 5 o'clock, I hope that some new Labour members examine—or re-examine—their consciences and vote for a motion that most of them, perhaps privately, support.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that nuclear weapons pose a very real threat to humanity and accordingly should be opposed on moral, social, political and economic grounds; opposes the possession of nuclear weapons; supports unilateral disarmament in Scotland and across the UK in pursuit of a non-nuclear world, free of the threat of destruction by nuclear weapons; further supports the Scottish CND and Trident Ploughshares blockade of Faslane nuclear submarine base on 11-13 February 2002, and upholds the right of demonstrators to protest peacefully in support of world peace.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 10:34 am, 24th January 2002

I have listened with interest to the points that were made by Mr Sheridan in support of the motion. As has been said already, defence is a reserved matter. It is for the UK Government to determine policy on Britain's nuclear deterrent and to account for that to the UK Parliament and, ultimately, to the UK electorate. Members of the Scottish Parliament can express views. Mr Sheridan's views were known from his previous speeches on the subject.

I will deal briefly with the second part of his motion, which he did not address in his opening remarks, as it is important in terms of the issues that the Scottish Parliament can and should deal with. Strathclyde police are responsible for policing the annual protests and demonstrations that take place at the Faslane base. It is not uncommon for as many as 1,000 persons to take part in such events. Each protest demonstration represents a significant policing challenge.

As my amendment sets out, such protests are entirely appropriate. We respect the right of individuals to hold strong views and to protest peacefully. However, Mr Sheridan needs to recognise the fact that peaceful protest is one thing, but other forms of protest are not victimless. When individuals have their cars rocked, they feel it and are traumatised by such an experience. I am aware that Mr Sheridan would not support that form of protest but, nevertheless, he is a regular part of a protest that involves victims.

I want to make another point, in what will be a brief speech: because of the element who are involved in attacking individuals in a way that is totally unacceptable, such protests require the deployment of up to 750 officers. That is not without cost. It involves additional payments to Strathclyde police to manage the annual protest. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are required to have 750 officers, one tenth of the Strathclyde police number, police the protest.

I would prefer to see police on that day policing the communities that Mr Sheridan professes to be concerned about. I also profess to that concern. Yesterday I was in Govan, talking to people about how to deal with the effects of crime on communities in Glasgow. Anything that distracts the police from that is unacceptable.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

No, I am sorry, but I am into my last minute. I was almost into my last minute before I began.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

The amendment sets out the right of peaceful protest. That is guaranteed in our constitution, as it must be by the Scottish Parliament. Protest must be peaceful. It is unacceptable to block a road and prevent people from getting to work.

I had intended to refer to the matter of jobs in relation to Faslane, but Jackie Baillie, the constituency member, will talk about that issue in her speech.

I move amendment 2633.1, to leave out from "believes" to end and insert:

"supports the right of demonstrators to protest peacefully in support of world peace, but condemns those in a democratic society who abuse this right and act in contravention of the criminal law."

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party 10:38 am, 24th January 2002

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right that we all recognise. I am appalled that Dr Simpson has diminished the debate by taking it down to such a level. Whether members like it or not, the debate is about idealism and the situation in which we find ourselves.

In July 1998, the Labour Government said that its goal was

"the global elimination of nuclear weapons."

However, new Labour is stuck with Trident. It was notable in the 1998 strategic defence review that the consultations did not include Trident, Eurofighter or Challenger II tanks. New Labour was determined to continue the Tory commitment to nuclear deterrence. I am sure that Tory members in the chamber are quite relaxed about that. Despite the fact that Labour in Scotland votes against Trident when it has the opportunity to do so, new Labour insists on the UK nuclear deterrent. The reason for that is to deter aggression from states in possession of chemical or biological weapons or to deter rogue states.

The appalling thing about chemical and biological weapons is that they are indiscriminate; they make no distinction between service personnel and civilians. I do not understand the argument that says that such weapons can be morally countered by the threat of the use of similar weapons. Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate and inaccurate. They contaminate people and land. Long before 11 September, experts had worked out that nuclear weapons would be no deterrent to anybody armed with a lorry-load of explosives or a bottle full of anthrax. It is unfortunate that 11 September proved that to be the case.

When I was young, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians was part of the strategy to defeat Germany, and few questioned it at the time. We now live in an age where war takes place under the microscopic eye of television and in front of a critical media and world population. Images are transmitted into living rooms and people react unfavourably to the deployment of careless force. Minimum force is normally deployed, smart weapons are utilised and civilian casualties are to be avoided. Everybody would agree with that.

Is it not ludicrous that, at a time when we are becoming even more fastidious in the prosecution of war, new Labour clings to a weapon of mass destruction? Does its persistence in that respect not diminish the moral pressure that it can bring to bear on other nations that are thinking of taking on board nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons are unusable. Russia's defence budget is a third of the UK's and Putin relies on the support of the west. The cold war is over. There is no threat that merits the possession of nuclear weapons by the UK.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party

No. I have only a few moments left.

In a 1996 International Court of Justice advisory ruling, nuclear weapons were judged to be contrary to the rules of international law applicable to armed conflict, but new Labour persists in maintaining the system. Our nuclear capability is a weapon that cannot sanely be used. It is kept by the UK to secure its place in the Security Council, to feed its post-imperial delusions of grandeur and to maintain the illusion that the United Kingdom is still a world power.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 10:41 am, 24th January 2002

Today is pan Tommy Sheridan day, to judge from what I have heard in this morning's debates. It is not my intention to pan Tommy Sheridan for anything other than perhaps actions that I consider criminal. I would certainly not pan him for his views, which I recognise he holds very personally and has the courage to stand up for. I do criticise him, however, on the basis that his views do not hold water in many instances.

When I look at Tommy Sheridan's motion, I have to tell him that it is the kind of motion that would have been tabled at Westminster some 10 years ago by the very ministers who now control such issues as members of the Government. The difference is that those people now have responsibilities. They have to consider the issues realistically rather than through the eyes of those who wish to achieve nuclear disarmament without considering the practical realities. When I consider issues such as unilateral actions, I have to say that the Government is absolutely right, as Mr McMahon said, to reverse its stand on those issues.

There is a change in feelings across the country. I recently attended a University of Edinburgh debate on the retention of nuclear weapons. When I go along to such debates, I usually expect to be heavily defeated. My opponent was Robin Harper, the rector of the university, but the students backed the idea of retaining nuclear weapons. They recognised the practicality of the situation.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

No, it was not. It was an open debate at the University of Edinburgh.

Tommy Sheridan referred to the horror of nuclear weapons, and he is absolutely right, but in fact that adds to the strength of the weapons and the reason for their retention. It was said earlier that the Conservatives were consistently wrong, but I suggest that we have been consistently right. The fact that, over the past 50 years, we have avoided a major world war is very important. In the second world war, 15 million people died. That must never happen again. In my view, the horrendous effect of using nuclear weapons has prevented such an event. That is something that we must value very much indeed. Consider the current situation between India and Pakistan. I wonder whether the threat of nuclear warfare is the factor that has managed to keep those two nations apart. I suggest that it may have been a major factor.

I make no apologies for backing Richard Simpson's amendment. He is right to make the point that people are entitled to have views on such important issues and entitled to demonstrate those views, but that they are not entitled to break the law by so doing. The law has been set by legislators such as every one of us in the chamber today, and it lies heavily on our shoulders that we must be seen to protect the law at all times.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 10:45 am, 24th January 2002

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will be supporting Richard Simpson's amendment. It is no secret that there is vigorous internal debate in the Liberal Democrat party and in the Labour party on the issue between those who think that we should not have nuclear weapons and those who think that, although it is regrettable, we need them as a deterrent against other less well-intentioned states using them against us. It is quite a fair argument and will no doubt continue.

Putting my party first, as I always do, I would like to make clear the party's position by reading from our manifesto for the most recent general election. It says that Liberal Democrats would

"Work for the elimination worldwide of all nuclear weapons. We will press for a new round of multilateral arms reduction talks, but will retain the UK's minimum nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future."

The manifesto goes on to say that we also oppose the American proposal for a national missile defence system, which we think greatly destabilises the status quo of nuclear weapons. We want multilateral disarmament.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

Will Mr Gorrie explain why his party's support for the retention of three Trident submarines whose weapons cannot be fired without the agreement of the Americans is an acceptable position but support for the missile defence system is not?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

The official argument accepted by the party is that we need to have a deterrent and that missiles with which we can threaten other people must be available so that they do not shoot at us.

The Liberal Democrat position is as I have stated it. My own view is that I am against nuclear weapons, but I am also against the sort of demonstrations that take place at Faslane. It can be argued that such demonstrations draw attention to the issue and create publicity, but it creates bad publicity. The scenes that we see on television deter a lot of other people from supporting the argument.

I used to have exactly the same argument with Peter Hain in the days when he was a radical Young Liberal and went round digging up cricket pitches and golf courses, which I said harmed his case. I still feel the same. Legitimate, peaceful, respectable demonstration can do a great deal of good in shifting public opinion, but I am not prepared to support what happens at Faslane. I hope that the British Government will move more vigorously in the direction of getting rid of our nuclear weapons, but my party's position is as I have stated it.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 10:48 am, 24th January 2002

It is fair to say that there are many activists in the Labour movement, including me, who have campaigned over the years for nuclear disarmament. Let me say at the outset that I will always protect the right of people to demonstrate and to protest peacefully in support of world peace.

World peace and a nuclear-free world are aspirations that we all share. We differ fundamentally on how we achieve those aims, but I know of no sane person, inside or outwith this chamber, who ever wants to see nuclear weapons used, not just here but anywhere in the world. Whether one is a unilateralist or a multilateralist, the ultimate aim is the same. The moral high ground that Tommy Sheridan seeks to claim is not his alone. It belongs to anyone and everyone who opposes nuclear weapons.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that Labour has reduced the number of warheads by a third. That is action, not rhetoric, and demonstrates a clear commitment to reducing arms in Britain and across the world.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

No. I would like to move on. I shall move from an international perspective to an extremely parochial one, because Faslane is in my constituency.

The onus of thinking through the consequences of every action is put on all responsible politicians. Members might find interesting some facts in an EKOS report that was commissioned in 1998. More than 7,000 people are directly employed at the base, 4,000 of whom are civilians. Some 3,700 indirect jobs result from supplier linkages and income multipliers. Civilian jobs account for more than 70 per cent of the base's employment. The base is one of the largest single-site employers in Scotland and by far the largest source of jobs in the West Dunbartonshire local economy.

Given that West Dunbartonshire is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland and that Faslane is the source of a quarter of the employment in the area, what do we get from a party that masquerades as being on the side of the working man? It gives no real answers and no costed alternatives, only screaming headlines that call for the shutting down of Faslane in that parody of a newspaper that is published by Tommy Sheridan's party. What thought has been given to workers and their families? Unfortunately, Tommy Sheridan would consign them to unemployment and poverty. That is nothing short of irresponsible.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I say to Lloyd Quinan that what I have said also describes the SNP's behaviour. There is nothing on its website because its policy is under review. Perhaps a blank screen is the true indication of what that party offers.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member will not as she is in her final minute.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I am winding up.

Perhaps the SNP will enlighten the chamber whether it is in favour of withdrawing from NATO. Will it clarify comments that were made by one of its candidates at the Scottish Parliament elections? He said that we should not worry because when Faslane is scrapped, the Scottish navy and customs and excise can be based there. So far, so good. However, his leader at the time favoured Rosyth rather than Faslane. Does the SNP have one policy for the west of Scotland and a different policy for the east? When a question was put about the size of the navy, an estimate of seven frigates was given—that means 100 jobs. What about the missing 10,600 jobs?

Once again, we are debating reserved matters. Perhaps Tommy Sheridan should stand for the Westminster Parliament. He could then represent his views at Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons.

I urge the chamber to reject the motion.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 10:53 am, 24th January 2002

I declare an interest as convener of the cross-party group on nuclear disarmament.

The mornings are dark, but I have not seen Mr Gorrie protesting at Faslane. Indeed, I assume that he has not been at a Faslane protest. The protests are completely peaceful and are made by decent people, including people in wheelchairs who travel all the way from the south of England. Mr Gorrie insults those good people by referring to the protests as violent. That is absolutely shameful. The Liberals are in favour of nuclear submarines, as long as they will not quite be used. The Liberals will take tea somewhere and not notice.

In the Scottish Parliament, members are treated like children in respect of all nuclear issues. We are told, "Thou shalt not ask." There are 161 reserved issues—that is 161 subjects on which the Parliament is gagged—the most important of which relate to the nuclear industry or nuclear defence. All Britain's nuclear weapons are dumped in Scotland, but we are not allowed to ask questions about them. That gives ministers in the Scottish Parliament an easy cop-out. A minister can simply jump up and shout, "Reserved issue." We are gagged. It is no wonder that the Parliament was invaded almost a year ago by peaceful protesters. Some protesters shouted to members, "Why don't you talk about something important such as Trident?" Why not indeed?

Just 30 miles from Glasgow, each Trident submarine carries 144 nuclear warheads, but we are told that that is a reserved matter and that Trident submarines must not be discussed. The issue will be unreserved and undevolved if there is an undevolved tragedy. Devolved hospitals will have to cope with that tragedy, if any hospitals are left.

Court cases involving the protesters and the decent people who invaded the gallery and who should have made all of us feel ashamed that we had not discussed the subject are still dragging through the courts. The incident happened last spring, but the court cases are continuing well into April. The establishment has its ways of making the peaceful public suffer for protesting. Few members stood up for those people. Many slunk out of the chamber while the most important issue in Scotland was once again not tackled.

Trident has been declared illegal—

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I am speaking about the threat of Trident, not its deployment. I say to Ben Wallace, who is an ex-soldier, that he should do everything to stop the waste of £1.5 billion a year on Trident and help to put that money into conventional forces, because Scottish command is undermanned and the navy is undermanned outside of the nuclear industry. Trident is a disgrace and it is up to members to join together and do the decent thing: protest against it. Members should join us in February at the blockade.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 10:56 am, 24th January 2002

My main objection to the debate is that half an hour is not long enough for members to discuss the whole issue of defence. However, that is not the Parliament's purpose. Members are here to deal well with reserved matters.

I am not disappointed that members have expressed strongly held views about unilateral disarmament. They are entitled to express their views. However, they have failed to address the issue of how the protests should be managed. There are some 200 arrests on each occasion, although Dorothy-Grace Elder said that the protests are totally peaceful.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I am sorry, but that is impossible as I have only two minutes.

The chamber must send a strong message that the small number of violent people who create victims in such circumstances must be condemned. The majority of protesters are peaceful and there is good co-operation and understanding between the police and that majority, but we must condemn the hard-line activists who attempt to breach security and who are totally disruptive.

A number of members have indicated that the UK Government takes part in multinational nuclear disarmament. That is appropriate and most members would not oppose it, although some would wish to go much further. The process of reducing one third of weapons and plans for considerable further reductions have been welcomed by Kofi Annan and the United Nations. That is a responsible approach.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Dr Simpson is already over his time. Sit down, Mr Quinan.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I would love to take an intervention, but I cannot.

Kofi Annan praised the UK Government. I hope that the jobs issue will be addressed. Jackie Baillie spoke strongly about that, but it is almost impossible in a debate of this length to address the issue.

I am glad to have participated in Tommy Sheridan's day in the sun.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 10:59 am, 24th January 2002

Given the authority with which the minister spoke about the protests, will he tell members before he leaves the chamber how many he has been to? As he has not replied, I take it that he has not been to any. On the ridiculous and serious accusations—

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Order. Mr Sheridan, you should not speak for the minister. You have one minute and 20 seconds.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I apologise, but I hope that the minister will tell us how many people have been charged with assault or threatening behaviour in the past three years, given that he talked about harassment and threats to people. He does not say anything; he does not know because there have been no such arrests. He should be careful about what he says about the protests. He knows nothing about them because he has not had the courage to attend them.

I welcome each and every member to the next protest on 11 February. It will be a three-day rolling protest against nuclear weapons, so everyone should be able to fit it into their diaries. Fortunately, some Labour members still have the courage of their convictions and have come along to the demonstrations. Although there have been far too few of those members, I hope that more will attend now that they have been given plenty of notice.

As Colin Campbell said, it is about time that the Parliament had a bit of idealism and vision. Someone has to act first on the issue of nuclear disarmament. Let an independent, socialist Scotland have the courage to stand up and say loud and clear that it will decommission nuclear weapons and create five times more socially useful jobs from the money that would be diverted from those weapons of destruction. Unless someone on the world stage has the courage to take such action, we will continue to threaten the destruction of humanity by stockpiling these weapons. I hope that, by 5 o'clock, some new Labour members will find their courage once again.