Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Nuclear Deterrent

3. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): When he intends to initiate discussions on the future of the British nuclear deterrent. [8653]

5. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): When he expects a decision to be made on a new generation of nuclear weapons; and if he will make a statement. [8655]

The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): Decisions on any replacement of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent are likely to be necessary in the lifetime of the current Parliament, which will of course last some years. I have no doubt the issue will be raised whenever we discuss defence in this House.

Michael Gove: Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will no longer appease the hard-left sentiments of the unilateralist disarmers who are sadly so numerous on Labour's Back Benches? Will he end prevarication on this question and give us a firm commitment that the nuclear deterrent will be modernised urgently in the interests of the defence of this country?

John Reid: I can certainly say to the hon. Gentleman, who is relatively new to the House, that I have never appeased nor will I appease those who call, in today's circumstances, for unilateral nuclear disarmament, such as the former Conservative Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Michael Portillo, who did so several weeks ago. Nor will the hon. Gentleman find me, unlike colleagues of his on the Front Bench, co-authoring articles in The Guardian with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Mr. Mullin: All I am looking for is a little transparency. With respect to my right hon. Friend and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with whom I raised this subject the other day, official pronouncements on the subject so far have been
4 Jul 2005 : Column 6
remarkably vague. May we know when the decision has to be taken and, in due course, what the cost is likely to be and, perhaps, what the purpose of a new generation of nuclear weapons will be? Is my right hon. Friend in a position to assist with inquiries? If he is not, who is?

John Reid: As they would say in Glasgow, "Ah'm yer man" when it comes to assisting my hon. Friend. I have been pretty transparent. First, we pledged no longer than two months ago in our manifesto—to which my hon. Friend was as committed as I was, as far as I am aware—that we would retain the minimum nuclear deterrent, so that is our position. Secondly, the minimum nuclear deterrent that we have at the moment will last us between 10 and 20 years. Thirdly, as far as the situation beyond that is concerned, I have said to my hon. Friend that we have not started even considering, far less taking decisions on, the details of that. That is why I cannot give him costs for the various alternatives. That is as straight as I can make it. It also has the benefit of being honest, even though it may not satisfy my hon. Friend.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): More than 50 years ago, a Tory Government made a unilateral announcement that the UK would no longer develop offensive biological and chemical weapons. Would not a similar announcement that there would be no successor to Trident make a positive contribution to the global process of eliminating those weapons of mass destruction?

John Reid: Well, we are talking about events 10 to 20 years away. Although the hon. Gentleman may think that making such decisions arbitrarily is a good method—

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) indicated assent.

John Reid: I see the hon. Gentleman nods, but at this very moment his party is discussing whether to join NATO, which would of course mean joining the nuclear club. What is sauce for the goose has to be sauce for the gander. The House should consider the matter carefully, rather than taking any arbitrary decisions. If the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) can tell us off the top of his head what the situation will be in 10 to 20 years' time, we would all greatly benefit from that.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend say whether, in the event that he intends not only to retain the deterrent but to replace it, he would expect the defence budget to be increased? If he does not expect that budget increase, would it not be entirely rational to decide that it might be wiser to husband his budget for the peacekeeping and stability missions that the British forces do so well and which, as I can testify, greatly enhance Britain's standing in the world?

John Reid: If my right hon. Friend will allow me, I would rather study the options and their implications before drawing conclusions from any of those options,
4 Jul 2005 : Column 7
whether on the basis of cost or anything else. When we consider the dynamics of change over the last six years, we find, in terms of our nuclear deterrent, that on the one hand we have reduced to a single form of nuclear deterrence—the only nation to do so; we have abolished the WE177 freefall bomb, detargeted our missiles and reduced the number of warheads and the number of boats we have at sea. On the other hand, since then, we have discovered that North Korea, Pakistan, India and, formerly, Libya were in the process of developing programmes, and there may have been aims in Iraq, too. The situation is constantly fluid and it behoves all of us to give the matter serious and prolonged consideration rather than pre-empting or prejudging it, or making arbitrary decisions on something so important.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): As the co-author of the article to which the Secretary of State referred, may I advise him and the House that it is a sorry state of affairs when a former head of CND and a former leading opponent of CND have to get together to write such an article to try to persuade the Government to let the debate begin? Our key question to the Secretary of State is not will he keep Trident until the end of its useful life, but will he continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them? When the people of Britain are asked, two thirds say yes, we should, and one quarter say no, we should not. Hardly anyone is undecided. Why is the Secretary of State undecided?

John Reid: I am decided and I have told the hon. Gentleman what I have decided. Unfortunately, I am in government and he is not—that is really the source of frustration. However, I am glad that he raised the matter, because when we consider what could possibly bring CND and Conservative Front Benchers together on defence—[Hon. Members: "Debate."] It is not a matter of debate. We have debated it at every Question Time; every time we have a debate on defence we debate the issue, so it cannot be lack of debate that brought them together. The fact is that it has nothing to do with a serious decision about our strategic needs, whether nuclear or otherwise: it is simply that CND and Conservative Front Benchers want to discomfit the Government. Well, they can continue debating, but I am afraid they do not discomfit me in the least.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) that he wanted to listen to the views of the House. How will he discern those views? Will we just have open-ended debate, or will there be a vote at some stage where opinions can crystallise?

John Reid: The answer to the first question is that I discern those views by listening, although listening does not necessarily mean that I accept them; it depends on the rationale and logic of what is put to me. As regards debate, I find myself in the peculiar position where I am attacked from both sides of the House for not debating the issue and by my hon. Friend for endless debate on it.
4 Jul 2005 : Column 8


4. Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): If he will make a statement on British forces being deployed to Darfur. [8654]

The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): The UK continues to play a significant role in seeking to improve conditions in Darfur, through complementary NATO and EU aid to the African Union's observer mission.

Mr. Ellwood: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, although he did not actually answer my question. After the Live 8 events, on which I am sure the whole House will congratulate Bob Geldof and his team, the world's attention is focused on Africa, nowhere more so than Sudan, where ethnic cleansing and genocide have led to thousands upon thousands of deaths. So, are the Government satisfied that sending a total of 17 soldiers and officers, 15 under a NATO flag and two under a rival EU flag, is really doing enough in what the UN described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at present?

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman is right that this matter is important. These are tragic circumstances, in which, perhaps, the response of the world community as a whole has been belated—as it has been in certain other cases. Having said that, if we are to contribute—however much and through whichever mechanism—I think the hon. Gentleman will accept, as do both the EU and NATO, that there must be a lead from the African Union, so we are responding to the request of the African Union. I leave aside the fact that currently our service personnel are in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. We are actually responding to what the African Union wanted, which is logistical support.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Would my right hon. Friend care to give an opinion? He may not have seen last night's "Panorama" programme, which gave a further response to the tragedy in Darfur. It is clear that the AU is doing invaluable work—it is a real test for the AU—but what the AU needs more than anything on the ground is logistical support, which can only come from developed countries such as the UK. So I hear what he has to say, but will he go back and talk to his NATO colleagues and, indeed, those in the EU to find out what additional support can be brought to bear to ensure that the AU is as effective as possible on the ground?

John Reid: Absolutely. I do not think there is any difference of intent between my hon. Friend and me. Indeed, it was precisely at the request of the chair of the African Union to both the EU and NATO that I contributed to the discussions, in the EU on 23 May and NATO, I think, on 9 June. Both institutions have concentrated on heavy-lift capacity, which is supported by ourselves and many others in NATO and Europe, to take in the extra 7,000 soldiers who we hope will be supplied by the African Union. That is precisely what we
4 Jul 2005 : Column 9
are doing. I am not saying that it is ever enough, but it is what was asked for by the African Union, which must, after all, take the lead in this matter.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Given any possible international deployment of military personnel, will the right hon. Gentleman give the people of Northern Ireland the assurance that they require that the required military personnel and their bases will be there to deal with the very fluid situation in the coming months?

John Reid: Yes, I can give that assurance.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): As the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) pointed out, the world's attention on the Make Poverty History campaign has put more focus on devastated, poverty and conflicted-ridden regions such as Darfur. We certainly believe that there should be more urgency in the international community's efforts to find a peaceful solution, but we welcome the Government's contributions so far. Will the Secretary of State confirm how much of the assistance pledged to the African Union by the Secretary of State for International Development in his written statement on 13 June has now been provided? Given the widespread fears about the scale of the crimes against humanity in Darfur, does he believe that the 7,700 troops committed by the African Union are sufficient for the task in hand? If the force is to be extended, will the United Kingdom and its NATO and EU partners be able to supplement the logistical and technical support offered so far?

John Reid: The answer to the first question is that I do not know how much of that assistance has been delivered at present. If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman. The answer to the second question—whether I think the troop numbers are sufficient—is that time will tell, but the number is what the African Union thinks is sufficient at present. The answer to the third question is that we will give whatever help we can. Although that has been diminished to 17 personnel—to paraphrase the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood)—the UK has, in fact, already provided significant logistical assistance, including approximately 600 vehicles, rapid deployment equipment, air-lift for Nigerian soldiers and technical military advice. On 13 June, we announced an increase in our contribution of £19 million, bringing our contribution to £32 million, on top of everything that the Department for International Development has given. So we have already made a significant contribution, and we will continue to do so, because the situation is tragic.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): All hon. Members would agree that this is an horrific situation, which many of us have been pursuing for the past year. Will the Secretary of State explain the bizarre command and control arrangements in Darfur? Contrary to every existing military principle, is it the case that only an EU headquarters is being established because of French antipathy towards NATO and the United States? Does he believe that having two headquarters running one operation will contribute to a successful and efficient operation there?

John Reid: In fact, far from illustrating a dichotomy or contradiction between the two institutions, this has
4 Jul 2005 : Column 10
been perhaps the first major example of how the two institutions can work together. Although there have been no formal contacts, there have been informal ones and, indeed, informal meetings, and both the Secretary-General of NATO and the High Representative of the EU have worked very closely. That is to the benefit of the African Union and the people in the area itself, which is as it should be. We have never believed that the European Union security and defence policy and NATO should be contradictory and competitive. One of the principles that I made absolutely plain to both those institutions is that they should work in partnership, in complementing and dovetailing with each other, and they have done so on this occasion to a far greater extent than ever before.

Next Section IndexHome Page