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barely does justice to what is being decided: the building of an entire new class of ballistic missile submarines, along with the updating of our Trident missile force, together representing the single most important and expensive procurement of the coming decades. In effect—unless there is, as the Foreign Secretary said, some fundamental and utterly unexpected change in world affairs—this means deciding to replace our nuclear deterrent for another generation, and our vote tonight will be the decision on whether to do so.

The motion also refers to taking

Let me make it clear that those disarmament steps have the strong support of the Opposition. Britain is already unique among the recognised nuclear weapons states, in that we have reduced our nuclear deterrent capability to a single system, Trident. We have reduced the size of our nuclear arsenal by 70 per cent. since the cold war, and the Government rightly propose to make a further reduction in our stock of warheads from 200 to 160. We have only a single Trident submarine on deterrent patrol at any one time, with its missiles de-targeted.

Mr. Redwood: If my right hon. Friend were Foreign Secretary now, what additional steps would he take to try to achieve more multilateral disarmament on the back of our unilateral moves?

Mr. Hague: I think there is a very strong case for an intensified effort by this country and our allies to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty. I shall say more about that at the end of my speech, and I shall deal with my right hon. Friend’s point then.

For all the reasons I have given, I agree with the Government that their proposals do not breach article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. That article does not call for unilateral nuclear disarmament, but calls for the pursuit of negotiations in good faith relating to nuclear weapons.

With the end of the cold war, it was understandably hoped that the role of nuclear weapons in shaping the international system might become less relevant. Some people expected that nuclear weapons might be marginalised, or even abolished altogether; but unfortunately, they still have a major relevance 16 years after the end of the cold war. New nuclear weapons states have emerged, and new would-be nuclear powers have appeared on the world horizon.

The truth is that as far as we can see into the future, nuclear weapons will remain part—however much we hope they will be a diminishing part—of the global security setting. The knowledge to build them will
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continue to exist; they will not be disinvented. This country has set a good example in the reduction of its nuclear arsenal, but we should not think for a moment that if we were to divest ourselves altogether of that arsenal, other nations would be likely to follow suit for that reason, or countries known to be seeking a nuclear weapon would thereupon abandon their programmes.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my background was heavily affected by the cold war; my parents came from Estonia. In the past, I assumed that deterrence worked. Does the right hon. Gentleman have a view as to whether nuclear weapons truly did prevent a hot war arising between the west and the east, or, in retrospect, does he think that we overestimate the impact of our having had nuclear weapons? I am equivocal about that myself, and I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman thinks about it.

Mr. Hague: All we can go on is the evidence of history. The hot war—to use the hon. Gentleman’s phrase—did not happen. One of the factors that brought the cold war to a peaceful end was the strength shown by the western alliance—by NATO—not only in having independent nuclear deterrents in Washington, London and Paris, but also in deploying, as an alliance, theatre nuclear weapons, which was highly controversial at the time, as we all remember. The hon. Gentleman should remember that point when he comes to vote this evening.

I was very struck by the speech in the House of Lords on 24 January of Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, a former colleague in this House who was the Labour party’s defence spokesman in the period when it championed unilateral nuclear disarmament. He said that when Lord Kinnock and other Front-Bench colleagues of the time

He added that those experiences marked the beginning of new Labour in foreign and security policy.

For the policy we are currently discussing above all others, it remains the case today that laudable idealism must be leavened with gritty realism. In terms of numbers, there have been large reductions in the American and Russian arsenals, but within the last 10 years we have also seen the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons tests, the modernisation of China’s nuclear arsenal, North Korea’s proliferation, the discovery of Iran’s covert nuclear programme and the evolution of Russia’s nuclear doctrine, placing increased emphasis on nuclear weapons to offset its conventional weakness. All that demonstrates that the nature of the long-term threat to the peace of the world from nuclear weapons has changed but has not necessarily diminished. Indeed, according to “Strategic Trends”, an independent view of the future produced by a body in the Ministry of Defence,

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That view certainly seems to be borne out by what we see around the world.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is giving a fine exposition of traditional Tory policy in the area under discussion, but does he agree that the key issue—which will be debated today, given that the selected amendment addresses it—is timing? Does he accept the Government’s verdict on the timing? That is an important question, bearing in mind the fact that the Opposition accepted the Government’s argument about weapons of mass destruction, which was found to be fallacious.

Mr. Hague: Of course, timing is a very important issue. I agree with the Government’s view, and I shall say why shortly if I may proceed with my speech, but I feel that the subject under discussion and the decision to be made are sufficiently important that I need to set out why in principle the Opposition support the decision, as well as our views on the details of the timing.

“Strategic Trends”, the document I was quoting from, states that

by those countries. Furthermore, it states that

with the possibility of the collapse of central authority and nuclear material falling into the hands of hostile regimes. In summary, it states that

The decision on which the Government are seeking the endorsement of the House tonight would enable us to have an independent nuclear deterrent until at least the 2040s and possibly into the 2050s. We cannot, of course, see 50 years into the future, but that is the whole point. While none of the existing nuclear weapons powers poses an imminent military threat to the United Kingdom, to retain our deterrent is, in the words of the Defence Committee, to maintain “the prudent hedge” against an unknowable and possibly unpleasant future. It represents a vital ability to deter potential aggressors who will be both more diverse and less predictable than in the past.

Norman Baker: The right hon. Gentleman did not mention Israel in his list of nuclear states. Does he accept that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is a major destabilising factor in the middle east and that it is encouraging Iran to acquire nuclear capability; and what is his policy on dealing with that matter?

Mr. Hague: People cite the example of Israel having nuclear weapons, although I suspect that if we had been in Israel’s situation over recent decades we would have wanted to have nuclear weapons, so I am not going to give advice to the Israeli Government about that.

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The realistic planning that I have been speaking of has to assume that the UK will continue to be engaged in regional hot spots, including—but not limited to—the middle east, and that British military operations might have to be conducted in the face of local states possessing weapons of mass destruction of some kind. Nuclear capability, even when its use seems remote, significantly enhances confidence in dealing with a potential adversary.

As will of course be pointed out in this debate, we cannot know that any situation will arise in the coming decades where we will need the threat of our deterrent; equally, we cannot know that no such situation will arise—and, indeed, arise quite quickly. Let us think of our predecessors in this House of 100 years ago—of 1907. They were entitled to think that they were living in an age of fairly assured peace and constantly rising prosperity, with nothing more serious than regional wars in the previous half century. They had no inkling that within 40 years they would face the two greatest cataclysms in human history—calamities which could only have been reduced in scale had they been better prepared for them. With the sobering example of previous centuries before us, and with all the evidence in this century—from the middle east in particular—pointing to the next few decades being, if anything, more dangerous than the last few decades, I have to subscribe to the view that the abandonment of our nuclear deterrent would be extraordinarily ill advised, and, indeed, a national act of folly.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has talked about our predecessors of 100 years ago. Does he accept that his point would be even more powerfully made if our predecessors of 80 years or 70 years ago were mentioned? Understandably after the shocking experience of the first world war, they sought disarmament for the best of motives, but they could not have anticipated the rise of the dictatorships in Germany and elsewhere that plunged the world into an even worse disaster, and which might have been mitigated, or possibly avoided, had the western democracies maintained a strong defensive stance.

Mr. Hague: The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point that supplements mine. In the run-up to that great world crisis in the 1930s, we would have been better able to respond, and to try to avoid it, if this country had been in a position of military strength rather than weakness.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman referred to events of 100 years ago. Of course, 100 years ago we had the British empire. Even when I was at school, the map of the world was coloured red. [Interruption.] Well, I am not as old as some in this Chamber. What we should be discussing is Britain’s role in the world at the current time, with the nuclear issue being a part of that debate.

Mr. Hague: Of course this debate is about our role in the world at present, which is why I am talking about the middle east, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere. I am simply pointing out that, in deciding on what should be our current role in the world, we have to be conscious of the lessons of history; otherwise, we will repeat some of the mistakes of history, such as that to which the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) has just referred.

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Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished historian, but I am sure that 1907—not that I personally was around then—was the time of the great Anglo-German naval arms race. The Dreadnought was the weapon of mass destruction of its time. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that that arms race was a contributory factor in causing the awful war that broke out in August 1914?

Mr. Hague: First, that arms race had not started in 1907. Secondly, we are not talking about an arms race—this country is getting rid of 20 per cent. of its warheads, and it has got rid of 70 per cent. of its previous stock of warheads. We ought to bear it in mind that if the arms race before the first world war had gone in the same direction as current Government policy on the stock of nuclear warheads, there probably would not have been a first world war.

I have nothing but respect for those who wish—

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague: Go on, then.

Mr. Willis: All Members of the House have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman and we do understand the arguments that he is putting forward. However, the logic of his position is that if every single state in the world were given a nuclear weapon, the world would be safer. That is nonsense, is it not?

Mr. Hague: That is not the logic, and it is the reason why we have the non-proliferation treaty, to which we are signatories. Everything that the Government have proposed is in line with that treaty, as is resisting other states developing nuclear weapons. By the way, I have the greatest of respect for the hon. Gentleman, as well; we North Yorkshire MPs have to stick together. However, he must not think that if we announced today our intention not to have a nuclear deterrent in future, other countries—those in Tehran, for example—would say, “What a relief! We are now going to abandon our nuclear intentions.” That is not the way the world works, as he and I know; we simply have to make the realistic decision.

I have nothing but respect for those who wish the world could be free of nuclear weapons—most or all of us do—but our own total disarmament would no more make it so than wishing it so would. Crucially, the absence of our own nuclear weapons would make us more dependent, not less, on the United States of America. It is perhaps a paradox that those who oppose this decision are often among the fiercest critics of the United States; yet, in the ultimate crisis, such people would leave our security wholly dependent on the credibility and resolve of the White House—or of the √Člysée—and its readiness to risk everything for the sake of Britain. Can we always be confident of that—that that would apply to the occupant of the White House for decades to come? I do not think that we can have that confidence.

For all these reasons, the arguments in principle for replacing our deterrent therefore seem to me overwhelming. The risks of not replacing it far outweigh the difficulty and expense of doing so.
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Furthermore, the advantages of a submarine-launched system, which is as invulnerable to attack as any weapons system in the modern world can be, also seem overwhelming. So we support the maintenance of a continuous at-sea deterrent, which until now has necessitated possession of four ballistic missile submarines. We would of course like to know when the Government think it will be possible to decide whether the new class of submarines can operate with only three vessels. The alternative of submarine-launched cruise missiles has also been suggested, but we share the Government’s judgment that that would not only require the development of new technologies, but would require a submarine to be far closer to its potential target to have any deterrent effect. We also share the Government’s view that the possession of ballistic missiles that can be launched from anywhere in the world toward anywhere in the world is an important part of successful deterrence.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Hague: Let me make a bit of progress. I want to leave time for other Members.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will say more when he winds up about cost—questions have already been asked about that—on which a fourth submarine would obviously have a major impact. One witness to the Defence Select Committee, Dr. Jeremy Stocker of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has argued that

suggesting that the current fleet of Vanguard-class submarines costs a little under £6 billion at current prices, if the cost of warheads and missiles is considered separately. The Government’s estimate for the new submarines, however, has come in at £11 billion to £14 billion. If these figures are indeed correct, I hope that Ministers will explain in more detail why the costs are expected to be so much higher.

The Government have stated that the cost of UK participation in American plans to extend the life of the Trident D5 missile will be about £250 million. It is not clear whether there will be further costs, in order to extend the life of the missile, if necessary, into the 2040s. We would also be interested to know how much the detailed concept work shortly to commence on the Vanguard will cost. Can the Secretary of State provide an estimate of the cost of the work that will be undertaken in the period of the comprehensive spending review?

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