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The worry about the new states seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, such as Iran and North Korea, is that they do not have the tradition of restraint—until recently, India and Pakistan did not even introduce a hotline to minimise the risks associated with nuclear weapons. To imagine that this country’s security would somehow be safeguarded in a world in which new
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nuclear powers are coming forward and in which, were the advice accepted, western Europe was to be the one region that not only did not have the capacity to deal with such threats but had by its own choice ceased to have that capacity, would be very foolish.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes referred, quite reasonably, to terrorist organisations. Of course we cannot threaten to use nuclear weapons against a terrorist organisation; but terrorist organisations are already seeking, and will continue to seek, to acquire the capacity to develop dirty bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, and they will look to rogue states—to Governments—to provide them.

We know already that some Governments have been willing to provide terrorist organisations with the most vicious armaments. It is those Governments whom we can deter by making clear, as we must, that in the event of any attack involving weapons of mass destruction—certainly nuclear weapons—we would not simply go for the terrorists concerned. We would go for those who had supplied them as well, even—especially—if they were Governments who did not accept the proper international constraints.

It is not as if we are saying that progress towards multilateral disarmament is either undesirable or unattainable. The Government are right to point to the fact that under successive Governments—both the last Conservative Government and this Labour Administration—the United Kingdom has moved further than other nuclear power in reducing its nuclear capability. I was Secretary of State for Defence when we made the decision to get rid of our free-fall nuclear capability, to get rid of tactical nuclear weapons, and to make the first substantial reductions in the number of warheads available for our Trident system. That policy has been pursued.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who said that the time had come to begin discussions with France on possible co-operation. Any threat to France or the United Kingdom in this regard must be a threat to both, given the geographical proximity of our two countries. When the Conservatives were in office we initiated informal discussions with the French Government to establish whether there were common thoughts on nuclear doctrine and on the way forward. My right hon. Friend made some imaginative proposals in suggesting that this might be the time at which to take those discussions further.

The Government deserve the House’s support not because this decision will be irreversible, but because it gives a clear indication of our national intent.

3.56 pm

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Britain is a nuclear power, and has been a nuclear power for 50 years. We became a nuclear power at the end of the last war when we faced a threat from the then Soviet Union, and the development of the uncertainty of the cold war emphasised that threat. Fortunately the cold war has passed into the history books, but I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that, given the way in
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which Russia has developed and is developing, there is no certainty that we can be secure in our relations with that country.

Now we are faced with new dangers and new threats from international terrorism and potential rogue states that would seek to undermine international security by sponsoring acts of terrorism, which could involve dirty bombs and nuclear weapons. In 1956, who would have predicted that in 2007 countries such as North Korea, India and Pakistan would have a nuclear capability, or that Iran would have nuclear ambitions? Now, in 2007, who can predict with any certainty the threats and challenges that this country, and indeed the international community, will face in 2024? That inability to predict the future means that scrapping the United Kingdom’s independent nuclear deterrent would be a grave mistake, not just for this generation but for future generations.

The White Paper sets out three possible scenarios. We might face the re-emergence of a strategic nuclear threat, we might face the emergence of a new nuclear threat, or we might face the deliberate equipping of terrorist groups with nuclear weapons by a state sponsor. Each of those scenarios might seem too terrible to imagine, but sadly any one of them is possible, and it is for that reason that we must retain our nuclear deterrent.

Those who say that the way forward is merely to give up nuclear weapons must prove that we would not become a soft target for state-sponsored terrorism, or for others who seek to threaten us. I know that, in truth, it is not possible to prove that. While I appreciate the arguments that are advanced, I think it is naïve to suggest that if we gave up our nuclear deterrent, states with nuclear ambitions would follow our example. That is not the real world. Life is not like that; would that it were.

By making the decision to maintain our deterrent system beyond the life of the Vanguards with a new generation of ballistic missile-carrying submarines and extending the life of the Trident D5 missiles, we are renewing the insurance policy that we have had since the end of the war to protect us against those would threaten our security. Would any householder faced with the uncertain prospects of storms and other bad weather not make sure that he or she had a proper insurance policy? In an unpredictable and uncertain world, that has to be right for us.

As all the attention has been focused on the renewal of Trident, it is easy to overlook the fact that the White Paper also commits us to a further 20 per cent. cut in operationally available warheads. That is a good step forward that should be welcomed by all Members. For all the uproar over the renewal of our nuclear submarines, there is a clear commitment from this Government that any nuclear deterrent should be sensible and set at the minimum level necessary for the future defence needs of the United Kingdom.

Some might say that we can put off making this decision. That is wrong and lacks political courage. When I look at the Members representing the Liberal Democrats, I wonder where is the party of Gladstone and Lloyd George—the party that had the conviction and moral courage to take the decisions of the day and not run away from them. It will take an estimated 17 years to design, build and fully deploy a new submarine. A delay in making a decision would mean that there
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might be a period when there is a substantial gap in the possession of our deterrent. In what is a rapidly changing world, that is a risk, and we can ill afford to take it.

Attention has been drawn to the cost of the nuclear deterrent, and I am sure that that will be referred to again in other contributions. Indeed, it is right to draw attention to the cost of the Trident replacement. The capital cost of replacing the submarines and extending the life of the missiles is estimated to be £15 billion to £20 billion over 15 years. I agree that that is a massive cost, but if history teaches us anything it is that our freedom is not bought cheaply. There is a cost to preserving our way of life. I, for one, would prefer that we defend our freedom by deploying this deterrent than by sending millions of our young men to the killing fields of war, as we did twice in the last century.

4.2 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): There have been many fine speeches in this debate so far. The outstanding one was that of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). In a previous incarnation, he was the Member for Edinburgh, South; he was beaten in that constituency by the current Member for that seat—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). There is clearly something in the water in that constituency that gives people profound good sense when considering the issue we are debating.

Way back in the 1980s when the right hon. Jim Hacker was the Prime Minister, he developed a “grand design”, which was to get rid of Trident and to invest the money in conventional forces and make the United Kingdom a safer and happier place. He was dissuaded from that course of action by Sir Humphrey, who in doing so was eventually forced to say that the ultimate reason for having Trident was that it was a Rolls-Royce nuclear system and that Britain deserved the best. Even thus far in this debate, I have detected that there is still that underlying argument about Britain deserving the best, because I think that ultimately this argument is about not deterrence, but Britain’s place in the world. It is about virility and vanity, aspiring still to that superpower status, and saying, “We need a submarine platform, ultra-ballistic missile system, and Trident is still the best, so that’s the one that Britain should have.”

The Foreign Secretary tells us that that system amounts to only 1 per cent. of the nuclear weapons in the world and that we are negotiating that away to virtually nothing. In fact there are, according to the Foreign Secretary, so few warheads left in the Trident system that I sometimes wonder why on earth we have it in the first place. Perhaps we should follow Saddam Hussein’s example and merely pretend that we have a nuclear deterrent. Perhaps we could have a virtual nuclear deterrent in order to have deterrence. The destructive force of the real Trident system—the destructive force that is still available—is awe-inspiring and deadly, and, as several Members have said, when we think about it possibly being used, that force is calamitous.

In the 1980s, many eloquent speeches were made by Members on this matter. I was particularly struck by the current Chancellor’s contribution of 19 June 1984. In a debate similar to this one, he said:

Anybody in politics is entitled to change their mind—I have even done it once or twice myself—but I find it extraordinary that people could be against Trident when we faced the real and present danger of the might of the Soviet Union, yet for Trident when we face the potential might of North Korea. That is an extraordinary change of position to adopt. The situation was brilliantly summed up by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the former Chairman of the Defence Committee. He revealed to us that he had been speaking “tosh”, as he put it, back then. I am bound to think that he did not just speak tosh in the past—he is quite capable of speaking it now and well into the future. There has been an incredible volte-face.

I want to speak about civil society in Scotland. Members will recall that Scotland is, after all, to be the scene of the deployment of this new weapons system for the next 50 years, so what the people of Scotland think about it might be of some interest and concern to the House. It is not just that 80 per cent. of people oppose it; throughout Scottish civic society, people are pointing out, led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, that it is unacceptable. Some Labour MSPs make the mistake of saying that there will be a jobs boost. They claim that 11,000 jobs will be created, but unfortunately, parliamentary answers in this House reveal that the figure is 1,300. The cost works out at £5 million a job. As the Scottish TUC has pointed out, the alternative cost is the many thousands of jobs anywhere in the public sector that could be generated by such a figure.

However, there are not just economic arguments but moral arguments, too. Scotland’s Cardinal, Keith O’Brien, has written to me enclosing a statement not just from the Catholic Church in Scotland, but from all the Christian Churches in Scotland: the Church of Scotland, the Quakers, the United Free Church, the United Reform Church, and the Scottish Episcopal Church. Talking about the Churches coming together to make such a statement, our Cardinal said:

The Churches’ statement is a fine one. I will read just two points from what the Churches said:

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland said:

When people in this House say that there is no possibility that Iran or North Korea—or even the French—would respond to our renunciation of nuclear weapons by doing the same, they miss the point entirely. They miss the encouragement that will be given to proliferation if we go ahead and invest in a system for the next 50 years.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Foreign Secretary, in referring to the remarks by
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Mohamed el-Baradei, seemed to give the impression that he was criticising only the United Kingdom in this regard. In the interest of accuracy, I quote what he actually said:

all nuclear countries—

That is his argument.

Mr. Salmond: The point is well made, and of course, it is not just Mohamed el-Baradei; Mikhail Gorbachev and Hans Blix have made very similar arguments, pointing out the dangers in terms of proliferation if the Government go ahead with this disastrous course of action.

The Foreign Secretary repeated what can only be described as the smear made by the Defence Secretary on television a few days ago. She suggested that Mohamed el-Baradei is somehow conspiring against Britain, and that it is unfair that he is commenting only on Trident and not on the other countries. We should remember that this is someone in whom the world is investing so much hope in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Surely this House should have the decency to pay some attention to the points of view that he is expressing. Incidentally, Hans Blix would have no problem whatever in discovering weapons of mass destruction in Scotland—on the River Clyde.

The Prime Minister says that the country is in grave danger. In fact, he keeps coming to Scotland to try to avert that danger—of Scottish independence. He has said that we are really serious about Scottish independence.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond: I know that I am on the subject of seriousness, but I cannot resist the hon. Gentleman.

Jim Sheridan: In the hon. Gentleman’s usual satirical style, he pokes fun at every party that disagrees with him. In the last few minutes of his contribution, can he give us just a slight insight into what the SNP’s defence policy would be?

Mr. Salmond: I poke fun because there has been so much inconsistency in this debate, but even the hon. Gentleman would have to concede that the Scottish National party has been rock-solid consistent in its opposition to nuclear weapons throughout the history both of the party and of nuclear weapons.

In a world of 200 nations, 10 of which are nuclear powers and 190 of which are not, I would like an independent Scotland to be one of the 190, not one of the 10. The desultory argument that has been made is that unless we have nuclear weapons, we will be threatened. If the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), for whom I have great respect, had been the Defence Minister of the state of Iran, he could have put forward exactly the same argument: “We will be threatened unless we acquire a nuclear deterrent.” It was said earlier by the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman that we should understand
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why the state of Israel requires nuclear weapons, but that is against every international agreement. Every country in the world could say, “We are under threat, we require nuclear weapons.” The path on which that argument would set us is not to 10 countries having nuclear weapons, but—given their declining cost—to 100 or 150 having nuclear weapons. Do we really think that in those circumstances, any form of international agreement would stop a nuclear exchange?

It is really important that we try to exert whatever moral force we can towards the de-escalation of the nuclear threat. My point about the Prime Minister is that he said that there was a serious risk of Scottish independence. We believe that it is a fantastic opportunity, but if it is a serious risk, why do people want to put their nuclear weapons in a country that could shortly be independent? Is that really a risk that this House would like to take? I can tell the House that this is something up with which the people of Scotland will not put. Surely in those circumstances the safe course of action for the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea, now that he no longer sits for a Scottish constituency, would be to advocate that the replacement of the weapons system be sited on the River Thames, as opposed to the River Clyde.

Unless people can accept the risk in their own community and unless they can recognise that arguments for proliferation could apply to every country in the world, they will take us down the road not of mutually assured destruction, but of certain destruction, from the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

4.12 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): One cannot but draw encouragement from the fact that when occupants of both Front Benches come together in agreement there must be a good deal to be said for the opposite argument. So it is today. Like others, I do not believe that the Government have adequately or convincingly answered certain fundamental questions about renewing Trident, in particular its true cost, why a decision has to be taken now, whom it is meant to deter, and how it is genuinely compatible with non-proliferation.

Nor has there been a real opportunity to obtain fuller answers, because the process of consultation has been unjustifiably squeezed. There is an unmistakable sense in this latest exercise that both Parliament and the electorate are being bounced into this decision. I still believe that there is a strong case for further and fuller consultation of the electorate before such a momentous decision—which will cost taxpayers some 6 per cent. of GDP—is made.

The argument against renewal of Trident is extremely strong—

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I think that my right hon. Friend meant 6 per cent. of the defence budget, not 6 per cent. of GDP. He may wish to amend the record.

Mr. Meacher: No, I am referring to a cost of £75 billion—I shall discuss that further in a moment—which is roughly 6 per cent. of GDP. It is substantially higher as a proportion of the defence budget.

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