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The post-cold war environment today is, of course, utterly different from 20 years ago and even the Ministry
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of Defence cannot plausibly identify an enemy—either currently or in future—against whom Trident might be necessary. I will come on in a few moments to the uncertainties of future events in the world and to what I believe to be the central issue of the debate.

Mr. Borrow: My right hon. Friend mentioned his concern for the views of the electorate as against those of the House. Should he be successful and become the leader of our party in the autumn—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—will he give an undertaking to reverse the party’s policy of multilateral nuclear disarmament. If he fails to do so, will he abide by party policy?

Mr. Meacher: I am pleased to see the widespread support that I receive—at least on one side of the House! I would certainly reopen this decision, as I believe that consultation has not been adequate. I would like to see a consultation along the lines of the first strategic defence review, which lasted for a year—1997 to 98, I believe—as nothing less would be right now. On that basis, and taking account of all the relevant options—they have not all been put sufficiently to the electorate—I believe that we should have a further two-day parliamentary debate. I give an absolute commitment that I would abide by the result. I believe that it would provide a fresh and genuine mandate.

If we are talking about the threats that our country faces today, we know that they are primarily terrorism, climate change and long-term energy security—against all of which, of course, nuclear weapons are useless. Furthermore, this is not an independent British nuclear deterrent, since the platform, the delivery system, the warheads, and even the onshore support, are all dependent on our US relationship. The Trident II D5 missiles are leased from the US missile pool under a system known in the trade as “rent a rocket”.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher: No, I am not giving way again.

Not only are the warheads designed by the US, but several crucial components without which the system could not work are manufactured in the US, and the system is also reliant on US software for all aspects of targeting. What is even more serious in respect of our over-dependence on the US is that the US provides this kit to us not because they believe that we are necessary to the defence of the west, but because it makes us subservient to US foreign policy. We have already seen that with Iraq and Lebanon, and could well see it again over Iran. I, for one, believe that that is a political price far too high to pay for the next 30 or 40 years.

The enormous cost, of a distinctly vague and uncertain role, has already been touched on. Even MOD officials have admitted that the lifetime costs of Trident renewal could be two to three times the £15 billion to £20 billion figures mentioned in the White Paper—and that covers only the initial building of the system. That is close to the £75 billion I mentioned earlier, which is the amount arrived at by the independent think-tank, the British American Security Information Council.

Figures of that magnitude starkly expose the recently highlighted funding gap within the MOD’s current procurement plans beyond 2012. That includes some major equipment procurement such as two carriers, the joint strike fighters and possibly a third tranche of
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Typhoon Eurofighters. The budget means that we cannot have both those and Trident together: we have to make a choice. I would submit that those systems are likely to be far more relevant and valuable for our defence capability in future than nuclear weapons.

The truth is that none of our wars have been won with nuclear weapons and none of our enemies deterred by them. General Galtieri was not deterred from seizing the Falklands, even though we had nuclear weapons and he did not. The US had nuclear weapons, but that did not prevent them from being defeated in Vietnam and now in Iraq. The French had nuclear weapons, but that did not prevent them from being chased out of Indo-China and Algeria. Israel, of course, had nuclear weapons, but that did not prevent them from being evicted from Lebanon by Hezbollah in 2000 and again last year.

The only argument that the Government and the Opposition fall back on is that we might one day in the hypothetical future, in a worst-case scenario, face a rogue state. However, the logic of the “rogue state” argument, as has rightly been pointed out, is that if we need nuclear weapons against such an eventuality, so does everybody else—not just Iran but the 40 or so technologically advanced states that are already capable of producing nuclear weapons. The question that then arises, which we need to answer tonight, is whether British will really be a safer place if we trigger a spate of nuclear proliferation across the world leading to regional arms races and a world of 40 or more nuclear states. Far from the risk of nuclear war being diminished, I submit that it is far more likely to be enhanced—whether from miscalculation, terrorist acquisition or another cause.

There is no question but that renewing Trident will undermine the spirit of the non-proliferation treaty. There has been a lot of discussion about that, but let us be clear that the deal in that treaty is that the non-nuclear countries will not seek nuclear weapons, on condition that nuclear countries move steadily and in good faith to full—I emphasise the word “full”—nuclear disarmament. If we decide to renew Trident, that will be a clear message that the nuclear states—although I entirely concede that they are making some important reductions in their nuclear weaponry—are nevertheless still baulking at the end process of nuclear disarmament. That is all too likely in time to lead to a steady growth of further proliferation among a whole swathe of non-nuclear states. Ultimately, that could prove unstoppable.

No one—certainly not me—supports the view that Britain can unilaterally bring about nuclear disarmament world wide. That is a complete canard. Of course we cannot, but there is a window of opportunity. Most experts agree that there is no requirement for an immediate decision to be taken on this issue before at least 2014. That gives us an invaluable opportunity to take the lead, which is what I think we should do, in trying to set up a multinational, multilateral nuclear disarmament conference embracing not only the existing nuclear states but also the non-nuclear states that might be tempted to go down this route, in order to give a decisive multilateral push to halting nuclear proliferation.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Meacher: No, I do not have the time. I believe that what I have described is a much better route to a safer world, and we are in pole position to take a global lead.

Finally, let us not forget that over the past generation more nations have given up nuclear weapons than have developed them. None of those countries—Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, other former Soviet states and South Africa—regard themselves as less safe than they were before—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

4.23 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): It is good to follow a few excellent speeches in the debate. I particularly compliment the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) who, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, was the Member for Edinburgh, South before the current hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), who has made his resignation speech. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) was of very much the same opinion, and I am sure that the Labour Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) will also oppose the Government tonight, as will I as the Member for Edinburgh, West. There may be something in the water.

Tonight’s decision on Trident will haunt the House if we get it wrong. If anyone is still wondering why there is a rush to make a decision now, the answer is clear. The Americans are extending the life of their D5 Trident missiles and they want answers in 2007. They need to know whether we are willing to join them. There is no pressing military, political, technical or other reason to make the decision now. The only reason we are being bounced into this decision is the current Prime Minister and his wish to leave the country’s hands tied long after he has gone. It is not the submarines that are reaching the end of their shelf life; it is the Prime Minister.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why, months before the Prime Minister made his statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he believed that we should keep the nuclear deterrent not only in the present Parliament, but in the long-term future, and why the defence White Paper, as long ago as 2003, made it abundantly clear that the decision would have to be taken in this Parliament? That was nothing to do with the Prime Minister leaving office.

John Barrett: I am sure that the Chancellor would like to see the dirty deed done for him before he comes to office. In the Government’s White Paper we are told that only the Prime Minister can push the nuclear button. That is of little comfort to many inside and outside the House.

I am glad to be called to speak in the debate, because not only do I feel strongly about this issue, but I know that many of my constituents feel the same way. Many have written to me and some have asked for copies of the Government’s document on the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent. Others have written on behalf of larger groups and organisations, for example, the Churches.

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Emily Thornberry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Barrett: No, I am just going to give way once.

It has been interesting to hear those views and I have read and answered every letter and e-mail. There has been a steady flow. It would be good to give a few examples of people who wrote to ask me to support the Government’s position, but there was not one. One letter was from an Edinburgh city councillor, who asked me to oppose the Government tonight—he asked for my support and he is a Labour councillor.

I have said on many occasions that there are two threats that we must face up to: global warming and terrorism. Nuclear weapons, as has been said earlier, are useless against both. There has been much talk about the uncertainty of the future. Why, then, are the Government so convinced that, in the face of that uncertainty, a nuclear arsenal is the answer? If deterrence is working, will someone explain exactly which nations are being deterred? Which country is so mad that it would launch a nuclear strike on us and, at the same time, so reasonable that it would be stopped from doing so by our possession of these weapons?

The potential use of the weapons is also a key issue. Page 14 of the Government’s White Paper refers to the fact that the Government believe that the use of the weapons would not be unlawful and that the threshold for legitimate use would be high. Well, that might be good enough for some, but it provides little comfort to me or many outside this place. Combined with the statement that

it means that the weapons might be used either in a pre-emptive strike, possibly to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, or in retaliation, again to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Either way, it would be a disaster and immoral.

Relying on intelligence to launch that first strike is asking others to do the same if they feel under threat from us. Giving everyone a gun does not make our streets a safer place to live in. We in this country are members of a very small, exclusive club of nuclear powers. A very few countries want to join, but most countries are not members and do not want to join. Most European countries do not possess nuclear weapons. If it is good enough for Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Norway, it should be good enough for us.

Page 22 of the White Paper describes the Government’s preference for an invulnerable and undetectable system. That is the key component of the entire system. However, the proposal is also based on the assumption that the technology to detect the position of submarines at sea will not be developed soon. When that technology is more accurate and widespread, the position of the submarines will not be a secret at all. Having all the missiles in a submarine whose position is known makes that submarine a target for every terrorist and rogue state that we can think of.

If proliferation is a problem, what moral justification is there to say that we are entitled to possess nuclear weapons, but others, such as North Korea and Iran, are not? Members do not have to take my word for it, they can listen to what Dr. Hans Blix had to say. I remember well when the House was presented with the evidence
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in relation to Iraq. When he challenged that dodgy dossier, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, the Prime Minister should have listened to him, and we should listen to him now. He has said that modernising Britain’s arsenal will put the non-proliferation treaty under strain and will increase the likelihood that non-nuclear states such as Iran will want to join that nuclear club. The chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission knows what he is talking about and we should heed his words.

What could be done with the money saved if Trident were not replaced? Our priorities should be protecting the planet, building a first-class health and education service, investing in our children’s future and looking after the vulnerable in society. Further afield, the wars that we should be waging with those resources are the war against poverty and hunger in Africa and beyond and the battle against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which have killed more than 6 million people this year. We should be caring for the victims of war, not creating more. We should be helping orphans, those trapped in refugee camps in Darfur and the millions who do not have access to clean drinking water.

I will be voting against the Government’s plans to replace Trident. Once again, the Prime Minister will have the support of much of the Conservative party, which is no surprise as many Conservative Members see him as their natural leader. We have the opportunity to look forward and raise our gaze above the horizon. Those who want to build a future based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction will not only make the world a more dangerous place, but miss a golden opportunity to leave behind an age in which mankind has spent much time developing weapons with the capacity to destroy all life on the planet many times over. Saying that the best that we can think of is to spend billions of pounds on a weapon of mass destruction is an admission of failure. We should be offering the British public something better. Nuclear weapons were developed to deal with the threat of the last century. It is time to move on and consign them to history.

4.31 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): There is an anachronistic feel about the debate—it is like a debate from another era. Time and the world have moved on, and we should move on as well.

In the modern world, new fears have emerged that are based on new threats. Those fears and menaces demand new responses. If we do not recognise that the world has changed and simply respond to new fears with old solutions, we not only fail to address the real threats, but we risk contributing to setting in train a process of global instability and nuclear proliferation, which has the potential of spiralling out of all control.

The old way of responding to fear was a form of international trench warfare. Armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and clinging to each other in aggressive alliances for mutual protection, we sat tight in the trench monitoring the enemy’s every move. In a bipolar world, the enemy was visible, obvious and predictable. The new threats are unpredictable and often barely visible. Sometimes the threats come from other states, but they are more likely to come from small, invisible and unpredictable terrorist groups. In the modern world, new techniques are used to deal with states and terrorism.

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Mr. Sarwar: Does my hon. Friend accept that the biggest threats to this country come from terrorism and climate change, and that the investment of tens of billions of pounds in a nuclear arsenal and weapons of mass destruction will not help a bit to tackle those two important issues?

John McDonnell: It is irrefutable that if we look into the 21st century, the major threats are exactly those that my hon. Friend identifies. I fully concur that this investment will not contribute to tackling those threats.

If a state is the cause of international or regional tension, the international community is becoming increasingly adept at engaging in negotiated solutions to bring such wayward states into line. The demonstration of a united approach through global institutions such as the UN and the use of economic and diplomatic isolation have become an effective means of resolving individual state-led threats. If diplomatic and economic isolation have not worked, the threat, or actual use, of conventional forces in the last resort has been deployed. That is the proportionate response in the modern setting.

The argument put forward to justify a new nuclear weapons system is that we cannot predict what threat will emerge in the future, or what rogue state will arrive on the scene to threaten us with nuclear attack. In reality, we can and we do. Rogue states do not just develop on the world state unannounced; they develop over time. Ironically, it is often the British and United States Governments that have nurtured and armed them, and assisted in placing in political power a brutal regime to rule them. However, that is another story.

Tackling rogue states effectively in the future will not rest on the deterrent effect of the nuclear arsenal of an individual country such as Britain. The concept of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent looks even more preposterous now than it did four decades ago. Any strategy to deal with an errant state will, of necessity, be dependent on international co-operation. It will be based on the early identification of possible conflicts and the promotion of conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

Even if, in a transitional phase, there was an underlying role for the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons, it would not be based on the fiction of an independent British deterrent, but on an internationally controlled deterrent, possibly under UN determination. Indeed, bringing nuclear weapons under international decision making is the obvious first step towards their eventual elimination. If the only remaining argument for Britain’s retention of Trident and our development of new nuclear capabilities is the unpredictability of the emergence of threat states, I point out that any workable rogue-state strategy has to be based on extensive dialogue with our international partners and on the securing of a new international agreement. If we decide to replace Trident today, we not only undermine our commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, but pre-empt any attempt to secure a new international settlement.

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