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In this new world, we have new responsibilities. The prime task of any state is to protect its citizens, but we are now formally members of much wider communities and we have a responsibility to work in co-operation with the members of those communities. Individual nuclear solutions, especially in Europe, are as outmoded in the 21st century as gunboat diplomacy was in the late 20th century. The onus is on us to consult extensively
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with our European partners about the future defence of Europe and the role that Britain should play.

Political attitudes in the US are changing rapidly, too, and there needs to be a wider discussion with all political parties in the US about the future of nuclear weapons. As for the UN, given the role that Britain played in developing and signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, if we are to maintain any credibility Britain should at the very least lead an honest debate on the progress that has been made in implementing that treaty before any decision is taken on Trident replacement.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Does the hon. Gentleman think that the world would be a safer place if all western democracies unilaterally gave up all nuclear weapons?

John McDonnell: I believe that it would be a more dangerous place if we invested in a new phase of nuclear development; it is as simple as that. Our job is to promote security and peace, not to undermine it. There is a feeling in our country that the Prime Minister has avoided the meaningful, widespread consultation and debate that a decision of this magnitude deserves. Complaints have been made in the House today about decisions being bounced. There are allegations of a done deal with President Bush and the pre-emption of the parliamentary vote. That does not convey the impression that the country is at ease with the decision-making process that the Labour leadership has fixed on for this critical policy decision, and that is no way to determine a fundamental policy that will affect the lives of the next generation.

Clear choices face our country: do we come into the modern world and recognise that the world and its challenges have changed, or do we sink back into the imagined comfort of the fiction of a British independent nuclear deterrent? The £20 billion, or whatever the escalating figure for the Trident replacement is, will buy us a very expensive comfort blanket that will have an effect on our conventional forces. Do we, out of post-imperial vanity, try to maintain our place at the international high table by ploughing much-needed resources into weapons of mass destruction, or do we appreciate the role that we could play alongside our European partners as a leading peacemaker, a conflict preventer and a conflict resolver?

The debate is not just about Trident—it is about how we see the future of our country. It is about whether we have the courage and honesty to come to terms with the 21st century. Gone are the days of empire, and gone is our vainglorious strutting on the world scene as a military and nuclear power. Instead, we can shape a progressive future for our country as a force for peace in the world. We can lead the world in the debate on how we can progressively eradicate the threat of nuclear war. Today’s debate could be the start of that process, but if we precipitously embrace Trident’s replacement, we could stall that hope for a generation. I choose hope, and that is why I will vote against the Government and the replacement of Trident tonight.

4.39 pm

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): At the height of the second world war, my parents’ home in Plymouth was blitzed by the Nazi dictatorship with conventional weapons.
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In 1947, we moved to Salisbury, which was a garrison city. During my schooldays, I vividly remember the invasion of Hungary, the days of Checkpoint Charlie and the terror—always hanging over us—of the cold war, growing to the time of the Bay of Pigs. All that has conditioned the brief remarks I am about to make.

I want to address the issue of what we think we are deterring and what we think we are defending. However, it is important to recognise that the Government have taken an important step forward by holding the debate at all. On both sides, we have seen responsible government and responsible opposition operating in the best interests of our country.

We need a decision on the issue now. I stand by the three reports that the Defence Committee, of which I am a member, has taken a year to prepare. They lead me to make various conclusions. I regret that the Government did not participate in the Committee’s first report, because that meant they failed to consider publicly the threats the UK faces and how they might evolve in the future, which the House should consider.

Our second report considered the consequences for the UK manufacturing and skills base of abandoning the nuclear deterrent. We concluded that the industrial and social consequences should not be the main factor in the decision on the future of Trident. The third report, published last week, looked at the timing of the decisions on our deterrent, its scale and the legal and treaty aspects.

At present, I am the only Member of the House who is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England, and I think it is extremely important that we should listen to the message sent by the established Church. It is because it is the established Church that it should make its views clear. The Church of England did not simply say that it was opposed to any kind of nuclear deterrent. The Archbishop of Canterbury said:

He made a strong moral case against nuclear weapons in general. Of course, his views are not unanimous. On 11 October, the Bishop of Liverpool said:

The Bishop of Rochester, writing in The Sunday Telegraph under the heading “I believe in Trident, and using it if necessary”, said:

I concur absolutely. Last week, I took part in a debate in Synod where I made it clear that I believe we should proceed with Trident.

We need to consider that there will be new technologies in the future. There will be new weapons and they might be more morally acceptable, but it is important to recognise that morality is not the exclusive preserve of protesters, whether outside the gates of Parliament, hanging over the river, outside the gates of No. 10, or outside Faslane, Devonport or Aldermaston. Most people, including most Christians, reject the pacifist morality that says it would be better to be subjugated by superior
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military power and lose our freedoms than to possess nuclear weapons, on the grounds that no dictatorship lasts for ever and our moral judgment would be intact—even if we were in chains or dead.

At this time of nuclear proliferation and global terrorism, there is no evidence that disarmament by the UK would have the slightest influence on people who wish us harm. I was elected to Parliament to represent about 118,000 people, many thousands of them in uniform or working as civilians in the Ministry of Defence. Tonight, all Members will have to decide on the balance of moral arguments, but I will not risk the security and freedom of my constituents and of our nation by voting not to renew a nuclear deterrent.

France has been much mentioned, which is important. Only three weeks ago, I was in Paris as a member of the Defence Committee. We listened and talked to representatives from the French Defence Ministry and the Assemblée Nationale. We were briefed by the President’s defence adviser in the √Člysée and I raised various issues, including possible collaboration over nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. However, I have to tell the House that my impression was that the French were longing for us to give up our nuclear deterrent, and I cannot help recalling that the last time the destiny of the United Kingdom was in the hands of the French, William the Conqueror paid us a visit.

Finally, the community in the west needs to be quite clear what this is all about and what we are defending: not our territory from physical invasion, but our western tradition of culture, civilisation and democracy, at the heart of which is Christianity. What is at stake is the proportionate force that we should possess to defend those values of humanity, well-being, tolerance, freedom of worship for every religion, justice, the rule of law and freedom itself. Those are the issues that we are debating tonight and I am in no doubt at all that the risk should not be taken of abandoning the defence of those values.

4.45 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Many right hon. and hon. Members tonight have acknowledged that the cold war is over, but the White Paper on the future of Trident is still rooted in cold war thinking. It makes no real analysis of the future role of the US-led and nuclear-armed NATO alliance of which we are a part, nor of the new Europe in which we live. It is a mass of assertions with no attempt to examine how best to approach security in a world where climate change and competition for resources and markets will be paramount.

Instead, we are given three scenarios for threats that the White Paper tells us can be countered only by Britain maintaining its nuclear weapons system until 2050. We are told that a major nuclear power, presumably Russia, may re-emerge to threaten us. Now Russia may be an imperfect democracy, but why should the Russians, who have everything to gain from a more united Europe, specifically aim their nuclear weapons at Britain? Whatever the potential conflicts over oil, does anyone really believe that nuclear weapons could be used to settle any such future conflicts?

The White Paper goes on to pose a second threat: new states acquiring nuclear weapons and threatening our vital interests. Iran is the country most often cited. Embroiled as that country is in middle eastern politics,
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with a nuclear-armed Israel on one side and a nuclear-armed Pakistan on the other, it is impossible to understand why Iran would want to target its nuclear weapon, if it acquired them, specifically at the United Kingdom. I am the last person to support Iran in its endeavours, but it is inescapable that if we argue that we need nuclear weapons to protect us against future threats, so can Iran. As the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed El Baradei, recently warned, a decision now to renew Trident sends exactly the wrong message to those countries that we would wish to deter from the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The third threat posed in the White Paper is that countries might sponsor nuclear terrorism from their soil. This, frankly, is the most preposterous assertion of nuclear deterrence. Do we really believe that the dirty bomb in the suitcase is going to have a survivable country-of-origin label on it? We all know that suicidal terrorists cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons and they know that it would be impossible immediately to identify a sponsoring state so as to justify nuclear retaliation.

Let us however suspend disbelief for a moment and accept that all these threats can be deterred only by nuclear weapons. Why then should Britain be uniquely targeted by Iran, North Korea or any other state? The White Paper asserts continually the deterrent value of British nuclear weapons without advancing a single plausible threat scenario. But it is not even that simple. As the Prime Minister wrote to George Bush last December, in the letter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) referred, the new British nuclear weapons coming into service in 20 years’ time would be assigned to NATO, as now. With the end of the cold war and an expanded Europe, do we really think that we would get agreement from all our allies to use British weapons of mass destruction? Or that the US would not intervene if Britain wanted to act independently but that did not suit the US? It is just not credible.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Joan Ruddock: No, I am sorry; I would be taking up the time of others. The hon. Gentleman and I have debated many times.

We must ask what kind of world we want to live in, and how best we can contribute to achieving it. The threats that we face today and that we will face in future are not UK-centric—they are global, and they require global solutions. International co-operation on climate change, world trade and technology transfer are vital if we are not to face climate catastrophe and a scramble for diminishing resources. International co-operation on terrorism, genocide and poverty reduction are vital if we are to reduce conflict and stem the mass migration of people.

Britain has made a huge contribution in all those spheres, but we have signally failed to place them in a coherent foreign and security policy. The renewal of Trident depends absolutely on US co-operation. It ties us into a US view of the world, when many of us—perhaps most of us—would prefer a looser relationship and a greater recognition of the security that we derive from our place in Europe. Planning to give up nuclear weapons is not the hopeless gesture that has been portrayed by many right hon. and hon. Members. It is what the vast
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majority of states that have become nuclear-free zones want us to do—states which have formed themselves into nuclear-free zones; states like South Africa and Ukraine, which gave up their nuclear weapons; states like Argentina and Brazil, which abandoned their programmes by mutual consent. The international community persuaded Libya to give up its nuclear weapons programmes; progress has been made on North Korea; and Iran remains under intense pressure. Negotiation is our only intelligent option.

At the 2000 non-proliferation treaty review, Britain made

Tonight, however, we have been asked to spend billions of pounds and years of endeavour so that we can deploy new weapons of mass destruction to patrol the seas until 2050. We should begin, instead, to reconfigure our security policy by agreeing that Britain will become a non-nuclear weapons state by 2025. That would bolster demands that the US and Russia negotiate a new agreement to replace the strategic arms reduction treaty, and it would give us an opportunity to play an even more positive role in the multilateral negotiations that will be part of the 2010 review of the non-proliferation treaty.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) referred to the credibility of deterrence. I very much concur with him, and I admired his speech. A weapons system is credible only if it can be used, and I have not heard any argument showing how Trident could be used to our advantage. I know the consequences of using it, however—thousands of innocent people would be vaporised; millions would die in agony; and radiation would persist for generations. The health and environmental consequences are incalculable: I have never been willing to be party to such a barbarous act, and I will not support my Government tonight.

4.53 pm

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): I wish to make three points in the short time available tonight. First, the decision does not need to be made now, and the argument that it must is an effort to embarrass the Liberal Democrats and is not credible. The Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Question Time that the next Parliament could revisit the decision, which makes it clear that the decision does not have to be made tonight. The case against making it today was adequately summarised in an editorial in today’s Financial Times. The Prime Minister is trying to lock the Labour party into policies that he supports, and the Chancellor is suddenly trying to prove that he is tough on security by spinning on the back of a speech about the economy his support for a replacement for Trident, without any proper debate about Britain’s foreign policy and its role in the world after the disastrous mistakes in Iraq.

Secondly, there is no argument in the White Paper, in the Prime Minister’s introduction to the White Paper, or in the speech by the Conservative spokesman, that could not be reasonably made by Iran and many other countries. The greatest threat we face in the nuclear context is proliferation. The non-proliferation treaty is unravelling. The decision that we are asked to make
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before it needs to be made means that Britain will not consider how it can best contribute to driving forward and re-establishing the strength of the non-proliferation treaty, and is in danger of weakening it.

The United Kingdom has a nuclear weapon targeted at no one, with no one targeting a nuclear weapon at us. Iran is in an extremely unstable region, with Israeli nuclear weapons undoubtedly targeted at it. If the argument is made that the future is uncertain, what right does anyone have to say that Iran should not get a nuclear weapon? If Iran gets a weapon, Saudi Arabia will want one, as will Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and perhaps even the Gulf states, which have made some moves towards getting a capacity in nuclear technology. There will be very dangerous proliferation in the most unstable region in the world.

That is the real threat that the world faces and that we face, and it is being cast to one side by the blanket decision to replace our existing weapon in 20 years, rather than concentrating on how we in the UK could contribute to strengthening the non-proliferation treaty and preventing dangerous proliferation, particularly in the most dangerous region in the world.

The third reason why the UK should reconsider its approach to nuclear weapons is that they chain us into the role of US poodle. We acquire the weapons from the United States and we have to send them back to be repaired and serviced, so we can retain the weapons only if we are always on good terms with the US. That means that we do not have an independent foreign policy, as has been demonstrated so disastrously in Iraq. That has humiliated our country and helped to make the world more dangerous by dividing it more deeply and undermining international law.

I do not believe for a moment that we should seek to fall out with the United States. We have a long shared history, a common language and so on. However, every post-war Prime Minister apart from Edward Heath, bless him—because he was so focused on entrenching us in the European Union—has been obsessed with the special relationship as the centrepiece of our foreign policy. Why? It goes back to Britain losing an empire and failing to find a role. We are not the big power that we used to be, but we are best friends with the biggest power in the world, so if we can get a weapon from the US and stand alongside it, we are still important and powerful. That is an almost pathetic role to see for ourselves in the world. It is like the child who is frightened of others and therefore makes best friends with the biggest bully in the playground.

As has been said by other hon. Members, the biggest risk that we face is global warming, which could threaten the future of human civilisation. There is no question about that. I do not believe we will reach the international agreements that are needed to prevent that threat without establishing a much more equitable world order. Doing so should be the centrepiece of British foreign policy, seeking strong multilateral institutions, a much strengthened United Nations, much more equitable trade rules and so on, so that we can achieve the environmental agreements that we need to preserve the future of humanity.


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