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Enormous threats are also posed by the growth of population that is coming. We are moving from a world population of 6 billion to 8 or 9 billion by 2030 to 2050, and 90 per cent. will be born in the poorest countries
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where the environment is under strain and states are weak. That threatens to bring not only terrible human suffering, but massive movements of population that will cause enormous instability and aggravation in the world.

Another major threat is the anger in the Muslim world about the injustice that is being suffered in the middle east. Instead of seeking to arm ourselves with a weapon because we fear that disorder, we should seek to unite with others to bring about a just settlement in the middle east. We say that we are committed to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but we always line up our policy with that of the United States, which does not act in that way. The situation is thereby constantly aggravated and the danger of large numbers of angry young people throughout the Muslim world concluding that the only way to resist state force is with non-state violence, which threatens the future of all of us, is growing and growing.

Lots of the speeches that have been made today have sought to re-run the old arguments about unilateral nuclear disarmament, but that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about whether we commit ourselves to replacing our weapon in 20 years’ time or whether we could look for a strategy that uses our influence and our willingness to disarm to strengthen non-proliferation, with a stronger multilateral system, greater equity, more authority for the United Nations and a just settlement in the middle east.

What Britain needs is an independent foreign policy to make a real contribution in the world and to make up for the humiliation that we imposed on ourselves with our dreadful policy on Iraq. To decide to replace Trident in 20 years’ time is to continue to tie us to that mistake and continue to humiliate our country.

5.1 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) seemed to say at the beginning of her speech that the timing of this debate was intended to embarrass the Liberal Democrats and that there was no need to take the decision now. She then cited the Prime Minister’s answer referring to the further decisions in the next Parliament as though that was evidence of that.

The whole point of taking the decision now is that we will not be able to make decisions in the next Parliament if we do not support the Government tonight. If we are to continue with the present deterrent, the submarines need to be renewed or replaced. Detailed design concept work needs to start now if we are to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence. By having the submarine continuously deployed, we do not inadvertently raise the threat threshold, which could happen if a submarine was deployed from standby. Constant deployment is also important in keeping crews at the highest level of professionalism.

The Defence Committee’s report sets out the pros and cons on the timing issues, but the weight of the evidence set out in chapter 3 points clearly to the need to take a decision about the submarines now, given that 30 years is the safe and cost-effective limit of life extension and 17 years is the required period to do it. Our report also says that the Government deserve to be commended for exposing the proposal to public debate and decision in Parliament, which previous Governments have not done at this stage. That transparency is very much in
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keeping with one of the 13 steps that emerged from the 2000 non-proliferation treaty conference calling for just that. The decision that we face tonight to give the go-ahead to work on the detailed design concept is being taken at an earlier stage and more openly and fully than before.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the work force in my constituency at DML and at the dockyard would not accept the argument that the issue of the industrial skills base is specious? It is important that we take the decision now; otherwise, we will lose those skilled workers to the domestic sector, not the maritime industrial sector.

Linda Gilroy: I accept my hon. Friend’s argument and will go on to make it in more detail.

Those who argue that the decision can be taken at a later stage are simply wrong. They should be clear that by recommending delay they are putting at a very high risk the capacity to build boats in future, for all the reasons set out in the Defence Committee’s fourth report on the skills base. In effect, those who support delay back the unilateralist something-for-nothing approach. If our capacity to build submarines falls apart, the idea that the Americans will sell us the boats is not at all credible, as the Defence Secretary told us in his evidence on 6 February. This relates to the skills needed to maintain the submarines and corresponds with what I have been told on visits to bases where that maintenance is performed. As soon as the design concept was made available for the Vanguard submarines, our US allies made it clear that we had to take ownership of them and understand them inside out. Only in that way can we have a deterrent that is independent and that we are capable of managing to the very highest of safety standards—an essential characteristic, as I am sure all hon. Members would agree, of a system with such awesome potential destructive force. If we want a deterrent, we need to decide to give the go-ahead now and to build it ourselves.

Why do we need the deterrent? The reason comes down to human behaviour. Optimists might believe that if we set an example, others will follow, but there is no evidence that that would happen if we were to give up our deterrent now. Iran and North Korea do not appear to be hanging around waiting for us to make a decision. Sadly, the world is becoming more uncertain in this respect, not less. When we ask people whether they would like to give up nuclear weapons and spend the money on something else, of course they say yes. However, when we ask whether we should do so before others do it, a clear majority say no.

Fundamentalists, dictators, tyrants and, yes, terrorists are all bullies, in my book. In democracies, there are all sorts of ways of checking the worst excesses, and the ultimate safety valve is the ability to change the people in power through the ballot box. Bullies, however, are best stood up to by those who know the difference between being assertive and being aggressive, and that is something that the UK does really well.

All hon. Members take pride in the role of our armed forces in peacekeeping and peace-making. Their role of standing up to some of the world’s most aggressive bullies to create enough space for the bullied to regroup, to regain confidence and to assert their right to a better
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way of life—as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan—is often more controversial. However, that is as much about our security as it is about theirs. These days not many of us are called on to put ourselves in harm’s way to achieve such outcomes, but it is British men and women—and, increasingly, their Commonwealth and Gurkha colleagues—who tend to be at the forefront of taking such action on our behalf.

Our deterrent is deployed all the time, and it has given us in western Europe freedom from the kind of mass killing that two world wars brought in the first half of the 20th century. It also has a part to play in creating the context in which we use hard power to make that space for ourselves and others to do the peacekeeping, peace-making and stabilisation work. In the even more uncertain times ahead—in which state-sponsored terrorism might well be joined by tensions arising from population movements driven by climate change, drought and water shortages in particular, and by greater use of nuclear energy in the world—whatever we decide on nuclear energy, it is highly probable that the deterrent will have an increasingly clear role. With the emergence of new superpowers and their client states and interests, we must not risk falling hostage to blackmail in relation to their retained and emerging nuclear arsenals. Only a nuclear deterrent can deter nuclear threats.

I believe that retention gives us a more powerful hand in working for non-proliferation. We are the only permanent member of the Security Council to have reduced to one platform—the submarine—and we have only 1 per cent. of the world’s nuclear weapons. Our seat on the Security Council certainly does not depend on our continuing to have a nuclear deterrent, but with it we can use our achievement of reaching a minimal deterrent to pull others in that direction. We should maintain the multilateralist position of seeking something for something, not something for nothing. The arguments are, at heart, not only simple but the same as they have always been: something for something, or something for nothing; multilateralism versus unilateralism.

For the reasons that I have set out, all the amendments tabled today—including the one that has been selected—would result in back-door unilateralism, even though people do not quite understand that. That would happen because of the delay, and because of the engendering of a lack of confidence in the industry and in the individuals who work in it. Unilateralists tell us that we can reconstitute the skills base or keep it on ice, but neither claim is true. Scientists and engineers who do this work at the cutting edge of science, along with those who design and make space ships, have skills that are literally in the realms of rocket science. They will not stick around in large enough numbers and complex teams to do anything less. People need look no further than the cost and time overruns on the Astute submarine programme to see the risks of letting the skills base fall apart.

I have spoken mostly of the submarine, but I also wanted to say that the Government have responded to the Select Committee’s report, and to deal with the points of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) about the missile. Knowing the risks of letting the skill base fall apart, only those who believe in giving away something for nothing—unilateralists—
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should go on into the Aye Lobby on the amendment. Multilateralists cannot credibly share the same lobby with them.

5.10 pm

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The debate has been enormously serious, and I approach it with a degree of angst that I have detected in a number of other Members who have spoken.

I was struck by the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), whom one would expect to be one of the most robust cold warriors and supporters of Trident imaginable. However, he declared some real worries, although he ultimately concluded that renewing Trident was the right thing to do.

I also have huge respect for the contribution of my parliamentary neighbour and right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), a previous shadow Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary, who none the less came to the conclusion that he would vote against the retention of Trident.

Until today, I took the view—the Whips are listening—that this was a matter of conscience rather than a matter for a whipped vote. Had I come to the relevant conclusion—the Whip on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) raises his ears expectantly, and I assure him that I shall not rebel this evening—I would have been more than ready to rebel, because I believe that this is more than anything an issue of conscience. After all, the House’s decision could result, perhaps long after all of us are dead, in a catastrophe that we would all do anything possible to avoid. I have therefore approached the matter with huge concern.

Having listened with great care to all the arguments made today and during the run-up to the debate, I was initially struck by the notion that if we did not spend all this money on Trident we could spend it on conventional warfare. As I represent a constituency that has a number of defence bases, that argument was attractive at one stage. I have been convinced, however, by the argument advanced by the Secretary of State and the White Paper that the two pockets are entirely separate, and that spending on Trident will not affect the defence budget. The defence budget is too low anyway: it should be higher, and we should spend more on our conventional weapons. Whether or not we have Trident, that argument will not be affected.

I admire the idealism of the traditional CND argument, which a number of Members have advanced today. There have always been people who are ready to say, “I am a pacifist. I hate all forms of warfare, all arms, land mines, nuclear weapons and anything to do with armaments. I would abolish it.” That idealism does not, however, appeal to me personally. We would certainly have done less well in the first world war had we abandoned our armaments in the run-up to it, as we did, to some degree, in the run-up to the second world war. I suspect that the catastrophe of 1939-45 would have been less bad had we rearmed sooner and listened to Winston Churchill among others.

I am one of those who are convinced that we won the cold war not because of the activities of CND but because we were satisfactorily armed. The Soviet Union
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looked across the water, saw that we and the United States were armed, and chose not to do what it might otherwise have done. Had Margaret Thatcher not stood firm on the subject of cruise missiles outside Newbury, for example, I am clear that the Soviet Union would still be in existence today, and there is at least a risk that some parts of western Europe would be dominated by that evil empire.

I am not one of those who would do away with arms because they do not like them. Our arms are a necessary part of preserving peace. After all, no one says to an armed policeman, “If you put your baton down, Britain will be a safer place.” Sadly, outside this Palace today we see policemen who are armed because it is believed that bad guys are trying to get into this place with guns. Asking a policeman to put his guns down would not mean that the bad guys would do likewise. I was struck by that aspect of one or two contributions this afternoon. For example, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) indicated that if others did not have such weapons, we should not have them either. That argument is quite wrong. It seems obvious to me that we are the good guys and that they are not; it is therefore perfectly reasonable that we should have such weapons.

In my opinion, arms are the balance of peace. Indeed, the motto of my regiment, the Honourable Artillery Company, is “Arma Pacis Fulcra”. One must have arms to achieve peace. Does any Member present who speaks with honesty and sincerity seriously believe that if we were to snap our fingers and say “We are no longer a nuclear force”—if we were to say “Follow us, O world, for we have done the right thing: we are doing away with Trident and not renewing it”—the world would be a safer place?

Incidentally, those who support the “delay” amendment, notably the Liberal Democrats, are merely fooling themselves, or fooling the people out there. This evening we must reach a decision: either we support the notion of nuclear deterrence, or we do not. While I respect the argument of those who say that we do not, it is not my argument.

I do not believe that even those who have spoken from the CND standpoint believe that the world would be a safer place if we abolished nuclear weapons. We all know perfectly well that if we did away with them, or indeed with conventional weapons—for the same argument applies to them—the world would be a worse place, not a better place.

It is with a heavy heart, in a sense—because I personally feel unhappy about these matters—that I concluded that I would support the Government this evening.

5.16 pm

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): It is always difficult to participate in debates in which the traditional sides do not necessarily line up, and one finds oneself alongside dear friends and colleagues who take a different view. It is somewhat uncomfortable. I can tell the House, however, that I will support the Government this evening—I have not changed my views on these matters for many years—and also that it is not nearly as uncomfortable tonight as it was in 1982-83, when we debated the defence of the country in the context of the arguments and battles taking place in the Labour party at the time.

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One of the allegations made about today’s debate is that it is premature, and that we should not be here because the widespread debate that the country would expect us to have about this important issue has not taken place. That has not been my experience over the past six months—I have been inundated with representations from all kinds of people with a legitimate interest in the issue—and, indeed, the original decision to reach a conclusion at about this time was made some years ago. I think that there has been a wide debate, and that that has been reflected in the speeches today. Many different views have been expressed, some of them very unexpected, by Members in various parts of the Chamber.

Like others, I do not intend to hog the debate, but I want to make a couple of points based on the representations that I have received. One of the key points made to me has been that if the United Kingdom renews its Trident submarine, it will breach the non-proliferation treaty. I do not accept that that is the case, and I think the public should be told loudly that it is not the case.

The non-proliferation treaty was drawn up as a deal. As it has already been mentioned by other Members, I will not go into what the deal involved, but the treaty was drawn up prior to 1967 by the countries that were then nuclear powers, with the aim of reducing their nuclear capacity over a period in return for concessions on civil power and so forth. It was not about unilateral disarmament. Does anyone in the House think that the Russians, the Americans or the Chinese would have signed a non-proliferation treaty if they had thought that they were signing themselves up to unilateral disarmament, and would not be able to renew the weaponry that they had?

There is a very fine line between maintenance and renewal. We have already seen that in China, and investment in new nuclear weaponry technology is currently taking place in Russia. If Mr. Gorbachev has lessons to teach the British, he also has lessons to teach the Russians. The song he is singing now is not the song he was singing when I met him in Moscow many years ago. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is about trying to de-escalate nuclear dependency. It is in that context that the world’s courts must interpret it. We must strongly say that.

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