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6.07 pm

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I am very proud of the Labour Government. My constituency has record employment; we have seen the introduction of the minimum wage; there is justice for pensioners; there is record investment in our public services. I hope that Front-Bench Members recognise that when someone like me votes against the Government and resigns as a parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Health, it is not an easy decision. It has been a hard decision, but I believed that I should come to the House to explain it.

As the House is aware, Robin Cook was my predecessor. The week before he died in August 2005, the very last article he wrote was in The Guardian on this subject. He said:

I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence sums up, he gives some indication of when he would see a nuclear weapon being used.

The article pointed out that

It is absurd that Britain should maintain its nuclear weapons to guarantee its security while lecturing Iran, et al, that the safety of the world will be compromised if they behave in the same way. Despite the anxieties about proliferation, more nations have given up nuclear
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weapons in the last generation than have developed them. It has been pointed out that Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and South Africa have given up weapons, and none of them regard themselves as less safe or secure than before; nor need we if the leadership can find the courage to allow Trident to be the end of Britain’s futile and costly obsession with nuclear weapon status.

6.10 pm

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): In an aside to Conservative Members a few moments ago, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) asked what it would be like to have a facility like Faslane in the Thames valley. If he came and stood in my bedroom —[ Interruption ]—a remote possibility, I grant, and looked across the Kennet valley, which is part of the Thames valley, he would see the rooftops and chimneys of the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston, which I revere for the work that it has done to safeguard this country’s security in times past and, I hope, in times future.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand when I say that I wish that that facility did not exist. More precisely, I wish that we lived in a world in which the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston did not need to exist. Unfortunately, however, we live in the real world, not in a utopian one. If the hon. Gentleman came with me to the hill above my house, and looked further into the distance, he would see Greenham common, which is a living, breathing example of the peace dividend. More people work there in real jobs than were stationed there at the height of the cold war. The arguments around the perimeter of Greenham common now are about planning issues and whether the missile silo should house a museum or be used as a storage site for cars. That achievement demonstrates previous Governments’ strength of purpose and the support and the sacrifice on the part of Members on both sides of the House.

In the short time available, I should like to address the points made by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) about the timing of the decision. He suggested that it was a political decision, rather than a strategic one. He suggested that in the dog days of his premiership, the Prime Minister, from hitherto unnoticed altruism towards the Chancellor, should make a decision that was causing agony in his own party. I have more generosity of spirit than the hon. Gentleman, as I believe that the Prime Minister and the Government have made the decision now because it is the right decision to make. I refer many hon. Members who have made speeches today to the Defence Committee report, as it is apparent that they have not read it. It is crucial for anyone who is considering adopting the position proposed by the Liberal Democrats to understand the way in which the Defence Committee came to accept that extending the life of the submarines was not sufficient and that we could not make a decision any later. I accept that, originally, the documentation suggested that it would be possible to make a decision in 2010. It is now accepted, however, that initial conceptual work must be done on those submarines before the 14-year period to which the hon. Member for North Devon referred, making a total of 17 years. When one compares the evidence of Professor Garwin, supported by the Oxford Research Group, with that of organisations such as the Royal United Services Institute and, more
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importantly, the Royal Navy, the evidence comes down firmly on the Government’s side of the argument.

6.14 pm

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I support the retention of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. I also support the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. I am sorry that the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and me was not selected. The choice before us today is to take no decision at all or to take an irrevocable decision to continue with Trident as our platform for nuclear deterrence over the next 40 years.

If we support nuclear deterrence and renewal, we clearly need to look at the future of that deterrent, so we need to take decisions about how we approach the concept and design of a replacement nuclear deterrent. However, we live in a rapidly changing world. That was reflected in the strategic defence review, which stated that the strategic environment that we face today is very different from that of the previous 50 years. The review concluded:

What might that doctrine look like in the context of future nuclear policy? That was articulated well by a witness to the Defence Committee, Dr. Stocker, who said:

According to that doctrine, is Trident the right replacement for Trident over the next 40 years? Does a system which was designed as part of a mutually assured destruction system fit that description of possible future deterrence? Is it wise to go ahead irrevocably with that system, without considering alternatives? It appears that there are alternatives, which should be considered in the process of renewal and in the context of concept and design, so that when we come to take a decision at gate entry, we have the concept and design most appropriate not for a cold war scenario, but for a continually changing world.

As things stand, we may have a Trident system that lasts until a few years away from the time when we claim that we will have reduced our carbon emissions by 60 per cent. from 1990 levels and will be living in a different world and a different economy. We need to take decisions on design and concept, and on the future, but I am not convinced by the argument that we should commit ourselves irrevocably today. I do not believe that future investment hangs on this decision. I do believe, however, that a vote in Parliament before final commissioning, in addition to a decision to go ahead with development of concept and design, is the right way forward. I hope hon. Members will reflect on that when they consider our deterrent in future.

6.18 pm

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): I believe in the deterrence theory. It has worked for
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decades to protect our country. Although I believe that, I also want to seize every opportunity to negotiate those massive weapons away. To me, the crucial question in this debate is whether the White Paper adds to the non-proliferation talks. Does it make it more likely that we will have a successful round of talks in 2010? The answer is clear. Without doubt, the White Paper is a barrier to progress.

The Defence Committee, which has been mentioned on numerous occasions this afternoon, was right to criticise the Government for failing to have a strong strategy for nuclear non-proliferation. The preparations for those talks in 2010 start next month. There is no indication that sufficient emphasis has been placed on the talks. The White Paper devotes many more pages to justifying why the UK needs to renew its deterrent than to setting out its ambitions for disarmament. What hope do we have if the Government have already given up on those talks in 2010? What hope do we have if this Parliament decides prematurely to renew Trident? The Government seem determined not to give the talks a chance. The message that will be sent to Iran and North Korea by the Government deciding to proceed today is: “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Many of those in the Chamber have belittled Britain’s role in the world and say that, because we have such a small nuclear deterrent, we have no chance of influencing the rest of the world. I reject that. Britain has a significant role to play in the world, but we squander that reputation on issues such as Iraq and our failure to act on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, as well as this issue of Trident.

What would the Liberal Democrats do? As I said in my opening remarks, the real test in this debate is whether the White Paper furthers the cause of nuclear disarmament. That is why we reject the premature bid to renew Trident. The White Paper clearly states—people seem prepared to ignore this—that the decision on main gate does not need to made until 2012 to 2014, when the first substantial chunk of investment will need to be made. A decision to reject the Government’s plans today would not jeopardise the skills base, as many Members have claimed, but it would ensure that we give the talks in 2010 the best chance of success.

The Liberal Democrat view has many supporters. As we heard, former President Gorbachev has made a strong representation to the Government that they should not renew prematurely. Another supporter said:

the decision

That supporter was the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who went on to say to the Prime Minister:

We agree.

6.22 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Like many Labour Members, I came of age politically in the era when issues of war and peace, and our responsibility as a movement and
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as individuals to make the world a safer place for our children, were at the very forefront of the political debate. A lot has happened in the intervening years, but I believe in the same things as I believed in then.

Today we live in, if anything, a more dangerous world than ever, but if this evening this House takes a vote in principle to go forward with Trident, we will make it even more dangerous. That is partly because the vote will be premature and partly because we will not be doing it on the basis of full information, including scientific information. I refer the House to what Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said on this issue:

nuclear weapons

Many Members have said that if we let go of our nuclear weapons, other people will not automatically let go of theirs. In fact, we are not letting them go—we will have nuclear weapons going forward into the future. Nevertheless, if we insist on renewing and increasing our arsenal, how can that help with proliferation?

In reading past debates on this issue, I came across a quote from the current Chancellor, then the Member for Dunfermline, East, who said about Trident that it is

I defer to no one in my admiration for the Chancellor. He was right then, and what he said he is even more right today.

I beg the House, even at this late stage, to vote to take this decision when we need to take it, and not prematurely because of other considerations. That would not be a decision to pursue unilateral disarmament. We need to take our decision on the basis of sound information, sound science and a genuine intent to make the world a safer place for our children.

6.25 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): This debate has been prompted not by Trident, as the title of the debate would suggest, but because the submarines are reaching the end of their shelf life. The Trident D5 missile system could continue until 2042. The debate has provided a useful opportunity to take stock of where we stand. We are clearly meeting our treaty obligations. We have also eliminated our tactical missile systems and reduced the number of platforms and warheads. Many Labour Members have argued that we should go further, but the whole point of this debate is that it takes about 17 years to procure a new platform—a new submarine. We need to ensure that we have that ability.

Some Labour Members are proposing that we delay the debate for three years. What difference would a delay of three years make to our ability to predict the enemies that we will face in 17 or 20 years? I do not believe that it would make any difference. Iran has been mentioned a number of times. If we were to reduce our nuclear deterrent, would Iran copy us? I very much doubt it. We would see no change whatever in its programmes.

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David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ellwood: I will not give way; time is against us.

China was also mentioned. The fact that it destroyed a satellite in space recently got hardly any coverage, but it shows how events are moving forward. We need to be aware of such events and react to them. Looking back in history, we see that the Falklands conflict came out of the blue. Who could have predicted it? More to the point, had the roles been reversed, and Argentina had the nuclear capacity rather than us, would we have dared to march in there? That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) in a previous debate. Had Galtieri had the atomic bomb rather than us, major questions would have been asked if we had had to retake the Falkland islands.

The White Paper is about downsizing but maintaining our nuclear capacity. Several hon. Members have questioned the costs involved. I am not a smoker, but I worked out on the back of my virtual fag packet that the proposals would cost every citizen of the United Kingdom 20p a week for the lifetime of the nuclear deterrent. That is cheaper than any car insurance available, and it is a small price tag, considering the catastrophic consequences of our getting this wrong. Many people have argued that we need the money for our conventional forces. They clearly do not know the Chancellor well enough if they think that if we had no more nuclear deterrent the money would go straight into our defence coffers. That would clearly not happen, as I think those on the Government Front Bench would agree.

It has also been argued that we should extend the life of the Vanguard class submarines, but placing them in dry dock, replacing their reactors and carrying out complete refits would cost more than buying new submarines. That argument does not hold water. Nuclear powered submarines, be they Vanguard class or Ohio class, are as complicated as the space shuttle. That is why they cost so much money, and why we have to take care about what we buy. I wonder whether we should be looking to the Vanguard class or the Astute class of submarines for a more versatile platform that can fire Tomahawk missiles as well, as that would provide a bigger threshold for utilising the submarines in a different way.

I pay tribute to the Royal Navy, an organisation that has looked after our nuclear deterrent for almost 40 years. It has been a responsible steward and a reliable custodian. Whatever the views of Members on both sides of the House, I hope that we can all join together to congratulate the Royal Navy on its hard work in providing that deterrent.

6.29 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. In the past three months, I have received hundreds of campaign postcards, letters and e-mails that are against the replacement of Trident. To date, I have not received a single letter in support of its replacement. That is a clear indication of the strength of public opinion in my home city of Glasgow and in Scotland against the replacement programme.

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