Joint memorandum from the Campaign for
Nuclear Disarmament, British American Security Information Council
1. We have shared a great deal of time with
the Committee over the last few months, witnessing much of the
oral evidence and reading the written evidence that the Committee
has received. In a number of cases we have given evidence ourselves.
Whatever the Committee's final report concludes, and regardless
of the outcome of the substantive debate, we should like to congratulate
you on the manner in which you have conducted this Inquiry in
the most difficult circumstances.
2. In this spirit, we would like to try
and help the process, in its final stages, by offering some thoughts
mainly around issues that we consider to be unanswered or that
have arisen since the relevant Committee sessions.
The consultation process
3. You have made it clear on several occasions
that you do not see the Defence Committee's work as a substitute
for the public consultation offered by the Government. We suspect
(given the amount of time that you have all spent on this) that
you will have some clear idea of just what scale and style of
consultation would really have been appropriate. We do hope that
your final report will re-emphasise that you have not been conducting
the Government's consultation for them. This point has taken on
a very contemporary feel, in the light of the High Court judgment
with regard to nuclear power. You may know that at least one organisation
is currently waiting Leading Counsel's Advice in relation to the
consultation on the Trident replacement White Paper.
4. We do not need to emphasise the lack
of clarity from the MoD so far as both the historic costs and
forecast costs of a replacement are concerned. The exchange between
the Committee's Chairman and the Secretary of State in the final
session was an astonishingly frank admission that previous costs
had been seriously understated. You will appreciate the obvious
point (and there are many others) that without a further explanation
as to how and why these costs were understated we can have little
confidence that the problem is not ongoing. (We tried for several
days to get the MoD to clarify the period covered by "previous
administrations" but still have no answer.)
5. As a further illustration of this difficulty
may we point out that the White Paper states page 29: 6,7 "The
disposal of the Vanguard submarines is still some way off and
it is therefore too early to estimate the possible decommissioning
costs", and yet there are some parliamentary answers and
evidence elsewhere that suggest such costs have been taken into
account. (This has an uncanny similarity to the High Court's particular
concern that disposal of nuclear waste had not been properly addressed
in the Government's energy review.)
6. We also believe that the Secretary of
State's assertion, that all the procurement costs of new platforms
and weapons will not come from the MoD budget, begs as many questions
as it answers.
7. Indeed, at this stage we hope that you
would agree that Parliament and the public would have been better
served if the Committee had been able to restrict itself to the
genuine defence issues involved rather than having to cover a
lot of other territory. It is for this reason that we have written
to the Rt Hon Edward Leigh MP suggesting that the National Audit
Office should be asked to conduct an Inquiry into the true costs
of British nuclear weapons at least from the commencement of Trident
procurement onwards. There would also be a good case for the Treasury
Committee to examine all the estimates and forecasts arising from
the White Paper. (We would be happy for the Committee to see our
letter to Mr Leigh if he is agreeable.)
8. Before we leave the question of costs
it must have occurred to the Committee that this debate would
have been clearer if it had started after both the outcome of
the Comprehensive Spending Review is known in the summer, and
the Naval Base Review. We do wonder to what extent the MoD and,
indeed, BAE Systems are trying to prejudice some elements of that
9. The very recent comments by Sir Jonathon
Band, First Sea Lord, are clearly addressed to the Comprehensive
Spending Review and it is interesting that Sir Jonathon does not
have three or four new SSBNs on his wish list as well as the two
carriers. Maybe this is because he has absorbed Mr Browne's promise
that the SSBNs will not come from the MoD budget. But on the other
hand he may be recognising that they way things are looking for
the next 20 or 30 years he is not going to get both.
The Foreign Affairs Committee
10. During the Committee's last session
with the Secretary of State, the Chairman suggested that perhaps
the entire replacement should be charged to the Foreign Office.
We appreciate Mr Arbuthnot's wit, but "many a true word...".
It is deplorable that the Foreign Affairs Committee has not visited
this area since the publication of the White Paper and has effectively
left the Defence Committee to deal with all the complexities arising
from the evidence of Professor Sands QC and his think tank adversaries.
If there was more time for consultation then a thorough exploration
of international diplomacy, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT), international law covering weapons of mass destruction
and all related matters could have been dealt with.
11. At the end of the Committee's last session,
Mr Browne stated that he did not have "a mature view"
as to whether a new warhead would be consistent with obligations
under the NPT. Although it is true that the matter is speculative,
the Committee must understand the implications since the Chairman
would not ask irrelevant questions.
Impact on non-proliferation
12. Over and beyond the technical and academic
debate there is the crucially important issue as to how this decision
by the British Government will affect the intentions and conduct
of other nuclear or potentially nuclear states. This enters the
world of the highest diplomacy with its own key players and language
and it would be naive not to understand that the White Paper was
preceded by an informal diplomatic offensive in various quarters.
But there is some evidence of serious concern and we offer you
in particular a transcript of an interview conducted by the BBC
with Ambassador Abdul Minty of South Africa (which unilaterally
decommissioned its nuclear weapons capacity). We are hoping that
Ambassador Minty will visit the UK in the next few weeks and make
himself available for further discussion.
Skills and technology base
13. On 8 February the Government published
its response to the Committee's third report. Much of the Government's
response is simply to reiterate previous evidence. It does not
offer any meaningful suggestions as to what the future cost of
SSNs will be without SSBNs contributing to the "22 months
drumbeat" of production. The Committee made it clear that
there should be an agreed contract price for the two Astute Class
submarines already under construction but the MoD have simply
responded "negotiations on prices for Astute Class submarines
hulls 2 and 3 are concluding and will be subject to formal approval
by the MoD and BAES". If such an announcement really is imminent,
all the more reason for no further decisions to be taken until
this crucial information is known and digested. In response to
the concerns that the Committee expressed in relation to the Atomic
Weapons Establishment and the MoD, clarifying what additional
investment is intended, there is simply further repetition of
existing information and the suggestion that the investment for
the forthcoming year (commencing April) "will be determined
over the next year, following this year's Comprehensive Spending
Review". We consider this to be another very good reason
for pausing before plunging in any further.
14. We are sure that the Committee will
have noticed that Professor Garwin's views reflect widespread
opinion in the nuclear defence community that the decision that
the Government is pressing for now is premature.
15. Reading the questions from the Committee,
as well as the evidence, and noting the views of some directly
interested parties from the trade unions and geographical communities
that are affected, we feel that the most genuine and strongly
held support for the Government's position arises from the view
that a particular British skill base and the town of Barrow in
Furness are likely to "die" unless there is a commitment
to new SSBNs almost immediately.
16. We are sure that the Committee will
bear in mind the current standing of BAE Systems in public perceptions.
While not all the criticism may be justified we believe that the
public will be deeply disturbed when they make the connection.
We have been surprised that so many members of the House had not
understood that the main contract for these boats was intended
to go to the same company that has sustained so much unfortunate
publicity of late.
17. Since there has been such genuine concern
for the future of Barrow we are surprised that the White Paper
makes no binding commitment to procurement within the UK and it
will be a dreadful irony if misguided parliamentary votes perceived
as a commitment to Barrow eventually result in a UK based construction
plan that provides insufficient work to satisfy Barrow or in the
purchase of boats from Connecticut.
Alternative economic development at Barrow
18. It may also be the case that amongst
all the formidable and well-researched information offered to
the Committee, some very simple truths have not been sufficiently
stressed. The "save Barrow by SSBNs" argument cannot
be a long-term strategy for an isolated town that already suffers
the comparative deprivation and poverty that it does. 3,500 jobs
(and still declining) do not sustain a community of this size.
In this particular case it may well be that Members of Parliament
with their constituency knowledge can see things more clearly
than the industry experts. Does anyone think it would be of general
assistance in attracting major new manufacturing or service industries
to their own area if this investment had to be located in the
vicinity of a nuclear installation building submarines for launching
nuclear weapons. The security measures, the secrecy, the health
hazards (real or imagined) and the labour market conditions (comparatively
high remuneration within an area of high unemployment) make the
prospect highly unlikely.
19. Alongside enquiries by the Public Accounts
Committee, Treasury Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and further
work by your own committee, it would be a tremendous contribution
if the Trade and Industry Committee were to investigate the particular
argument about jobs and skills. Some serious examination of the
studies by Arms Conversion experts and others, and the opportunities
that exist for R&D and manufacturing in the renewable energy
sector in areas suffering a decline in heavy steel fabrication,
are long overdue. It is not difficult to calculate that the MoD's
highest estimate of the jobs dependent on Trident replacement,
divided by Government's lowest figure for the total cost, indicates
that as a job preservation scheme this is coming out at over £2
million per job. With that sort of money on offer, would any Member
of Parliament opt to have it spent on an industry whose indefinite
continuation would be beyond doubt a fundamental breach of the
commitments to multilateral nuclear disarmament, given by every
British government for decades.
20. In conclusion, we hope that the Committee
will reaffirm its previous view that a decision at this time is
premature. The Government must prolong the period of consultation
for sufficient time to resolve the many matters that the Committee
itself has pursued.