Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
16 JANUARY 2007
Q1 Chairman: Good morning. Could I begin
by welcoming you to this evidence session. It is about the future
of the UK strategic nuclear deterrent and it is focusing on the
White Paper. Welcome to our witnesses as well as to those in the
public gallery. This is the third inquiry in our series of inquiries
into the future of the deterrent. I should emphasise that this
is a parliamentary inquiry; it is not a government consultation
exercise on the White Paper. We intend to publish our findings
before the House of Commons discusses and votes on the White Paper
in March or whenever that happens. I will ask you individually
to introduce yourselves and then we will come on to some substantive
questions about the White Paper. Mr Ainslie, would you like to
Mr Ainslie: I am
employed as the Co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament. In that capacity I have done quite a lot of research
work into British nuclear weapons systems, particularly Trident.
I have a bit of an academic background from a long time ago in
Ms McDonald: I work for the Nuclear
Information Service, which gathers information and shares it particularly
about Aldermaston and the nuclear warhead convoys.
Mr Kent: I am Bruce Kent. I have
been secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (in the
1980s) and then chair. I have been associated with that for a
long time. I am also much engaged as a vice-president with the
Catholic peace movement Pax Christi, and I am an active member
of the United Nations Association.
Ms Jones: I am Sian Jones. I am
a member of Aldermaston Women's Peace Campaign. We are based around
a peace camp that meets outside the fence of AWE Aldermaston once
a month, from where we observe what is going on at AWE Aldermaston
and protest against it.
Q2 Chairman: Thank you. This is a
rather egocentric beginning but a question which I asked when
the White Paper was first announced in the House of Commons was
related to the fact that this appeared to be a decision that was
to be made not about Trident missiles, which would remain roughly
the same, but about the platform on which those Trident missiles
were deployed. Would you care to comment about that?
Mr Ainslie: I was looking at the
1980 decision and the way that was done and the relationship between
the announcement in Parliament and the exchange of letters. In
a sense, the exchange of letters between Tony Blair and George
Bush three days after the decision was announced may be an interesting
area. The key thing that was in that exchange of letters was participation
in the missile life extension programme. That is one of the key
things that is driving the time scale, in a sense. I am not certain
that is right, but it is a possible explanation as to why it has
been done at this point.
Q3 Chairman: Most of the focus, would
you not agree, of the Government's White Paper is aimed at the
building of submarines and the expense of submarines and whether
it is worthwhile doing that and not at that life extension programme.
Mr Ainslie: Yes, I think that
is right. Basically, when you replace the submarine, the American
Trident system is only around until 2040 and therefore you have
to look even beyond Trident to the new missile system beyond it.
Q4 Chairman: Thank you. Do any of
the rest of you have any comments about it?
Ms Jones: The focus of the White
Paper is very much on the delivery platform and tends to be less
specific on the missiles and presumably less specific on the warheads.
Chapter 7 suggests that a decision on the exact nature of the
warhead will be made "in the next Parliament" and the
evidence that we will present in written form to the Committee
and have in the past suggests, in effect, that the building work
at Aldermaston is evidence that to a certain extent very much
of that decision has actually been made, so we would suggest that
the White Paper is not transparent about decisions that are being
made at this very time about the warhead itself.
Q5 Chairman: Ms McDonald, you would
Ms McDonald: Yes.
Q6 Mr Hancock: As somebody who watches
Aldermaston, when they gave evidence here they told us that the
buildings there, many of which are now nearly 50 years old, needed
major works carried out on them. A lot of the work going on at
Aldermaston was not about the future of another form of warhead
but was simply to enable the maintenance to continue of the existing
warhead programme and because many of the buildings there were
now in such a bad state that they had to spend substantial sums
of money on them. Do you share that view? If you are there already,
you must have contact with people there. The union representative
who represents the people there bore witness to that fact and
did not dissent from that line at all. I am interested that you
think the contrary to that.
Ms Jones: It is true that a large
number of buildings have been demolished and that there are buildings
being refurbished. Some 59 buildings have been demolished across
the whole site at Aldermaston since, say, 2003. It is about keeping
the place up to standards which comply with NII and Health and
Safety Standardswhich we know there were questions raised
about. But the majority of the work, in terms of capital investment
in the number of contracts issued and in the scale of the work
itself, has been taking place, for example, on the Orion laser
facility, and the construction of various other buildings, on
which previous committees will have heard evidence from John Ainslie,
from Greenpeace and from various other organisations, are all
integral to the design, development and construction of a new
system. So the two things are happening: bringing it up to current
standards but also a considerable amount of investment, and we
detailed that in our previous submission. I was at Aldermaston
this weekend. The laser building is now rising to about four metres
and additional pieces of infrastructure were being delivered over
the weekend. They are working very hard there at the moment on
the laser building.
Mr Ainslie: There may be a parallel
position with the 1970s, when there was a lot of concern about
safety. A report was drawn up which said there were various safety
issues at Aldermaston which resulted in a construction programme.
That was also parallel to the decision to build Trident. They
have a history of operating for decades with facilities that were
really not very safe. It seems that, when they are thinking of
a new system, that is the time when they rebuild everything.
Q7 Mr Jones: All conspiracy theories
have a kernel of truth in them but one of the issues that was
put by both the unions and management when they came before us
was not just what Mr Hancock said in terms of buildings but was
in terms of the age profile of the workforce: that it was getting
old. Ms Jones, you say that you think the decision has already
been taken but they were saying that if we wanted to take that
decision in the future we would not have the personnel there if
that investment did not take place now. What do you say to those
Ms Jones: With due respect, the
evidence that we present is not alleging that there is a conspiracy
theory, we are just giving information.
Q8 Mr Jones: You are, because you
are saying that the decision has already been taken.
Ms Jones: I am going to read something
out that would suggest that but I am not presenting a conspiracy
theory. We are just presenting you with information that is available
in the public domain and asking you to add that up. We have discovered
that when AWEML took over the contract in April 2000, Dr John
Rae, the chief executive, as part of the preparation to working
at Aldermaston, met with the local Liaison Committee, which consists
of representatives of trade unions, various other organisations
and local persons. I am quoting from the minutes of a meeting
of March 2000. In 2000 the Government's position was: "Having
decided to make the UK deterrent smaller, the MoD expects a lower
cost. Therefore the funding from MoD will come down to a level
which allows the programme to be delivered. As a rough guide,
there will be a one-third reduction in staff, and funding will
be reduced on a similar basis." The situation by the time
the site development strategy plan was published in July 2002
and made public in August 2002, was very different. That is the
time that coincides with the extension of AWEML's contract to
25 years which was announced in early 2003. That would suggest
that sometime in that two-year period a decision was made to have
substantial investment in Aldermaston.
Q9 Mr Jones: I do not disagree with
that. That is fact but the point that both the unions and management
were making was that, if we were to take the decision in future
to have the open debate about whether we should have a new generation
of warheads, you could not do that without investment in not only,
as Mr Hancock has said, the buildings, for safety reasons, but
also in personnel, on the basis that the average age of the workforce
there was getting near to the retirement age. That investment
is needed, if in the future we are going to take the open debate
rather than get a situation whereby we could not extend the life
or have a new generation because we would not have the people
there to do it.
Ms Jones: Yes, but I would suggest
that there is a difference between maintaining the scientific,
intellectual and other capacity to be able to develop nuclear
weapons and a decision that we will develop nuclear weapons.
Q10 Mr Jones: That has not been taken
yet but I am saying that if you do not have the scientists and
the people with the intellectual know-how to do it in the future,
you cannot take the decision to extend the life or create a new
generation. You do not have the people there if they have all
Ms Jones: I think we are probably
going to be at cross-purposes here, but I would refer you to one
of the recommendations previously made by this Committee in the
last report, that said you were not convinced that the building
work on the Orion laser and various other things should have gone
ahead before a parliamentary decision was made.
Mr Jones: That is a bit of selective
quoting, I think.
Q11 Chairman: Do you agree that the
decision in 2000 to reduce the number of workers that you referred
to is not, of itself, incompatible with the need to change the
age profile that the Government has talked about in recent months?
Ms Jones: Yes.
Q12 Chairman: Thank you. Mr Kent?
Mr Kent: I would just like to
say that the reason I am silent about this is I would like an
opportunity to challenge some of the fundamental assumptions.
Q13 Chairman: Yes, you will get the
Mr Kent: I not just concerned
about the nuts and bolts. Indeed in section 6.3 it talks about
building the submarines abroad as a possibility, if the submarines
want the warheads. Missiles we already buy. So there are wider
issues in the nuts and bolts than perhaps come out about what
is or is not happening at Aldermaston.
Q14 Chairman: You will have that
opportunity. We do not worry about witnesses being silent because
they will usually get opportunities later during the course of
the evidence session. Let us give it to you now. I will give each
of you the opportunity to do this, but perhaps we could start
with you, Mr Kent. I wonder if you could briefly summarise your
reaction to the White Paper, please.
Mr Kent: I think it is very disappointing.
I think it is unimaginative. I do not think it faces the threats
that this country and the world face in the next century in any
evaluative way. It assumes things which it fails to prove. It
constantly talks about deterrents: who is being deterred, how
they are being deterred and with what they are being deterred.
It slips in somewhere the old reference to "nuclear first-use"
which is not nuclear deterrence, it is nuclear war fighting but
that has just sort of slipped through without comment. It uses
terms like "recognised" in a praiseworthy or commendable
sense: "we are a recognised nuclear power". That
is a sleight of hand because we are only recognised in the sense
that when the NPT was signed there were five countries with nuclear
weapons. It was simply a matter of fact. It was stated. It gave
no approval to those. In fact it required those to negotiate in
good faith to get rid of them. So there are a number of problems
and there is also a complete misrepresentation. I am not a lawyer
and I believe you will be seeing lawyers but there is a complete
misrepresentation about what the International Court of Justice
said about nuclear weapons. It said that in only one particular
circumstance they could not make up their minds: in the extreme
circumstances of self-defence in which the very survival of the
state would be at stake. Only in those circumstances were they
unable to make up their minds. Everything else, they said, including
the survival of the state, had to conform to humanitarian law,
but here in the White Paper there is a statement that the ICJ
had rejected the idea that nuclear weapons had been illegal. It
did not reject. It did not make a decision on that point. That
is really rather important. Most of all, I think it is the insurance
argument and the sense that somehow Britain just sits and watchessays
Blair: "in the absence of an agreement to disarm multilaterally".
It is our obligation to promote such activities and we are not
doing that. The bit of the ICJ that was not quoted in the White
Paper is the second section in 96: "There exists an obligation
to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations
leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict
and effective international control." In good faith. We do
not believe that to continue with British nuclear weapons, while
not negotiating, can possibly be construed as being in good faith.
We think there are other much more important threats to our security
than the remote possibility that somebody sufficiently irrational
to use nuclear weapons but sufficiently rational to be deterred
by our possession of them might at some stage appear on the future
world map affecting us. In the context of a world of nine countries
with, there are 182 countries that do not have nuclear weapons,
which are not living in terror and fear that they are about to
be attacked by somebody. I think we should listen to Dr Blix and
listen to Kofi Annan. For us to pursue nuclear security is a green
light to other countries to take the same road. I hope that was
brief enough. Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.
Q15 Chairman: It was a great pleasure.
Ms McDonald: Right from the beginning
I find the White Paper confusing. I think the title should be
"The Future of Nuclear Weapons in the United Kingdom".
I cannot cope with this idea of the words "deterrence"
and "weapon" being interchangeable because they are
not. Deterrence is not a weapon, it is an unproven theory. It
is a past doctrine that has many elements. I think it is essentially
flawed and to keep promoting it as an idea170 times the
word "deterrence" is used in the White Paperis
to confuse people and to make assumptions that cannot really be
made. A useful analogy perhaps might be capital punishment. We
used to have capital punishment as a deterrent, as I understand
itand shall I say that it was before my timebut
when it was abolished there was not a rush of murders on the street.
It had been theory, its time had come and it was abandoned as
a way of running our affairs. And so it is the same with this
idea about nuclear weapons. It cannot be proved that they are
a deterrent. We do not expect that we would have been attacked
if we did not have them. There is no proof that we would have
been. The other thing in the White Paper concerns the offer, it
seems, to reduce nuclear weapons from the current number of about
200 or below 200 to 160. I do not see that that is any offer at
all because the number of warheads going into Aldermaston, coming
back from Scotland for servicing, and the number of warheads being
serviced and going back to Scotland do not match. I think it is
about 120 warheads have come back from Scotland since 2000 over
a six-year period, and in the same period 88 warheads have gone
up. These figures obviously are not guesses; they are estimates
on evidence that is taken by Nukewatch, which monitors the warhead
delivery up and down the country. It is certainly clear from their
data that the warheads have already been reduced and probably
for logistical, operational or manufacturing reasons, but, in
common with other MoD announcements, any announcement is always
made long after the event and so I think that is the case here.
Q16 Chairman: Mr Ainslie.
Mr Ainslie: I think, basically,
the White Paper is an attempt to try to get Parliament and the
public to agree to this proposal, which is to spend £75 billion
on weapons of mass destruction that no civilised country would
ever use. I am particularly concerned from a Scottish perspective
that it will result in continuing to have these dreadful weapons
in Scotland for the next 50 years. The second thing, from my point
of view, is that, in trying to sell that particular point, which
it is very difficult to do, it is patchy and not very coherent
in terms of how it is presenting its arguments. One key issue
is the whole question of the extent to which these are weapons
under NATO, independent orwhich I think is what it is really
aboutbilateral Anglo-American use. There are references
to NATO but not put very strongly. In the exchange of letters,
Bush's letter only refers to it being assigned to NATO. Tony Blair's
letter has the standard proviso: in extreme circumstances used
in defence of our own vital interests. If this is about NATO,
then it should be saying what NATO's nuclear policy is. NATO nuclear
policy has always been rather incoherent because it is perched
between different views either side of the Atlantic. It is particularly
problematical at the moment. It is not really saying, "Here
is what NATO believes and here is how we fit into this" which
Rifkind's statement in 1993 did start with. That is about the
last policy document we have. When Malcolm Rifkind was speaking
in November 1993 he did start off with saying, "NATO has
this view and here is how we fit in with it." This does not
do that. My own feeling, basically, is that NATO use has a fundamental
problem, because you need agreement in the consultation process.
That agreement, in most circumstances, is unlikely to be there,
so the allies are unlikely to agree in the NATO consultation process
to authorise nuclear use. I have real problems with any concept
in independence, partly in trying to see how they work politically,
but the other side is that I have done a lot of work on the software
and the software is a critical vulnerability. The operational
independence is potentially undermined by reliance on the American
software. That is not to say that it definitely is, but it potentially
is. If use under NATO is not very likely and independent use is
not very likely, where you can see this system working is in a
bilateral Anglo-American operation. Then it will work quite well.
But this is not saying that and it is not presenting the case
Q17 Chairman: Sian Jones.
Ms Jones: My colleagues have made
most of the remarks, so I will keep my comments very brief. It
is very interesting that the White Paper was published before
the Prime Minister announced that he wanted a further debate on
whether we are a war-fighting or peace-keeping country because
surely the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons is actually
crucial to that debate as to what sort of country we are. The
White Paper itself is really looking back to a time that we lived
through and a time where we worked towards what is now enshrined
in the 1997 INF Treaty, the ridding of US cruise missiles from
British soil. It is that whole Cold War argument and the outmoded
concept of deterrence that is repeatedly referred to throughout
the White Paper. The security agenda has changed. There is some
admission of that but there is a failure in the White Paper to
explore the real security needs that are being increasingly defined
by people from outside of the nuclear weapons' countries. That
is a security agenda which is based on the need for food, for
shelter, for water, for the right to education, for the right
to adequate hospital treatment, the sort of agenda that is coming
from the peoples of the global south and the sort of agenda that
is not even mentioned in the White Paper. We believe that the
White Paper should have been extended to discuss what we mean
by security without making a decision. The only other point I
would make is that the possibility of other options really are
dismissed within the White Paper itself. In particular, the option
to not replace Trident is not even mentioned. On the point that
was made about legality, I would just add that the White Paper
continuously refers to the need for nuclear weapons to safeguard
our vital interests. It does not once mention "to be used
in self-defence", which, as we have heard, is the only point
on which the ICJ were unable to reach a unanimous decision as
to whether the use of nuclear weapons would be unlawful. Therefore,
this whole paper is without the commitment made by the UK to the
NPT. Finally, on the question about warheads I would refer you
to Tony Blair's speech, that the apparent cut in the number of
warheads is not really an example of the commitment to a peaceful,
fairer and safer world, it is a matter of expediency. In Tony
Blair's speech he refers to it as a measure of efficiency.
Q18 Chairman: Thank you. Mr Kent,
do you want to add something?
Mr Kent: I would like to add to
what I previously said. First of all, technically there is nothing
in the document which raises the question that submarines might
become vulnerable within the next 40 years. I do not think it
is at all inconceivable that the seabed will be sufficiently monitored
to know where people are. That is a possibility. Secondly, there
is nothing in the document that really would inspire anybody to
think treaties have the slightest effect in getting rid of weapons.
We have a bacteriological convention; we have a chemical convention.
They are not perfect at all. They need to be hardened up in all
sorts of ways. There is no reference to the fact that there is
a draft treaty on the table at the UN, lodged by Costa Rica, with
an enormous amount of technical expertise in it which covers inspection,
verification, criminality, satellite observation and all the things
that will be required. None of that is there at all. It is just:
"We are here in this world. There is no disarmamenttoo
badso we are going to have Trident." I think that
is a pretty weak sort of way of dealing with such a serious issue.
Q19 Linda Gilroy: I would like to
follow through on a couple of points from the statements that
have been made. First of all, to Mr Ainslie. The statement you
made about the software, you have also made in one of the papers
you have submitted to us, that reliance on American software for
all aspects of targeting undermines nuclear independence. Can
you tell us a bit more about what your research has shown and
the sort of questions you think we ought to be putting to the
industry people and academics when we question them about that?
Mr Ainslie: There are two sides
of the software system. There is the shore-based bit of the software
and the submarine end. At the submarine end it is clearly entirely
American. At the shore-based end some of the key components come
from the United States. In some of the American contracts is an
insight into the process. The Americans produce software models
for their own Trident system. Those models include information
which is classified to such a level that it cannot be given to
Britain, so those bits are then taken out and that reduced version
is given to Britain as the software models. These are then assessed
in the software facility that Britain has to see if they will
work and there are other things added. My point is that, although
there is access to the process, because the gaps are there, for
reasons of security, I do not believe they can then assess it
to the extent of being certain that that software has not been
crippled in such a way that would reduce restricted use in particular
circumstances. The background to this is that the software is
extremely complex. In order to get the accuracy that Trident requires,
there is a very large software infrastructure in America that
supports this. We have not duplicated that. You have talked about
what we build and what we do not build. We have some ability to
check the software; we have not duplicated it. We do not have
our own experts who can do all these tasks.