Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
16 JANUARY 2007
Q80 Mr Hancock: So the numbers are
irrelevant really, it is the way you deliver them that is the
issue, and we are not taking that down?
Mr Ainslie: If I could answer
you on what disarmament has taken place or will take place, I
think numbers is only one measure. The MoD will assess the effectiveness
and the performance and, if they are doing an effectiveness assessment,
the system that we have today is a lot more capable than what
we had in the early 1990s, without a doubt, in terms of the numbers
of targets and accuracy, and so on, and that capability increase
is continuing to move forward. They upgraded the system in 2002
to make it more flexible. They are going to upgrade it again.
Apart from this thing, in a couple of years' time they are replacing
the computer system, so that will make it more flexible again,
and so there are at least qualitative improvements without the
change in quantity.
Mr Borrow: I need to pursue this issue
in terms of whether a nuclear power that reduces the number of
warheads or gets rid of a system whilst still retaining a nuclear
power is a positive move and a move towards disarmament.
Q81 Chairman: Do you think it is
a positive move?
Mr Kent: It can be. It depends
if the actual aim is nuclear disarmament or the aim is good housekeeping
and a so-called on-going minimum deterrent.
Q82 Mr Borrow: So if the French got
rid of one of their systems, would that be a positive move in
Mr Kent: It would be, in terms
of saving money they could spend on something else, but I would
not be praising the French unless they are heading towards the
goal of nuclear disarmament. The Chinese should get some praise
out of all this, they are the least aggressive in terms of numbers
of warheads and delivery systems, but they do not get figured
very much in the disarmament process, but I am saying, "Yes",
to your question.
Q83 Chairman: Might that be because
they are building more submarines than the whole of the rest of
the world put together?
Mr Kent: It could well be.
Q84 John Smith: We do not know, incidentally,
whether the Chinese are continuing to develop their capability.
They have always been considered a regional nuclear threat and
not a strategic nuclear threat. Just on the argument about reducing
stockpiles, do our witnesses accept that we have not just reduced
warheads, we have also reduced capability. We have removed platforms
in the last eight years, we have removed the airborne capability.
So it is not just how many angels on the
Mr Ainslie: There is a point in
Di's argument of these being logistical changes. I think in one
sense the big disarmament decision was probably the scrapping
of the Tactical Air to Surface Missile (TASM). The W177 had to
go anyway because it was getting very old, so the decision was
for that to go simply because they could not keep it going any
longer, but they had made this decision a few years earlier to
scrap the Tactical Air to Surface Missile. Why did they make that
decision? The Americans scrapped them. It was their project. It
was not an option. They looked at the possibility of doing a joint
project with the French and they could not do it. It is very difficult
to say are these logistical decisions or are they disarmament
decisions. It is a step forward. The arms control approach is
part of it. You bring the numbers down. It is what has happened
between America and Russia. It is better to have lower numbers.
Chairman: Let us move on to the deterrent
options, solutions and costs and whether we should have aircraft
with cruise missiles, surface ships, land-based systems, submarines.
Q85 Mr Holloway: Mr Kent, I appreciate
you are frightfully opposed to nuclear weapons full-stop, but
you did say that there are other ways other than subs. Of the
other options, have you any comments to make?
Mr Kent: Of deterring countries?
Q86 Mr Holloway: No, the other options,
the other platforms, so land, air, ship based systems.
Mr Kent: They have aircraft or
cruise missiles on submarines. These are all options that are
possible, I presume, though I do not claim to be an expert, and
I have not come here to be an expert, on the different systems.
Perhaps my colleagues know more about the other systems.
Mr Ainslie: I will maybe make
two points. There is a problem in the paper. Section 3 gives you
three scenarios: a re-emerging major nuclear power, an emerging
nuclear state and state sponsored terrorism. I think there is
a disconnect between that and the principles that they then require.
The scale and the invulnerability only apply to Russia and, if
you translate that into options, there is a sense in which Trident
is particularly inappropriate for anything other than Russia.
It is worth watching what is happening in America at the moment.
General Cartwright, Head of Strategic Command, is very keen that
he has Trident missiles with conventional warheads on them. Congress
has been hesitant about this because they are by no means convinced
that firing any type of missile anywhere is immediately perceived
by Russia as an attack on them and the whole system goes off,
and so there is quite a strong argument for saying that, if you
are concerned about these other things, Trident is not the way
to do it. The second point is an option that the Committee raisedstrictly
it is not a CND line, but it is worth pursuing, I thinkwhich
is, yes, have submarines but take them off patrol. Why are we
fixated with this thing of keeping them on patrol? They are allocated
to NATO. NATO substrategic nuclear forces. In other words, the
bombs sitting in Germany and other places, are on a state of alert
measured in months. NATO has no standing nuclear plans. Why does
this part of the NATO force have to be on a state of alert measured
in days while the other parts of the NATO force are on a state
of alert measured in months? I think it is almost the core of
this mentality"This is the way we have always done
it"and they cannot bring themselves to take it off
patrol. If you take Trident off patrol, your whole urgency and
everything else goes. However long it takes them to build a submarine,
you can add another five or ten years into the process if you
do not have them on patrol.
Q87 Chairman: Would you then comment
on the Government's point that the continuous at-sea-deterrent
notion reduces the risk of increasing tension when you actually
decide to send a submarine to sea?
Mr Ainslie: These are arguments
that they are basically picking up from America. They are used
in a Russian/American context, in terms of the balance between
Russia and America: if America were to do this, Russia would do
that. Does it really apply between Britain and Russia that this
is what would happen? I find it scarcely credible that that whole
scenario would happen. It basically increases the risk. Having
the thing out at sea on patrol is perceived as being a potential
risk. If you bring it into port, and particularly if you bring
it into port and then separate the components and the other side
can then see those components are not put together, you are then
sending out a very clear message: "We are not threatening
you." There is a slight thing about: is there a risk involved
in this escalation, but the beneficial effect of not presenting
that threat, you know, does that then mean the Russians can have
a few fewer missiles? However dramatic that reduction is, you
are removing a few targets out of their target plan.
Q88 Linda Gilroy: I am a bit confused
and I would just like to go back and ask a question that I asked
just now. This White Paper is predominantly about the need to
take a decision in relation to maintaining the platform and the
skills base that will otherwise, it is claimed, no longer be there
to build the platform unless we make a decision in very short
order. Is not the argument you have just put forward one that
you could certainly go on and have, but unless we do take that
decision, we will not have any options to maintain the deterrent
of a future platform to carry the deterrent at all, and so you
have taken a unilateral decision?
Mr Ainslie: I am certainly not
convinced by those arguments. We are saying at the moment it is
lock, stock and barrel about North Korea and Japan. The general
thing is that Japan could get into the nuclear weapons business
very quickly if it wanted to, and then we seem to take a very
different line when it comes to Britain, that if we do not build
a new submarine now we will never ever be able to have a nuclear
weapons capability again.
Q89 Linda Gilroy: That is related
to the cost of doing so and of reconstituting the base with which
to do it. You obviously do not accept those arguments. Have you
done any analysis of it?
Mr Ainslie: In terms of the skills
Q90 Linda Gilroy: Yes, of the arguments
which have been put fairly forcefully and clearly within particularly
the last evidence inquiry that we did on maintaining the skills
Mr Ainslie: Not particularly.
I think the only other point is the extent to which we depend
on the Americans anyway. We go to the Americans for some critical
skills anyway, and so, if there was that problem further down
the line, it may just be an issue of how far we go to the Americans
Chairman: Moving on to the costs, if
we may, Willie Rennie.
Q91 Willie Rennie: You mentioned
the cost of £76 billion. The White Paper states between 15
and 20 billion. What is the reason for the difference?
Mr Ainslie: I think there is a
major problem with the White Paper in terms of trying to sell
this. It does not give the full figures. Not only does it not
give the full figures, I have been involved in helping to draft
some of the PQs and they are not giving the replies back to questions
to fill in some of the gaps that appear. So, clearly, they are
not giving the total cost of the whole thing. The big gap is really
the cost of Aldermaston. They are saying Aldermaston costs this
amount at particular points. There is no figure there for the
total Aldermaston development plan, which is there as a plan probably
from now until the early 2020s. The other thing is when they are
talking about this 5 to 6% in service costs, is that an average?
I am sure there was a question down saying, "What is the
average operating cost?" and we did not get an answer to
it. That figure is two billion a year. So if you have a current
expenditure of two billion a year, you are saying that when the
new system is in service it is around two billion a year. During
the period 2012, 2024 it will be higher. They are saying Aldermaston
is going to be up. You have got the major costs of the submarine
platform coming in there, so you have got a minimum level of two
billion a year, probably more than that. Over a 50-year period,
that is 100 billion.
Mr Kent: With a question mark
Mr Ainslie: Then you have to say,
if there is 100 billion, how much of that is for the existing
system and how much of that is for the new one? Clearly they are
saying Aldermaston is for both, so how do you divide it up? By
just very roughly saying maybe 25 going into the existing system
and the other 75 going into the new one?
Q92 Willie Rennie: What do you think
the Government have included? How have they come up with the 15
to 20 billion figure?
Mr Ainslie: That is including
the submarine and a couple of other components, and it includes
the cost of building the new warheads, or refurbishing the warheads,
but not the cost of the infrastructure.
Q93 Willie Rennie: Okay.
Ms Jones: If you start to look
at the costs, this was something that was actually quite difficult
when we began to look at the White Paper and, looking very specifically
at the estimates based around the refurbishment or replacement
of the warheads, you get a figure in section 5.11 which says two
to three billion, but it is not actually clear how that two to
three billion would differ if the decision was refurbishment or
replacement. So, there is a lack of accuracy there. Also, it is
not clear whether that is not only in addition to the current
operating costs of Aldermaston but also the programme of investment
in sustaining capabilities at Aldermaston that was announced in
2005 ostensibly as a one-off thing over three years. It is very
clear, if you look at the White Paper, that there will be further
year on year on investment, and they quote it as the equivalent
of about of 3% of the current defence budget. In addition to that,
we also have the £5.3 billion contract which AWEML have to
run Aldermaston on behalf of the Government. In addition to that
we have ambiguity about whether it includes maintaining the current
weapons stockpile, transporting the current warheads back and
forth and, presumably at some point, decommissioning those warheads
if new warheads are decided upon. So, as far as we can see from
looking at the industry side of this (and I think we have only
tangentially mentioned the big influence on maintaining both the
capacity for building the submarines and maintaining the skills
base at Aldermaston, which you mentioned earlier on), basically
industry analysts have expected investment of around £12
billion over the next 12 years, so they obviously know something
that we do not know from the White Paper, and, as has already
been mentioned, we are not going to get any comprehensive figures
until after the Comprehensive Spending Review. So, one of the
things that we would encourage you to do when you speak to representatives
of the Government or the companies concerned is actually to give
you a much more detailed break-down of what these costs actually
mean, over what period of time they will need to come on line
and what the whole budgeting exercise for this is. Clearly, from
section five we can see that they have gone for the cheapest option,
but it would still be quite nice to see how they have done their
Q94 Willie Rennie: Do you think that
affordability alone is a basis for opposing the replacement of
Ms Jones: It is irrelevant, is
Q95 Willie Rennie: Why do you spend
so much time on the costs?
Mr Ainslie: Clearly, from our
point, if it cost nothing it would still be wrong. It is wrong
to have weapons of mass destruction that kill thousands of people.
When you look at world opinion and you look at the polls, it is
a factor. There are obviously some people out there for which
cost is a key issue, so it is a factor in the judgment.
Q96 Willie Rennie: Put yourself in
the public shoes then. At what point would you think that the
public would find it unacceptable or acceptable to have a deterrent?
What cost would that figure be? I know you would not accept any
cost, but at what point do you think the public would accept?
Mr Ainslie: Quinlan says that
it is an insurance policy. What premium do you pay?
Q97 Willie Rennie: Would you take
a stab at it?
Mr Kent: It has got to be a lot
less than at the moment. We can keep the post offices going for
125 years on the money spent, and these are figures that people
understand, and we can deal with global warming, plus, plus, with
these figures. I do not know what the lowest figure would be that
would stop disquiet, but it would have to be very much lower than
Q98 Linda Gilroy: Do you think it
would be reasonable, before working out what else it might be
spent on, to consider the costs of three things in particular:
one would be the decommissioning costs, the second, and you might
take a different view from others, but I am sure people would
wish to consider having a look at the programme of maintaining
nuclear powered submarines not carrying nuclear weapons, and there
would be a cost to maintain the skills base for that purpose;
and, in addition to that, you would have to look at the impact
on the local economies, particularly, if not in the fast-lane
most certainly in Barrow in Cumbria, an area where I would hazard
a guess that it would be very substantial, and in Plymouth, where
it would have a devastating effect on the local economy, not just
in the city of Plymouth but on the neighbouring objective-one
area where about a third of the dockyard workers are coming from
in Cornwall. If you are going to start saying this is an amount
that we can spend on post offices and health, the simple question
I am asking you is would you agree that it would be reasonable
to factor in all of those significant costs?
Mr Kent: Absolutely. Decommissioning
we are into anyway, are we not, because we already have the submarines.
We are going to decommission them sooner or later, so that is
not an extra expense.
Q99 Linda Gilroy: It would be a very
substantial extra expense, I would suggest, to decommission the
entire strategic facility at Davenport dockyard. It is not the
same thing to talk about the decommissioning of the submarines.
Mr Kent: Granted, but surely part
of the process of moving to nuclear disarmament is actually looking
at the present workforce and how they can be used and deployed,
and that is one of the factors that is lacking. You could actually
see a detailed CND brief for Barrow called Oceans at Work
some time ago in 1985. I think it was the first study that anybody
Ms McDonald: I am sure you will
correct me, Ms Gilroy, but, as I understand it, the numbers of
jobs involved in refitting Trident is in the region of 300. Other
submarine work goes on there, and, as you know, a great deal of
it now is to do with decommissioning and laid up submarines. When
DML were here giving evidence I heard their managing director
say they were already working with the NDA in terms of looking
for contracts for decommissioning, so I think there will be plenty
of work in Devonport for a long time. On the question of Barrow,
it is a different matter. I think that if this £76 billion,
or whatever, could be saved, then certainly putting money into
Barrow in terms of investment for new jobs, because certainly
the Cumbrian isolation and the need for jobs there is very clear,
people need support there. I do not think they should be confined
and constricted for ever to be building nuclear submarines, there
should be something else there for them, and that is government