Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 143-159)


21 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q143 Chairman: May I welcome you both to this second inquiry that we are doing in our string of inquiries. Thank you for giving evidence to our first. As you know, we will have several inquiries during the course of this Parliament. We know who you are but nevertheless could you tell us who you are and what you represent?

  Dr Jenkins: I am Senior Disarmament Campaigner for Greenpeace. I also have some expertise in the sociology and history of science and technology which may be relevant, but I am not a scientist or an engineer.

  Dr Hudson: I am Kate Hudson. I am Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

  Q144 Mr Jones: We have just had the trade unions who represent people who work not only in the civil nuclear industry but also in the construction of Trident submarines and also at Aldermaston. If we abandon Trident and do not replace it that is clearly going to have a major impact on jobs in those local communities. First of all, what would you say to those local communities and, secondly, is there any realistic alternative for those communities other than what they do at the moment in terms of supporting the independent nuclear deterrent?

  Dr Hudson: First of all I would like to say that this aspect of the issue is something that CND takes extremely seriously. We have very good relations with a number of trade unions. We have trade union affiliates and, of course, we are aware that at the recent Trade Union Congress there were a couple of trade unions who were not in support of the resolution not to replace Trident because of their concerns about the jobs question in particular. Amicus and GMB had concerns about the jobs question. It is certainly CND's position that a decision to replace Trident should not and indeed need not have a detrimental impact on those workforces. We have been working for some years to encourage the Government to adopt a viable arms conversion project. There was much work done around this in the 1980s and indeed the 1990s as well. We have just commissioned, supported by Unison, a substantial piece of new work looking at that very question. It is our understanding first of all that there are not extensive or very significant numbers of jobs still related specifically to the nuclear weapons industry, not on the kind of scale that has been seen in the past, but also in particular that, as there is a large number of physical scientists and engineers working in that area, and those skills areas are well known to be in short supply now with the changes in universities and shortage of graduates, and in particular we know that there is a shortage of relevant PhDs and so on, it is perfectly possible for those skilled workforces to be re-employed in other sectors. In particular we are aware that with the Government's support for the development of sustainable energy forms and so on many of the scientists and engineers working in that sector could find work in alternative sectors.

  Q145 Mr Jones: Yes, but both organisations are also against civil nuclear power, so what would you say, for example, to the county of Cumbria which relies not only on civil nuclear power but also, in terms of Barrow, on nuclear submarines? It is a bit of a double whammy and it is all right saying that there are alternative jobs, and I have to say that over the years I have read many of these ploughshares types of documents, but it does not actually mean a great deal if your organisation, certainly in Cumbria, for example, is going to close down two of the main employers in that county.

  Dr Hudson: It is certainly the case that in the past when work has been commissioned by those workforces themselves on alternative forms of employment they have generally been orientated to the Government investing and the companies investing in non-defence sectors and alternative forms of manufacturing production. I do not know to what extent it would be possible to convert into those areas, but as far as I am aware it is possible for some of those workforces specifically to be maintained through non-submarine production, for example.

  Q146 Mr Jones: If you have been to Cumbria and looked at the geography are you seriously suggesting that you are going to get employers to move to Barrow or, for example, to Sellafield, the Workington area, in large numbers in terms of the jobs there are now both in the civil and the defence nuclear industries? It is just pie in the sky, is it not?

  Dr Hudson: I am not so sure that it is pie in the sky. It is certainly the case, as far as I understand it, that with the non-continuation of the work at Dounreay it was possible for all the employees there to have continual employment or to be re-employed in similar sectors, particularly with regard to things like decommissioning, dealing with waste and so on.

  Q147 Chairman: Dr Jenkins, I think you should have the opportunity to answer those questions.

  Dr Jenkins: The first thing is that Greenpeace has historically been involved in developing precisely these kinds of studies and it has had a long history of that, but the overall perspective would be as follows. It is a national issue whether we continue with the Trident nuclear missile system with world ramifications. In such a case it is incumbent upon the Government to put serious effort, serious money and serious planning into taking care of workforces who have shown their commitment to the nation over many years and it is in that context that this should be addressed. My feeling is, and here I have to go back to historic knowledge when I worked on issues for Friends of the Earth about Sellafield and so forth, that there has been a real failure of the Government and agencies and the MoD to really think creatively and put real effort into defence conversion.

  Chairman: I did not begin by saying, as I should have done, thank you very much for your memorandum, but Kevan Jones would like to come back to you on that.

  Q148 Mr Jones: Just in terms of studies, obviously, we cannot replace the jobs by just getting people to produce studies, of which I have read many over the years. None has actually ever been implemented and obviously they have employed a lot of people in your organisations or certain university bods to write them, but in practical terms, in terms of replacement jobs, you say it is a job for Government, but surely, as an organisation which is advocating wholesale unemployment for large parts of west Cumbria and the southern Lakes, you have a responsibility to come up with a better argument than that it is Government's responsibility to do this. Secondly, in terms of a response to the point about alternative jobs, do you not also recognise that there is an issue around the types of jobs? What you are talking about here are very highly skilled jobs and replacing them with a baked bean factory, for example, in west Cumbria would not replace the skill set or the types of jobs which you would be taking away by closing down our civil nuclear programme or the defence side.

  Dr Jenkins: Just to be clear, here I have to refer to my historic knowledge because today I come to focus on Aldermaston, where there is not a similar job problem. I have been located in the centre of a very prosperous part of England. The studies that were done in the past were not trivial at all. I remember a study done in the 1980s which looked at how jobs in Barrow, nuclear submarines, could have been diversified into the area of equipment for North Sea oil, so in terms of my organisation we have never simply said, "This is a problem for somebody else". We have been involved in such studies, but I think this is a serious issue and demands response in detail and today I have not come with that focus and I am not prepared to give it that kind of consideration.

  Chairman: We can ask Dr Hudson questions about that.

  Q149 Linda Gilroy: This is on the same issue so it may be that you can deal with this in the course of answering the question I have got. We have heard this morning, and I think you were probably observing the trade union contributions this morning, that the scientists, engineers, the design people but also the skilled trades people, are very proud of what they do. They do it very specifically because they believe in it, and we have certainly had a sense of that on the various visits that we have paid, particularly to Barrow, where they were, I think, not unrealistically comparing what they do with the work on the space shuttle and the complexity of what they do, the safety case justification work that is done there. Is it not therefore probable that a proportion of those people—and we have heard from the trade unionists that some of them would not—would go elsewhere, probably abroad? They would obviously have restrictions placed on them as to where they could take their specialist knowledge in some cases. Is that something which CND have given consideration to? Would you be comfortable with that idea, that they would be taking their skills elsewhere rather than retaining them within the United Kingdom?

  Dr Hudson: First of all, in the discussions that we have had with trade unions in the recent past I remember a particular discussion we had with PCS, and the point they were making was precisely the one you are making about comparing like job with like. Jobs in that sector are very good jobs with very good conditions, and those people do not want to go and work in a supermarket. CND is absolutely opposed—and as a trade unionist myself I would be absolutely opposed—to anything which would suggest that, but we do not think that that is necessary. Just to refer back to my point about the Dounreay nuclear power plant, this point is made in our paper, but according to the UKAEA which is responsible for clearing up this site, the decline in employment at the end of the Dounreay research programme has been reversed, with 1,200 people now employed in engineering, radiological protection planning, environmental and waste management. We made a similar point about the new role of Porton Down, given the biological and chemical weapons conventions, so we believe that it is absolutely possible for like employment to be found. I wonder: is it the case, and it seems unlikely to me, that it would be possible to sustain the works at Barrow solely on the commissioning of four new submarines?

  Q150 Mr Jones: It would be a better alternative to what you are proposing.

  Dr Hudson: It would be a big help but how sustainable is that? There is also the Astute class, of course. There is also presumably the production of surface ships and commissioning of other forms of production.

  Q151 Mr Jones: You are against all these things anyway most of the time.

  Dr Hudson: No, no. I am only talking about nuclear weapons.

  Chairman: Was that the answer to your question, Linda?

  Q152 Linda Gilroy: It was an answer but it was not exactly an answer that I think the people that I represent would understand because the comparison I made was with the space shuttle. It takes 18 months to two years just to do the long overhaul of these submarines, let alone build them. We heard that it takes nine years to train up to the level of skill that is required. These really are unique jobs and I am a bit disappointed with the reply.

  Dr Hudson: As far as I understand it, part of the work at Devonport is the refitting of the existing Vanguard class submarines and that is a kind of periodic but regular thing where the ships come in and are refitted and so on. That work will continue. There are other nuclear powered submarines, for example, and there is a whole range of jobs there and commissions and contracts and so on.

  Q153 Mr Jones: Which you are against.

  Dr Hudson: No, we are not. I am here specifically to make the case as to why a decision not to replace Trident need not destroy Britain's skills and manufacturing base. I am not here to make any comment about having the Astute class submarines or refitting the existing ones or having decommissioning of all those types of things that are necessary and could occupy skills and provide employment.

  Q154 Chairman: Dr Hudson, could you tell us: do you oppose the position by the United Kingdom on nuclear powered submarines?

  Dr Hudson: We are not in favour, under conference policy, of new build nuclear power stations for a number of reasons, particularly because we think that it will not provide a solution to the problems of climate change. Constitutionally as an organisation we are only for the abolition of nuclear weapons. That is overwhelmingly our concern and I am not particularly interested here in making any kind of case against nuclear powered submarines. I see that as a separate issue.

  Q155 Chairman: But as a separate issue is it the policy of CND to oppose the existence of nuclear powered submarines?

  Dr Hudson: I do not actually know if we have got a conference policy on that specific issue. It is certainly not something that we campaign against.

  Q156 Linda Gilroy: I just want to clarify something. You suggested that the refits on the current Vanguards would go on. Is it the position of CND therefore that the Vanguard submarines should continue until the end of their lives?

  Dr Hudson: Our current campaigning priority is to prevent the replacement of Trident. That is our absolute focus at the moment. Obviously, we have campaigned for scrapping Trident and so on for many years. We are for the abolition of Britain's nuclear weapons, but I would say personally that there is very little likelihood of the Trident nuclear system as it currently exists being scrapped prior to a decision on a replacement being taken and prior to the end of its natural life. As these things take very long times to achieve and to bring about we nevertheless believe that there will be sufficient skilled work provided for those communities for very many years, whether it is decommissioning the submarines or dealing with problems of waste and so on around nuclear reactors in submarines, all those things. We believe very strongly that there will not be a detrimental impact on those workforces.

  Q157 Chairman: But, Dr Hudson, in your evidence to our first inquiry did you not suggest that if there were a decision not to replace Trident it would be based on the principle that nuclear deterrent no longer worked and was not a good thing, and therefore that it should follow that we should immediately abolish the existing deterrent? Did you not suggest that?

  Dr Hudson: I think this is a bit of a red herring really because obviously CND is an abolitionist organisation. We want British nuclear abolition and we also work for global abolition. We have a kind of unilateralist plus multilateralist position. That is what we are very strongly committed to on moral, legal and security grounds. That is absolutely the case. Much as I might like it to be otherwise, I do not think there is any immediate chance that those things are going to happen. What is possible, however, is that there is again a very serious national discussion about whether or not we need to renew the Trident system, and that is what we are engaged in talking about.

  Mr Hancock: I think that is a very fair point. I think some members here are trying to twist the issue, Chairman.

  Mr Jones: I just want straight answers.

  Q158 Mr Hancock: No, no. The debate we are having today is about the replacement of the Trident missile system, whether or not we should continue with it. We are not debating whether we are going to stop the current programme tomorrow. I think the answers they have given are about the brief we have in front of us today. I am interested to know, particularly regarding jobs, about the suggestion that the Government have a responsibility to look at that in Barrow, for example. The answer we got from the people from Barrow was that in a total population of 70,000, and I do not know exactly what the working population is, 5,600 are on some form of disability benefit. I was interested when you said that Government have a responsibility to look to diversify. Why would they want to do that when they are still committed to building nuclear submarines? You would not set up a diversification programme at the same time that you wanted this very skilled, uniquely placed workforce in this very difficult location to continue to build at least another three submarines for you in the Astute programme and possibly two replacement Trident boats, would you, so when does this kick in?

  Dr Jenkins: The first thing is that if I indicated that one agency solely had this responsibility that is not what I am saying. When I worked for Friends of the Earth I was deeply involved in talks with British Nuclear Fuels, which, of course, has the Sellafield plant in the area, and right from the Chairman down they were interested in a major, indeed visionary, re-orientation of British Nuclear Fuels that would take it from being a reprocessing company into being a global nuclear clean-up company which would, for example, have contracts in the United States to clean up giant plants there and would be involved in dealing with the horrendous problems of the nuclear waste of the former Soviet fleet and so forth. The approach there was a dialogue between British Nuclear Fuels, organisations like Friends of the Earth and Government. In the larger picture that is what one wants. On this issue of jobs in the Barrow-in-Furness area I can only indicate my broad frame that that is the approach that should be taken and certainly this issue of jobs would not immediately arise because of the Astute programme.

  Q159 Mr Holloway: It strikes me that all your comments are around mitigation of the central point for both of you, your sincerely held view that unemployment in these places is completely preferable to having a nuclear armed UK.

  Dr Jenkins: No, because I think that is a false alternative. It is completely possible, and it is indeed the business of Government, to take care of its citizens without—

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