Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)


21 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q160 Mr Holloway: Sure, but from your perspective the main thing is us not having a nuclear arsenal. Therefore, from your point of view this is kind of semantics, talking about jobs, because ultimately you prefer us not to have nuclear weapons regardless of the consequences on those communities.

  Dr Jenkins: Not regardless, because we believe that it can be done without such terrible consequences.

  Mr Holloway: Okay. That is just semantics, I think.

  Q161 Chairman: Dr Hudson?

  Dr Hudson: I do not think it is a semantic issue. There is the question of what is in the scales. On the one side there is international law. There are moral questions, there are our treaty obligations, there is the question of whether or not we think that the course we might follow in replacing Trident might contribute to the development of nuclear proliferation rather than helping to secure us. Those are things which any government has to take extremely seriously when it is looking at the future security of the nation and its own people, not to mention the impact on the wider community. There are, let us say, 3,500 jobs at Barrow. It seems to me that if the Government is very serious about these issues and serious about the employment and the skills base in this country, as well as ensuring the security of the nation, then the Government can, if it wants to, put significant thought into thinking about how these skills can be redeployed, and we know there is a skills shortage nationally in these areas, so it does not seem to me impossible that if a government wanted to take all these issues seriously it could find ways of redeploying these skills or indeed investing in Barrow for production in surface ships and other forms of submarines.

  Q162 Mr Holloway: But for you the main thing is nuclear disarmament and not jobs.

  Dr Hudson: Clearly it is, but there is no reason in my view why the Government cannot find ways of investing in Barrow to sustain its long term future or redeploying the workforce in like-for-like skilled work.

  Q163 Mr Jones: You mentioned Barrow and, Dr Hudson, I do respect your position, but it is a purist position, is it not, in the sense that, as Dr Jenkins just said, it is the Government's responsibility to plug this gap? Do you not think though, as a campaigning organisation which has an abolitionist stance and certainly not just on civil nuclear power, there is an onus on you to come up and say to people in Barrow and parts of west Cumbria and others, Devonport as well, what the alternatives are going to be and that the actions you take by abolishing the independent nuclear deterrent and also civil nuclear power are going to have consequences, not just in terms of numbers of jobs; it is also the types of jobs? We heard earlier on in terms of Aldermaston that it is about also future skills and investment in nuclear technology and other things like that, so do you not think that you—both organisations—do need to give a little bit of thought to what these people would do in the future rather than just say, "We are an abolitionist organisation"?

  Dr Hudson: Yes, I think it is incumbent upon us to take the issue very seriously and, as I tried to suggest earlier, CND does take it very seriously. That is why, in addition to doing some preliminary work, we have also commissioned an expert in this area. Thanks to Unison we have commissioned a major piece of research. I have been down to Devonport on a number of occasions and spoken at public meetings there. We have tried to engage in local campaigns and have particularly tried to engage with the workforce in discussion down there with the local trade unions as well. I myself was invited to speak at a fringe meeting at the Amicus trade union conference two or three years ago on this very issue and I would be more than delighted, if I were invited, to speak at a meeting of the workforce in Barrow.

  Q164 Chairman: Dr Jenkins, is there anything you would like to add?

  Dr Jenkins: No. I share the statements made by Dr Hudson.

  Mr Hamilton: Kevan has already asked the question but I would like to follow it on Dr Hudson's point, and that is that skills redeployment is one thing, but that does not help the town, because what will happen is that the best of the skills will move out of town, will move elsewhere within the UK. I have to say to Dr Jenkins that you do your case no good to argue that it is a government responsibility, and I accept the point you make that you have to look at alternatives and not go down the cul-de-sac that some people are trying to put you down. You are entitled to have a principled position and that position should and will be accepted by a great many Members in the House of Commons. There is a secondary issue and that is about jobs. It is not just about government. I am sorry; I find that comment quite offensive. It is not just about jobs and it is not about the Government having to do that. It is the collective responsibility of us all.

  Q165 Chairman: Mr Hamilton, it is about a lot more than jobs, as you say.

  Dr Jenkins: I made very clear my clarification. As part of the analogous issue of Sellafield I should say, because I was not employed by Greenpeace at that point, that Greenpeace was also part of that process. It involved a process of, as I said, trade unions, British Nuclear Fuels itself, NGOs; the Government was mainly missing from the process, I have to say, so that is the approach that should be taken. That is the approach that Greenpeace has historically been involved in, but I would emphasise that Government must take a lead because none of those actors can deal with the problems of taking care of the town without the strong, involved and continuous engagement of Government.

  Q166 Chairman: If I can echo something that David Hamilton has been implying, what your organisations are fighting for you are fighting for on the basis of your belief that it is the future of the world that is at stake and that strikes you as really rather an important issue?

  Dr Jenkins: Yes.

  Dr Hudson: Yes.

  Mr Hancock: I agree entirely with the line you have taken and I think that we have missed the point considerably as the Committee today on why you were here offering us your advice.

  Chairman: That is not part of their contract.

  Mr Hancock: No; I want to ask it now because others have deviated. I would like Dr Hudson to tell us where CND feel the Government would be breaking treaty obligations if they were to replace Trident because I think that is really important to us as an example to the rest of the world.

  Chairman: Hold on. We had that evidence in the first inquiry.

  Mr Hancock: I would like to ask it in the context of the question. We are very close to a decision.

  Q167 Chairman: No; this is an inquiry into the preservation of the skills base.

  Dr Hudson: Can I just say something there?

  Q168 Chairman: Could you be very brief, doctor?

  Dr Hudson: I will be very brief. When we gave evidence to the first Select Committee meeting, which was on the strategic context, you told me then that that was not the appropriate place to raise the question of treaty obligations. In fact, you said that that was the responsibility of the Foreign Affairs Committee, not the responsibility of the Defence Committee.

  Q169 Chairman: I do apologise.

  Dr Hudson: Then I wrote to Mrs Beckett and subsequently went to have a meeting at the FCO to see if it was possible to have a discussion about that angle of it and they said no, so I am sorry to say that so far we have not actually had any opportunity to put our case about the legal implications, our responsibilities under the NPT. If you read my memorandum and publications that we have produced and are currently producing, including our alternative White Paper which we have produced today, it specifies very clearly in there the obligations of our Government under Article 6 of the NPT in good faith to begin and indeed effectively conclude discussions on disarmament. That was strengthened not only by the verdict of the World Court in 1996 but also at the 2000 NPT review conference where we made an unequivocal undertaking to disarm our nuclear weapons, so I very much hope that Parliament and the Government will provide an opportunity for all those issues to be raised and thoroughly discussed in the national interest.

  Q170 Chairman: Dr Hudson, can I give a commitment that this Committee will give you the opportunity to talk about the treaty matters in our next inquiry?

  Dr Hudson: Oh, good.

  Q171 Chairman: If that is okay.

  Dr Hudson: When is that?

  Q172 Chairman: We have not decided yet.

  Dr Hudson: After the decision.

  Q173 Chairman: No. It will, I hope, be before a decision by Parliament anyway.

  Dr Hudson: Right; thank you very much.

  Q174 Chairman: Dr Jenkins?

  Dr Jenkins: I want to address this from a different perspective, which is that the major treaties, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, are technical treaties. To take the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, at its heart is the idea that by blocking the development of a technology you effectively can arrest the nuclear arms race, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, so it is all about the skills base, that treaty, and it is impossible to separate the issue of skills base from the issue of treaty obligations in the case of what is now happening at Aldermaston.

  Chairman: That is very interesting.

  Mr Hancock: Hear, hear.

  Chairman: Thank you. Do you want to carry on?

  Mr Hancock: No. I am perfectly happy with those answers.

  Chairman: What about decommissioning? Do you want to ask questions about decommissioning?

  Mr Hancock: No. I assumed that they had already answered that and they had recognised that from both perspectives, Dr Jenkins on behalf of Aldermaston, Burghfield, that there would be an ongoing issue while the decommissioning, or indeed the existing programme, continued, and likewise I think Kate Hudson made it quite clear that she recognised there would be the ongoing issue of servicing the existing boats and the warheads that were contained within them, so I accepted that they had answered that question in some detail.

  Q175 Mr Borrow: I would like to move on to Aldermaston. The written submission has cast doubt upon the rationale explained by the Government for the investment of £350 million over each of the next few years, so I would be interested in what your principal concerns are in respect of that and how you would respond to the argument that the key nature of such an investment was to ensure that the skills were not lost because there was a risk that they could be lost and that would put at risk the existing nuclear deterrent from a safety point of view, irrespective of any decision that is made in terms of a future replacement deterrent.

  Dr Jenkins: I think it is important to address this issue in the last context. The concept of science-based stockpile stewardship was developed in the United States and is a completely discredited and ideological concept. Effectively what happened in the United States was that in the mid nineties the giant US nuclear weapons laboratories, of which Aldermaston is in many ways merely an offshoot today, were faced with the prospect that they no longer had a reason to be in business. Moreover, they were also faced with real concerns about environmental contamination of sites and so on. Furthermore, they were faced with the prospect of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It is in that context that they struck a deal with the Clinton administration. In return for their technical support, saying that the treaty could be verified, they would receive from the US Government close to or greater than Cold War levels of funding to continue the development of exotic technologies with the ostensible purpose of maintaining the existing deterrent. Those nuclear weapon laboratories received that funding and then reneged on that deal in a most despicable and—words fail me at this point. In the US Senate they gave testimony, contradicted by their own studies, that it would not be possible to continue with the treaty for verification issues. They have since been rewarded by the Bush administration with levels of funding equal to those at the highest point of the Cold War. What we now see today with this concept being deployed in Britain is a horrendous undermining of British foreign policy. Prime Minister Blair took the unprecedented step before the Senate vote, with the German Chancellor and the French President, of appealing directly to the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, making very clear his commitment of British foreign policy to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as a priority matter. What we are now seeing with the development of Aldermaston bomb-making capacity is a subtle but insidious undermining of that British foreign policy goal. If you would like me to answer in more detail about Aldermaston I can be specific.

  Q176 Mr Borrow: It would be helpful to the Committee if, having spoken at length about US Government policy, you were to deal specifically with how the investment of £1,000 million over three years in developing and sustaining Aldermaston is not what the Government says it is for.

  Dr Jenkins: The situation we find ourselves in is one of a blanket of secrecy in which it is not possible to have absolute certainty, and this is a situation this Committee has commented on as being unsatisfactory in the past. It is more a question from my point of view that there is evidence that real questions need to be asked. Here I refer to the statements made by leading US nuclear weapons scientists from the heart of their nuclear weapon programme where they challenge this very idea that these exotic technologies were needed to maintain the safety and reliability of the deterrent is crucial. Men such as Ray Kidder, Norris Bradbury, Carson Marks, Richard Garwin, Sidney Drell, Bob Purefoy and Simon Seymour Sachs have all raised the issue that if your actual objective was to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear deterrent the best way to do it would be engineering based inspection and re-manufacture.

  Q177 Chairman: Can we come on to that? It is a slightly different question. The issue is whether the preservation of skills allows the UK to keep its options open to allow the possible replacement of Trident if we decide to go down that route, and you are saying that that is not what is happening?

  Dr Jenkins: What I am saying is that it would be good if this Committee called expert witnesses, both of these senior US scientists but also Aldermaston scientists and engineers themselves, and asked them precisely the question, could we not maintain the deterrent, and in doing so we would be maintaining the skills necessary to maintain it, by a much cheaper programme of engineering based inspection and re-manufacture?

  Dr Hudson: I have a slightly different angle on what I think you were asking about the Government's stated intention for the investment at Aldermaston. It is certainly our view, and this is obviously taken from information available in the public domain, that what is taking place there is far more than that required for stockpile stewardship, and of course our great concern, with other campaigners over the last two or three years, is that what is taking place at Aldermaston is actually the preparation or indeed the beginnings of development of new nuclear warheads. Just to refer you to what it said in AWE's in-house magazine, they talked about the scale of development taking place there as comparable with that of Heathrow's Terminal 5. This is from their own statements on it, a budgetary increase of some 36%. We understand that has brought a project 1,050 additional staff and an anticipated 1,200 contractors. We follow very closely with other colleagues from campaigning organisations the planning application process in West Berkshire and we know, for example, that in spite of considerable local protest permission was given for the building of an Orion laser facility which, as far as we understand, is a thousand times more powerful than the existing laser, and that laser is able to simulate the effects of weapons testing, so obviously that leads one possibly to conclude that developments are taking place with the purpose of developing a new nuclear weapons system. We understand the scale of the new computers that are being developed there, with other types of facilities, the core punch hydrodynamics facility, for example, and the new uranium facility; all the evidence would suggest to us that the developments and the investment there are not merely for stockpile stewardship but for the development of a new system, and we believe that the works are so far in development that one could conclude that the Government might have already commissioned that work to begin.

  Q178 Mr Borrow: Given that this inquiry is looking at skill bases, and the evidence that the Committee has received is that the skill base at Aldermaston is an ageing workforce and therefore the argument that has been put is that they need to start a programme of recruiting young skilled scientists who can be trained to take over from those older scientists who will be leaving service, the argument is that that needs to be done irrespective of the decision on replacing the nuclear deterrent; otherwise that skill will have been lost and we will not be in a position to replace the nuclear deterrent. Do you think that argument is totally fallacious?

  Dr Hudson: I would not say it was necessarily totally fallacious. Certainly, looking at some of the age profiles, reading the other submissions and so on, if a third of the skilled workforce is in the higher age profile then obviously one can see that there is some concern about that, but the scale of the recruitment, taken together with the nature of the jobs that have been advertised, some quite leading senior engineering teams and those types of things, does not suggest to me developing talented young scientists in the field. It suggests more importing quite advanced expertise in the range of sectors that could lead to the development of new nuclear weapons. Also, of course, this is one of these areas linking to the wider skills issue in Britain, and a sucking into this of quite a large proportion of skilled graduates, PhDs and so on, is going to deprive other areas of those skills.

  Q179 Mr Havard: I read the memoranda you both sent around this. One of the things you say to me is that the capability at Aldermaston is too great, it is more than sufficient to do the safety and in fact it is greater than that and it has the capability of producing a new bomb, of doing all sorts of things it should not be doing. It has got in it these exotic technologies that allow this development to take place, and you say it to me as though this is a surprise, but it is no surprise. There is nothing new in this argument. When the investment for Aldermaston was set out it was made very clear that it would do more than just provide safety for the existing warheads. It said it would keep a design successor for the existing warhead, should one be required, and keep the options open, so all these skills are there. This is nothing new to me, that these skills are there. It is capable of doing all of the things on the continuum, which is why I asked the question I asked earlier of the trade unions who represent people in Aldermaston, so the skills that are there are the skills required to do any one of these things. The decisions about which ones are done are political decisions. The other part of your evidence is that you suggested that in some way or other that is contrary to particular technologies, treaties and all the rest of it, which we are not going to go into today, but in terms of skill retention and skill necessity to either provide safety or development, then all you say to me is, "Yes, both are there but one should not be".

  Dr Hudson: Obviously, for us the concern, as you say rightly, is the overarching concern. We do not feel that these developments enable Britain to be in compliance with its treaty obligations. While the Government currently has a policy of having nuclear weapons it is not surprising that they wish to invest in the facilities which enable those to be continued. I think the point that we were raising in particular about this is that the scale of the investment and the activities and the building that is taking place there currently would suggest that in some way the decision to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear weapons has already been taken, which would seem to be the wrong way round.

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