Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-189)


21 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q180 Mr Jones: What do you base that on?

  Dr Hudson: What I was just saying about the scale of development there which AWE itself has likened to Terminal 5, the new laser and so on.

  Dr Jenkins: I have to enter into an area which is of great obscurity but at the same time of real importance, which is that the evidence, it seems to me, is not that Aldermaston has just been sitting around developing capacity. Actually, there is already track record. A nice remark was made by John Brown, the former Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, where he said, "You cannot just have this conversation about warheads. It has to be about delivery systems and even military command and control. These things are part of an inter-related system. That is what people forget". The importance of that is that since the end of the Cold War we have seen an upgrading of the Trident nuclear missile system, the technical characteristics of which make it more conceivable that it could be used, so that involves single missile warheads, it involves re-targeting systems and a dual yield. The point here is that suddenly in 2000 Aldermaston says, "Yes, we have done it". "With high accuracy, targeting and an option of two warhead yields [Trident] can now operate in both strategic and sub-strategic roles". The point is that it is not simply an issue of what Aldermaston may be about to do, but also that Aldermaston has already been in a way—and it is a semantic question—producing a new weapon; hence that suggests that we have also got to be concerned, for example, when we discover from an advertisement in PhysicsWeb that the new scientists that are being hired will be making prototypes. At what point does making a prototype turn into making a new weapon?

  Mr Havard: That is the point I wanted to get to. You say that taking a multi-warhead and producing just one single warhead on it and improving its target capacity so that it can be dropped with much more accuracy is a new weapon. That is what you have just said. The truth of the issue is that for a period of time the UK has effectively been reducing the capacity of its nuclear weaponry. We used to have tactical nuclear weapons. We do not have them any more. There are various ways in which we have said we will have fewer warheads on them. Whether you make them any safer by having fewer warheads is a different debate, but what you are saying now is that they have produced this capacity so you can drop a less lethal nuclear weapon with more accuracy than you could before in the form of a Trident missile, so they have improved it to that extent. That is what you are saying.

  Q181 Chairman: Is that what you are saying?

  Dr Jenkins: What I am saying, and here I stand on what the Director of Los Alamos says, is that what matters is the whole system, and in terms of what we have done, we have made a weapon which states across the world will see as more usable against them and that is deeply distasteful.

  Mr Havard: That is a debate. What is clear is that the Government has not hidden any of this. As you say in your own memorandum, in the history section of the report in 2000 it made very clear that this potential that you have just described had now meant that Trident could be used in a sub-strategic way rather than in a strategic way, and I think this whole question of their ability to provide those options to the Government is hardly a secret because the Government has admitted it is doing it, has told the public it is doing it, so nothing that you are telling me is particularly a secret or new, and it is consistent with the Government's position—

  Chairman: Dai—

  Q182 Mr Havard: Hang on a minute; I am going to finish this sentence. The potential for Aldermaston was always to be to keep that potential there, to have that ability to do that. Whether you think it is right or wrong is a different debate, but do not try and pretend to me that in some way it is some sort of X-file that has come out of somewhere and it is a conspiracy. It is not. It might well be wrong but it is not a conspiracy.

  Dr Jenkins: The Government has said different things at different times, and it said to this Committee that this investment was required "irrespective", and then John Reid talked about the purpose, so it would appear that the Government's clear intention was to say, "This is simply for maintaining the existing warhead", and we are raising doubts about this.

  Chairman: I think it was for maintaining the existing skills.

  Q183 Mr Jones: It is an important point because I accept that you are trying, as Dai said, to portray a great conspiracy theory when there is not, because actually what it says in the memorandum, and I will read it again to you—there is a film at Aldermaston—"It will also ensure that we retain a minimum capability to design a successor for the existing warhead, should one be required, and keep our options open". Would not the Government, can I put it to you, be failing if it did not put this investment in? I accept you do not want any investment at all, but if we did not put investment in now the argument we are going to have on whether or not we replace the nuclear deterrent would be academic because we would not have the skills and the expertise to do it.

  Dr Jenkins: What I think would be appropriate, because, as I say, this is an area of obscurity and secrecy, would be for the Committee—

  Mr Jones: No, it is not secrecy. I do not accept that.

  Q184 Chairman: Hold on. Let Dr Jenkins continue.

  Dr Jenkins: The parliamentary question put down by Norman Baker MP asks, "What is the lower yield of the Trident nuclear warhead now? Has it been developed into a mini nuke?", and the reply is, "This is a matter of national security".

  Q185 Mr Jones: Well, of course it is.

  Dr Jenkins: At a time when the Government has itself said that there is no direct military threat to the UK, then we need to know the facts.

  Mr Jones: No, but what you are trying to portray—

  Q186 Chairman: Dr Hudson, you have an answer you were trying to give.

  Dr Hudson: I just wanted to make an additional point. It is quite clear that our organisations are opposed to the replacement of Trident for a very wide number of reasons. Our specific concern about the situation at Aldermaston is that irrespective of normal functionings and stockpile stewardship and so on, which obviously the Government under its current policies is required to do, and quite sensibly so given the safety considerations and so on, nevertheless we have been promised by the Government a full public and parliamentary discussion and debate about the future of the nuclear weapons system and whether it is appropriate or not for Britain to maintain such a system for its future security and so on. This parliamentary Committee I understand is part of that discussion and process and looking at the issues. If the Government has already taken a decision and therefore what is happening at Aldermaston is the enactment of that decision then it seems the wrong way round and we have concerns that that is what is taking place at Aldermaston. Nothing anyone has said has yet convinced me that that is not the case.

  Mr Jones: I accept that nothing I am going to say or anyone is going to say is going to convince you, but what would be wrong would be any government saying they were going to go into an open public debate about the replacement Trident when they realised that if they had not put the investment in (which everyone has been quite clear about because it has not been secret in any way, shape or form in terms of policy), in other words that if they took a decision without this investment in skills etc. or in Aldermaston to replace Trident, they could not do it because they would not have the capacity to do it. I think you are going to enter into a debate which is open and transparent, which I think this is, and I think the MoD have been quite clear. What you are trying to do, which I accept you are entitled to do, is whip up the conspiracy theory et al to try and damage the debate, which I do not think is very helpful in terms of your case, to be honest, which I do respect.

  Q187 Chairman: I do not think that is what you have been saying.

  Dr Hudson: I am not suggesting there is a conspiracy theory. I just hope that there is no intention to pre-empt the decision, which I hope will be taken by Parliament.

  Chairman: I think you have stimulated the Committee so much that we will go on, if we do not stop pretty much now, until about teatime, and we cannot because the Minister for Defence Procurement is coming before us. Do you want to ask a nice, emollient question to round it off, David?

  Q188 Mr Hamilton: Do you seriously think, if there were an ulterior motive by the Government, that during the debate—and it was myself who asked the Prime Minister about a vote in the House of Commons and now all we need to find out is whether it will be a free vote, but that is a separate issue—if there were conspiracy theories going about that would not come out during the debate that we are going to be having in the House of Commons, and do you think that that is going to make a difference to MPs? I am just to trying to think of a scenario. If the Government say, "We have proceeded with this investment so much that that is why we should make a decision to accept a new nuclear deterrent", do you honestly think that MPs will vote according to the amount of money they will spend potentially? It just does not work out.

  Dr Jenkins: I would like to put this in a historic context. It has been said by people like Lord Solly Zuckerman or Dr David Owen, speaking about his time as minister, that Aldermaston scientists have manipulated political decisions, have gone ahead with the development of systems without proper oversight. All this has been said by people of that calibre. We have the historic Chevaline decision. The issue may not simply be one for Downing Street and that is why I would very much hope that this Committee will first question senior scientists and engineers at Aldermaston, secondly, seek independent technical advice because this is a technical issue, and thirdly, go to where the best expertise can be found for opposing points of view, which is the United States, and call on the people of the very highest calibre from inside the nuclear weapons establishment to advise it in this issue.

  Q189 Chairman: Thank you both very much indeed. I have said that you will have the opportunity to come and talk to us about treaty obligations. If after this morning you want to come back you would be most welcome.

  Dr Hudson: I would love to.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for your evidence this morning. As I say, you have stimulated us enormously and we have enjoyed it.

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