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21 Jun 2010 : Column 85

I want to devote the rest of my speech to the importance of taking the right decisions on our independent nuclear deterrent.

Mark Tami: Before my hon. Friend moves on to the nuclear issue, does he agree that many countries have often found that when they simply buy off the shelf from the US, it is a bit like buying a car and finding that there are lots of blanks where all the important gizmos should be, because the Americans keep them for themselves? There are also lots of ongoing costs regarding servicing and the black box technology that the Americans keep for themselves.

John Woodcock: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Very difficult decisions are involved in this review, but we must not overlook the advantage that home-grown, home-made kit gives our armed forces out in the field of combat.

Of course, as parliamentarians and as individual human beings, our instinctive feeling towards the ultimate weapons of mass destruction that the deterrent represents is one of deep hostility and revulsion. It is a responsibility on all of us to strive for a world free from nuclear weapons. So for all the thousands of people who depend on it in my constituency, if abandoning the deterrent now would make the world safer from the threat of nuclear holocaust, it would be my duty to embrace that. However, unilaterally scrapping or delaying the renewal of Trident would make our country and the world less safe, not more so. Instead, it is vital that we secure genuine progress on the multilateral non-proliferation talks that are currently under way. While the threat persists, as we know it will for the foreseeable future, it would, as the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) argued well, be wrong to jeopardise our country by stalling on renewal.

We must guard against the dangerous spread of woolly thinking on this issue. We must not repeat the costly mistake of the last Conservative Government, who left too long a gap between completing the Vanguards and starting the Astutes; and we must resist opting for a platform that, while still capable of great evil and destruction, is no longer an effective deterrent against a hostile strike. Today, I am afraid, the Secretary of State again refused to say whether the new value-for-money review of Trident is considering only the cost of a new ballistic missile submarine platform, or alternatives to it. As the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said, the surprise decision last week to suspend work on the successor programme suggests that the review may be more significant than we had first thought, because the former approach-driving out unnecessary costs as a programme develops-is what any Government should do all the time. The latter approach, however-considering alternatives to the successor-needlessly reopens a question settled in the 2006 deterrent White Paper. Even if new Ministers end up reaching the same conclusion as the previous ones, this could cause serious delays in a timetable which is already very tight, and ultimately spell a further gap in the order book that could again see skills lost and thousands laid off.

If the Government reach a different conclusion, however, serious consequences would follow for the public finances, jobs and the security of the nation. As far as I can tell, the Secretary of State has said that the Government
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remain committed to a submarine-based deterrent, so let us consider the alternatives that fit those criteria. On the option of refitting the Vanguard class submarines, we could do that, but relying on a relatively short and very expensive life extension would mean taking a massive punt with our national security.

It is also time to puncture the seductive myths around the second alternative: redesigning the Astute-class submarines so that they could carry nuclear warheads. There is a myth that this option would be cheaper, but it would not. It would not simply be a case of nailing an existing warhead to an existing Tomahawk missile and shoving it aboard one of the seven Astutes that are already slated to be built. We would need to construct many more new warheads from scratch, at vast expense and possibly in contravention of our non-proliferation treaty obligations. We would need to procure a new missile system, again at huge cost. We would need a costly redesign of the sub, as one cannot just slot a nuclear missile into a tube designed to fire a conventional Tomahawk. Finally, we would need many more submarines than we have at present. A fleet of conventional Astutes would still be needed to guard the new ones-they could not just double up-and missile size constraints mean that it could well be necessary to build many more vessels than the four ballistic missile boats they would be replacing.

This would not only cost UK taxpayers more but leave them significantly more vulnerable. The range of cruise missiles is much lower than that of ballistic missiles, and they can be much more easily stopped, so the UK would be left with chilling nuclear weapons, but without the strategic deterrent capacity that ultimately makes the horror of nuclear war less likely. That is truly an option that would deliver less for more.

I suggest that some who argue for a cheaper deterrent really mean that we should not have a deterrent at all. They should just come out and say that. To those who usually dislike American dominance but seem happy to leave the US and the French with the responsibility of protecting the world from nuclear war, I say, fine, but let them make that clear too. It is wrong for our country's security and our ultimate aim of a nuclear-free world, and yes, it is wrong too for jobs in my constituency and across the country. However, a debate on those terms would at least prevent us from wasting money chasing an unrealistic middle way at a time when there has never been a more pressing need to ensure that every pound of defence spending is invested wisely.

7 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), and he will not be surprised to hear that I agree with almost every word-no, actually with every word-that he said about the nuclear deterrent. I hope that that does not damn his political career for eternity. He paid generous tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) for their maiden speeches, which I am happy to endorse.

Perhaps I can cheer the hon. Gentleman up a little by letting him into a secret. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was aspiring to the leadership of our party, he held a series of interviews with his hon.
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Friends, of whom I was one. When I went in, I asked him only two questions. One need not concern us today, but the other was about his attitude to the nuclear deterrent, and I am delighted to say that he was extremely robust about it. If the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members care to check the response of our current Prime Minister to the statement of former Prime Minister Tony Blair on the subject in December 2006, they will see that it was once again extremely strong. That was the only occasion when I was ever called in to have anything to do with drafting a response to a Government statement. Our current Prime Minister made two alterations to what his speechwriter and I had drafted between us, both of which were to toughen up his response, not to weaken it. Although our coalition partners may hope to chip away at the edges on this matter, if I know the Prime Minister as well as I think I do, at least on this subject, they will undoubtedly be disappointed.

As hon. Members on both sides of the House will undoubtedly be aware, in the mid-1920s, a glassy-eyed rabble-rouser called Adolf Hitler was incarcerated in Landsberg prison, putting the finishing touches to "Mein Kampf". At the same time as, sad to say, that man was pre-determining future history unregarded in that cell, the chiefs of staff of the armed forces were trying to decide what they would have to defend Britain against in the future. So incapable were they of predicting the future, understandably, that each of the armed forces prepared its hypothetical contingency plans against an entirely different potential enemy.

The Royal Navy-understandably, because Japan had a large navy-felt that we should prepare against possible Japanese aggression in the far east. The Army-understandably, because Russia had a large army-felt that we should prepare against possible Russian aggression somewhere in the area of the Indian subcontinent. The Royal Air Force was a little bit stuck, but eventually came up with an idea. Because the French had a rather large air force, it decided that we should prepare against a possible war with the French. Not one of the three wise men heading the three services, which had eventually done so well in the final stages of the great war, predicted that the real enemy that would face us, only 15 years later or less, would be a revived Germany led by that man scribbling away in a cell in Landsberg prison.

Mark Tami: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we do not need to go that far back. When I was growing up in the 1970s-I know it does not seem possible, but I am genuinely that old-we were facing what we were sure was the actual threat, which was the Soviet Union pouring across the plains of Germany, massed tank battles and the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and then no doubt some form of nuclear holocaust engulfing the world. Nobody mentioned North Korea or Iran-they were not even on the radar. It is clearly difficult to guess what the future holds.

Dr Lewis: I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely right. I could add to the examples that he gave the Yom Kippur war, which was not predicted by hypersensitive Israel, the Falklands war, which was not predicted by us, the invasion of Kuwait, which was not predicted by anybody, and the
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attacks of September 2001, which were not predicted by the world's then only superpower. I therefore very much welcome the Secretary of State's acknowledgment that there is an unpredictability factor. We simply do not know what enemies will arise, when, and what sort of threat we will face.

This argument has been had over and again throughout the history of defence, most notoriously between 1919 and 1932, when something called the 10-year rule was in operation. It was felt that we could cut forces, because we could always look ahead a decade and say, "Well, there doesn't seem to be any threat facing us now." It is impossible to know significantly in advance, if at all, when we will next find ourselves at war. That means it is a limiting factor when we say that a defence review must be foreign policy-led, or even defence policy-led. At the end of the day, what we are doing in the strategic defence and security review is calculating the premium that we are prepared to pay on the insurance policy against harm befalling this country. With a normal insurance policy, if we knew when an accident would happen or when an injury would be inflicted, we could probably take steps to avoid it and would not need to spend money on the premium in the first place. However, we do not know, and that is why we have to spend the money.

As I indicated in an earlier intervention, I am particularly concerned about a frame of mind that is prevalent in some quarters of the Army, and which asserts that, because we are engaged in a counter-insurgency campaign now, anybody who says that in 20 or 30 years, or even longer, we might need modern aircraft to defend our airspace, modern naval vessels to defend our waters and lines of communication or even modern military vehicles to enable our Army to fight-hopefully alongside others-a foreign aggressor that not just had irregular or guerrilla forces but was possibly a hostile state, is living in the past or still thinking in cold war terms. I think like that, but I am not still thinking in cold war terms. I am thinking of the wars that we might have to face two or three decades hence, not just the conflicts in which we are engaged today.

A few years ago, I heard a senior military officer say that a tipping point might come when we had to choose between fighting the conflicts in which we were currently engaged and fighting a war at some time in the future. In other words, he was trying to contrast the small expectation of a big war in the future with the big expectation of a small war that we might have to fight sooner. I said at the time that I felt that to be a false choice, but if I had to make the choice, I would rather insure against the danger of a big war in the future than that of a small war closer to hand.

Mr Jenkin: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. To reinforce his point, I add that the small wars that we have fought recently have had more characteristics of state-on-state warfare than many people would care to admit. Serbia fought like a state, as did the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein certainly fought like a state twice. The idea that we should give up state-on-state warfare capability is absolute madness.

Dr Lewis: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that that is absolute madness. I shall not name the senior Army officer who first proposed that thesis-all I will say is that he has become a very senior Army officer,
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and some say that he might even become an extremely senior Army officer-but leave it to people's reading of the runes.

The reality is that in those conflicts that we fought, our high-end, precision materiel, our modern techniques, and our use of aircraft, naval vessels and mechanised warfare equipment, have been essential in getting us into theatre. The country has been disturbed and worried not by the casualties we have taken going into a theatre and displacing a hostile Government, but the casualties we take in day-by-day attrition that result from our persisting with methods that make it inevitable that our opponents can inflict them. I say this to shadow Ministers: it is not unpatriotic to question the strategy that is being followed in Afghanistan. Strategies can be improved. In previous wars, we have used strategies that failed over and again. Eventually, when they were changed, the outcomes improved. That can happen in Afghanistan.

I understand that resources are scarce and that each of the armed forces will want to make a case that suits its book best, and to claim most of those scarce resources, but we must have balanced forces, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State indicates that we will.

7.12 pm

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): It is with some trepidation that I follow the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who, as always, spoke with erudition, energy and great humour. He left us with a tantalising question: what was the other question asked those years ago by the Prime Minister? No doubt many of us will ply him with alcohol later to try to find out.

This morning, I was in Bridgend with my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), raising a flag to honour servicemen and women ahead of this year's armed forces day on Saturday. In Bridgend, the links that bind ordinary families to the military are long-lasting. Many have the military woven into the fabric of their daily lives-it is not always on show, but it is strong and enduring. The strength of those links is a challenge, because the public now demand a new legitimacy for our actions: they demand an understanding of the actions that place our armed forces in harm's way. Setbacks, mistakes, failures, and civilian or military casualties, can all diminish military and public acceptance of, and support for, intervention.

As has been said, the defence and security of the realm is the primary responsibility of the state, the Government and the House. Without the capacity to defend ourselves and secure the lives and prosperity of citizens, we face instability, insecurity and ruin. War is the final option in our defence and homeland security armoury, and Governments must go to greater lengths to secure that legitimacy, and the public's engagement and understanding, before taking it. That is why debates in the House are so important, and why they must address what we seek to defend and why; against what risks and dangers we seek to defend ourselves; what defence forces we need and have available; what equipment, skills and training our defence forces need; how those forces will be deployed and managed; and, importantly, how our forces and their families will be cared for during service and in their lives after service, which might well be blighted by their service. We carry a huge responsibility for that, and the review must firmly address it.

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The British public have the luxury of living their lives mostly ignoring the dedication and hard work carried out in their name by our vast defence and homeland security services, because the services do their jobs well and effectively. Defence Ministers are on the Front Bench today, but all Departments have a defence and security role to play. We have talked a lot about the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the Home Office and the Department for International Development are also key players; there are huge implications for the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; and, as access to water and food, and energy and climate change, rise up the political, military and defence agenda, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have increasingly important roles.

We need to look at the lessons that have been learned and examine what changes are needed, what challenges are to be faced and what costs are to be borne. Terrorism, extremism and fundamentalism are not new challenges to Britain-they litter our history-but one new challenge is the global communications world, as that is how recruitment for our enemies can be increased.

Disillusionment among our public will grow from our failures. In recent years, we have seen the failure of the western economic model, human rights abuses and corruption damage the image of western democracies, and how actions in Gaza, even against evil such as Hamas, have turned public opinion against democracies. I was pleased that the Saville report into the events of Bloody Sunday demonstrated that there is no hiding place when such mistakes are made.

One issue that has not been addressed in the debate, but which must be addressed as part of the defence and security review, is the use of private military companies in combat zones. The use of such companies has proliferated. Many private sector companies are indispensable to front-line troops, providing repair and maintenance for essential equipment, logistic support, supply lines and provisions, but there is growing concern about the use of military security companies in combat and combat support roles in the absence of strict licensing and regulation regimes. DFID staff have told me that they were even prevented from going forward to do their jobs not by our military commanders on the ground, but by the diktats of private security companies. That cannot be allowed to happen, and those companies must form an important part of the review.

Setting values and ethics is complex at times of state-on-state warfare, but that threat has diminished. Coalition partnerships have new challenges in setting up new values and ethics as we work together and use new weapons that pose increasingly high risks to civilian populations. Although the Grey report revealed that the UK has better procurement than most comparable military nations, it still demonstrated that our process results in us procuring worse boys-let-loose-in-a-toy-store lethal weapons than I ever thought imaginable. Procurement must be addressed and tackled.

We have new challenges and risks and a change in the balance of power in the world. The impact of the rise of new economies-China, India and Brazil-and the demise of American, western hegemony, and our political, economic and ideological dominance, will impact on
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our defence and security. I hope to be a member of the Defence Committee in future, to look at how the review plays out, and to challenge some of the decisions that are made in our name and the leaders who make them.

7.20 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): May I first congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on assuming your role as a Deputy Speaker and, secondly, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate on the strategic defence and security review? I am grateful, because it is an important debate for my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituents.

I came into politics as a Conservative party agent. For 10 years I was Angela Rumbold's agent, who I am very sad to say died on Saturday evening. I am very sorry about that, because she was an incredibly good friend and I am grateful for all the advice that she gave me-I am thinking about the speech that I am making now as well. May I also thank my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for all the help and support that they have given me over the years? When the Secretary of State was formerly the shadow Defence Secretary, he used to come down to Plymouth quite a bit, as he did when he was the party chairman, so I am afraid that he has had to get rather used to me asking him for things on a regular basis. It is also an enormous privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who both raised a number of issues that I hope to pick up.

Making one's maiden speech is an incredibly daunting experience, but from my point of view it is made even more daunting by the fact that I am following Nancy Astor, Janet Fookes, Michael Foot, Dr David Owen, Alan Clark and Joan Vickers, with my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) both representing parts of the predecessor of my constituency. Then there is my immediate predecessor, Mrs Linda Gilroy, whose energetic social justice campaigning on the issue of fairer water bills for more deprived communities in the south-west was incredibly important. Indeed, we had an Adjournment debate on that last week. Her work on the Select Committee on Defence also ensured that nobody was unaware of the role that Plymouth has played in the defence of our nation.

In the course of the past month or so, many of my hon. Friends have commented to me about my fighting the Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport seat and its predecessor three times. Let me remind them that it was Sir Francis Drake, who entered this House in 1581, who had to finish his game of bowls before he was able to go and beat the Spanish armada, clearly demonstrating that patience and commitment are important in Plymouth.

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