4.23 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Andrew Robathan): It is a joy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, especially since we had such happy days together in the Whips Office in opposition.

We have had a good debate. I find myself in an unusual situation. Normally, I face serried ranks of Labour MPs who throw metaphorical bricks at me. Often, I have serried ranks behind me throwing similar metaphorical bricks, but today, we have been remarkably consensual, pace the two hon. Gentlemen from the SNP. I have found it an interesting, if rather one-sided, debate.

I will make my personal views known. I am an Englishman. My father was born in Wales, and therefore, I have Welsh ancestry. I am a Conservative MP, self-evidently, and some commentators, from time to time, suggest that the Conservatives should wish to see Scotland leave the United Kingdom, because that would be to the Conservatives’ benefit electorally. May I say that I and the Government disagree entirely with that? I think that all the peoples—including the Scots—in the United Kingdom would be very much poorer to see the end of the United Kingdom. I, and the Government, would very much regret a victory for the siren voices of small-minded separatism in the referendum next year.

The first duty of Government is defence of the realm, to ensure the security of the nation, its people and its interests. The Government are unwaveringly committed to that duty. Consequently, like all post-war Governments—Labour, Conservative and now the coalition—we regard a nuclear deterrent as an essential contribution to our security. The strategic defence and security review of 2010 makes it clear that the nuclear deterrent provides the ultimate guarantee of our national security against the most extreme risks from nuclear-armed adversaries.

The recent test by North Korea of a nuclear device, in defiance of the international community and the good examples that many in the international community show, as well as the continuing uncertainties over Iran’s nuclear programme, underline the fact that we continue to live in a dangerous world, in which we have little ability to predict what threats we may face in future. As long as the threat of nuclear proliferation continues, the Government simply will not gamble with the security of future generations of British people.

This Government, in line with our predecessors, are firmly committed to multilateral disarmament. Personally, I wish to see total nuclear disarmament, but it has to be multilateral, not unilateral. When I was in the Army—as I was for many years—I considered the prospect of a nuclear conflict so horrific that it would have meant that there was no point in fighting on any more.

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Pete Wishart: The Minister says that he is interested in multilateral disarmament, but why are the UK Government perhaps the only Government in the world who are investing in unilateral nuclear rearmament, with Trident renewal?

Mr Robathan: The hon. Gentleman, if I might say so, reveals a certain ignorance, as the point is that weaponry has to be kept up to date. It is rather like saying, “Could we not use a one-rupee jezail when fighting in Afghanistan?” I am afraid that those were the days of Kipling, and while the Afghans may have been very accurate, we prefer to use modern weaponry.

The UK has an excellent record in fulfilling its disarmament obligations—as the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) said, in relation to the previous Government—under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, as demonstrated by the latest round of stockpile reductions that we announced in the strategic defence and security review. We probably have the smallest nuclear force of the recognised nuclear weapon states and, uniquely, the UK relies on a single platform, a single weapon system and single warhead design for the delivery of its nuclear deterrent.

However, we continue to work to create a safer and more stable world in which the UK and others can relinquish their nuclear weapons, but we are not there yet. Therefore, nuclear arsenals remain, as does the danger of further proliferation, especially in regions of instability and tension, so we believe that a nuclear deterrent is likely to remain an important element of our national security. Given the uncertainties of the international environment, it would be folly to pursue a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. As President Obama said in Prague in 2009, the threat of nuclear war has gone down, but the threat of nuclear attack has gone up.

The UK’s nuclear weapon capability is designed to deter and thereby prevent blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means. It also supports collective security, through NATO, for the Euro-Atlantic area. The UK Government have thus committed to maintain the strategic nuclear deterrent and to continue with the programme to renew it as debated and approved by a significant majority in Parliament in March 2007.

The Government’s policy is that the Vanguard class submarines will be replaced at the end of their lives, in the late 2020s and early 2030s, by a successor submarine, again carrying the Trident missile, subject to main gate investment approval due in 2016. The Government are committed to continuous at-sea deterrence. In times of tensions or crisis, such a posture neither escalates nor de-escalates matters and maximises political freedom of manoeuvre. A submarine-launched ballistic missile system offers invulnerability, range and endurance. All promote the credibility of that deterrent and provide the ultimate safeguard for our national security. I pay tribute to the crews of our submarines and their families, and all the men and women, both military and civilian—including at Faslane—engaged in Operation Relentless, our country’s most enduring current operation, which has been in place for nearly 45 years. I thank them—Scots, English, Irish and Welsh—for their unwavering dedication.

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The UK Government’s position on the referendum on Scottish separation is clear: Scotland benefits from being part of the UK and the UK benefits from having Scotland within it. Scotland has played an indispensable role in the development and history of the multi-nation UK. As a result, the UK has developed and flourished, and its constitution, laws and institutions underpin one of the most successful partnerships of nations in history.

If the result of the referendum on Scottish separation were to lead to the current situation being challenged, other options would have to be considered. It would be an enormous challenge to reproduce the facilities that we have at Faslane elsewhere, as we have heard, and any alternative solution would come at huge cost. It is impossible to estimate how much that would be, as it would depend on many factors, including time scales and the precise scope of the facilities that might be required, but it would cost billions of pounds and take many years.

Let me now make this point about Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) represents—[Interruption]. A constituency not far away; the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) does indeed represent Clyde itself, and Helensburgh, where I went last year. Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde underwent a significant investment programme to prepare it for the introduction of the Vanguard-class submarines and the Trident missile system. That programme cost in the region of £3.5 billion at today’s prices, and that built on decades of investment in the base infrastructure and associated housing.

In April 1963, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Ian Orr-Ewing, whom I remember and who died only about 15 years ago, informed the House that the operating base for the planned fleet of Resolution-class Polaris ballistic missile submarines needed to be near deep water, to offer easy navigational access and to be a short distance by sea from the associated armament depot. He informed the House that it had been decided that Faslane was the area that was operationally most suitable for the basing of the submarine fleet. My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) pointed out that it is a perfect site. In this varied United Kingdom, we do not have a better site.

That decision was reviewed in the early 1980s, alongside the decision to introduce the Vanguard-class submarines. It was concluded that the Clyde continued to offer the best location. Nothing has happened since to alter that conclusion. Indeed, the Clyde has been chosen as the submarine centre of specialisation, and all our submarines will be based there by the end of this decade, which brings the additional benefits to the region that have been mentioned.

We have mentioned employment at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, but I now return to that, because it is the largest employment site in Scotland. The base is a major source of employment for highly skilled workers and a significant contributor to the local economy. The rise in the number of jobs during the next decade accompanies the move to base all royal naval submarines on the Clyde to achieve economies of scale and the greater effectiveness of collocation. That symbiosis of a

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submarine centre of specialisation and associated contractor and base support is a matter of pride, I would have thought, for the UK, for Faslane and for Scotland.

As the collocation benefits would be required in any alternative location, there would be no question but that the entirety of the submarine enterprise on the Clyde would be relocated if the nuclear deterrent force had to move. It is for those who demand the withdrawal of the Vanguard-class submarines from Faslane to explain how the quality and quantity of employment in the region would be matched if the enterprise had to be relocated.

As the UK Government have no plans to disarm unilaterally, there would inevitably be significant time and cost implications if an independent Scottish Government demanded the withdrawal of the UK deterrent. For reasons that I have already described, the UK Government will not pre-negotiate the departure of Scotland from the UK. Therefore, scenarios mentioned in the Scottish Affairs Committee report under which the UK may negotiate a basing agreement for the deterrent with an independent Scottish Government will not be discussed before to the outcome of the referendum and, God willing, will never need to be discussed.

As was said by the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), who has just left the Chamber, NATO is a nuclear alliance, and it will remain a nuclear alliance while nuclear weapons remain in existence. NATO’s “Strategic Concept” of 2010 and the “Deterrence and Defence Posture Review” adopted at the NATO summit in Chicago only in May last year make that unambiguously clear. Those documents also make this clear:

“The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Allies.”

The contribution made by the UK’s nuclear forces is much valued by our NATO allies, and membership of NATO comes with responsibilities. One cannot join NATO and pretend that it is not a nuclear alliance, for it is, and one cannot join NATO and reject the concept of nuclear burden sharing within the alliance.

It is clear to me that a separate Scotland would face difficult choices about its defence arrangements. That would include decisions on the role of its armed forces, what threats it intended to counter and what foreign policy it intended to support—quite a bit of work required there, then—its international relationships, including membership of NATO; the resources allocated to defence, which we have just heard about from Mr Swinney; and the future of the defence industry in Scotland.

It is indeed the case that people in Scotland need to know how the Scottish Government propose to provide for the protection and security of Scotland if it separates, God forbid, from the UK. It is the UK Government’s view that whatever choice is made, a separate Scotland would lose significant benefits in this area that are currently delivered by Scotland being part of the United Kingdom. One of those benefits is the security provided by the armed forces of the United Kingdom, including the strategic nuclear deterrent.

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Our nuclear deterrent has contributed to both our security and that of our NATO allies since the 1950s, and the continuous at-sea deterrence posture has been the central feature of our deterrence since the late 1960s. As the Trident system has been our sole nuclear weapons system since 1998, our nuclear deterrence posture is now based exclusively on CASD. Although I personally am committed and we as a Government are committed to multilateral disarmament, the circumstances that would justify the relinquishing of our submarine-based deterrent do not prevail and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. For that reason, I reiterate that we have no plans to move the deterrent from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, which has a bright future not only as the base for all our submarines, but as the UK’s submarine centre of specialisation.

4.36 pm

Mr Davidson: With the leave of this House, this has been a very good debate. There has been a very good turnout. I am particularly happy that the Select Committee report seems to have been universally welcomed. That will certainly gladden the members of the Committee and, indeed, the staff who worked with us in its preparation. I particularly enjoyed the fierce attack on the Scottish Affairs Committee that was made by one of the separatists at the same time as they were welcoming the report—no problem there, then.

It is only fair at this stage to make it absolutely clear that the proposal that “The Referendum on Separation for Scotland” would be the wording of the heading for our series of reports was unanimously agreed by the Committee in a meeting at which the SNP was present. The SNP member of the Committee did agree that wording. She subsequently got a row from her colleagues and then produced a press statement, which led to her being rebuked for misbehaviour by the other members of the Committee, but she did agree that wording. It was alleged that we were too hard in rebuking her. Let me make it clear that there were 14 witnesses in that Committee, not one of whom corroborates the version of events given by the SNP. It is worth while just making that point clear.

I will move on, and I hope that the SNP will also move on from the politics of smear and character assassination and stop trying to play the man and not the ball. I am glad that for at least some of the SNP’s contribution, Members engaged in the debate and were prepared to argue on the issues, because I think that the discussions that we have had today have moved the debate forward quite considerably. I think that there is recognition on all sides that the parameters that we have spelt out in our report are universally accepted—that that is the area that the debate will focus on in terms of timing. We have had a clear indication from the SNP about its position in relation to those. It has not been absolutely explicit, but nor, to be fair, have the UK Government yet.

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It seems to me that we are now in a position in which, having established, as a result of this report and subsequent discussions, what the alternatives are on timing, we are also pretty clear on where one of the parameters is in terms of jobs. The shop stewards told us earlier today about the 50 years of job security with the United Kingdom. There are 6,700 jobs, rising to 8,200 jobs, with the UK. But with separation, the position is unknown. In those circumstances, we as a Committee will be, on both this occasion and others, drawing attention to what appears to be a complete vacuum of policy from the SNP on the question of defence. That cannot continue. We owe it not only to the people of Scotland, who are going to vote in about October 2014, but to the work force, who require warning of what might happen to their jobs and the ability to plan. We cannot surprise them with a decision one day that something is going to happen the next. If they wish to leave their employment, as a result of cuts coming down the road, to seek a job elsewhere, they need time to prepare. Their children are at school. They need to start deciding whether it is desirable or necessary to find a job somewhere else. Family ties will be disrupted by job losses.

I want to close by saying to the Government that I hope they will also do as much as they can to clarify the position. I saw one of the other Defence Ministers here earlier. I hope that both Ministers will take account of the report we produced on separation shutting shipyards and be clear about their intentions for placing orders for the Type 26 between now and the referendum. If they cannot be clear, or if they wish to say that no orders will be placed before the referendum, they need to indicate what will be done to ensure that yards remain open between now and then. The yards engaged in building aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy are fast running out of work and might not be there to build the Type 26, even if Scotland remains within the United Kingdom, unless they are given fill-in work.

The question is what will happen not only to Faslane and Coulport, which we have heard about today, but to Scotland’s shipyards and, as we intend to show in other reports that the Committee will produce shortly, every other industrial site in Scotland that is connected to defence. All those questions require answering. I hope that I and other members of the Committee and its staff can bring out reports in the future that will be greeted with universal acclaim similar to that which greeted this report, and that we will have similarly fruitful debates.

We are moving towards one of the major decisions to be taken in the life of every Scot here and elsewhere. Full debate is essential. If the separatists wish to have an open debate, they must provide answers. The Committee has identified the areas that require clarification; it is now up to them to fill the gaps. Thank you, Mr Rosindell.

Question put and agreed to.

4.42 pm

Sitting adjourned.