The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Terminating Trident-Days or Decades? - Scottish Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

The Inquiry

1.  In October 2011, we launched two inquiries into the Referendum on Separation for Scotland. We have published several Reports so far related to the first inquiry on the mechanics and process of the referendum itself.[1] The second inquiry addresses the key substantive issues that need to be addressed if the voters of Scotland would be able to make an informed choice in any referendum, and in our 'Unanswered Questions' Report, we identified six areas on which we would seek evidence: the likely currency; Scotland's relationship with the EU; pensions and social security; economics; citizenship and immigration; and defence.[2]

2.  Defence is a fundamental responsibility of a sovereign state and, as Professor Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, All Souls College, Oxford, told us: "if anything embodies what a state is and lies at the heart of a state's identification, it is the armed forces and its capacity to defend."[3] Several witnesses into our inquiry commented on the vacuum of discussion on how separation would affect defence in Scotland, and in particular, the lack of developed thinking on how Scotland would manage its defence needs if it became a separate country. We think it is important to have an informed debate about how a separate Scotland might create its own armed forces; and the implications that might have for those who currently serve in, and benefit from, the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in Scotland.

3.  This Report focuses on one specific, but important, issue: The possible removal of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent—Trident—from Scotland. We plan to return to other aspects of defence and Scotland, including the size and basing of any Scottish army, air force, navy and the possible future for HMNB Clyde—known as Faslane—and the over 6,000 jobs that it currently supports,[4] in future Reports. We understand that our colleagues on the Defence and the Foreign Affairs Committees will carry out their own inquiries into how separation might impact upon related matters from the UK's perspective. We visited Faslane and Coulport as part of this inquiry and would like to thank all those who were involved in making the visit possible.

The UK's nuclear deterrent

4.  The UK's nuclear deterrent, Trident, has three components: the submarines, the warheads, and the missiles. The submarines are based at Faslane on the Gareloch, originally chosen as a base for Trident's predecessor Polaris in the 1960s, and the warheads are stored in Coulport on Loch Long. Coulport is a Ministry of Defence Nuclear Authorised site, subject to regulation by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and the Office of Nuclear Regulation.

5.  The missiles are carried in the Royal Navy's four Vanguard-class nuclear powered submarines. Each submarine can carry 16 Trident missiles and each missile can carry 12 warheads, but since the 2010 Strategic Security and Defence Review, UK Government policy has been to carry no more than 40 warheads per submarine. Trident is a joint venture between the UK and the United States. The UK has bought title to a number of D5 missiles in the stockpile, maintained and stored in King's Bay Georgia.[5] The UK contributes £12 million a year to the US as part of the running costs of this facility.[6] There are no missiles stored on land at Faslane or Coulport, although there is the facility to do so if needed. The Trident D5 missile lifespan is expected to end around 2042.[7] The warheads are owned by the UK, stored at Coulport and 'married' with the missiles on a specially constructed 85,000 ton floating dock. The warheads are transported to Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, Berkshire, every three years to be overhauled.[8]

6.  The four Vanguard-class submarines operate a three-part cycle: on patrol, undergoing maintenance, and providing training. One armed submarine is on patrol at any one time—known as Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD)—with a second submarine available to go on patrol at short notice in case the one on patrol is disabled.[9] France and the US both operate similar CASD regimes.[10] The submarines are based at Faslane but visit Devonport in England regularly to undergo maintenance. In addition to being home to the Vanguard submarines, Faslane is home to the Astute-class attack submarines, and soon will be home to the Trafalgar-class attack submarines, currently based at Devonport.[11] This will mean that by 2017 the whole Royal Navy submarine fleet (all nuclear powered) will be based at Faslane,[12] along with eight Sandown-class Mine Counter Measure Vessels. (See Annex 1). We were told that planning for this transfer, which will increase the workforce to over 7,500 by 2022, is continuing regardless of the referendum.[13]

7.  The current Vanguard-class submarines are expected to be replaced by Successor starting in 2028,[14] the Vanguards being retired one by one in parallel as Successor submarines come into service. The current Government is committed to the renewal of the UK's nuclear deterrent and is expected to make a decision on the number of new submarines required to maintain CASD in 2016.[15]

8.  Replacing Trident will not be cheap. The previous Government estimated the cost of replacing Vanguard at £20 billion—£14 billion for four Successor submarines, £3 billion for replacement or refurbished warheads and £3 billion for supporting infrastructure.[16] The present Government initiated a Trident Value for Money Review which has suggested further savings, for example by reducing the number of warheads on each submarine and thus the necessary size of the stockpile,[17] but they still put the cost of the nuclear Successor programme to be between £11 billion and £14 billion.[18]

1   Eighth Report of Session 2010-12, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?, HC 1492; Second Report of Session 2012-13, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: making the process legal, HC 542; Third Report of Session 2012-13, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: a multi-option question, HC 543 Back

2   Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Unanswered Questions, HC 1806 Back

3   Q 175 Back

4   Qq 338-339 Back

5   HC Deb, 16 February 2011 col 807W Back

6   Q 267; HC Deb, 30 January 2012 col 426W Back

7   The Future of the British Nuclear Deterrent, Research Paper 06/53, House of Commons Library, November 2006 Back

8   CND Scotland, Disarming Trident, June 2012 Back

9   Q 278  Back

10   Malcolm Chalmers, Continuous At-Sea Deterrence, costs and alternatives, RUSI Briefing Note, July 2010  Back

11   HC Deb, 6 May 2009, col 16ws Back

12   Q 321 Back

13   Qq 322-325 Back

14   The UK's Future Nuclear Deterrent: The Submarine Initial Gate Parliamentary Report, May 2011 Back

15   Ministry of Defence, SDSR Fact Sheet 10, Trident Value for Money Review. See also Q 1115-the main decision to go ahead with Trident was July 1980 and the first submarine became operational in December 1994. Back

16   Ministry of Defence, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, 2006 Back

17   Ministry of Defence, SDSR Fact Sheet 10, Trident Value for Money Review Back

18   PQ answered by Peter Luff. HC Deb, 11 June 2012, col 115W. Other figures have been quoted: "Top military chiefs go cold on nuclear deterrent", The Independent, 26 September 2012, quoted £15 billion to £20 billion; and "After Trident: a well-made argument in a necessary debate", The Guardian, 27 September 2012, quoted £25 billion. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 25 October 2012