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Nuclear Fleet

Volume 551: debated on Monday 22 October 2012

5. Whether his Department has undertaken any preparations for the removal of the nuclear fleet from HMNB Clyde in the event of Scottish independence. (123715)

The UK Government are confident that the people of Scotland will choose to remain part of the United Kingdom, and we are not making plans for Scottish independence. We therefore have no plan for the strategic nuclear deterrent to be relocated from its current home at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde.

The Minister will be aware that last week the Scottish National party decided that an independent Scotland would join NATO, availing itself of the nuclear umbrella. It then voted to evict the UK deterrent from the Clyde. Replicating that facility would cost millions and take many years. Is that a coherent policy or a hypocritical rant?

I have to say that that question is best addressed to the SNP, but unfortunately no SNP Members are here to answer it at the moment. It is almost incredible that a country might wish to join NATO but then say that NATO’s assets and armaments would not be allowed to be stationed in that country or pass through it.

The Minister has noted that there is no SNP presence in the House today. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said, “Who dares wins,” but SNP Members do not dare turn up to engage in the debate.

Does the Minister agree that it smacks of a contradiction for the SNP to say that it wants to join an international alliance and promote co-operation with NATO, and at the very same time say that it wants to leave a Union that best serves the defence of Scotland?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I entirely agree. That is an interesting dilemma that members of the SNP will have to sort out among themselves.

We should not be too hard on SNP Members. I am sure that pressing engagements in their constituencies have prevented them from attending Defence questions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we can share respect for those who are opposed to nuclear weapons in principle, but that we can share only incomprehension at those who say they are opposed to nuclear weapons in principle and then want to join an alliance that is based on nuclear deterrence?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I do agree with him. If I may, I shall quote from The Guardian—not always my favourite reading. It stated this morning:

“After losing Friday’s vote, rebels inside the party now want him”—

the First Minister—

“to prove that NATO would allow a non-nuclear Scotland to join the alliance.”

That is a very good point.

The hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) is exactly right. What we witnessed at the SNP conference at the end of last week was double standards—the shelter of the NATO umbrella, but the removal of Trident.

Has the Minister heard that the Scottish Government are establishing a defence department or section? What formal approaches have Ministers had from the Scottish Government, or from that dedicated department, about the removal of the nuclear fleet from an independent Scotland? The SNP talks about that a lot, but have there been any approaches?

This is an unusual outbreak of consensus throughout the Chamber, and I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says. I believe that the Scottish Government have a Minister for Veteran Affairs, who shares the hon. Gentleman’s surname, but if I am honest I am not quite sure what he does. We have had no contact from the Scottish Government about a department of defence. We remain committed to the United Kingdom, and I am glad to say that there is agreement pretty much throughout the Chamber on the need to continue the UK.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his well deserved promotion. Will we continue with the UK’s Trident ballistic missile nuclear deterrent irrespective of the outcome of the Scottish vote?

I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations. Current Government policy is to continue with the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent based on Trident. Should the Scots vote for independence—God forbid!—we would need to review the situation, but the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent remains our policy, and I see that proceeding into the future.

I echo the sentiment that we should not be too hard on SNP Members who are not in the Chamber—after all, we want to keep them in this place. Is the Minister aware of any discussions that SNP Ministers have held about their plans to remove the deterrent with either the United States or other NATO members?

There have been no discussions with the UK Government or, as far as I am aware, with any other NATO member. As I said earlier, I think it incredible that NATO would accept in the alliance a country that would not allow the various weapons used by NATO to be stationed in or pass through it.