I beg to move,
That this House has considered the 50th anniversary of the continuous at sea deterrent.
Half a century ago, HMS Resolution glided into the Clyde and sailed into the history books. That was the start of our longest sustained military operation—Operation Relentless—and the beginning of our continuous at-sea deterrent. Since then, there has always been a Royal Navy ballistic missile submarine at sea protecting our nation, and thousands of submariners have followed in the wake of Resolution’s crew conducting vital work, unseen and undetected, every minute of every day. Today it is for the House to pay tribute to those brave men and women, past and present, who have helped to make this operation so successful.
We already honour our submariners with a deterrent patrol pin—often known as the bomber pin—giving recognition to their enormous efforts, but we want to go further still. Consequently, we are going to ensure that those who complete 10 patrols will now be recognised with the new silver bomber pin. Future bomber pins will be made from metal taken from HMS Resolution, linking today’s submariners with their forefathers and emphasising the longevity and the significance of the 50-year mission.
I congratulate the Defence Secretary on bringing such an important debate to the House at this time. Does he recognise that there is a case for going even further and making all those who served on bomber patrol eligible for a service medal, given the extraordinary nature of what they have contributed?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and it is something that I would be willing to look at. I am sure he is aware that it is not, sadly, a decision purely for the Ministry of Defence, but we would certainly be happy to look at the merits of that and how we give full recognition to all the crews that have served over such a long period.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way, for his welcome announcement, and for his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). I am not cavilling, but will he try to ensure that these medals are made in the UK, please?
I would be very disappointed if they were not to be made in the United Kingdom. My understanding is that the bomber pins are manufactured here in the United Kingdom.
Even as we pay tribute to the submariners, it is equally important that we think of their families, too—those who often have to go for months on end without hearing from their loved ones. We must also pay tribute to the thousands of industry experts who have played a vital role in this national endeavour.
I wonder how the Secretary of State thinks we can possibly lecture other countries about not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. What moral high ground do we have to do that if we ourselves not only possess them but are upgrading them? Does he really think the world would be a safer place if every country had nuclear weapons, and if that is not the case, how on earth do we justify what we are doing?
The hon. Lady and I will probably always find room for disagreement on this. I will come on to the issue of deterrence later.
I want to make progress, because it would be remiss of me not to mention the town of Barrow-in-Furness and give our thanks to the people of Barrow, who have crafted these giants of the deep and continue to do so, ensuring that we have the right technology and the right vessels to deliver our nuclear deterrent.
I thank the Secretary of State for the way in which he is introducing the debate. The question about other countries possessing nuclear weapons takes me back to the old arguments where we used to ask people to name a single country that would either acquire nuclear weapons because we had got them, or get rid of them if we decided unilaterally to get rid of ours. Do you know what? They never came up with the name of one country.
I think we on the Government side of the House can be duly proud of the work that has been done since 2010 on ensuring that veterans of all three services are properly looked after; submariners are equally covered by that.
It is important to understand the remarkable engineering that goes into these remarkably sophisticated submarines, whose level of sophistication matches that of a spacecraft. It is only fitting that this debate marks the start of a series of events designed to commemorate such dedicated and continuous service not only from the submariners, but from the industry and the communities that have supported the deterrent.
As a son of a submariner, I know how important it is that we thank those people who served on submarines. Speaking as the MP for Devonport, however, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he agrees that we should pay special thanks to all those people in Devonport who have, over many decades, refitted our nuclear submarines and ensured that they are operational, so that they can continue to provide the at-sea deterrent? Without the work of those specialist skilled engineers, we would not have CASD today.
If I recall correctly, 1,000 people in Plymouth are dependent for their jobs and livelihoods on supporting our nuclear submarines. I would very much like to add my thanks to them for the work that they do. That also demonstrates the important benefit that our nuclear deterrent provides for the whole country in jobs and skills.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, in this geographic tour of areas that support the at-sea deterrent, was coming on to talk about Aldermaston, in the part of west Berkshire that I represent, and the surrounding area. Thousands of people work in that centre of excellence for science and engineering, the benefits of which spread into the economy, into areas that have nothing to do with the nuclear deterrent. That has been of huge benefit to this country.
It is absolutely right that my right hon. Friend mentions Aldermaston and the work that it does on our continued ability to develop our nuclear deterrent, to ensure that we remain ahead of the game. That also has an enormous benefit to the whole wider economy, and not only in the development of skills. This investment has an impact on science and technology, keeping us ahead of the game and ahead of our rivals.
The Secretary of State makes an important point about the industrial contribution that our shipbuilding industry makes; I have worked for the company that builds our nation’s submarines and naval ships, so I am all too aware of how important that impact is. However, the construction of these ships and submarines is dependent on in-year financing, which really disrupts the ability to build the infrastructure that will serve these ships throughout their life cycle. How are we going to change the way in which ships are financed by the Treasury to ensure that we give them proper project financing, so that the companies involved can build the world-class infrastructure needed to build submarines and ships for the future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will deal with it and then make some progress, because there is a lot of interest in the House and many hon. Members want to speak. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and it is why the Government have set aside £31 billion to deliver the Dreadnought programme and ensure that we have continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence. We have also built in a contingency, because we are very conscious that we want to provide security confidence that the programme will deliver within budget and on time.
It is important that we pay our thanks to those who have served on the submarines, to families, and to the whole industry. Next month there will be the Westminster Abbey service recognising the commitment of our submariners. In July there will be a parade at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, and at the end of the November there will be a special memorial commemoration at Edinburgh Castle.
However, today’s debate is important because it gives us the opportunity to underline why the deterrent still matters so much to the United Kingdom, why it remains very much at the heart of our national security policy, and why it has been one of the rare issues to command popular support across both sides of the House. It is an important point to make that the continuous at-sea deterrent has been supported by both Conservative and Labour Governments continuously over the last few decades; I certainly hope that it will be for many decades into the future.
The doubters who persist in believing that the deterrent is simply a cold war relic need to be reminded of three salient points. First and foremost, the nuclear dangers have not gone away; on the contrary, the geopolitical situation is more unstable than ever before. We are facing challenges that are growing in scale, complexity and diversity. Russia is rebuilding its nuclear arsenal. It has breached the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty and, in Europe, has now deployed new nuclear-capable missile systems to target and threaten the West. It also continues to develop and adapt its doctrine to give primacy to nuclear weapons. North Korea is the only state to have detonated a nuclear weapon in the 21st century. Despite positive dialogue, its weapons remain intact. We hope it will return to compliance with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. The point is that both Russia and North Korea have shown their willingness to rattle the nuclear sabre in the past.
There are no indications that those dangers will disappear any time soon, so we cannot relax our guard. While there is the risk of other states developing weapons, we must have a credible response to that threat. Our independent nuclear deterrent—our nuclear weapons posture—gives us defences against such actions. It is our ultimate insurance policy. It protects us every day from the most extreme threats to our national security and our way of life. Beyond that, it gives future generations greater strategic options and the power to protect themselves into the 2060s and beyond, whatever may lie round the corner.
As was recognised at last year’s NATO summit in Brussels, the UK’s nuclear deterrent provides a critical contribution to our alliance. Since 1962, the UK has assigned all our nuclear forces to NATO’s defence. That 50-year commitment to the defence and security of every member of that great alliance is as strong today as it has ever been in the past. All member states benefit from that capability, which gives the alliance another centre of decision making to complicate the calculations of our adversaries.
In fact, many allies signed the non-proliferation treaty in the late 1960s safe in knowledge they would be covered by the nuclear umbrella that the United Kingdom provides for them. Those who argue that we should disarm should consider whether such a move would actually make nuclear proliferation more, rather than less, likely. We cannot blame others, such as the United States, for questioning why they should be paying the price for protecting us from nuclear threats.
My constituency is the home of GCHQ, which has unprecedented and unparalleled security co-operation and intelligence sharing with the United States. Does the Secretary of State agree that the UK’s commitment to the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is one of the foundation stones of that strong relationship, which keeps our people safe?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I will touch on later. Our nuclear deterrent is a cornerstone of that long and enduring relationship. The United States does not have such a relationship with another country anywhere on this Earth. That close collaboration makes us and our allies safer.
I will make some progress. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that.
The extent to which our deterrent underpins our special relationship with the United States must never be underplayed. We should be proud of the fact we are one of the few nations with both strategic nuclear and conventional carrier capabilities. We should be proud that those strengths give the United Kingdom influence not just in NATO but across the world, giving us the capability to influence events in our interest and stand up for our values and the United Kingdom.
My third point is that there are simply no credible alternatives to the submarine-based deterrent. Some claim that there are cheaper and more effective ways of providing a similar effect to the Trident system, but we have been down that road many times before. Successive studies by both Labour and Conservative Administrations have shown that there are no other alternatives. Most recently, the Trident alternatives review of 2013 found that submarines are less vulnerable to attack than silos or aircraft and can maintain a continuous posture in a way that aircraft and land-based alternatives cannot. Their missiles have greater range and capability than other alternative delivery systems. Overall, the review concluded that a minimum, credible, assured and independent deterrent requires nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles.
The Secretary of State is making a very compelling argument. Does he not therefore regret the dithering and delay that took place in the renewal of the submarine programme when the Conservatives were in coalition, at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, who have not even bothered to turn up today?
We could spend a long time debating the Liberal Democrats, but it would probably be a waste of time. I am exceptionally proud of the fact that this Government have committed to a nuclear deterrent, and that in 2015 so many colleagues from both sides of the House united in one Lobby to make sure we delivered it.
We were not in that Lobby, funnily enough. I struggle to see the logic in arguing for multilateral disarmament while simultaneously rearming unilaterally. My question to the Secretary of State is this: how many nuclear submarines have been successfully decommissioned since 1980? The answer is none, isn’t it?
We are intending to see the first decommissioning of submarines over the coming year. That important issue needs to be addressed. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) have been looking at it and have made some very important contributions. It is an issue that the Ministry of Defence takes very seriously. I was hoping—this was obviously very naive of me—that the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) was going to talk about Scotland’s pride at being the home of our submarine forces, about the economic benefit that our continuous at-sea nuclear benefit delivers Scotland, about the fact that 6,800 people are employed at Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde, and about the fact that that will increase to 8,500. It is disappointing that he could not talk with a bit of pride about the service personnel who contribute so much. This is about saying, “Thank you”, to the submariners who have continuously put their lives at risk and done so much for our nation to keep us safe. I hope that all Members in this House, regardless of their view about the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, will have the courtesy to pay tribute to those brave men and women. We cannot wish away the rise of the atomic bomb, especially given that there are some 14,500 nuclear weapons on this Earth. That is not to say we have given up our determination to create a nuclear-free world. On the contrary, we have been at the forefront of arms reduction. Since the height of the cold war, the United Kingdom has reduced our forces by more than 50%. We have delivered on our commitment to reduce the number of warheads carried by our Vanguard submarines from 48 to 40, and we have decreased the number of operationally available warheads to no more than 120.
I have given the hon. Lady the opportunity to speak.
We remain committed to reducing our stockpile to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s, but the reality is that other nations have not taken the hint from the lead that the United Kingdom has shown. Even as we have cut back, others are creating new systems to get around treaty obligations or are simply ignoring the commitments that they have made. I have already spoken about Russia’s breach of the INF treaty. The truth is that the only way to create the global security conditions necessary for nuclear disarmament is by working multilaterally. Our commitment to the deterrent is cast-iron.
We are spending around £4 billion every year to ensure the ultimate guarantee of our safety for the next 50 years, not least by investing in the next generation of ballistic missile submarines – the Dreadnought class. We have made significant progress. We have already named three of the state-of-the-art submarines—Dreadnought, Valiant and Warspite. Construction has already started in Barrow on HMS Dreadnought. Those names recall some of the greatest ships of our naval history. We are investing millions of pounds in state-of-the-art facilities and complex nuclear propulsion systems, and we are ensuring every day counts by utilising our Dreadnought contingency, with access to up to £1 billion, to fund more in the early years to drive out cost and risk later in the programme.
The Secretary of State speaks of getting around obligations. Can he clarify why the MOD stopped publishing the official safety ratings report from Trident’s watchdog, the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator, for the past two years? Is it trying to cover up the rise in safety incidents instead of taking proper action to fix them now?
The Secretary of State has been very generous with his time. Does not the incident in Barrow today underline the fact that the shipwrights who are involved in constructing the Royal Navy’s submarines in Barrow and across the country are performing a vital service for the nation, which is not always without risk?
This is a national endeavour. We often talk, rightly, about those who are serving in the Royal Navy, but it is supported by the other two services. The Royal Air Force, through the P8 Poseidon submarine-hunting aircraft, and the surface fleet of the Royal Navy are all making sure that our deterrents are safe. Of course, those workers in Barrow are constructing some of the world’s finest submarines to take to the seas, and our gratitude is deep.
We must not forget the 30,000 jobs that are dependent on this work, or the fact that we are investing in new technology and new capabilities, bringing prosperity across the country.
The Secretary of State recognises the capital investment of over £300 million that is going into the shipyard in Barrow, which is fantastic for the town. If that is good enough for the Trident renewal programme, why was it not good enough for the Type 26 programme on the Clyde, which has not seen the equivalent level of capital investment in shipyard infrastructure?
Simply, BAE Systems decided that that level of investment in the Govan shipyard was not required. But we are making a multi-year investment in Type 26s, providing an order book for the Govan shipyard into the 2030s. That is something that most shipyards would look at enviously.
The investments we have made and the decisions that we have taken on extra investment on Dreadnought mean that the new submarines will be delivered on time. To guarantee that delivery, we have modernised our entire nuclear enterprise. We have established the Defence Nuclear Organisation to manage our portfolio of nuclear programmes. We have created the Submarine Delivery Agency, which with our industry partners has made real progress on the ground in building our future submarines and ensuring that our current boats are able to fulfil their missions. We have established the new Dreadnought Alliance, which through a coalition of MOD, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce combines the skills of the large players in industry with the talents of the public sector to deliver the best for defence and the best for the nation
Meanwhile, we are continuing to refine the options and technical solutions that will inform our decisions on replacing the warhead. Next year, over half a century on since HMS Resolution’s historic voyage, Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde will become home to all our submarines. One of the largest employment sites in Scotland, the base provides for the livelihoods of around 6,800 military and civilians, and brings significant wider benefits to the local economy and the whole of Scotland. It is a salutary reminder, not just of the enormous role that Scotland, as the home of our deterrent, plays in protecting the UK and our NATO allies, but of its role in sustaining hundreds of businesses, as well as thousands of jobs, across the length and breadth of our Union.
The Barrow-in-Furness shipyard gives a sense of the sheer scale of the enterprise. The construction hall alone, where Dreadnought is being built, is the size of 21 Olympic swimming pools. The deterrent does not just provide jobs: it is helping to train thousands of apprentices in engineering, design, software development, naval architecture and combat systems. Many of those apprentices are following in the footsteps not just of their parents, but of their grandparents, and they are learning the sorts of advanced manufacturing techniques that will keep their descendants and Britain at the cutting edge of technology for years and generations to come.
The Secretary of State is making an important point about the importance of skills. We learned the costs when we stopped submarine building in the 1990s, and the knock-on effects that had on Astute. Can he emphasise to his officials the importance of those skills now, and the need to ensure a continuation of work after Dreadnought, so that we do not get the gap we had before?
I hear what the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) says. We are building a lot more submarines in Barrow than the last Labour Government ever did, so I was hoping that he would shout, “Thank you.”
I want to underline the important point made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), because it is about investing in those skills continuously. Barrow has one of the healthiest order books that it has seen for a long time, and the sense is that that includes a whole generation not just of Astute but of the Dreadnought class submarines. That is why we are looking at how best to take advantage of how we conduct warfare sub-surface at the moment, making sure that we invest in the right type of technology to keep a competitive advantage over our opponents, and keeping the skills here in the United Kingdom.
I agree with everything that the Secretary of State has just said. A lot of the work on the naval design of the early stages of Dreadnought is being carried out now, but it will come to an end quite quickly. It is important that we have follow-on work for those designers, otherwise we will get a gap and those people will be employed in other nuclear sector industries. When we come to the next generation of submarines, therefore, they will not be there.
We saw that difficult problem occur after the sustained gap in Barrow when work was not undertaken on submarines over a period of almost 10 years, so we are very aware of that. We are currently doing a study on how we develop the next generation. If the investment in the Dreadnought programme were to come to an end, the skills that are being developed in Barrow—and in Derby with Rolls-Royce and in hundreds of businesses across the country—would be lost. We would lose that national capability. That is why we are doing what the right hon. Gentleman suggests, because those skills are almost impossible to replace. We recognise that the investment in the deterrent is an investment in our future in more ways than one.
Nineteen sixty-nine will always be remembered as an iconic year: it was the year an astronaut first set foot on the moon. From a UK perspective, however, an event far less heralded has proved to be far more enduring, for the unsung heroes who began their undersea vigil that year have guaranteed our peace and prosperity for decades. Our nuclear deterrence posture is only possible thanks to their commitment. Out of sight they may be, but they are never out of mind. We can never fully repay them for what they have given our nation, but in a more uncertain world we are ensuring that they will have the means to perform their outstanding and vital service to our nation, safeguarding our way of life relentlessly for another 50 years.
Labour fully supports the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and we are committed to the renewal of the nuclear submarines.
I pay tribute to all those whose hard work and dedication have supported the deterrent over its lifespan: workers on the new Dreadnought class at sites across the country, including those whom I visited in Barrow; and Royal Navy personnel past and present who have crewed the nuclear submarines over the past 50 years. Their commitment and skill are integral to the continuous nature of the deterrent. We are indebted to them for their service, and to their families for their support.
The first duty of Government is the protection of their citizens. The nuclear deterrent makes an important contribution to our country’s security, alongside our brave armed forces and a range of conventional and non-conventional capabilities.
We recognise that we live in a world where the number of states that possess nuclear weapons has continued to grow, and where others are actively seeking to acquire them. The threats facing the UK are real and undiminished, and there is a need to deter the use of nuclear weapons in all circumstances—none of us ever wants to be in a position where the deterrent is used. If we ever got to that situation, it would represent a catastrophic failure of our rules-based system and of the very concept of deterrence.
Deterrence encompasses a broad range of actions, from diplomatic means to conventional force and, ultimately, the nuclear deterrent. We must always ensure that we have the very best conventional forces, including cyber-capabilities, and that the UK uses its influence on the world stage to ensure that we deal with conflicts and tensions early, without allowing them to escalate dangerously.
The nature of the threats we face is changing, be they the ravages of climate change, drought, starvation, gross inequality within and between countries—whether state or non-state actors—ever more complex technologies, hybrid warfare, or the sophisticated use of cyber-information warfare to attack our democratic institutions and our open public cyber-spaces. We are committed to working with fellow NATO countries to counteract such threats and to guarantee the collective security of our allies.
As a nuclear-armed power, the UK has important obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, which British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was instrumental in establishing. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of its entering into force, the only treaty that imposes a binding commitment on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue the goal of multilateral disarmament together. Labour is committed to the NPT and to working with international partners on a multilateral basis to create a nuclear-free world. In government, Labour worked to reduce the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160. The last Labour Government signed the international code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation, as well as the international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism.
The other objective of the non-proliferation treaty is of course to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Unfortunately, the number of states that possess such weapons has continued to grow, and other countries are working actively to acquire them. North Korea has continued in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, despite significant UN sanctions and attempts by the international community to seek dialogue with the regime. The Iran nuclear deal, which was so painstakingly negotiated to curtail that country’s nuclear ambitions, is now under immense pressure due to President Trump’s decision to withdraw US support for it. As a nuclear-weapon state and a member of the P5, we cannot simply stand by as the international norm against proliferation of such weapons is eroded. Instead, the UK should take a leading role in multilateral efforts to combat that trend.
We know that there have been issues with the affordability and timely delivery of our own programme. The Public Accounts Committee has said that one-year budget cycles can present problems for programmes such as Dreadnought, and it recommended using this year’s spending review as an opportunity to explore longer-term budgeting arrangements for the nuclear programme. When the Minister winds up, will he set out the discussions he has had with Treasury on that? In addition to the Dreadnought programme, the Government are in the process of considering options to replace the warheads used in the Trident missiles. Will the Minister tell the House when he expects that work to be completed?
Finally, although I had not wanted to mention the B word, the Government have acknowledged that elements of the supply chain for the nuclear enterprise are based in other European Union countries. However, almost three years since the referendum, the level of access that we will have to EU markets post Brexit is still unclear. In the light of that significant uncertainty, what assurances will the Minister offer suppliers to ensure that there will be no impediments to parts crossing borders? I will be most grateful if he addresses those issues in his winding-up speech.
I am delighted to follow two such supportive speeches on the nuclear deterrent and the work of those who have crewed it for the past 50 years. It is amazing to think of the combination of high training and long periods of low activity that such personnel have to undergo. They truly are the silent guardians of the country and we are hugely in their debt.
What is more, most Members of this House recognise that fact. It is worth putting on the record that in recent years the House has had two key votes on the question of the renewal of the nuclear deterrent submarine fleet, the first under the Labour Government of Tony Blair on 14 March 2007. The House voted by 409 to 161—a massive majority of 248—to proceed with the initial gate of the replacement or successor submarine fleet. The second was under the Conservative Government of the current Prime Minister on 18 July 2016, when the House voted by a colossal majority of 355—namely, 472 votes to 117—to proceed to the main stages of development and production of the submarines.
The only issue to which I took a little exception in the contribution of the shadow Defence Secretary, the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), was in one turn of phrase, when she said how appalling it would be if the deterrence weapons were used. I remind her gently that the nuclear deterrent is in use every day of every week all around the year, because the purpose of the nuclear deterrent is to ensure that nuclear war does not break out because no one is in a position to attack us with impunity.
It is for the simple reason that, in the unlikely event of anyone being mad enough to attack us—because we have the ability to retaliate—it would be simple to target missiles to retaliate against them, and that could easily result in the obliteration of any country unwise enough to launch a nuclear attack against a nuclear power such as ourselves.
I join my right hon. Friend in applauding the speech from the shadow Defence Secretary, but does he share my disappointment that she did not take any interventions? She may have been able to explain the fundamental flaw in Labour’s Front-Bench position, which is that we cannot have an effective deterrent if we have committed never to use it, as the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition have done.
I accept the fact that Labour has a problem with certain key figures who have always been opposed in principle to the possession of a nuclear deterrent. However, today is not the day to have that debate. I know that the shadow Defence Secretary and every one of the Labour Back Benchers whom I see opposite are wholly committed to keeping this country safe and strong. If anyone can ensure that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor are not allowed to undermine the sensible policy outlined from the Opposition Front Bench today, it is that cohort of people. I wish them the best of luck in that endeavour.
The right hon. Gentleman described a situation in which we would be able to retaliate if we were attacked. I do not know about him, but if I had been obliterated by a nuclear weapon, I would not care a jot whether we obliterated somebody back.
I am sorry to have to explain to the hon. Lady that the whole point of our ability to retaliate is to ensure that we are not attacked in the first place. One really does not have to have had more than half a century of experience to realise that that is bound to be the case. I was not going to quote Professor Sir Henry Tizard, whom I have quoted in debates many times before, but it looks like it is necessary for me to do so.
Professor Tizard was the leading defence scientist in the second world war at the time when atomic weapons were being created. In 1945, with a committee of leading scientists, including Nobel prize winners, he was supposed to look forward to see what the future nature of warfare might be. His committee was not allowed to explore the atomic bomb project in detail, but he insisted on putting in this primary rationale for nuclear deterrence, which holds as firmly today as it did in June 1945. He explained that the only answer that those senior defence scientists, with all their experience of the second world war, could see to the advent of the atomic bomb was the preparedness to use it in retaliation, thus preventing an attack in the first place. I am sorry to inflict this on the House again, but he said:
“A knowledge that we were prepared, in the last resort, to do this”—
“might well deter an aggressive nation. Duelling was a recognised method of settling quarrels between men of high social standing so long as the duellists stood twenty paces apart and fired at each other with pistols of a primitive type. If the rule had been that they should stand a yard apart with pistols at each other’s hearts, we doubt whether it would long have remained a recognised method of settling affairs of honour.”
In other words, if someone knows that they are going to die, for a certainty, if they launch an attack against somebody else, they are not going to launch that attack in the first place.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for actually taking interventions. Anyone who knows the history of the continuous nuclear deterrent knows that it is heavily reliant upon a relationship with the United States. With the present occupant of the White House being such a transactional individual, and with the United Kingdom about to enter into trade negotiations with the US, how confident is the right hon. Gentleman that his Government’s negotiators will not, say, trade chlorinated chicken and access to the NHS—[Interruption.] I am talking technically. How confident is he that that would be not be traded for the United States’ role in the nuclear deterrent? Although he knows that I fully oppose it, of course.
The hon. Gentleman is an admirable member of the Defence Committee, and we greatly value his contributions, but I do not think that that was his most stellar contribution—[Laughter.] Sometimes people say, “Well, what if the Americans wanted to have some sort of veto or to stop us using the nuclear deterrent?”—I mean using it in the sense of firing it rather than of using it in the sense that it is used all day long every day of the year to prevent nuclear conflict. The first point is that this nuclear system is totally under our own control. It would gradually wither on the vine over a long period of time only if the United States decided for some reason that it no longer wanted there to be a second centre of nuclear decision making within the NATO alliance. At any time now, as it has been for the last 50 years, it is entirely independently controlled by us.
The second point is about why an American president would ever not want there to be a second centre of nuclear decision making in NATO, because that reduces any temptation of an aggressor against NATO to think that it could pick off this country without America responding.
Looking forward, does my right hon. Friend agree that renewing the fleet with the new Dreadnought class is the most important decision? In doing so, we have decided that we cannot predict what is going to happen in 20, 30 or 40 years. Those who want us to get rid of the deterrent and not renew our fleet are taking a terrible gamble in a dangerous world, because we cannot foresee the enemies that we may face in the decades ahead.
I pay tribute to the people who work at Aldermaston in my right hon. Friend’s constituency for all that they contribute to the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent capability. Not only do I agree with him, but he has led me nicely back to the central theme of my narrative, which was to try to set out for the House the five main military arguments in favour of retaining our independent deterrent, the first of which is precisely the point that he has just made. Future military threats and conflicts will be no more predictable than those that engulfed us throughout the 20th century. That is the overriding justification for preserving armed forces in peacetime as a national insurance policy. No one knows what enemies might confront us during the next 30 to 50 years, but it is highly probable that at least some of them will be armed with mass-destruction weapons.
The second argument is that it is not the weapons themselves that we have to fear but the nature of the regimes that possess them. Whereas democracies are generally reluctant to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear dictatorships—although they did use them against Japan in 1945—the reverse is not true. Think, for example, what the situation would have been in 1982 if a non-nuclear Britain had faced an Argentina in possession of even a few tactical nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them. There would have been no question of our being able to retake the Falkland Islands in that conflict.
Absolutely. If we get into a situation where the United States and the NATO alliance are paralysed in the face of dictatorships armed even with a few mass-destruction weapons that cannot be neutralised by the threat of retaliation, there would be no prospect of our mounting a defence of any country under attack, anywhere in the world, no matter how deserving it might be of our military intervention.
The third argument is that the United Kingdom has traditionally played a more important and decisive role in preserving freedom than other medium-sized states have been able or willing to play. Democratic countries without nuclear weapons have little choice but to declare themselves neutral and hope for the best or, alternatively, to rely upon the nuclear umbrella of powerful allies. The United Kingdom is already a nuclear power and is also much harder to defeat by conventional means because of our physical separation from the continent.
The fourth argument is that our prominence as the principal ally of the United States, our strategic geographical position and the fact that we are obviously the junior partner might tempt an aggressor to think of attacking us separately. Given the difficulty of overrunning the United Kingdom with conventional forces, in contrast to our more vulnerable allies on the continent, an aggressor could be tempted to use one or more mass-destruction weapons against us on the assumption that the United States might not reply on our behalf. Even if that assumption were false, the attacker would find out his mistake when, and only when, it was too late for all concerned. An independently controlled British nuclear deterrent massively reduces the prospect of such a fatal miscalculation.
The final military argument is that no quantity of conventional forces can compensate for the military disadvantage that faces a non-nuclear country in a war against a nuclear-armed enemy. The atomic bombing of Japan is especially instructive not only because the Emperor was forced to surrender but because of the reverse scenario. Imagine if Japan had developed atomic bombs in the summer of 1945 and the allies had not. An invasion to end the war would then have been completely impossible.
Quite a few colleagues in the House have served in the British Army of the Rhine—I served there three times. When we, as conventional forces, practised deploying against an enemy, we were much sustained by the knowledge that there was a nuclear back-up in our armoury. That raised our morale. We thought that people would not dare attack us when we had a nuclear device in our hand. It would be mad to get rid of it.
I will endeavour to finish quickly, Mr Deputy Speaker.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was right to think in those terms when he wore that uniform. What is more, hon. Members on both sides of the House, in very large numbers, think in similar terms.
To bring my remarks speedily to a conclusion, I will draw out five lessons that have impressed themselves on me in such debates over the past 35 years, since we replaced the first-generation Polaris submarine fleet with the second-generation Vanguard submarine fleet.
The first lesson is that the concepts of unilateralism and multilateralism are mutually incompatible. One requires the unconditional abandonment of our nuclear weapons and nuclear alliances, whereas the other would consider nuclear renunciation only if our potential enemies carry it out at the same time.
The second lesson is that a nuclear-free world is not necessarily a more peaceful world. Abolition of the nuclear balance of terror would be a curse and not a blessing if it made the world once again safe for all-out conventional conflict between the superpowers. In military terms, Russia remains a superpower, regardless of complacent western analyses of the weakness of her economy.
The third lesson is the fundamental divide—which we see in today’s debate—between those people in western societies who believe that wars result mainly from groundless mutual fear and suspicion, and those who believe that only the prospect of retaliation in kind prevents adventurist states from acting aggressively.
The fourth lesson is the validity of the hackneyed but nevertheless accurate concept of the silent majority. Although individual polling questions can be devised to produce apparent majorities against deploying particular nuclear systems, whenever the fundamental issue of deterrence has been posed the result is always decisive. Two thirds of the British people want us to continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them, and only one quarter want us to give them up unconditionally.
The final lesson is that since fewer than 10% of our people have been undecided in poll after poll on this fundamental issue, it does not make political sense to try to appease either that small group or the much larger number of highly committed unilateralists such as my friends in the Scottish National party. The strategic task for the Government, and for the Opposition, is to reinforce the views of the two thirds who believe in what may be termed peace through strength and deterrence, rather than peace through disarmament, so the issue will be in the forefront of people’s minds, as it was in the general elections of 1983 and 1987, when this was a very prominent topic in the election debate.
None of this would be possible but for the dedication and, indeed, heroism of those people who, month after month, patrol the seas and are not seen and not heard—they are meant to be not seen and not heard—in order silently to spread over us an umbrella of nuclear protection. Long may they continue to do so.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Defence Committee, despite agreeing with almost none of what he had to say. He is always unfailingly courteous to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) on that Committee, and it is always a pleasure to hear what he has to say.
I will start, as the Secretary of State did, by sending our best wishes to those based at Barrow, given this afternoon’s bomb scare. Despite our disagreement, which I am sure we will get into, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) should be under no illusion that folk there have the best wishes of the Scottish National party. The same is true of all those who serve in the armed forces, including on the frontline and in the Royal Navy. The Secretary of State mentioned the submariners, and I will mention one former submariner by name. Feargal Dalton is, of course, the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and an Irishman who now serves as a Scottish National party councillor in Glasgow. We send our best wishes to all those who serve, including civilian staff and the Ministry of Defence police.
Our disagreement and quarrel is not with them, but with the political decisions taken in this Chamber. Only in this House of Commons, at this time, against the backdrop of a major constitutional crisis, where each day is worse than the last, could it be thought of as a good use of our time to backslap each other on the UK being 50 years as a marine nuclear power. Anyone who thinks that is a good use of our time right now is, frankly, off their head. But it should come as no surprise, as the Prime Minister is out in Brussels with the begging bowl right now, that those on the Benches that represent this crumbling relic of a Government—there is no doubt more to come from the Labour Benches as well—want to hark back to the symbols of power, stature and glory as they diminish Britain’s standing in the world. Indeed, Max Hastings, the military historian, put it best in The Times last year when he said that Trident renewal was a “big willy gesture” of a small willy nation. I could not have put it better had I tried. The Scottish National party’s opposition to the nuclear project is well known and well documented, but given the opportunity this afternoon—
I will give way in time.
Given the opportunity that we have to discuss the matter this afternoon, we will take the unusual step of dividing the House this evening to show our opposition to the Trident renewal programme.
I intend to set out three clear arguments as succinctly as possible for why there is no military case for the continuous at-sea deterrent—there is certainly no economic case for it—and indeed how we can come to the conclusion, given last week’s National Audit Office report on the failure of this Government and former Labour Governments properly to decommission nuclear submarines, that the United Kingdom is now an irresponsible nuclear power.
I just want to say on behalf of the NATO nuclear alliance that that alliance greatly values the UK deterrent and would actually be grateful for common sense, trust and belief in the UK’s deterrent and our capacity and willingness to dedicate ourselves to its stability and security. The alliance would actually be horrified by the hon. Gentleman’s earlier comments.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in time.
In opposing the renewal programme this afternoon, we intend to give voice to the millions outside this Chamber who do not back the iron-clad consensus that exists between the Conservative and Labour parties on wasting billions of pounds on nuclear weapons.
On the fact that there is no military case, I want to turn to the recent modernising defence programme, which represents a missed opportunity to do things a bit differently. I had hopes that the much vaunted reforming zeal of the Secretary of State when he first came to office would actually be shown to be true, but those hopes were sadly misplaced on my part. Indeed, the MDP programme, which represented an opportunity to do things differently, has, rather perversely, actually contributed to the miasma of despair and chaos that hangs over the Department over which he now presides. The armed forces remain as small as they were when Napoleon was on his horse. The Government are woefully off target—the target that was set in their own manifesto for the size of the armed forces. Furthermore, the promises that were made to the people of Scotland in 2014 on the size of the armed forces are going one way, and it is not north. Staggeringly, this Government continue to employ Capita—
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in time. He does not need to keep shouting at me. I know he is there—I will give way to him, as I always do, and he knows that.
Staggeringly, despite the recruitment problems, this Government continue to spend millions of pounds on Capita and its deeply flawed recruitment programme.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He says that he will divide the House today to vote against this motion. I understand that it is the SNP’s policy to be a member of NATO. He is right when he says that there are many nations that do not possess nuclear weapons, but as a member of NATO, a country has to agree to the nuclear doctrine and the nuclear strategy and sit on the nuclear planning group. Is he saying that if an independent Scotland joined NATO it would sometimes want to abrogate its duties, or is he advocating to vote against nuclear weapons today, but actually join a nuclear alliance?
The right hon. Gentleman does not need to explain Scottish National party policy to me. Perhaps if he listens, I can educate him. Scottish National party policy is for an independent Scotland to join NATO—everyone, including him, knows that that would be accepted, by the way—but on the contingency that Trident will be removed from Scotland’s waters. That does not prevent the United Kingdom from continuing to have a nuclear at-sea deterrent, although we think it should not and almost certainly would not.
No, I am not going to get into this with the right hon. Gentleman.
We are very clear in our belief that the United Kingdom should give up its nuclear weapons, because there is no economic or military case for them, and this country now behaves like an irresponsible nuclear power.
Well, the hon. Gentleman might get a buy one, get one free. On the matter of Capita, let me just say that, although I do not normally agree with the SNP, I would definitely vote with the hon. Gentleman to sack Capita tomorrow; it is a disgrace and it is now so awful that it is a threat to the defence of the realm. However, when it comes to our nuclear deterrent, the hon. Gentleman and I could not be more opposed, and I will always want to support the maintenance of nuclear defences in this country.
Well, I am glad that normal service has been resumed.
As well as the issue of recruitment, there is of course the other issue of retention, which is becoming a big problem in the armed forces. I know that the Secretary of State recognises that. Indeed, we now have a situation whereby members of the armed forces are staying in the armed forces until such a time as they get a decent skill and qualification, with the sole intention of leaving to go into private industry. That is what the last armed forces survey tells us—I do not know why some Members on the Tory Benches are shaking their heads.
As this Government press on with Trident renewal, we should cast our eyes back to a couple of promises on defence that they made to the people of Scotland in the 2014 referendum campaign. Of course, the promise was made of a frigate factory on the Clyde. That promise was broken—not by this Secretary of State, but by the speaker who I am sure is going to follow me, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon). Yet he seemed to think that there was a frigate factory on the Clyde. In fact, he seems to be maintaining that there is. I recall him standing at the Dispatch Box declaring that there was a frigate factory on the Clyde, but no such thing exists.
Then we come to the order of frigates. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised that 13 frigates were to be built on the Clyde; that number was then cut down to eight. Any time we get a promise on defence or shipbuilding from this Tory Government—a bit like the way in which the fleet solid support ship contract has been lined up at the minute—we can be guaranteed that it will be another sell-out from Westminster.
Does my hon. Friend recall that, when the former Secretary of State was at the Dispatch Box claiming that there was a frigate factory, BBC Scotland was with a GMB official at the piece of land where the frigate factory was supposed to be, which was of course a landfill of ash?
My hon. Friend has just mentioned the shadow Secretary of State, and it was unfortunate that she refused to take any interventions. In her opening remarks, she said that Labour supports the continuous at-sea deterrent. Does that not prove what we all know—that it does not matter what the Scottish branch office does, with pretend motions about being against Trident replacement, but that it is about what the head office down here says and the branch office has to do what it is told?
I am going to come to the Opposition, don’t worry about that. I say to people who may disagree with the SNP’s policy on nuclear weapons that at least they know what they are getting—opposition. What we get from Labour is a mess. Whether it is a Front Bencher, a Back Bencher, a Scottish MP, a non-Scottish MP or a Member of the Scottish Parliament, we get a mess from Labour with regard to nuclear weapons.
The new strategic defence and security review that is surely being worked on right now must reflect the threats that we do indeed face. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) was right to say that they come from a diverse range of state and non-state actors. She mentioned in her short speech the issue of hybrid security, which the Government do not understand as well as they could. They could learn quite a few lessons from our allies, particularly in the Baltic states. We also have the issue of the Government of Russia, in particular, continually testing the response times of the Royal Navy and the RAF. There are now regular incursions into Scottish waters and Scottish airspace. In that regard, we commend the RAF, particularly those based at Lossiemouth, for the work that it does in keeping us safe. Both the Defence Committee and NATO itself have urged the Government not to forget their own backyard in the high north and the north Atlantic. Indeed, when I sat in the Secretary of State’s office in Main Building before the modernising defence programme, that was central to what we asked for the programme to focus on. I give credit where it is due—a new focus has been given to the high north and the north Atlantic, and SNP Members, at least, welcome that.
It is time for the UK Government to ditch the jingoism of global Britain. Indeed, the Centre for Eastern Studies, a think-tank based in Poland, stated in a recent report on Brexit and its impact on the UK’s security posture that this desire to be seen as a big global player could undermine its efforts to help to protect the eastern NATO flank. I recall how the extraordinary speech that the Secretary of State made in February this year telling us how he was going to send personnel off to the South China sea saw China cancel a visit by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is time for the Government to focus on the bread-and-butter issues here at home that I have highlighted.
I have helpfully given the hon. Gentleman, inadvertently, advance notice on the issue of NATO, so let me take him back to that. He talks about the high north. He knows that that is where much of the nuclear patrol activity by Russia is happening. If the SNP’s case is that it is morally repugnant to have nuclear weapons, how is it morally defensible for Scotland to maintain itself under the nuclear umbrella if the submarines are just sent a few hundred miles to the south? Surely it would be logical for the SNP to say that it would withdraw from NATO’s nuclear alliance.
No, it would not. Indeed, the two arguments I am setting out, the second of which I am coming on to, are that there is no military or economic case for this. The hon. Gentleman knows, because I have said this to him before, that I am not going to get into an argument about morality with him because you never wrestle with chimney sweeps.
I am now going to come on to the economic case. It ought to be the case, for sure—and on this I am sure we do agree with others—that the Government carry out a threat analysis and, subsequent to that, get what they need to meet that threat and to keep people safe. But we do not believe, quite simply, that Trident complements that effort. The total cost of Trident, from design through to life support, ran into many, many billions of pounds—estimated by some to be as high as £200 billion. We know for sure that the current renewal project is already woefully out of control. Indeed, over £1 billion of the £10 billion contingency that was set aside by the Ministry of Defence has already been tapped into, and of the extra £1 billion announced by the Chancellor, £400 million is exclusively for the nuclear renewal project. The most recent House of Commons Library figures tell us that the £2.2 billion per year spent on maintaining the deterrent is roughly equivalent to £42 million each week. That is about the same as we spend on income support, statutory maternity pay, carer’s allowance or winter fuel payments.
All of that represents a drain on conventional defence, which has always been the priority of the SNP. This is at a time when the Department has enormous funding gaps in its equipment plan, estimated by the National Audit Office to be well over £10 billion, and big gaps in the funding of the defence estate, which is draining money as though it were going out of fashion. It is at a time when the Ministry of Defence continues with the bizarre fetish of privatising and outsourcing things that do not need to be privatised or outsourced: the defence fire and rescue service, the war pension scheme, the armed forces compensation scheme and even the medals office. Those things must remain in the hands of the MOD in their entirety. In the armed forces, it is not uncommon for serving members to have to buy substitute kit because the money is not there to get it through the Department’s budget.
Far from enhancing our national security and providing the necessary capability to keep us safe, Trident is a drain on conventional defence, particularly as the Government keep it as part of the overall defence budget, to the point that it diminishes our conventional defence and security posture, which is in need of proper investment and oversight.
To make one last point, it can be concluded that this country is now an irresponsible nuclear power. The timing of this debate could not be more breathtaking if the Government had tried. We sit here today to mark 50 years as a maritime nuclear power, but just last week the National Audit Office told us that hundreds of millions of pounds are being wasted by the Government on storing obsolete nuclear submarines and their utter failure to decommission them properly and responsibly. The independent NAO—this is not me—has said that it puts the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear power at risk.
The MOD has not decommissioned a single submarine successfully since 1980, twice as many are currently in storage as are in service, nine still contain radioactive fuel, seven have been in storage for longer than they were in service and no submarines have been defuelled in the last 15 years. It is a total failure, and the liability costs estimated by the Secretary of State’s own Department run to £7.5 billion. We can be sure, as night follows day, that that figure will get higher. The auditors said that the MOD did not have a fully developed plan to dispose of operational Vanguard and Astute submarines or its future Dreadnought-class vessels, which have different nuclear reactors.
Here the House sits with the iron-clad consensus that we must renew a nuclear submarine programme that the Government do not even have plans to decommission in the future, even though the National Audit Office has just outlined what a costly farce that has become. This cannot just be shrugged off as though it is business as usual. The public expect us to get to the bottom of it. I ask the Secretary of State—perhaps the Minister will say when he sums up—whether he will set up a public inquiry into the farce of nuclear submarine decommissioning.
The hon. Gentleman will know that his colleague the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and I are working with the Department to make progress on this matter. Will he and the SNP support us because, despite their position, we need to find the line of credit for nuclear decommissioning, which is an enormous one across the board? Rather than bashing the Government on a question that is long and historic, will they help us to move forward and get the Treasury to support that decommissioning line?
The short answer to the hon. Lady’s question is yes. I will conclude, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I am conscious of the time.
There is nothing to celebrate here in 50 years as a maritime nuclear power. No doubt the rest of the debate will be wrapped up in British jingoism. I am not sure anything could convince the Conservatives to abandon the nuclear programme, but I am at a loss as to why the Leader of the Opposition allows his party to be locked into it. There were times when he would have spoken in this debate. He would have been on these Benches and, if there had been a Division, he would have been in the voting Lobby with us at the end of the debate. He would have found himself with Members of the Scottish National party. That he has abandoned that honourable principle and not even tried to move his party’s position on nuclear weapons remains a disappointment to millions and a mystery to me.
It is left to the Scottish National party to give voice to those who oppose the militarily and economically illiterate case that the Government have put forward, supported by Leader of the Opposition’s Front-Bench team. It is left to the Scottish National party to urge the Government to sign up to the nuclear ban treaty. It is left to us to make the case for sound conventional defence that protects us at home and ensures that we can do the job that needs to be done with our allies abroad. And it is left to us to say, with one voice in this House, let us please stop this madness.
The only thing on which I agreed with the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) was the tribute he took the trouble to pay at the beginning of his speech to the crews of the Polaris and Vanguard submarines. They have been the backbone of Operation Relentless, and the success of that operation is entirely dependent on the commitment of those who have conducted those patrols—in each case, an extraordinary service of perhaps three months or more.
There is no other service in the Navy quite like it, with submariners cut off from the outside world unlike in any part of the Royal Navy, unable to visit foreign ports or carry out different missions. They are isolated from their family and friends at all times in that three-month period. They are the stoics of the sea and we do owe them our gratitude. We should salute them all, past and present, and look again at how that service can be better recognised, but we should also tell them loudly from this House: thank you for helping keep us safe. They did keep us safe.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said, it is extraordinary that some still argue that the nuclear deterrent is never used. It is used every minute of every hour of every day to ensure uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor towards this country. While we have nuclear weapons, they can never be sure what our response is likely to be. He reminded us that that was endorsed by a majority of 355 as recently as three years ago when we authorised the replacement of the Vanguard boats by the new Dreadnought submarines.
The Prime Minister and I set out the arguments for that renewal three years ago. I will not repeat them, but I want to make three further points. The threats we identified then, back in July 2016, have increased. First, Russia not only has intensified its rhetoric but is modernising its nuclear forces. It now has the ability to station nuclear missiles in its exclave at Kaliningrad, or indeed in the territory it now controls in Crimea. Secondly, since that debate, North Korea has carried out nuclear tests and is developing systems whereby nuclear warheads can be launched from both space and submarines. We should never forget that London is as close to North Korea as is Los Angeles. Thirdly, nuclear material is now coming within reach of terrorist groups that wish us and others harm. Our response must be relentless and resolute.
Certainly in my period of office, I wanted that decision brought to the House as soon as possible. We were of course, as he will recall, in a coalition Government, and we spent a lot of time trying to accommodate the wishes of our coalition partners. As he has already observed, that party has not even bothered to turn up to this debate.
It is of course important, each time we make these renewal decisions, that we emphasise our continuing commitment to the international work of non-proliferation. There is a particular responsibility on those countries that retain nuclear weapons to continue to commit to that particular treaty and to reduce the weapons they hold. That is why I reduced the number of warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40. The stockpile is reducing, and this country now holds only half the number of nuclear weapons it held 40 years ago. However, we also have to look ahead. It takes 13 to 14 years to put a new nuclear missile submarine into the water. If hon. Members believe, as I do, that there may still be a nuclear threat to this country in the 2030s, the 2040s and the 2050s all the way up to 2060, then it would of course be irresponsible not to renew the delivery mechanism—first the boats and then in time, perhaps later in this Parliament, the missile system itself.
Let me end with three final points. First, on the budget, of course it is true that the £31 billion, and the contingency alongside it, is spread over a very long period of construction, but, equally, it remains a very lumpy and sizeable part of the Department’s budget, and we do not get the advantages of scale—we replace only four boats each time—that the Americans are able to profit from when they are replacing many more submarines. There may be points in the work of the Public Accounts Committee and of others in this House that require us to look again at how the submarine renewal programme is actually financed year to year, and to see whether there are economies of scale in forward buying some of the parts for all four submarines right at the beginning.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) said in challenging the hon. Member for Glasgow South, the NATO alliance is a nuclear alliance. If, sadly, Scotland ever became independent, he would be applying to join a nuclear alliance. In the arguments he put before the House, he seemed to have forgotten that many members of NATO signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in the full knowledge that they would be protected by NATO’s nuclear umbrella. That is why they signed the treaty, as the hon. Lady pointed out. That means we need to keep reminding our allies in NATO of the importance of the nuclear planning group and of their commitment to maintaining their dual-use aircraft, and we need to remind their politicians and their publics that NATO is a nuclear alliance.
Thirdly, the point about independence, which was raised by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), is worth addressing. Of course it is true, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said, that the system gives us—the UK, the United States and France—separate sources of decision making, making it even more difficult for potential aggressors to be sure of a single response. However, it is also important that this nuclear deterrent of ours is independent, because we cannot be sure of threats that may emanate simply against our shores and nobody else’s. That is why it is important that we keep our deterrent independent, and that we satisfy ourselves that it is independent. Indeed, David Cameron and I separately took steps to reassure ourselves that the nuclear deterrent was independent. These are not details I can go into in public session, but it is important that the deterrent remains independent.
Let me conclude by saying yes, this deterrent was born of the cold war, but it is by no means a relic of the cold war. It is a key part of the defence of our country, and a key part of the defence of our freedoms and those of our allies. I am very sure that we need it now more than ever. I am equally sure that our successors in this place will, in 50 years’ time, be commending the successors of those crews who have helped to perform this arduous but essential duty.
While listening to some of the fantastic speeches we have had so far I have been able to cross out whole swathes of my speech, because I do not intend to repeat what others have said. I would, however, just like to reiterate that we are here to celebrate 50 years of Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrent, which has maintained peace and security for those 50 years. Many will talk of the NATO alliance being a nuclear alliance. I can say that not one member of NATO has ever stood up in the parliamentary assembly and said, “Let’s get rid of it. We don’t need the alliance. We don’t need the British deterrent.” Quite the opposite.
The one thing I dedicated myself to doing during my presidency is to remind people what NATO is, what its role has been in keeping peace for the past 70 years, and why it is critical to the defence and security of the United Kingdom and the rest of the alliance. Sadly, we have forgotten to do that. I was in Croatia the week before last. Every year, it celebrates its membership of NATO. The Croatian people know what it means in terms of building a democracy and providing security. We need to do that more in this country. That is why I am so pleased that we have this debate today.
I do not want to go over the past. That has been ably done by those who have gone before me. I want to look at what the current threats are and why the CASD remains absolutely critical to the defence and security of the alliance and every member state within it. Today, as has been said, the tempo and the threat is changing. It is rising again. States are building and expanding their nuclear missile systems, threatening across the alliance. I therefore want to stress the importance of a hidden deterrent—not an airborne or land-based deterrent, mobile though they are. The absolute uniqueness of the at-sea deterrent is its capacity to hide: the lack of certainty about where it is and when it will be brought into commission.
I accept that the sea domain has been neglected. I think everyone in this House who knows anything about defence will know that certainly across the alliance but especially in the UK because we are a maritime nation, we have failed to maintain our capacity as a military capability. We have also not built the number of submarines that we need, so that NATO’s surface and sub-surface fleet is diminished. The SDSR has, however, stressed that we are in a position where revisionist states are building new threats and new tensions. It is on them that I want to focus today.
Revisionist states seek to use military power and threat to change and challenge the status quo to acquire more power by seizing territory, as we have seen in Ukraine and Georgia, and imposing a new form—their form—of government, not democracy, or by unilaterally and fundamentally rewriting the rules of the game. The best description I have had of what is happening in Russia in particular was by Norway’s defence attaché to the UK, Colonel Olsen, who said:
“Russia is introducing new classes of conventional and nuclear attack submarines and is modernising its Northern Fleet through the addition of long-range, high-precision missiles. The totality of its modernisation programme adds up to a step-change strengthening of Russian maritime capability in support of an anti-access strategy that could challenge NATO’s command of the high seas”—
with potentially both Europe and North America being placed “at existential risk”. This is a strategy that we have not seen since the cold war.
I thank my hon. Friend, as I will call her, for allowing me to intervene. Russia now practises using nuclear weapons on its exercises, so we ought to listen and watch what it says it will do, because my goodness, it will do that if it is pushed. That is why we need the nuclear deterrent.
I could not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman says. Those of us who are on the Defence Committee are very aware of that threat.
Russia has revamped and reoccupied seven former USSR bases in the Arctic. This is important to its ability to project power down through the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap. Access into the north Atlantic and the ability to disrupt or control the sea lines of communications between North America and Europe would have a huge impact on the global economy, as well as preventing reinforcements from reaching Europe in the event of hostilities or crisis.
Russia has new capabilities, such as the Kilo SSKs, which are armed with dual-capability Kalibr missiles, which are very fast. The Yasen—SSBN—and Kalina-class subs are extremely long endurance. Russia has about 40 combat subs, the balance of which are in the northern fleet. Added to those impressive new subs are modern patrol boats, frigates, and destroyers, all joined by a new ability to deploy submarines by stealth, explore underwater cables and exercise electronic warfare jamming.
Russia has also done something else: it has withdrawn from the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. The US and NATO argue that Russia has violated the INF treaty by testing and deploying a prohibited intermediate-range cruise missile. Russian officials deny that the missile in question—the 9M729—can fly that far. We tend to forget that the INF treaty banned all US and Soviet ground-launched missiles of intermediate range—that is, between 500 and 5,500 kilometres—and it resulted in the destruction of some 2,700 missiles up to 1991. There is a simple way of resolving this conflict: the special verification commission, established as part of the INF treaty, could be used to work out procedures for Russia to show that its missile does not fly that far. Russia has refused to do so. However, this is not just about new missiles and whether a treaty has been broken. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has made it clear that these missiles are hard to detect, mobile and nuclear capable, and they can reach European cities. They are a direct threat to NATO.
Equally, China is not a signatory to the INF treaty. It has deployed intermediate-range missiles on its territory. It has also begun to turn its attention away from land forces and towards the sea. Since 2013, there has been a marked acceleration in China’s investment in naval resources. In 2017, it overtook the US as having the world’s largest navy, whose reach goes beyond traditional strategic interests in the South China sea. That navy includes an impressive number of submarines—about 60, according to the United States Congressional Research Service. Not all of them carry nuclear warheads, but China is reported to be seeking to diversify the structure of its nuclear forces and to have a credible deterrence.
Alongside its fleet, China has opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, and continues to develop interests in bases across the Indian Ocean. It also has an ambitious strategy of investment in commercial ports around the world. The Hudson Institute estimates that 10% of all equity in ports in Europe—including ports in Ukraine, Georgia and Greece—is now owned by Chinese companies. Much of the strategy is economic, but it brings with it defence threats.
For 50 years, this deterrent has kept us safe. We owe a huge debt of thanks, not just for the past but for the future, to those men and women in the silent service—in our industrial base—who continue to provide peace, security and stability, and who have prevented nuclear war for all those 50 years.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who painted a very clear and well-informed picture of the threat that we face. It is also a pleasure to speak in the debate.
I last spoke about this subject during a debate on alternatives to Trident under the coalition Government. It was a most unusual debate, in that it began with the then Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury putting forward one position which would put CASD at risk, and ended with me, in closing the debate, putting forward another that would sustain it for the foreseeable future. I recall colleagues—perhaps in all parts of the House—being somewhat bemused at the novel idea of Ministers pulling in opposite directions. I had firmly wished that those days were behind us. However, in a sense that highlights the main point that I wish to make today: regardless of the turbulent politics of the time or the party of government of the day, the continuous at-sea deterrent has been there, day in, day out and night after night, the ultimate guarantor of our nation’s security against existential blackmail or threat.
Let me begin by adding my personal tribute to the Royal Navy personnel who have made Operation Relentless the longest sustained military operation in this nation’s history. With each boat having two captains and two crews, allowing continuous deployment, there are a large number of personnel on whom we rely and who perform to the highest standard in the challenging conditions that other Members have already described. We should also be grateful for the support of their families; long operations can take a particular toll on loved ones. There are pinch points of skills, which means that attracting and retaining skilled submariners is vital, but difficult, for the maintenance of the deterrence. I support the Royal Navy’s efforts to allow increased flexibility in service to take account of modern family life in such difficult circumstances.
Of course, the deterrent has an impact on employment not only through boat crews but in the wider community. I hope that the House will excuse this shameless plug, but colleagues who read the Dunne review last year will be aware of the contribution of defence to our economy around the UK, and the submarine programme is a vital part of that. About 6,800 military and civilian personnel are currently employed at Her Majesty’s naval base Clyde. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, that number is scheduled to increase to more than 8,500, and Clyde will then become the largest employment site in Scotland. Those vital skilled jobs would be lost should the Scottish National party’s policy of scrapping the nuclear deterrent ever come to pass. Thousands more are employed in keeping the deterrent both current and afloat, working for companies in the industrial supply chain in constituencies all over the country—in addition to the particular concentration in the constituency of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), who is in the Chamber to hear me point out that he is a long-standing champion of this whole endeavour. Now more than ever, it is vital that we make the case for our continuous at-sea deterrent.
Looking back over the 50 years of Operation Relentless, it is clear that in its infancy the need for the deterrent was fresh in the public consciousness, following the horrors of the second world war. In the years that followed, the immediate concern of Soviet proliferation and posturing outlined the very real potential existential threat to the west—perhaps no more so than during the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world so close to the brink of devastating nuclear war. But since the fall of the Berlin wall 30 years ago and the collapse of the Soviet Union, current generations have faced a less obvious threat. For some, that has led to an undercurrent of public perception—so readily fed by social media misinformation—that there is less threat, and that the need for a nuclear deterrent is behind us. But that, as we have heard so well from the hon. Member for Bridgend, is fundamentally to turn blind eyes—to underestimate and ignore the global risks that we face as a country.
The hon. Lady is quite right to point out that the nature of warfare and threat has changed. It is no longer purely a direct kinetic effect. It is taking place in the airwaves all around us, and it will take effect not just through social media; the potential to disrupt vital national infrastructure is becoming a tool of conflict for the future. That is one of the challenges that I feel that we, as a nation, have to face up to more than we have to date.
The attitudes that I have just described are personified by the previous career of the Leader of the Opposition. I am sorry to have to raise that again and slightly disrupt the consensus that there is across at least the two main parties, but if, God forbid, such attitudes were ever allowed to pervade public discourse and become the official policy of the Opposition, it would do irreparable harm to our national security.
Now, as in the past, the UK faces a range of threats for which conventional forces simply cannot act as sufficient deterrent. The increasing Russian aggression, which we have heard about, the upgrading of their nuclear arsenal and delivery mechanisms, will continue to threaten the potential security of the west. Other states, including Iran and North Korea, maintain their nuclear ambitions despite international pressure. The existence of 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world today shows the risk that we still face.
Fortunately, in the face of such threats, we do not stand alone. Our membership of NATO—a nuclear alliance, as has been said by others—remains the cornerstone of our defence, and our decision to maintain the continuous at-sea deterrent sends a clear signal to our allies that we will continue to play our part in contributing to the security of all NATO members. It also provides NATO with another centre of decision making, alongside the primacy of our strongest ally, the United States. By sharing the burden of nuclear responsibility, we demonstrate the true collaborative nature of the nuclear alliance and of the mutual defence we are committed to upholding.
That close co-operation over our nuclear capability with the United States is at the very core of the strategic defence relationship between our two countries. It also places us in a pivotal role in offering continuing leadership to the free world. That was encapsulated by Winston Churchill in his last great speech in this place as Prime Minister, as he ushered in the era of the strategic deterrent. He said:
“Our moral and military support of the United States and our possession of nuclear weapons of the highest quality and on an appreciable scale, together with their means of delivery, will greatly reinforce the deterrent power of the free world, and will strengthen our influence within the free world.”—[Official Report, 1 March 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1897.]
In my view, that remains the case today, and is worth our bearing in mind as we approach the challenge of life after we leave the European Union.
Britain has the opportunity, as a responsible country, to show that nuclear powers need not relentlessly pursue further proliferation. While other states seek to increase their stockpiles, we have committed to reducing our overall nuclear weapons stockpile to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s, having already reduced our operationally available warheads and the number of warheads and missiles on each boat, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), the previous Defence Secretary, has just told us.
Britain has already led the way in this decade in showing that the existing stock of nuclear weapons in the world can be reduced. Next year, there will be another important milestone in that effort: the 2020 review conference of the parties to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Our position as a P5 member of the UN Security Council provides the UK with the opportunity to continue to make the case for non-proliferation. Our work on developing disarmament verification solutions, particularly with the US, Sweden and Norway through the Quad Nuclear Verification Partnership, is helping to deliver an effective verification regime, which is essential if non-proliferation is to become a trusted way forward.
The fact that we have not had to use a nuclear weapon in conflict is a sign of their efficacy. Discouraging action through fear of consequences is the very definition of deterrence. In that respect, our continuous at-sea deterrent has been remarkably successful. A credible deterrent is not something that we can afford to relax. The skills on which it relies cannot be switched off and back on again in a time of crisis. To move away from a deterrent-based system would present an enormous risk to the country. It has not been shown how any alternatives to the deterrent would make the UK safer in the face of existential threats now and for future generations.
I point out to colleagues who believe that future risk is small enough to justify the removal of our deterrent that the world is an incredibly unpredictable place. The Dreadnought class of submarines is due to come into service in the 2030s with a 30-year expected lifespan. Our decision to maintain the deterrent will provide the ultimate guarantee of safety for our children and grandchildren.
I welcome this debate. Reference has already been made to the men and women of our submarine service who have been part of Operation Relentless over the past 50 years, and I add my tribute to them. The Secretary of State rightly mentioned a group who are not remembered very often: the families of those servicemen and women, who make a great contribution in their own way to our defence. I will not name all the sites because most of them, including Barrow, have been mentioned already. I pay tribute to the industry and the men and women who work in it, not only in the supply chain but directly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent. The issues relating to our nuclear deterrent are rightly secret and do not get a great deal of attention. Today is an opportunity to say, “Thank you”, to those individuals. I accept that a level of secrecy is needed, but for anyone who wants a good tribute to that, I recommend James Jinks’s and Peter Hennessy’s book “The Silent Deep”, which gives a fascinating insight into not only the history of our nuclear deterrent but the present-day operations.
I have always had the utmost respect for those who hold the view that Britain should not have nuclear weapons. I disagree with them, but I respect their position. What I cannot respect is the dishonest and unprincipled position of SNP Members, who argue that Britain should give up its nuclear weapons but at the same time want us to be part of a nuclear alliance—NATO. They accept that they would hide under the umbrella of NATO, but they say they have a principled objection to nuclear weapons. They cannot have both.
The post-war Attlee Government decided that Britain would become a nuclear power because they saw the rise of the threat from the Soviet Union to the post-war order that they and the west were trying to put together. It was a rules-based system, and we rightly pay tribute to the founders of NATO and other international organisations after the second world war. People such as Attlee, who lived through the second war but also saw action at Gallipoli during the first world war, were determined that this country, in the new nuclear age, would not be vulnerable to harm from those who threatened its security. That has always been a long tradition in my party. I know that recently there has been much veneration on the left of the 1945 Labour Government, but that part of the story is always conveniently airbrushed out. The formation of NATO and the beginning of our nuclear deterrent set the course of our security and has dictated it over subsequent generations. Some of the principles that were underlined then, such as mutual destruction and deterrence, have been borne out by the fact that we have not had a nuclear conflict throughout the subsequent period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) outlined the nature of the threats that face us today. Are they different to 1945? Yes, they are. Certainly the technology is very different, but so are the threats. At the end of the cold war, there was the possibility of making more reductions in nuclear weapons, but that has been snatched away from us by the current state of the Russian Government, who clearly do not respect the international rules-based order that our forefathers in post-war Britain helped to develop. The Russian Government wish to have their own order, which does not respect international law or nation states. Clearly, they also do not accept that nations should be able to live peacefully alongside one another.
I am clear about the need to retain our nuclear deterrent. It keeps us safe. If we could uninvent nuclear weapons tomorrow, I think most people would, but as a nation we have a proud record—and we should not forget this—of commitment to disarmament. The Secretary of State pointed out the steps that we have already taken, unilaterally, to reduce stockpiles to the minimum that is required, for example removing the WE177 nuclear bomb. It is also right for us to take an active part in moves to stop nuclear proliferation and to achieve arms reduction. That is not easy in the present climate, as my hon. Friend outlined, but that does not mean that we should not try. That has to be part of our overall policy. While maintaining CASD and our nuclear deterrent, we should have a strong commitment to a nuclear-free world. We can work harder at that, although it will not be easy, given the present state of the world, which looks a lot darker than it has for many years.
One threat that I do see to CASD—the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I are at one on this—is the decision in 2010 to delay the replacement of the nuclear deterrent. That has had huge issues for the maintenance of CASD. It means that the life of our present Vanguard submarines will be extended way beyond what was designed. I pay tribute to the industry and others who are trying to do the refits, but I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that the Treasury realises that those refits, and the money available for them, are vital. We will not meet the deadlines for the Dreadnought coming on stream, but if we are not to put CASD at risk it is important that the money is made available. I accept that recently some money has come forward, but it has to be available continually over the next few years. I have no wish to be disrespectful to the Secretary of State, but in the words of Robin Day, he is—like us all—a “here today, gone tomorrow” politician. It is important to have consistency in that investment for the life extension and for Dreadnought.
It is also important not to have a repeat of what happened with the Astute submarines, when we turned off the supply tap and the skills base, later having to work to play catch-up, which led to the problems we have now. We need to think about putting investment in now, certainly on the design side, for the generation that comes after Astute or Dreadnought, for example. That is how we keep the capability, because such skills are fragile if we do not invest in them.
To finish where I started, I pay tribute to all those involved in this endeavour. It is a complex one, ensuring not just that we have CASD but that the enterprise works. That it has done so over 50 years is a remarkable feat.
I am not as qualified as many to speak in this debate, but I remind those who wish to look into the subject further that they should read the 1934 book “Peace with Honour” by Alan Alexander Milne. He had served continuously in the first world war and in the book he wrote the reasons why war should become unacceptable—he argued for pacifism. In 1940, after he had re-enlisted, he wrote a book called “War with Honour”, in which he explained what had gone wrong.
In the middle of the 1934 book, A. A. Milne imagined a situation in which Germany attacks the United Kingdom in 1940. He asked what would happen if Russia said that it would join on our side but set various conditions. We have to understand that people have been thinking about such issues rather more deeply than, from some of the remarks we heard, the Scottish National party—but I want to leave them to one side.
I will move on to the other great person who could deal with the constitutional, policy and moral principles of nuclear deterrence: Sir Michael Quinlan. He was permanent secretary at the Department of Employment when I served there as a junior Minister. He then moved back to the Ministry of Defence, which was his real home.
While working for Government and before he got moved to the Treasury in 1980 or ’81, he wrote some words that were not known to be his at the time:
“Our task now is to devise a system for living in peace and freedom while ensuring that nuclear weapons are never used, either to destroy or to blackmail.”
No one has yet made a serious case that our abolition of the continuous at-sea deterrent would do much to reduce the possibility of blackmail or the risk of destruction.
The hon. Lady, the leader of the NATO parliamentary delegation, makes the point better than I could, and I am grateful to her for doing so.
I occasionally speculate what would have happened had not Mr Putin but his FSB predecessor become President of Russia. Had Nikolay Kovalyov become President, things might not be so rough now—nor for Ukraine—but that is not the issue.
We have to prepare for whatever happens in any major country around the world. We have to remember that one of the reasons why we had our independent deterrent was to give a second place of decision making, so that people did not rely only on the Americans being prepared to respond, but thought we might if we had to. I hope that we never do have to.
I recommend that real students of policy operating in this field get the collected correspondence of Sir Michael Quinlan and go through the essays in the book edited by Francis Bridger in 1983 for the chapter that Michael contributed. It followed on from the work of the Catholic bishops’ conference in the United States, and all that has guidance for us now. It does not say what we have to do in the future, but it gives us the reasons for where we have been in the past 50 years.
I join with others in paying tribute to the submariners and to the people in the dockyards and the like who have kept the deterrent going. One of the proudest times in my life was when I held a dinner in 2003—two years before the 200th anniversary of Nelson’s death at Trafalgar—at which I sat down with two Marine generals and 38 admirals. Those admirals were there to represent the people of all ranks who had served and all the civilian contractors who had helped. We thank them.
As the Member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute, my constituency takes in Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde at Faslane. Although I am and always will be implacably opposed to nuclear weapons being in Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter, for so long as we remain part of the United Kingdom and the UK Government insist on possession of these weapons of mass destruction, I will put on record my gratitude for the dedication and professionalism of the Royal Naval service personnel, the MOD Police, the MOD Guard Service and the civilian workforce at the base. As Scotland moves towards its independence, let me reassure them and the wider community that the naval base at Faslane will have a bright non-nuclear future. The SNP has never and will never advocate its closure. Its strategic location, allowing speedy access out into the north Atlantic while still being close to the large centres of population in central Scotland, will continue to play a vital role in Scotland’s future defence post-independence.
I thank the Secretary of State. This is like having my very own straight man. Maybe we should take our act on tour. Not only will Faslane continue as the main conventional naval base for us, our allies and our friends, but it will also serve as the tri-service headquarters of an independent Scottish armed forces. The SNP’s plan could not be clearer. The security of the north Atlantic and high north is paramount, and we will work with our allies to improve not just their security, but our own.
The plan has been laid out time and again. The Scottish Government are absolutely committed to the security of our border. I find the patronising tone of the “Better Togetherites” absolutely astonishing, because they seem to think that Scotland is somehow uniquely incapable of defending itself and its people as part of a greater alliance.
It is impressive that the Labour Front Bench has found its voice given that the shadow Secretary of State’s speech lasted five minutes and that she took no interventions. Do not take any lessons from that lot, who do not have a spine among them.
Indeed. I will take no such lectures.
We all know that the United Kingdom’s obsession with being a nuclear power has more to do with politics than with defence. The UK’s so-called independent nuclear deterrent is not really a military weapon; it is a political weapon. It is as political today as it was in 1946 when Ernest Bevin returned from the United States having seen the atomic bomb and enthusiastically declared:
“We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the Union Jack on top of it.”
I will not. Sadly, those words and that sentiment seem to have dictated the thinking not just of the British establishment, but of Conservative and, sadly, Labour politicians ever since.
Let us be honest about it. Having this so-called independent nuclear deterrent is all about allowing the United Kingdom to perpetuate the myth that it is still a world superpower. Judging by the astronomical amounts of money that Members are prepared to spend on these weapons, it seems that there is no price too high. There is no price they will not pay to propagate that delusion. Eye-watering amounts of public money are being poured into weapons of mass destruction at a time when poverty and child poverty are at Dickensian levels and food bank use has never been higher.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no word to describe the sense of betrayal felt by people who formerly supported the Labour party? The Leader of the Opposition was once the head of CND and was committed to ridding the UK of nuclear weapons, but the party now embraces them enthusiastically.
I will let the Leader of the Opposition speak for himself, but I find it astonishing. As a unilateralist, I could never imagine myself suddenly becoming a multilateralist.
This whole debate about the UK’s desire to be a nuclear power, come what may and regardless of cost, has striking similarities to the debate we have been having on Brexit. In both cases, we are seeing a post-imperial power struggling to come to terms with, and find its place in, a changing world. Rather than accepting and being part of that new world, the UK has decided to embark on a desperate search for a better yesterday. The result is that it is almost impossible to have a reasoned debate on nuclear weapons because, for so many in this House, possession of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, has become nothing more than a national virility symbol.
I have always respected people who argue on the principle that we should not have nuclear weapons, but that is not what the SNP is doing. The SNP is arguing that we should give up our weapons, but that it wants to be part of the NATO nuclear alliance, in which it would have to sit on the NATO nuclear planning group and accept the nuclear umbrella of the United States and France. Is that not a rather unprincipled position?
I do not think it is at all. Last time I looked, the last two Secretaries-General of NATO were from Denmark and Norway, both non-nuclear members of the NATO alliance. The logical extension of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is that NATO would somehow shun an independent Scotland due to the stance we have taken. Given the strategic importance of Scotland to the high north and the Arctic, it is inconceivable that NATO would shun an independent Scotland.
No, I will move on.
It remains the case that an astronomical financial commitment is required to pay for these weapons, and the detrimental effect that is having on the UK’s conventional capability is being overlooked. The UK is choosing to pour billions of pounds into having nuclear weapons, which is akin to a mad dad selling off the family silverware and remortgaging the family home so that he can have the Aston Martin he has always fantasised about when all the family needs is a Ford Mondeo. That is the situation we are in.
We are here today to mark 50 years of the United Kingdom’s continuous at-sea deterrent. The world has changed beyond recognition over those 50 years, and all the old certainties of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s have moved on. The threats we face today are more complex and far more nuanced than they have ever been, yet we are being asked to believe that the solution remains the same: a nuclear-armed submarine patrolling the seas 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. It is not the case.
Finally, this is one issue on which the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, the SNP, the Labour party in Scotland, the Greens, the TUC, the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church are all agreed. We oppose nuclear weapons and having them foisted upon us, because Scotland knows that there is absolutely no moral, economic or military case for the United Kingdom possessing nuclear weapons.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to have the opportunity to share with the House and all those who follow our proceedings a little of the unique and extraordinary commitment and sacrifice of those who serve in our Royal Navy’s submarine service, delivering our continuous at-sea deterrent—our silent service.
In the late 1950s it became clear to the US and UK Governments that in order to ensure that those infamous words of Sir Winston Churchill,
“Indestructible retaliation…is the secret”,
could be credible, nuclear deterrence needed to go out to sea, where, as Admiral Arleigh Burke, the then chief of naval operations of the US navy, said
“the real estate is free and where they are far away from me.”
The creation of Polaris meant a deterrent system that could be effective because it was capable, reliable, available and invulnerable, and, most importantly, because there was the political will to use it in extremis. I always describe our nuclear deterrent as the most effective weapon of peace ever created, because by its existence and invulnerability it fulfils the modern function of military force to prevent war. Once the power and destructive force of nuclear weapons had been created, and demonstrated, those charged with trying to maintain global order and peace after two world wars had to find a way to harness the awesome and terrifying power of these weapons to reduce future risks to populations around the world.
We have been running CASD for 50 years, and it happens, at the sharp end, because the submariners who man our strategic deterrent agree to go to sea, below the waves, for 100 days or more at a time, in the harshest of watery environments in the depths of our seas and oceans, in a long metal tube reminiscent of a caravan with no windows. It is cold and pitch black, the sea is unforgiving and corrosive, and there are inordinate pressures on the submarine hull.
I ask Members to consider for a moment that, when the sailor closes the hatches as he enters his vessel, he will not be physically able to open them again until they resurface. The pressure of the water at depth means that once he is in, there is no getting out again until he resurfaces. That happens for months at a time.
What submariners at sea most fear, however, is not the external pressure on their metal tube, the lack of fresh food or milk, the lack of internet or the inability to get Amazon to deliver. What any submariner fears most is fire. The whole submarine will fill instantly with smoke—noxious smoke, creating zero visibility, so they cannot see their hand in front of their face; choking, acrid smoke from burning oil or plastic. The relationship and interdependency between every member of a submarine crew is like that of no other team on earth—or indeed on sea.
They have only themselves to rely on. They eat four meals a day together—frozen, dried or tinned food after using up all the fresh milk, fruit and vegetables over the first few days. They work six hours on, six hours off—every day—and getting into a warm bed for four hours’ sleep is normal, since the previous occupant will have just got out to go back on duty. It is not your average work routine.
We take completely for granted our ability to keep in touch with family and friends, more so than ever nowadays, through text, WhatsApp, email, a quick phone call, popping next door for a coffee with neighbours or nipping to the shops for that thing you ran out of. None of that is possible for those serving in our Royal Navy’s submarine service. They and their family can send and receive one message a week—short, read by the commanding officer and potentially censored. They will not be given the message if someone is ill, or has died, until they get back from the three-month patrol. Lovers develop codes to share their affection, away from prying eyes, with ploys that Alan Turing might have been proud of. Fundamentally, however, submariners on duty on HMS Vengeance, Vanguard, Vigilant or Victorious are out of contact with the rest of the world they are protecting.
For the past 50 years, the greatest unsung heroes of CASD have been and remain, in my humble opinion, the families of those who serve. Being the wife or child of a submariner is a job that most of us will never fully understand or appreciate. These sons and daughters, wives and lovers, parent and grandparents have to be stoic and as committed to their submariner’s service as the sailor himself or, since 2011, herself.
Imagine celebrating children’s birthdays or Christmas without dad and having to remember to plan to celebrate them at another time. For children that represents a displacement of normal routines, which makes no sense to their friends at school, and for partners there are the logistics of thinking about how to include their sailor in the special events of life that happen without them when they are deployed, such as the first day at school, the first tooth, the birth of a baby, parents’ evenings, broken bones from sports matches not cheered on, school plays missed, family events, weddings, funerals, and a child’s first steps and first words.
The sailor misses them, but the partner not only has to experience them without being able to share the joy, the anxiety, the sadness and the grief, but has to remember that when their husband or wife, son or daughter, returns from their tour that these events have happened and need to be shared and re-experienced. The spouse also has to deal with life’s challenges, which cannot be shared because of the silence in communications—things such as broken washing machines, insurance problems, money worries and decisions, problems with the in-laws and family discipline decisions. It is a strange and unique continuous stress, because it is single parenthood some of the time and then not. The spouse has to keep their children’s world stable in a profoundly unstable environment; be able to remain strong alone, going to sleep every night not knowing where their sailor is or being able to tell them that they love them.
For the sailor who has been isolated from all these ordinary normal day-to-day activities, it is a real challenge to return to normal life after 100 days underwater in a pressured tube, living with a nuclear reactor and fellow sailors in very close proximity. Normal life is noisy, full of confusion and complexity, and full of events, news, gossip and change of which they have no knowledge. It falls to their spouse or parent to try to help them adjust back to shore life just for a while before they deploy again.
Submariners man our bombers—the SSBN, or sub-surface ballistic nuclear vessel, as NATO describes it—tour after tour, with some serving below the waves for 20 years. That is extraordinary commitment not only by those who serve, but by their families who silently wait for their return and keep their world going while they are away.
The continuity of delivering our strategic deterrent is critical to doing all we can as key NATO allies to maintain global peace. In the past 50 years, whether the world has been more or less stable, the white ensign has commanded respect and admiration around the globe. The challenge of delivering the continuous strategic deterrent—one achieved by the Royal Navy since HMS Resolution began this continuous deployment rotation— continues to elude many nations’ navies. It requires a commitment from our manpower, from industry’s ability to provide engineering resilience, a political strength in the national psyche and the sheer will to meet all those challenges—every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year since April 1969, which is when I was born.
For the whole of my life there have been submariners willing to serve under the sea, and families willing patiently to wait for their return in order to deliver the continuous at- sea deterrent on our behalf. I pay tribute to every single one of them and thank them for their service to our nation’s security over the past 50 years, as well as to all those who are yet to join the extraordinary ranks of our exceptional, world-class, silent service.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan). I am grateful to her for how she entered into what I think should be the spirit of this debate, by giving us such a vivid account of a submariner’s life underneath the waves and of their families. It was a particularly nice touch that she was dressed as a submariner for the occasion. It is also extraordinary and almost unbelievable that she herself is practically exactly the same age as the practice of continuous at-sea deterrence.
I am glad that she struck that tone, because the SNP spokesman, whom I respect and really quite like, which will probably be to his detriment, suggested that it was misguided of the House to take this time to honour the service and the sacrifice principally of the submariners, but also of their families and many others, in maintaining this policy of continuous at-sea deterrence. This is not the House slapping itself on the back; this is the House paying tribute to this extraordinary service. It does not matter whether one agrees with the policy of nuclear deterrence, it is right that we all say thank you to everyone who has served.
In fairness, I did open my remarks with exactly what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I am sure that he would not want to suggest otherwise. I have no issue with such a debate, but the problem is that this is a backslapping exercise. It is turning into exactly that, and that is what we deprecate, not the service of those who serve in the armed forces.
It is true that the hon. Gentleman gave a tribute at the very beginning, and then went into why this is all a terrible thing. I have to say that, for a party that believes that this debate should not be happening, SNP Members have had an awful lot to say. Well, I say that they have had an awful lot to say—what I meant is that they have taken up a lot of time.
Hang on. It is the job of the Opposition—and I wish Labour would remember this from time to time—to oppose the things that they feel they have to oppose. I know the hon. Gentleman disagrees, but millions of people across the country share our view, and it is right that their voice is represented.
Okay—well, let’s move on.
I want to ensure that this House gives proper thanks to all the workers involved, including shipwrights and engineers. Sometimes manufacturers and engineers in all parts of the United Kingdom—including many hundreds in jobs in Scotland—have no idea that they are contributing to the submarine programme. These are the most cutting-edge, advanced engineering and manufacturing jobs in the world, producing not only the Dreadnought-class submarines that are being developed now, but all the nuclear patrol submarines. These vessels have been built principally at Barrow, but the project has been made possible by what the Secretary of State rightly described as a national endeavour.
Although I recognise that it is difficult, I hope that the Government and the bodies responsible for awarding new medals listen to the campaign that we have launched today for a new service medal for submariners who have been on bomber patrols. We have heard about the service of this group of people, but because of the necessarily secret nature of their work—and because of their achievement in the fact that this operation has been continuous, relentless and ongoing—they have not had the opportunity to be awarded a service medal as many of their colleagues in different parts of the armed forces have for serving in particular conflicts. It would surely be fitting to advance that case as part of these 50th anniversary commemorations—celebrations, if you will. I am grateful to many in this Chamber who have already added their support to the early-day motion that I am tabling today.
Deterrence is not a perfect science. It is impossible to prove categorically what works and what does not when acting in the negative to prevent something else from happening. But I hope that even those who say that it is too expensive for the UK to maintain its submarine fleet would accept that it is no accident that the only time that the horror of nuclear war has been inflicted on the world—in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—was in a world with only one nuclear power, meaning that that nuclear power could unleash that devastation without fear of retribution.
We have to make the case time and again that the reason why the UK continues to invest in its deterrent capability is to make the horror of a nuclear war less likely, not more likely—not simply for ourselves, but for all our NATO allies. Apparently, an independent Scotland would want to remain part of NATO, under the protective umbrella of what would become an English, Welsh and Northern Irish deterrent, while casting aspersions from over the border about how morally repugnant it is that we are maintaining this service and keeping Scotland safe. I think that is the SNP’s policy, but it is still quite hard to ascertain. It is possible, perhaps, that it believes that no one should have nuclear weapons—that America should take them away as well, and that we should leave ourselves at the mercy of nuclear blackmail from Russia.
Was it not a misunderstanding when the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) said in response to my earlier intervention that the last two Secretaries-General of NATO came from non-nuclear nations? They do not possess nuclear weapons themselves, but they are part of a nuclear alliance. Also, if an independent Scotland was to join NATO, it would have to sit on the NATO nuclear planning group, which determines NATO nuclear policy.
Absolutely. Is the SNP’s position that NATO should cease to be a nuclear alliance? If so, how would that make us safer from Russia given what we know about its aggressive stance under President Putin and the way that it is proliferating, in contravention of the non-proliferation treaty, in a way that UK is not? Or is the SNP’s position actually that we should leave it all to the Americans, and that although we do not accept the hegemony of American global power in any other form, we are fine just to sit underneath their nuclear umbrella here? That is not a responsible position, but unfortunately it is one that we hear far too often.
I am a great admirer of the shadow Defence team for the way that they have battled to try to keep Labour’s policy, on the face of it, sensible. They have been huge allies over the years. However, we cannot escape the fact that the Leader of the Opposition remains implacably opposed to the use of the deterrent, which renders it, at a stroke—
Is not the essence of nuclear deterrence that if you have nuclear weapons you have to be prepared to say that you will use them, and does not someone who says that they will never use them under any circumstances undermine the essence of that deterrence policy?
They do, absolutely. It makes it very hard to imagine why a future Labour Government would continue to pour in the billions of pounds that would be needed to maintain the deterrent once they had rendered it useless.
Let me once again thank the people of Barrow, in particular, for the amazing work that they have done in serving the nation for over 100 years of the nuclear submarine, 50 of which have maintained our policy of continuous at-sea deterrence.
I am very grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have caught your eye in this important debate, first as a member of the Defence Committee, but also, more importantly in this context, because my father, Reginald Francois, was a naval veteran, although he served on minesweepers—as did the Chairman of the Defence Committee, incidentally—rather than as a submariner.
The silent service, or the men who wear dolphins, as they are sometimes referred to, are part of the elite of the Royal Navy—itself the senior service—and have played a fundamental part in the defence of this country for over 100 years, since submarines first went into action in the first world war. The history of the Royal Navy submarine service since the end of the second world war was brilliantly summarised by Lord Peter Hennessy and James Jinks in their recent book, “The Silent Deep”, which tells a story of immense professionalism, bravery and courage, not least during the difficult and tense periods of the cold war when submarines regularly travelled up “around the corner”, as it was known in the submarine service, to conduct surveillance on their Soviet counterparts based on the Kola peninsula. As a senior naval officer reminded me recently, President Putin’s father was a submariner, and that is one of the reasons why the Russian submarine service now benefits from such massive reinvestment. The book is an inspiring tale of men—and now, rightly, women too—who have given unstinting service to their country down the decades and have helped to keep us free.
An epitome of this is the crews of our deterrent submarines: first, the Resolution class armed with the Polaris missile and then its later Chevaline upgrade; and then the Vanguard class armed with the Trident D5 missile. Because of the delays in the decision to proceed with the Dreadnought class, which many have referred to, those vessels are now likely to serve for up to 37 years— 13 years longer than their original design life—to maintain CASD. [Interruption.] Forgive me, gentlemen, but take it into the Tea Room next door if you do not want to listen.
While I was Minster for the Armed Forces a few years ago, I had the privilege of visiting one of the submarines based at Faslane. I remember being taken aboard by the submarine’s commander and walking across the missile casings while boarding the boat. I was very conscious of the massive destructive power sitting beneath my feet. It was fascinating to be taken on a tour of one of these boats and to have the opportunity to meet members of the highly specialised and extremely dedicated crew who are part of Operation Relentless.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) pointed out so well, these sailors have been prepared to be parted from their families for months at a time, maintaining a lonely but vital vigil in the ocean depths, ready to unleash, if ultimately necessary, unacceptable levels of destruction on any potential enemy, and in so doing helping to deter them and to keep us free. We must never take those very special people or their stoic families for granted, and we should remember that there are retention issues in the service. Ministers must be mindful of that if we are to maintain CASD in the future.
Some members of CND have, in the past, argued that we have spent a great deal of money on something we will never use. Like others, including the previous Secretary of State, I believe that the reverse is true: we use this system every single day to provide the ultimate guarantee of our national security. Therefore it is only right, and it is not backslapping, that on the 50th anniversary of these vital patrols, we in the House of Commons have an opportunity to pay heartfelt thanks to and admire the dedication of those who have manned these boats so professionally on our behalf down the years.
Part of the continuous at-sea deterrent programme involves having nuclear attack boats, on occasion, to protect the deterrent submarines. That duty will increasingly fall to the Astute class of SSNs. The Astutes are incredibly capable boats, at least on a par with the new Virginia class in the United States and arguably even better, thus making them the most effective attack submarines in the world. However, that capability does not come cheap, with a current price of around £1.25 billion per boat.
Unfortunately, the history of the Astute programme has been a chequered one, with both cost escalation and chronic delays in the production of the boats. Sadly, it is true to say that BAE Systems—I am not looking to enrage the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock)—has not covered itself in glory on the Astute class. Unfortunately, neither has Rolls-Royce, whose transfer of the production of the nuclear steam raising plant across Derby to its Raynesway facility cost some two years’ delay in delivering the reactors, which had a major knock-on effect on the timeliness of the whole programme.
As a result of the delays to the Astute, there have been serious issues with the availability of British SSNs over the past five to 10 years. I reassure the Secretary of State that I will not discuss classified matters on the Floor of the House, but suffice it to say that when our friends from the north have come visiting, we have not always been prepared to welcome them in the way that we should.
The right hon. Gentleman was here when I spoke, and one of the issues was that the Conservative Government in the 1990s did not order submarines and turned off the skill base and investment that were needed. Is that not a lesson we should learn for the future, rather than just blaming BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce?
I will meet the right hon. Gentleman halfway. It is true that the delay in orders had an effect—I am not denying that—but there were also management issues.
The delays to the Astute have had the unfortunate effect that the venerable Trafalgar class of SSNs has had to be run on at considerable cost. The final Trafalgar is due to leave service in around 2022 and the seventh Astute boat is not due to enter service until 2024. In fairness, to respond to the right hon. Gentleman’s point, I know that the senior management of BAE, right up to and including the chief executive, are fully aware of the problems with the programme and have taken executive action to try to address them. I hope they will continue to apply pressure to bring the boats into service as soon as possible. It is vital that we learn the hard lessons from the Astute programme to make sure that the Dreadnought programme runs effectively to both time and cost; the defence of the realm demands no less.
I wish to pay full tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy who have selflessly carried out their vital task for 50 years so that those of us in the United Kingdom can sleep safely in our beds at night. We owe a great debt to those who wear dolphins, and it is appropriate that we salute them in the House of Commons this afternoon. We are not backslapping; we stand here in admiration.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) said that he did not want to get involved in struggles with chimney-sweeps, which seemed somehow a nod towards the concept of deterrence. However, as I am afraid is normal for contributions from the Scottish National party, he spent most of his speech attacking Labour party policy and the Labour party. It was more about internal politics in Scotland, I feel, than the national issue we are discussing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) made an excellent speech reaffirming current Labour party policy, in line with long-standing party policy and indeed the bipartisan policy of British Governments of both parties. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) drew attention to the Attlee-Bevan Government’s record in developing the nuclear deterrent; not, as seems to have been implied, in some bombastic gesture but in response to being cut off from nuclear information by the McMahon Act. They had to decide whether Britain was to maintain an independent capability, and they made the right decision.
Today we are discussing the 50th anniversary of HMS Resolution, built under the Wilson Government, which first sailed in April 1969. As has been mentioned, under the last Labour Government, a resolution of this House was carried overwhelmingly to renew that capability. It is only a shame, as I said in interventions, that the Cameron coalition Government did not go through with that. That caused considerable delay and dislocation not only to the industry but to the operation of the CASD, which had to be maintained at considerably increased maintenance costs.
That, frankly, only reinforces my view of the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron: deep down, he was shallow. There was very little there. He believed in very little, and he allowed himself to be dragged around by the Liberal Democrats while they pursued all sorts of fanciful alternatives for maintaining a nuclear deterrent, whether land-based or cruise missiles. It is interesting today that while there have been genuine and proper disagreements about whether we should have a nuclear deterrent at all, there has been no mention of those fanciful alternatives that were basically a way of kicking the can down the road. That seems to have been the default setting of Conservative Governments since 2010.
I wonder if there is something we could agree on: the decision taken by Cameron and Osborne to depart from Labour’s practice of having funding for this programme outside of the Defence budget. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that was the right or wrong thing to do?
I could wax lyrical about the deficiencies of George Osborne’s stewardship of the Treasury, but probably not within the time allowed. I move on to the broader issue. My right hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the view that the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the cold war rendered deterrence—and much of conventional defence—redundant. We had “Options for Change”, with huge dislocations. Frankly, when I came into the Defence Ministry in 1997, we were still dealing with the aftermath. If, however, we leave on one side any points about the issues then, it is now absolutely clear that a complacent attitude is no longer tenable. State and non-state threats have increased, are increasing, and need to be confronted and contained. Threats are a combination—are they not?—of capability, intention and doctrine. What we are seeing from Russia is a worrying and alarming increase in activity in all those areas. We are seeing the clear development of a nuclear doctrine in Russia, including in short-range, non-strategic nuclear weapons in the form of the Gerasimov doctrine.
The Defence Committee report, “Missile Misdemeanours: Russia and the INF Treaty”, goes into some detail about the several and continuing breaches of the INF treaty by Russia. Such breaches were agreed by all NATO states at the recent meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, who made it very clear that, frankly, Russia is tearing up that agreement. Indeed, in response to the United States calling it out on this, Russia has also moved away from that treaty. I must say that that may have worrying implications for the strategic arms reduction treaty negotiations on strategic weapons, and we should be arguing—in NATO, but also in other forums—for maintaining those discussions. If Ronald Reagan could come to many such agreements, quite frankly, the United States should now be able to do so. Let us be clear, however, who is the prime instigator in breaching these agreements—it is Russia.
One of the things that worries me sometimes about these debates, including on the INF, is that for me they are very reminiscent of the time of the cruise missiles issue. People campaigned in this country against cruise missiles, and I always found it slightly perverse that they were more concerned with campaigning against the missiles pointing in the other direction than with campaigning against the SS-20s pointing in our direction. Those missiles were changing the strategic balance in Europe, which was why leading social democrat figures, such as Helmut Schmidt, were arguing for cruise missiles to maintain the balance and therefore to maintain peace in Europe, and were showing resolution in doing so.
We are also seeing such activities away from the nuclear field. We are seeing a preparedness to use force in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as cyber-attacks on the Baltic countries and massive exercises within the Baltic region. We have to be clear that, while nuclear is awful and almost unimaginable, conventional warfare is also awful. That was summed up by General Sherman in the 19th century when he said that “War is hell”. Yes, we all remember the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that conflict also saw the firebombing of Tokyo, in which hundreds of thousands died, and the bombings of Hamburg and of Dresden, let alone the bombings on our own soil.
Quite the opposite: I am saying that warfare results in devastation and a huge loss of life, as indeed we are seeing in Syria today. The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) drew attention to the seminal work of Sir Michael Quinlan on nuclear strategy, and one of the points he made very strongly in all his works was that conventional warfare, particularly with modern technology, has awful consequences. We must therefore try to contain, if not abolish, warfare, and rather than just focus on one aspect of warfare, that is the important issue we have to address.
Some believe that maintaining the peace is achieved by disarmament or by pacifism. I argue that history demonstrates that peace is better maintained by preparedness and vigilance. That is why continuous at-sea deterrence has been so critical in keeping the peace for the past 50 years and why we owe so much to those who operate it around the clock and those who build it and maintain it around the country. It may be a silent service, but this anniversary gives us the opportunity to both acknowledge and praise it.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow what I thought was an excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar). He sums up the ethical as well as the practical case for why we need a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.
This has been a really good debate. I praise my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Defence Committee, who set out very crisply why we need to do this and why it is so much in our strategic interest to make sure we have this level of protection. The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) referred to “The Silent Deep” by Hennessy and Jinks. That excellent book sets out the debt we owe to: the technological brilliance of scientists and engineers; the political resolve of successive Governments and diplomats to ensure we acquire the technology; and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) pointed out, the personal courage, sacrifice and professionalism of thousands of submariners and their families down the decades. Even as we speak, our forces are keeping us safe. As we sleep tonight, they will be keeping us safe. That is a debt that we can never really adequately repay and the least we can do is spend time in this House today to put on record our gratitude and thanks for their service.
Churchill referred to the Spitfire as a machine of colossal and shattering power. These submarines, in their own way, are our modern answer to that. It is a power that we all hope and pray will never have to be unleashed, but as the right hon. Member for Warley pointed out, the mere fact of its existence makes not just nuclear but all war less likely. If we think about the 1960s and 1970s and the superpower conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, it seems to me that it is almost inevitable at some point that that would have flared into a conflict had it not been prevented by the fact that the consequences of that conflict would have been unthinkable. The act of crossing into West Berlin would have come at too high a price to pay. That remains, still, the fundamental basis for why we need the deterrent.
In the world we live in today, Theodore Roosevelt’s adage to “walk softly and carry a big stick” seems never to have been more apposite. There is the presence, we must acknowledge, of real evil in our world. It is intense and increasingly unpredictable. Whether it be Iran, North Korea or Russia, we all know that there are malign forces in this world who will not act by the rules that we act by, who will not live by the values that we live by, and who set very little value in the sanctity or dignity of human life. That is what we are up against. That is the choice that, as democratic politicians in one of the most powerful countries in the world, it behoves us to make. We would be failing not just ourselves but the rest of the world were we to duck that responsibility.
There was a window in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union when we heard much talk about the peace dividend, but I am a great believer in what Vice-President Cheney said when he said that the “only dividend of peace is peace”. We should not in any way to attempt to do defence on the cheap, or without the resources and tools to make sure we can keep ourselves safe. That is why it is so welcome that the decision to launch the Successor class programme has been made. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) pointed out, it is crucial that we get regular updates and focus on continuing that programme at pace. We cannot afford further slippage. Frankly, we are already at the limit of what we can expect the Vanguard class to continue to deliver.
It is also why we have brave Labour MPs on the Opposition Benches making the case for why we need the strategic nuclear deterrent. This is not a debate for partisanship.
I am absolutely delighted that the right hon. Gentleman regards this as an item of faith and that it will be pursued. However, the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Chancellor, the shadow Home Secretary and indeed, the shadow Defence Secretary voted against the motion of 18 July 2016 in which this House pledged to renew the deterrent, so there is a question over this. Anyone who has seen—certainly in my part of the world—the actions of Labour activists and the noises they make will know that they do not suggest that this is in any way a question settled beyond doubt. That is important and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Warley for making that case. This should come from both traditions.
I know that it has become Tory party policy for there to be a pick and mix on which policy Members support, but one thing I would say about the Leader of the Opposition is that he has made it very clear since becoming leader that he sees the primacy of Labour party conference policy.
On that note of great unity, let us resolve the matter there. I very much hope that the Leader of the Opposition is listening to this debate and that he heeds the wise words of the right hon. Gentleman.
Quite simply, there is no value to someone being morally pure if they are dead. That is something that we need to underscore time and again in this debate. Our way of life in the west—compassionate, sometimes chaotic, but above all, free—is underpinned only by the security of our defences. That is the ultimate litmus test of our ability to continue to live our lives free in the way that we want to. We owe a debt to those people, who are, frankly, unheralded and very often forgotten about, including by me—I cannot be alone in taking it totally for granted that we have that deterrent ability. When we think about what it requires of the sailors involved and their families to live that life day in, day out, for years, it brings home how much they have contributed. The fact that we have not had another nuclear weapon deployed since 1945 is not an accident; it is precisely because of the principle of deterrence. I think that principle will endure, because I can see no way in which these weapons can be uninvented, and therefore, I see no realistic situation in which we will ever be able to totally disarm.
To answer the Scottish nationalists’ point, the United Kingdom does maintain the minimum possible deterrent consistent with being able to deploy it as required. We are not in any way reckless about it. I absolutely pray that we never have to use it, but the point stands that we must make the message very clear to the rest of the world that we would use it if this country or our allies were attacked in such a barbarous fashion. That applies not only to direct nuclear attack, but to biological and chemical weapons, because those are weapons that need to be understood to be abhorrent and we must have the ability to counteract them if required.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong when he says that the Government are not reckless. They have not decommissioned a nuclear submarine since 1980. The National Audit Office said last week that the UK is at risk of becoming an irresponsible nuclear power, so he is just wrong when he says that.
This debate is about the principle of deterrence. On the decommissioning of the boats—[Interruption.] On the decommissioning of the boats, the MOD will make provision to make sure that they are put away, but the point about this debate is—[Interruption.] That is under way. The point is that we have—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, I am getting heckled—
The principle of the debate is about whether we should have the nuclear deterrent. The Scottish nationalists, for a mixture of bizarre self-loathing of this country and political opportunism—[Interruption.] No. I am proud to come from a country that will defend ourselves and our allies. If that is good enough for the United Kingdom, it is certainly good enough for Scotland. The only negative tone in this entire debate has been injected, by common accord, by SNP Members. They are the only ones who want to divide the House—
No, I will not give way. I have had enough negative carping from a bunch of people who, frankly, bring great discredit upon their own country by their constant negativity and the way in which they are the sole dissenting voice in a country that otherwise widely recognises our responsibilities to ourselves and others to stand up for what we believe in. If they will not do it, I certainly will.
In this resolve, we must never falter, because in the end there are those relying on us not to falter in our duties. We must not falter in our duty of gratitude and respect nor in our duty to uphold the military covenant to those who discharge this duty on our behalf. We are very fortunate to have them, and we are very fortunate to have the deterrent. Long may it continue.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke).
I want to make a couple of what I consider to be very important points, but let me begin by saying that I think it is really good that the British Parliament is discussing this fundamental issue. I have agreed with most of the speeches that I have heard today—although I have disagreed with the Scottish National party—but I think it important for us to recognise that we sometimes need that clash of views, that clash of opinions, in order to establish better public policy. I say that as someone who utterly supports the continuous at-sea deterrent. However, I also strongly believe that it is representative of, and to an extent a political declaration of, the importance of our country on the world stage.
I have no problem at all with stating that view. It is not an old-fashioned view, as was suggested earlier, and it is not a view that Members should somehow not be proud of expressing in this Parliament. We are a senior member of NATO, we are a senior power in the world, and we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Those are fundamental matters for our country, and they bring with them fundamental responsibilities. In my opinion—which is not held by everyone in the Chamber—those responsibilities mean something when it comes to military deployment, diplomacy, and our view of the world. I think that our country makes a massive contribution to stability and peace in many parts of the world, and part of that contribution is the deterrent.
I was very pleased that the Secretary of State—and, indeed, many other Members—observed that we spend a lot of time in this Parliament simply asserting the need for the deterrent. We do not argue the case. We do not take on, in a proper, intellectual way, those who oppose it. We simply dismiss their opposition, and I think that that is wrong. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), it is perfectly possible, and feasible, and a philosophy that some people support, that having a nuclear deterrent is fundamentally wrong. We should accept that philosophy and argue with it, rather than simply dismissing it.
I think that some of the arguments that have been advanced are very important, but I also think that the argument has to be won in our country again. I have to tell the Minister, as someone who supports the deterrent, that mine is not a view held universally across the country. [Interruption.] Not just in Scotland, but throughout the UK, there are people—people in my own party, people in my own family, people in my own community—who do not agree with what I am saying. They will ask me, for example, “Vernon, how does having nuclear weapons defend us against terrorism?” Well, of course they are not meant to defend us against terrorism, but it is no good just saying that; it is necessary to argue it.
We have other ways of defending ourselves against terrorism, through, for instance, special forces, policing and Prevent. However, as many other Members have said, we are witnessing a rise in the activities of Russia and other states, and not simply rogue states. We used to say, “There are rogue states: what happens if North Korea…?” However, it is not about that; it is about what is actually happening in the state of Russia, which, as far as I can see, is a very real threat to our country, to western Europe and to democracy. But we have to explain that, and put that point of view.
Many of my constituents do not see Russia as a threat, in terms of its using nuclear weapons against us, and do not understand why we have to have nuclear weapons in order to deter it. It is therefore incumbent on people like me to say that it is important for the stability of the alliance—the stability on which NATO vis-à-vis Russia works—that that nuclear deterrent is in place. I think that the concept of mutually assured destruction does bring stability, but it is necessary to argue that constantly.
Similarly, I understand where the SNP is coming from, and I think it is perfectly legitimate to challenge them, and to say, “You may have a non-nuclear policy in terms of Scotland, but how does that fit with membership of the NATO alliance?” That is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. It is not dismissing what they are saying, but it is a challenge.
It is not only people in this Parliament who challenge that. Scottish National party Members know that at their conference in 2012, people resigned from the party because they saw it as a betrayal of policy to hold that a non-nuclear Scotland could still be a member of NATO, as NATO was a nuclear alliance. Indeed, one person said:
“I cannot belong to a party that quite rightly does not wish to hold nuclear weapons on its soil but wishes to join a first-strike nuclear alliance.”
That is a challenge to the SNP. I am not condemning that, but that is a challenge. Members of the SNP will have that argument within the party. All I am saying is, I believe in a continuous at-sea deterrent, and therefore it is important that I argue why I think that brings stability to our country.
President Obama made a brilliant speech in Prague, which inspired the world, in which he talked about global zero. He said he wanted a world where nuclear weapons did not exist. The challenge for people like me, and the challenge for this Parliament, and for the Defence Secretary, the Chair of the Defence Committee and all my hon. Friends, is, do we share that ambition? When has this Parliament ever debated how we re-energise, re-enthuse the drive for multilateral nuclear disarmament?
The Secretary of State rightly pointed to the fact that the last Labour Government and this Government, to be fair, have reduced the number of nuclear weapons and nuclear warheads. Who has got a clue that we have done that? The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will condemn any possession of nuclear weapons. That is a reasonable position to adopt. As for those of us who support that deterrent, how often have we gone out and explained to the British public that we believe that we can still defend our own country, but we can do it with fewer warheads, fewer missiles, in our submarines? That is a challenge as well.
How do we re-energise the non-proliferation treaty? How do we re-energise multilateral talks? These are big strategic questions for our country—even if there was an independent Scotland, they are massive strategic questions for us, and for NATO. When do we ever debate that, rather than simply hurl accusations at one another? There is a real need for that debate. I say to the Defence Secretary, how do we re-energise those non-proliferation talks, that non-proliferation treaty? Do we really mean that we want a multilateral process that leads to global zero?
On that issue—a good issue—of how we revitalise multilateral talks, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we would have a better chance if our Government had taken up their potential seat at the negotiations for the UN ban treaty, which had 122 countries supporting it? That is multilateral; it is exactly multilateral. Why were we not there?
There is a debate to be had about whether that is multilateral or not.
I believe that we are a global power. I think we are a global force for good—I am not ashamed to say that—and as part of that, our possession of nuclear weapons is accepted in the non-proliferation treaty. We legally hold those weapons, and that contributes, in my view, to global stability and peace. Alongside that, we need to be more assertive in the way that we explain that to the British public. In addition, there is a price to be paid by the Government, hon. Members and this Parliament, which is that we must drive forward on multilateral disarmament, and really mean it when we say, as President Obama did, that we want a world that is completely free of nuclear weapons. We can achieve that, but we do it together, not on our own.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). I note his very positive and passionate input into the debate.
The United Kingdom has a very proud naval tradition spanning several centuries. Various classes of ships and, more recently, modern submarines, together with their highly trained crews and enhanced weaponry systems, have served to protect our island nation and its people effectively, either offensively or defensively as the intelligence gathering and assessments of risks and dynamics determine. I trust that the Royal Navy’s stated aim to be guardians and diplomats remains to the fore. I hope it will be a stabilising influence, preventing rather than engaging in conflict, unless needs must. Then and only then will it be used as a last resort.
The former battleship, HMS Dreadnought, was in 1915 the only one of its class to ram and sink an enemy submarine, proving itself to be a powerful deterrent. That is perhaps why a later UK submarine bore the name Dreadnought as a continuing stark reminder of powerful deterrence. The Royal Navy’s ballistic missile submarines have kept the United Kingdom and its people safe for the past half century. The Dreadnought programme maintains the UK’s posture of continuous at-sea deterrent. It will replace the Vanguard class in or around the 2030s, initially with the existing Trident missiles. It is worthy of note—this has been said before—that since 2010, the Government have reduced the number of operational warheads available to our submarines. I believe that is a step in the right direction.
We are proud that the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent is located in Scotland at Her Majesty’s naval base on the Clyde. For some, that may be controversial; others may experience a form of military nimbyism. However, the facility provides significant employment opportunities. I understand that by 2020, Scotland is set to host the entire Royal Navy submarine fleet. That will potentially increase the number of military and civilian employees from approximately 6,800 to a staggering 8,500 in Argyll and Bute.
Even if the hon. Gentleman’s figures about the number of people directly involved in the Trident programme are correct, the renewal programme will cost £200 billion. For 6,000 jobs, or whatever figure he cited, that works out at more than £29 million per employee. That is quite an expensive job creation scheme.
I think the point that my hon. Friend is making is that we cannot put a price on safety, security and the ability to sleep at night. Those people give their lives to keep us safe, and there is an impact on their families. It is a peripheral benefit that there are jobs for the people of Scotland. I find it demeaning that the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) says that that is not a fair price to pay.
The word we are looking for when we talk about the protection of our country and its people is “priceless”.
It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the delayed safe disposal of the end-of-life nuclear submarines, which have been mentioned. It has been some time; that point was well made. I understand that the Government are in constructive negotiations to resolve that somewhat belated, but very important, project. I am sure they will do so, because we have to resolve it.
I am sure it will come as no surprise that I am not privy to those discussions and conversations. [Interruption.] My goodness me! I am entitled to talk. Is the hon. Gentleman taking away that entitlement of fellow parliamentarians now? What a question to the MOD!
Order. Can we restore some semblance of politeness to this debate? It is an important debate, and it was going quite well. I do not want the other end of the Chamber to descend into a shouting match. I really mean that. It is important that we discuss this important issue and respect each other’s views.
I apologise if I have caused any inconvenience to the Chamber this afternoon.
What is most important in this debate is that I, as a proud Scot, a proud parliamentarian and a proud Unionist, pass on my thanks and those of many others to the submariners, past and present, for keeping us safe for half a century, all day, every day, for 18,250 consecutive days. They are rightly proud of that record, and we should be proud of them.
I hope that the Minister agrees that we should never lose sight of the focus of the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and that he can confirm today that it remains the UK’s long-term goal to be part of a world without nuclear weapons.
When I rose to make my maiden speech on 1 July 2015, I touched on the Trident programme, because it is close to my heart. In fact, it is very close to my constituency. At the time, I mentioned that Trident seemed to be a bit of an abstract concept. People know it is out there, but they do not know what it is, how much it costs, how much it cannot be used and what it is actually doing as a deterrent.
If you stand on the shore of my constituency, you will often see Vanguard class submarines moving silently through the deep waters. They catch the sunlight, which shimmers along their long, sleek, black bodies as they cut through the surface of the water. Their colour may suggest giant eels, but they lack the elegance. They are, however, engineering marvels. It takes some doing to fire a missile from beneath the water’s surface, project it through the water until it breaks free, and manage two controlled explosions that project the missile to a pre-defined target where ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads are released and either explode on impact or are exploded automatically at the required height to cause maximum death and destruction. Mankind has never lacked ingenuity when it comes to inventing ways of killing each other. I cannot help but wonder what else we could have achieved with all that time, effort, ingenuity and money.
The issue we have is that successive Governments of the United Kingdom have supported and expanded the nuclear weapons programme at eye-watering cost. Why? When I sit in the House of Commons, I talk to many Members who support Trident. I can tell them that these weapons can kill tens of millions of people. But they know that. I can tell them that the watershed will be poisoned, crops will fail and many more will die in the most degrading ways from famine, pestilence and plague. But they know that. I can share stories of survivors, such as Setsuko Thurlow, who told me of people falling to the ground, bellies extended and bursting as they hit the ground, of people trying to carry their own eyes that had fallen out of their heads, and of people with their flesh falling off their bones as they died in agony.
I can also tell Members that WMD have not stopped wars across the globe from Vietnam to Afghanistan. But they know that. I can tell them that WMD are no protection from terrorism. But they know that. I can tell them that the £205 billion could be spent on health, education, housing, transport or even financing our conventional armed forces. But they know that too.
The majority of supporters of WMD are just like me with one vital difference. They believe that WMD are a deterrent. They believe their existence has kept us safe. As those weapons have existed during a period in which we have avoided wars on the scale of the first and second world wars, I can see where they are coming from. If people believe that keeping their guard up is keeping them safe, then lowering their guard is a frightening thing to do. In this case, they are so frightened that they are prepared to carry out the greatest atrocity humankind has ever perpetrated, and have it done in their name. Well, not in my name. Not all countries believe that nuclear warfare is required. Maybe as many as nine countries feel the need to have nuclear weapons, out of 200.
I make one point for the hon. Gentleman’s consideration—one could say exactly the same thing about poison gas, which was used in the first world war and not in the second. It was not used in the second because of fear of overwhelming retaliation. The British warned that we had those stocks and that we would retaliate not only on our own behalf but on behalf of our allies such as Russia. The question is, which keeps the peace?
We could say that about almost any weapon that we have managed to invent. The threat escalates because such weapons exist. We sit in this Chamber to debate all sorts of subjects, which we sometimes try to do in a fairly amicable manner. If that escalated and went beyond debate, it could turn to violence—but it does not, because we respect each other, we back off and we discuss it. We say to kids in the streets, “Don’t carry knives. If you are carrying one and I’m carrying one, someone will get stabbed.” We talk to those kids, saying, “Don’t carry those weapons”, and yet here in this place our attitude towards ending war is to escalate the weapons that people can carry.
My hon. Friend makes a point about weapons being available. Does he agree with the statement of the United Nations Canberra Commission:
“So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design...It is sheer luck that the world has escaped such catastrophe until now”?
I absolutely endorse that statement. I find it ironic that we are debating this as we head out of the most effective peacekeeping organisation in Europe, the European Union. When we sit down with representatives of foreign countries on a day-to-day basis to discuss all things political, that breeds understanding and co-operation. It generates trade and mutually beneficial outcomes. We can travel and experience life through others’ eyes. We can experience their culture and values. We gain better understanding of them and of ourselves. That is a deterrent; that leads to peace.
Threats just lead to the escalation of threats. That is why some feel the need to replace and upgrade our WMD systems, but all that does is to put us into an upward spiral of mistrust and an ever increasing cost to maintain and develop our deterrent. We have 20 submarines that require decommissioning at an estimated cost of £7.5 billion. Since the end of the cold war, the ballistic missiles that would carry the nuclear payload have not been targeted at any specified location, which raises the question of the legality of the commanding officer giving the go to launch the missile when he does not know the target, and so does not know if it is legal—yet we ask him to do that.
We must ask serious questions of the existing system and its proposed replacement. The advent of underwater drone technologies and cyber-capabilities could render submarine-based nuclear systems obsolete. Can we guarantee that those weapons could not be turned on us by advanced cyber-attacks?
It cannot be denied that manufacturers of submarines, missiles and ancillary components of the Trident programme have created and supported many jobs over the years, and that people employed in the sector have a right to express concerns about their employment futures. However, those people should not be held to ransom or financially blackmailed. It is not beyond the wit of man to utilise some of the existing skillsets and to retrain others for a conventional navy, one that is fit for purpose to defend a unique coastline and the waters of the United Kingdom—currently, we do not have one.
That is what we shall do in an independent Scotland: remove the Trident programme and replace it with a military base at Faslane and Coulport, one that fits the needs of a small independent nation situated in northern Europe in the 21st century and employs the same workforce. We would actively work towards creating a more stable planet, where peace, love and understanding are valued more than weapons of mass destruction.
I am grateful to be able to follow the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). I respect the passion and conviction that he brings to these arguments, but I fundamentally disagree with him. The debate was opened superbly by the Secretary of State. His predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), gave an outstanding speech, as did someone we could rightly call President Moon, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon).
I rise to speak in this debate because it relates to a matter of principle for me and many of my colleagues. We have heard many things from SNP Members during the hours of this debate, but I assure the House that they do not speak for Scotland. The SNP is not Scotland, and its Members do not speak for the majority of Scots.
It is the first and most important duty of the state to ensure the safety and security of our country, and my firm belief and contention is that the continuous at-sea deterrent is essential to that. There is a clear moral case for it and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) made that case in a superb speech, so I do not intend to go over the same ground. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that we are safe as a country and ensure not only that the peace is preserved, but that the cause of peace is promoted in the world. Peace is preserved through strength and threatened by weakness. That is the lesson of history.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The fact of the matter is that the possession of nuclear weapons by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and other western countries in NATO is the peacemaker. That is the deciding factor for other countries not to attack. Being a nuclear power brings peace, but that fact has been lost in this debate by some in this Chamber.
As I will say later on, we are a peacekeeper and peacemaker because of our commitment to freedom and its defence. We are protected and insured against aggression by our collective will and our collective commitment to stay strong, but we must be prepared to commit resources to that end. While we are rightly proud of our armed forces, which are the undoubtedly the best in the world—I have heard the Defence Secretary on several occasions say that they represent the best of us and the best of our Union—and proud of their operational capabilities and reach, I worry that they are simply not big enough for everything we ask of them. I remind the House, although it needs little reminder, that behind our men and women in the Queen’s uniform there are families.
Scotland’s national motto—the House will forgive my schoolboy Latin—is “Nemo me impune lacessit,” which, appropriately for this debate, means, “No one provokes me with impunity.” In Scots, we might say, “Wha daur meddle wi’ me?” Our strength is not only our defence, but defence to our friends and allies in NATO, and the hon. Member for Bridgend spoke so well about the importance of the combined strengths of NATO’s members. The UK is not a warmonger. We take our nuclear non-proliferation obligations seriously and remain committed, as a country, to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) made an outstanding contribution on that point.
However, the nuclear arsenal is a vital part of western defence under the NATO umbrella. We enjoy a hard-won peace, and there has been no recent major state-on-state conflict, principally because of the strength of resolve of the members of NATO, to which I am proud that we contribute. Aggressors need to know that they will face consequences. Our love of peace should not be misinterpreted by anyone. We are resolved to protect it by being strong in the deployment of soft power through diplomacy and hard power through our armed forces. Our security is put at risk by those who would simply dismantle such capabilities. We should not glory in weapons systems. This country, rightly, does not parade its missiles, as some countries do, but we should not be ashamed of our nuclear stance.
The Leader of the Opposition, who has always opposed nuclear weapons from a position of principle, would put our country at risk if he ever sat in 10 Downing Street. Anyone aspiring to this country’s greatest office of government should be prepared to put our national security front and centre, and anyone who aspires to that job must accept the important place of the nuclear deterrent in our defensive formation.
The SNP position is clearer than Labour’s, and the position derives from the party’s position on independence. The House needs to understand that, for the past few years, the SNP has been busy trying to build a wide coalition of support in Scotland to break up the United Kingdom, and it is doing that by pivoting, contorting and doing whatever it has to do to mop up as much support as possible.
It is not so long ago that the SNP was not just not in favour of NATO but was anti-NATO, and Alex Salmond persuaded his followers that they needed to be more realistic about the mood of the most conservative nation in these British Isles, namely the Scots, who would never wear the idea of us walking away from our obligations and responsibilities to other free people in the world. He persuaded the party that it needed to embrace the idea of NATO, and it now has this half-hearted position of saying that it would be in NATO on certain conditions. But those conditions would make Scotland an unsuitable and inappropriate member of NATO. There are many principled proponents of disarmament in the SNP.
I will do everything in my power to make sure that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. Until my last breath, I will make the argument for my country remaining part of the most successful Union in hundreds of years.
I am running out of time, so I simply say that I have great respect for those who serve in our armed forces. I have met many submariners and former submariners, and I cannot but be impressed by their courage and resolve. The life these people have chosen to lead in defence of our country is one of sacrifice and commitment. They are at sea for many months, separated from family and friends, in cramped and, I would say, claustrophobic conditions.
There is no doubt in my mind about the need for a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. The world has changed and will continue to change, but the insurance policy of our nuclear submarine fleet and the missiles and weapons it carries is still an essential part of our national defence. We enjoy a hard-won peace, but it is a watchful peace that requires eternal vigilance by our submariners, armed forces and security forces, and they deserve the support of our nation’s Parliament.
I start by declaring an interest. My husband served on Trident submarines for most of his 17-year service in the Royal Navy. His final post before retiring was as the weapon engineer officer on HMS Victorious. He brought her through refit in Devonport and sea trials from Faslane, and he carried out the firing during the 2009 demonstration and shakedown operation off the coast of Florida. There are rumours that jelly babies are consumed during nuclear firing chain message authentications, but that is not something he would confirm before this debate.
Following the DASO firing, Victorious re-entered full service and, following an extremely busy year, the crew carried out a deterrence patrol over Christmas 2009. It gives me great pleasure to say that my granny’s Christmas tree went on that patrol. When my husband finally left Victorious, he forgot to take my granny’s Christmas tree. I wonder if any crew members would be able to confirm whether that Christmas tree—a little white optical fibre fellow—is still on board. For the role he played, my husband received the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet commendation, an award that still hangs proudly in our home in Whiteinch in Glasgow.
Despite my pride in my husband’s service, my opposition to Trident has been constant. As a teenager my views were formed over the cold war and fears of mutually assured destruction, and my earliest political campaigns, long before I ever thought to consider Scottish independence, were against Trident. Over time the indiscriminate nature of these weapons, which are designed to cause such widespread devastation, has meant that I will never support Trident or its successor. That is regardless of whether we can afford these platforms, which, to be frank, as conventional forces are being cut to the bone, we cannot. In fact, our maritime capabilities are so depleted that we no longer have any major warships based in Scotland. This is at a time when threats from Russia are at their greatest for a generation. We have repeatedly had to rely on our allies when incursions occur. On at least two occasions in 2016, Russian submarines were suspected of operating off Faslane, and the UK had to seek assistance from its allies to help track those intruders. Those incursions fit a pattern of Russia testing defences and seeking crucial information about the Vanguard boats, namely the acoustic signature that allows them to be tracked. If Russia were able to obtain a recording of the signature, it would have serious implications for the UK’s deterrent.
Are we increasing conventional capabilities to help deal with that? No: we decided to scrap the entire fleet of Nimrods. Although the Nimrods will eventually be replaced by the P-8, the first of which is expected in Lossiemouth in 2020, we have been playing Russian roulette for the past 10 years and will continue to do so unless we increase conventional capabilities, particularly around the north of Scotland. If we were to find ourselves under attack, as has happened in Crimea, our defences are being whittled down to two options: we can either nuke them or chase them away with pitchforks. How on earth does that make us safer?
The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) said that the SNP does not speak for Scotland. Okay, we may not speak for some of Scotland, but our position on Trident is supported by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Greens, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church in Scotland and Scottish civil society. I would suggest that it is the Tories who are out of kilter with the Scottish people.
This is a debate to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the continuous at-sea deterrent. I take no pleasure in the money and resources that have been funnelled into this vanity project, which allows Britain to have a seat at the big boys’ table at the UN, to the detriment of other parts of our armed forces. I take no pleasure in the money that is thrown into the maintenance and into the successor project, while at the same time child poverty is at the highest level that many of us have seen in our lifetime.
I pay tribute to the men, and now women, who have made the commitment to serve. People often talk about the difficulties of separation and the three-month patrols, but those who have a partner on one of the boats will know that in many ways the patrol is the most settled time. The work-up period and testing, false starts and defects mean that families cope with massive upheaval in the lead up to the actual patrol, repeatedly saying big bye-byes only to have partners return the next day and children not really knowing whether this is the time that daddy will disappear. That puts enormous strain on families and relationships—a strain that is not always recognised.
It is time that the MOD considered the realities of modern-day families. In the past, partners and families would live close to the base with a ready-made support network. Recognising that spouses have their own careers is important to a modern-day armed forces.
Submariners do an incredible job and are the most highly skilled personnel in the armed forces. They have many career options on leaving, so retention issues leave serious skill shortages in the submarine service. The MOD has said that no submarine goes to sea without the minimum complement of suitably qualified and experienced personnel required to operate the boat safely, and that vacancies are managed to ensure that safety and operational capability is never compromised, but that is done off the back of submariners. Severe shortages of suitably skilled personnel meant that, in my husband’s last year in the Navy, he had six days’ leave. That included weekends. That is simply not sustainable. There comes a point when pride in serving cannot make up for poor conditions of service. Ultimately, many choose between service and seeing their children grow up. I argue that despite the money being thrown at Trident, its ultimate demise will be caused by a failure to support the personnel and by gaps in critical skills.
As we mark 50 years of the continuous at-sea deterrent and recognise the dedication of those serving in the silent service, I say that the time has come to invest properly in cyber, in conventional defence and in our personnel. Despite campaigning actively against the platform, I and my hon. Friends pay tribute to those who have served, and to those who continue to serve.
It is a real pleasure and honour to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), because she speaks with real authority and eloquence about these issues. I am happy to speak as well in my capacity as chair of the cross-party group on nuclear disarmament. Let me put it on the record at the top of my speech that I am very happy to pay tribute to the submariners for their service to this country and to their families for the sacrifice that they make, which the hon. Lady has set out very clearly.
I do not think that there is any contradiction between paying tribute to that service and also being very clear that, for me, nuclear weapons are abhorrent. Others have said during this debate that it is inconsistent to have a nuclear deterrent if we are not prepared to use it. I absolutely agree with that, and I am very proud to say that I would not, under any circumstances, use nuclear weapons, and still less would I support the Prime Minister’s position of a first use of nuclear weapons. I believe that nuclear weapons are indiscriminate, illegal and obscene.
Let us just think what that first strike, which the Prime Minister was so proud not to rule out, could really mean. The heart of a nuclear explosion reaches a temperature of several million degrees centigrade. Over a wide area, the resulting heat flash literally vaporises all human tissue. At Hiroshima, within a radius of half a mile, the only remains of the people caught in the open were their shadows burned into stone. People inside buildings will be indirectly killed by the blast and the heat effects as buildings collapse and all inflammable materials burst into flames. The immediate death rate in that area will be over 90%. Individual fires will combine to produce a fire storm as all the oxygen is consumed. As the heat rises, air is drawn in from the periphery at or near ground level. This results in lethal hurricane-force winds and perpetuates the fire as the fresh oxygen is burned. The contamination will continue potentially for hundreds of thousands of years. The Red Cross has estimated that 1 billion people around the world could face starvation as a result of a nuclear war.
Let me be very clear: I hate all war, but there is something particular about nuclear war. Simply saying that it is in the same category as other forms of war is wrong. What is wrong as well is to say that we cannot uninvent things that have already been invented. We saw what happened when it came to chemical weapons, biological weapons and cluster munitions being banned. If there was more support from countries such as the UK, nuclear weapons could be banned as well. There was the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and I found it frankly outrageous that the UK Government could not even be bothered to turn up to the talks. That was a campaign that was run throughout the world. One hundred and twenty two countries supported the nuclear ban treaty. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel peace prize for its efforts. The treaty is a strong and comprehensive text, with the potential to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. It opened for signature in September 2017 and will enter into force when 50 states have ratified it. It has so far been signed by 70 states and ratified by 22, and more and more are signing up.
I want to counter the argument made from the Labour Benches that the treaty is somehow not multilateral. It is, not least because there is no requirement for a country to join; there is no requirement on a country to have forgone their nuclear weapons before joining. If the UK had used its considerable clout on the world stage to have really shown some leadership on this issue, there could have been at least a chance of getting the countries around the table to have gone away and begun the process multilaterally of getting rid of their weapons.